It begins with one foot in front of the other, turning circles.
It begins by finding the helmet and finding the shoes.
It begins by getting dressed.
It begins by deciding to ride.
And when I head out, the streets are wet with recent rain. And a neighbour talks with another in front of her house. And two boys run over the grass lawn. And a car goes east as I ride west, to the end of the street, turn left, and left again. The escarpment rises up like a wave. Dotted with trees and mines and careening rock.
My legs work forward and forward, and I feel like roaring because today is a hard day. Today nothing is right, and nothing has been right or will ever be.
I will never shake this. This terrible fear. I will never be able to outrun it. Vines rope around my legs, twine around my ribs, laughing.
My legs pump. Past the trees and the cars, with the mountain at my back.
I wait at the lights where the freeway cuts through neighbourhoods like a guillotine. People go so fast here, all their lives in the distance; they are chasing their dreams down.
And then the light is green and I pedal on, and now there’s a slight downhill and this is when I give in to my own rising speed. My feet spin like a blur, here, past the corner pub and the old timber house half falling down, over the bump bump of the train tracks. Past the warehouses and almost straight through the roundabout but for a moment’s check. Because here I feel invincible with my own sorrow; I am a ball rolling, gathering speed, gathering force, and as I hit the bike path I’m weeping, leaking so much I have to wipe the tears away as I ride.
I will always be afraid. I will snap at my husband and drive him away because I will always be afraid. I will cry in front of my children and feel overwhelmed without a moment’s notice. I will carry this fear inside my chest always. And the ball of sadness that is me weeping rolls with the ball of fear spinning and burning in my chest, and together, the two own me.
The ride goes on.
It doesn’t take long to reach the ocean. There it is, as always, pushing itself in and out like a muscle. A great stretch of blue, going all the way past sight or believability. Does it really keep going, or is that a myth? Maybe past those freight ships—the ones carrying cars and surprises in containers as big as houses—the ocean simply stops. Maybe all those images from space are photoshopped. Maybe life is a lie and I’m not really riding here.
My feet push on, over and over, in circles around themselves.
The ocean is stunning, as always, but it takes a while for the beauty to sink in. It takes a while for the feet moving and the bike path slipping smoothly underneath me and the waves curling over themselves in a whisper to make any sense. Here I am. Under a mottled sky. Escarpment rising in all shades of green. Feet moving. Body moving. Wind moving past my skin.
At some point I stop crying; I don’t know when. And the hill rises up and the ocean pulses and I lift off my seat to make it to the top of the hill without stopping.
I ride past a lagoon where ducks dip for weed and search for nameless, hidden things. I ride past a beach where dogs leap for sticks and scramble into the water like it’s the last thing they’ll ever do. I ride past people riding, people running. I pass women in exercise clothes resolutely marching forward. I slow down for a small girl coasting on a scooter and wavering uncertainly from left to right. Her brother tears ahead, his foot pumping against the path. “C’mon!” he shouts over his shoulder. His helmet tilts rakishly to the side.
I ride past the new building development. New trees have been planted into the slight hill there, as though these young, hopeful things might make up for all the concrete and the glass rising, where once were only fields and brush and birds. The trees are enclosed each in their own white fence, and as I ride by they look like military graves. Dozens of white stones marking a life, and another and another.
I stop beside a beach. The lighthouse sits at the top of the headland close by, and the café is filled with chatter—people gathered for drinks or a bite to eat, all gazing out at the view. The beach is littered with people enjoying the sun. Which came out somewhere between my leaving and getting here. When did that happen?
This is when I stretch. I stand facing the sea and lean into my own ache. Calves, thighs, tendons, thighs again.
An older woman sits on the grass a short distance away, and watches the surf. She looks familiar—short grey hair, scarf knotted carefully. Looking as though she might turn at any time, walk towards me and say, “Oh! Hello! It’s been so long.”
She gets up, turns and walks towards me. Here she is. Walking to my bench. And in the tiny moment between her rising to walk and arriving here I’m suddenly tight with worry. In this tiny moment lies a lifetime, a whole conversation with myself. I don’t know who she is, this woman who is about to break my ride, my quiet. We will have to talk and I’ll have to think where I know her from. I know it will change everything.
She sits down beside me without speaking and gazes again out to sea. Here we are, we two. I lean forward along the line of my legs and touch my toes with my fingertips. A stranger rests beside me, so close I could stretch a single hand forward and place it on her shoulder.
I walk into the café, and out with my hot chocolate. I head for the wall that runs along the beach and set myself down to watch. I watch a man teaching his son to surf. I watch two small boys discovering treasures in the sand below, charging up and down the ramp to show their father. The man in the sea stands and waits with his boy for the right wave, both in wetsuits like patient seals. The wave comes quickly; there is the release…and now, the catch. The boy rises; he stands on the wobbly sea and takes the wave in. Hurrah, hurrah! He’s invincible.
And he goes out again. Father and son repeat this over and over, together, apart, together. The little boys tear up and down the ramp, laughing. I can’t stop watching them, and at some point their father notices me. I look away, but look back again; I can’t help myself. Their delight fills me, suddenly, with a gust of joy.
It hits me, like wind, like water. It hits like a sudden intake of breath. All this holding on to fear. Why?
Why don’t I just let it go?
It could be that simple.
I imagine myself releasing the ball. Opening up my chest and letting it roll out. It blinks its eyes, unused to the sun. It whimpers a little. Holds its arms up.
Here is fire. Here is burn and panic. I’ve held fear so close for so long; this is the first time I’ve imagined not keeping it warm in the space just under my ribs.
Let it go.
It whimpers, exposed. Begins to hold up its hands. And, just like that, it shifts, and disappears.
Could it be that easy?
I look out at the ocean. I can hear the boys chattering on the sand below. The surfing father and son have come in from the waves and stand directly behind me, spraying sand and salt off themselves in the outdoor shower. I can hear the boy asking his mother, “Did you see?!”
I hear her smile as she says, “Yes.”
I rise. I take my bike, and I ride. My feet move below me. It’s like I’m riding and not riding at once. All is clear sky and clarity. I feel myself moving, and it’s like claiming. I pass between trees and come out to an open field where a couple stand and point their fingers straight up in the air.
I know what they’re seeing. It’s the sky-divers coming to land. I’ve seen them hundreds of times, appearing like specks, then floating down, spinning, floating. But this time I stop my bike. I pull over onto the field and like the couple pointing, I lift my eyes.
They are so beautiful. These people falling. They are afraid and not afraid. They are spinning in an impossible sky. They are alive, alive, alive.
I can hear their hooting. I can hear the whoops and I see them land; I see the hugs and the high fives. I feel the joy, in a rising wave.
I ride on and feel a smile coming. I see a father, walking with his daughter on his shoulders. He holds her small hands with his large. She chatters and bounces. She is up so high!
And just around the bend, past the trees, another little girl is chasing her father down. He is looking over his shoulder, grinning, and she squeals with laughter. Her sound rises and twirls. She shrieks; he slows down and is captured.
“I got you!” she cries. “I got you!”
I pass them in that instant. I grin; I beam at them both. The girl pauses, looks up at me. I lock eyes with the father. He smiles so wide, so brightly. The sun pours in.
And this is my ride now. Feet pumping, my smile unstoppable, light soaring. Fear behind me, left for a time or forever, beside the sea.