When the sightline is good and clear, and my mind is the same, I take the first turn of my ride to work at full tilt, no brakes, cutting a slash across Fifth Street to nearly brush the curb at the inside of the corner then sweeping across Fairview to the far curb in a gradually flattening curve that has always felt somehow beautiful to me in an imprecise but physical way, like the time I made a shoestring catch at a sprint in right field and threw out the runner at second and looked over and Ronda Victery was in the bleacher standing up with everyone else and after the game she touched my cheek with her fingertips and said it was a great catch and when I think back on it today I am never sure if the catch made the touch better or the touch the catch. I was 11. That’s what the turn is like.
I don’t get it that way often—who does?—maybe a couple times a month in a good stretch, maybe five times a year. Sometimes there’s traffic, or gravel, or ice, or leaves down, or a kid or a nun or a parent on the way to the private school farther down Fairview. Sometimes I’m in my own way, thinking too much about the job I’m on my way to or the family I just left, or, sometimes, even just thinking about the turn can render me unable to do the turn the way I most want to.
But I get it enough. It sustains me and gives me hope for many things in some way that I find embarrassing to admit and feel silly talking about. I’ve never told anyone how I feel, what the turn means to me. It’s just a corner, one like so many others, unremarkable in all ways except how I for some reason feel about it.
The other morning I had the round bright sun at my back after days of rain and clouds, and I’d come out of my driveway without having to brake, and the wind in the spokes of my townie and its tires on the road were together making a sound like the panting of a human at some beloved but arduous labor. The road was clear in all directions, and so was my mind, and without thought I tipped the bike out to initiate the countersteer and when it started to fall back in on me, still without thinking, I dropped my outside pedal and laid most of my weight on it, and with my inside hand pushed the bar down, and the bike and I took the turn like a shoestring catch at a sprint, like a beautiful girl’s fingertips on a young boy’s cheek, and my breath caught high in my chest and felt warm, and big, and liquid then solid then vapor and I let it out. I pedaled on. I tried to concentrate on what I had to do at work that morning, because how to admit to anyone the depths of such a small thing, even myself?
A nun was standing on the sidewalk outside the school, herding some of the straggler kids in, and like I always do I slowed as I approached, not wanting to appear a rogue, attempting, I guess, to communicate some deference to their safety but also to pay my respect to their station as my town’s children. The nun was one of the younger ones, by which I mean about my age rather than ancient. She was not the one out there every morning, but enough that we knew each other by sight. She usually gave me a smile, but this morning she was staring right at me, facing me, as if waiting for me to reach her, and I thought that I must have come around the corner so fast and in such recklessness that I was about to get a scolding.
I coasted, and waited for her to move off, to follow the last of the children in, but she stayed as she was, unswaying, looking full at me. I started pedaling slow circles, and when I got close enough that I knew she would see the action but before the distance seemed intimate enough for her to talk, I nodded.
She waited a moment, then said, “Nice rip.”
I said, “What?”
“Nice rip. Around that corner there.”
I was past her, and I turned and looked back around and all I could get out was, “I—” and after that I didn’t know what else to say.
She had seen it. We make the catch, we rip the corner, and people know. They tell us they know, however they can, just as in our way we gave them some kind of message however we could. She was smiling now, and she lifted a hand and waved, then turned to go into the school to help the children learn about god and love and loss and punishment, and, I suppose, about math and history and civics, too, and whatever else they might need to have a shot at living some kind of good, full life, and I rode on, certain that, at least for one more day, I had done so myself.
Originally published in The Selection, June 21, 2013