Until the vomit and the murder and the blossoms blown on the wind and the surge at the crit all came together as I was writing, I hadn’t known they were connected.
There were dogwood blossoms blowing all over the parking lot of Weis, the grocery store. I was alone, picking my way back to work through the connected mallways and back alleys after a lunch ride my friend, Dan, had thrown up on.
“I’m cracking,” he’d said part of the way up Huff’s, and he’d laid off the pedals and came over a little left, trying to swing out and I’d said, “No way. Get in there. If you’re talking, you’re not cracking.” He’d gotten back in there, because that’s what we do for and to each other. Ray and I paced him, and took the wind for him, and we had him with us until he stopped and clicked out both feet and put his head over to the right and threw up into the gravel.
After I arced back around to him, I said, “Now you’re cracked.”
With all those white flecks scuttling along the pavement then falling behind me like inexperienced riders who gave too much to pass you, with the ones twirling like trapeze artists in front of my eyes before flying up past the line of sight drawn by the brim of my helmet, with the ones that circled and circled and circled me like drunken aunts and uncles at some dance late into a wedding night, I thought how riding through that parking lot was one of the best moments I’d had on a bike this year. I think that just about every year the first time or two the dogwood blossoms blow. Then, later, amid the cherry blossoms deep pink and more fragrant, I think it again usually.
I don’t just love riding my bike. I love being on a bike. And being.
A couple years ago, a local 20-year-old woman who worked as a cashier right here at this store in this parking lot was killed by her boyfriend on the nature trail outside our office. I can look through my window all the way to the spot, mostly. My ride home, it goes by where she used to live.
Dan, we call him The Killer, on account of his last name. I thought of him, and his nickname, and of her, and of how much I appreciate being caught in the gambol of the blossoms, and how when they’re doing this beautiful thing they’re well on their way now to dying, too, and how in that way I in the swirl of them am not so different from them, and I felt bad and lucky that we can call Dan what we do with levity. I was glad he’d ridden until he cracked, but also glad that when we crack we really don’t, that it’s just a thing we say the same as Dan’s nickname.
Last night at the crit, somewhere in the pack, I rolled alongside Kacey and, sensing the wattage burbling up far in front of us, I said, “I think the ass-whipping is about to begin.” She laughed. And it did begin, and we did get our asses whipped, most of us, but we didn’t, and I know the difference because I have had my ass whipped. The worst of the race, the deepest misery of it, was something to laugh about.
My legs were sore today at the start of the lunch ride, and I said so. I said they were crushed. I said later on that they would be the death of me. I guess that’s correct in a way, that they are carrying me on like the wind does the dogwood blossoms. But they’re the life of me more than anything. Them and Dan and all the allegorical ass-whippings I’ve suffered and may be lucky enough to eventually suffer and to — sometimes, though admittedly so rarely it is almost never — dispense. Those blossoms, they have it exactly right, they know what they’re doing.
Kacey did, too. She moved up.
Originally published in The Selection, April 6, 2012