I went for a bike ride two days ago for the first time in, oh, 5 years or so. I bought the bike when I started my new faculty development job in Lexington and we found a place about a mile away from my office. The ride was fairly flat, and so we bought a bright red hipster one-speed bike that I could ride. I haven’t really ridden it since, and it’s lived in basements and attics as I lived in places where there was nowhere to bike, or hills too steep, or roads to dangerous, drivers too reckless.
So I got out the bike, as my daughter wanted something else to do, somewhere else to go, even if it was to bike to nowhere. We learned how to change the inner-tube in her back wheel, and we got ready to go, but she decided she didn’t want to anymore, and I had been dreaming of that moment of freedom all day, so went by myself. One-third of the way through the trip, I realized I had been going downhill the entire time. When I turned around, I immediately regretted my route choice. My lungs and legs were burning when I got home.
And it’s been raining ever since.
I used to ride my bike literally everywhere once it was nice enough outside. Spring meant freedom, freedom to ride to the park or the corner store or even endlessly around the block, just to get out of the house. I rode that bike to the pool, first to swim, and then to work. I biked to get to friends’ houses, to get to the movies and to the mall. I brought my bike to Sherbrooke when I moved out of residence to bike to my summer job there, too.
It’s really true that you never forget how to ride a bike. Even if my son swears he can’t, it’s not because he doesn’t remember, but the trauma from breaking his arm so many times has made he fearful of just about any activity that may lead to more broken bones. It’s a shame, too, because he was really good at riding a bike, mastering the two-wheel vehicle before his older sister did. He used to zip around the large, empty church parking lot across from our apartment, flying by, picking up speed, laughing the whole way. Now he insists he give away his bike and swears he will never ride one again.
When we moved here, I didn’t mind giving up our large back yard for the shared small space of a townhouse complex. We had a small porch and that would be enough to sit out and read. Our yard was large and filled with mosquitos and the kids never wanted to “play” in the yard anymore, so why did we need it and pay for someone to come and mow it? I didn’t think I would miss it, but now I do, to have my own space to be outside, to have a fire pit, to BBQ, to just be. I would be probably setting up our out building as an office right now, laying ethernet cable from the basement router to there for internet, extension cord for power.
I see pictures of people playing in their yards and I realize I miss having a yard. I miss knowing a neighborhood well enough that I knew what routes to bike if I wanted to avoid steep climbs. I miss knowing where the trails are and the having a space where the kids could go, if only so they could get some fresh air and leave the house quiet, if only for a moment. Maybe I’d feel less bad about letting them be on their devices all day, every day, with breaks to walk the dog. I have to force them to eat, for goodness sakes.
I see pictures of neighbors on the front porch waving to each other from across the street, and we can’t do that because all of our porches are too close to one another, and so we look out our doors before going out to make sure we don’t run into anyone by accident. It’s the right thing to do, but it feels awkward and paranoid and not like a community should feel like, even if it is the communal thing to do in this situation.
The sun has come out, and I want to ride my bike again, burning lungs and legs be damned. I want to bake some bread again because its something I can control. I want to feel like I’m part of a community again, even if it only that I can leave our place to walk the dog or take out the trash and not feel like I’m violating someone else’s space.