The following piece of creative nonfiction is part of a series I started on my personal blog a few years ago called “Alphabet: A History,” which is a collection of short, autobiographical vignettes, focusing mainly on relationships (familial, romantic, platonic, and self). I will be publishing the series on Fridays.
My first big-girl bike is classic: hot pink with a banana seat and shiny steamers on the handle bars. In the parking lot outside our high-rise apartment on Yokota Air Base in Japan, my father holds the back of my seat as I pedal unsteadily. It’s a test of patience and stamina for us both, and not at all unlike our driving lessons years later on winding streets in Germany. When my dad lets go and I finally bike with confidence, I don’t want to ever stop. In the evenings after school and work, my whole family bikes together along the tarmac, a seven mile stretch — my dad in the front, my mom in the middle with Allison in a baby seat, and me in the back, my streamers waving in the breeze.
We move so many times — from Japan to Korea to Germany — and somewhere along the way, I stop riding. Worse yet, somewhere along the way, I decide bikes are scary. In Springfield, Missouri, my college friends talk about how bikeable the town is. They pedal around to each other’s houses and the bars downtown and in the summer, they even ride all the way to Fellow’s Lake. I’m convinced I’m a klutz and have no balance and don’t want to look stupid in front of anyone, so I stick with cars. Once, I try rollerblading on campus and I fall three times in five minutes, and declare wheels off-limits for good.
When I’m 24, I move from Missouri to Chicago with my boyfriend. He brings two bikes with him and quickly buys a third. He gets a job making sandwiches at Potbelly and rides the two miles there and back everyday. Soon, he loses 15 pounds and bleaches his hair. In the winter, his shoes and the legs of his pants are covered in salt. He gets promoted once, twice, three times in a year. We move to a bigger apartment.
The lakefront is just three blocks away now and on an early summer evening, I walk over with my boyfriend and two of the bikes. He rides in front and I follow behind, pedalling unsteadily. It’s so crowded on the lake path and I lose my balance and give up right away. “I’ll just meet you back inside,” I yell after him, but I don’t think he even hears me. He’s already off in the distance.
“I just saw the perfect bike for you,” my best friend Chad says over the phone late one Spring afternoon. I’m 28 now and single. I’ve been thinking about getting back on the lake path. I go to Brownstone Antiques in Andersonville and see it: it’s turquoise and probably from the early 70’s, with a white wicker basket, a headlight and a rearview mirror. I buy it for $45. I spend the whole summer on my new bike, clunking along with my friends down Damen to Wicker Park and Ukrainian Village, I don’t know what I was so afraid of before. I ride all the way through fall and into early winter when I finally switch back to my car until March.
Two summers later I upgrade to a new bike with more than one gear. I ride through my last months in Chicago, memorizing tree-lined streets and Winnemac Park and routes to all my favorite places. When I think of what I’ll miss most when I move to New York, this is top of the list. The day the movers come, I’m a nervous wreck. I drug the cats for the plane trip, finish packing my bags, sign a check for storage, and clean my apartment. Later, after the movers leave and I’m hailing a cab for the airport, I realize I’ve forgotten my bike. I can picture it now leaning against the wall in the foyer of my old apartment.