What have I learned from being a parent? Have I learned about life? Yeah, I know all about life. There it went. -- Overheard
The course of this life, the one I am in now, began with a bike ride, my old commute, along the canal. Through the yawning tunnel of pin oak and kudzu above the path, darkness with fluttering wings of peach and rose light, an illusion from my motion, smoke and glow as a sugarcane field fire at the end of its burn, the ones that sent ashes and soot into the village.
Why don't you take the bike out tomorrow? You need a break. I'll rest. You need a ride. I can tell. Don't worry. I'm fine.
I made oatmeal and an Americano and a latte for her. I pumped the tires in the living room and told her I needed a new bike. She nodded.
I suggested we buy her an electric assist bike, but cautioned it might be too powerul.
What am I going to do? She laughed. Kill myself? She drank her latte and frowned. Like most things, I could never make them like she wanted.
Eats bikes and leaves, she said.
I hadn't planned the ride. I had set off on my commute, as if I had to go to work. As if there was something I needed to do other than grow old and not die and the nothing of retirement.
Why she of all people? Why her? And why now? Everything, even cancer--especially cancer--has to have a cause. It doesn't just happen.
The cormorants sat on the trees black and loose. A hated bird, at the opposite end of the noble duck, lifted up by the quite active and aristocratic human organization whose name suggested space exploration: Ducks Unlimited. The phrase "for days" came to mind; I'd heard it used several times. Ducks for Days. Why "for days"?
No one felt that way about cormorants. They simply devoured fish so effectively that fishermen felt they emptied out stock. Eats fish and leaves.
Has "on your left" fallen out of favor? Why does no one say it anymore? Here went an asshole in his roadie gear, tearing on by without a sound.
How many thunderstorms had I ridden through in the eighteen years I road this path daily? The rivers that washed through me. The time a buck plowed into me and broke my clavicle and the ambulance came up the path to get me. The time I rode into the canal and dragged my bike out and had to throw away my clothes and shoes because the stench was permanent.
Here I am in the same Russel athletic shorts and New Balance running shoes, my 1998 Jingle Bell Jog 5K T shirt.
The air is still and the light rises. I am alone. Turtles slide into the algae and vanish.
There were the times she came to pick me up: the double flats; the chest pain; the tree branch that hit lodged in my spokes. There were the times she met me at the boat house and we took out a canoe toward the falls and ate sandwiches in the sun with our shirts off and I stared at her breasts until she hit me in the arm with an oar.
There were times when it came to turn off and go home to the laundry and the diapers and the duties of family where I just kept riding, on up to Great Falls and out. And I came home late and she told me to get my fucking shit together and grow up.
I am usually sorry I kept riding. I am sorry I missed those moments when I was most needed and could have proven my worth to her and the girls.
I half-watched the sun set over the falls and the sparkles of light come through them and saw the dumb deer wandering around, easily killed if I'd so been inclined. And the lonely folks who went out with the intention of searching for some greater wisdom in half-assed woods on half-assed bikes and prescription inserts--and ended up contemplating Ronald Reagan, public transportation and missing commas.
Where can we go, we lost commuters, before those we love are stricken down? Before our path no longer turns off toward home, when we only wander up it hoping our tires hold up and waiting.
I turned around. Maybe she'll beat this. Maybe she won't. They say she won't. That the will should be in order.
I should get her that electric bike. I should show her the falls. She should come see where the canal widens out and the maples turn gold and the sun comes on the surface like a platter of light and the dumb deer stare and ask to be shot in the face.
She should know why I rode, why I didn't come home, and why I did.