I accidentally wrote the first three paragraphs with the same structure, then knew before I wrote anything else what the last sentence should be. The main thing I was worried about then was making each day into just a single paragraph. Now when I reread the story, I think I cheated here and there.
On Tuesday we did Boathouse, thirteen of us out there for the lunch ride with the temp pegged right at 32. Sometimes the dark spots on the asphalt were water and sometimes they were ice. Plunkett and Swerve and Brian went hard early on the climb up Salem Bible Church road and popped themselves against the 19.4-percent max grade, and Pearson dragged me hacking all the way to the top ahead of the pack. On the way back, with St. Peters rolling up and down as if it were shrugging its shoulders to tell us over and over that it didn’t care it was losing elevation the whole time, we glided to Emmaus through snow flurries that speckled wet and cold against our faces or flew up in a slipstream over the pack before trailing down onto the road in a curving white tail when we bunched tight.
On Wednesday, sometime before noon, Beth called my cellphone and said, “My job’s been eliminated.” With my usual combo of eloquence and comfort, I said, “Shit. Um, it’ll be okay. Come home.” I was at home opening the doors for the furnace guys, who were there to replace our dead system with a new, modern one that was going to cost us $11,000. Beth came home and cried a little and we badmouthed her bosses just about the amount we were supposed to, and as we watched the furnace guys move really expensive aluminum ducts and metal boxes into our basement, she explained that she’d been given a choice between severance or a job a little similar to the one she had but in another office, two hours away. When noon came we did the Veratoux Loop, the nine of us averaging less than 15 mph because there’s a lot of climbing and some of us were tired, and Beth and Steak lingered off the back to talk about what she should do — she had to make a decision in five days — and at the Y on Churchview Road the pack decided to skip the last two climbs and take the longer, flatter way around so we ended up with 19 miles and just over 2,000 feet of climbing.
On Thursday, twelve of us rolled up at noon for Vera Cruz Backward. Beth won her first town sign of the year, the sneaky one after the drop and snappy right turn on the backside of the Double Digit climb. One of the directors of the board of the company Beth worked for had shown up for the lunch ride. He and I spun beside each other for awhile, until the hills reshuffled the pack, and we talked about how sunny it was, how good it felt to be out on a bike on a bright winter day.
On Friday morning, I figured I better call the loan agent to see if, even though Beth and I were about to lose around 40 percent of our household income, we might still be able to qualify for the refinance we hadn’t yet closed, the one that would get us out of the adjustable that was about to gut us. As I was on the phone, the mail guy came into my office and dropped the knives on my desk. A week or so earlier, Beth had said she wanted to start really cooking again despite our hectic schedule, and had made a spectacular tuna filet with mango salsa, and while I was helping her prep I’d decided to surprise her with a once-in-a-lifetime set of knives and after a lot of research had blown just over $500 of our disposal income on Global cutlery. Now I figured I should send the box back without even opening it. We rode Hemphill at lunch, the eleven of us going too hard but that made me happy, and when I got back to the office I decided that sometimes the stupid thing is the right thing, and I kept the knives.
On Monday, the piano guy came to our house and told us that $350 would put our hundred-year-old plinker right, broken keys and all, and after that fourteen of us rode Vera Cruz at lunch. Pearson won the sprint at Hopewell Elementary and got to decide whether we took the climbing detour or the flat route and chose to go up. Jim was on a 42×16 fixie, and still wasn’t the last guy to the top.
On Tuesday Beth quit her job. She wanted to try to clean out her office so she wouldn’t have to go back after noon, so she worked right up to and little past the lunch hour. I wanted to be with her, so I skipped the ride. Brad and Matt the Free and Hart and Loren were out there at the loading dock, 40 degrees, rain, dark skies, wind like a hand slap. They did Sauerkraut. Beth and I drove over to the Chinese place and ate, and because we’re almost never together alone and sitting down to eat at lunch, it felt luxurious, and intimate, and we talked about what might happen to us, about canceling our spring vacation, buying less music, holding rummage sales, eating cheaper lunches, but also about Beth being able to spend more time with Natalie, putting those damn knives to use, riding more, reading more, and we talked with renewed wonder about the thing all of us humans know but forget too easily — how we really had no idea what the future held, not just her and me but any of us, and not just now but ever. Except there was one thing we knew. One thing we could count on. One certainty and it might sound stupid to the rest of the world but not to us, especially not now.
On Wednesday, there would be a lunch ride.
Originally published in the February 1, 2008 Sitting In