I bought my bike off of a boy named Peter who lived on a park filled with flowering trees. It was a red Motobacane. Made in France. He brought bikes back from Connecticut and fixed them up in his apartment. It had curved handlebars that made me think I was going to fly forward and knock my front teeth out on uneven pavement. My boots clung shakily to the old silver pedals made out of dulled aluminum. It felt strange riding again; I hadn’t been on a bike since a year previous, when I was still living in West Hollywood and would only ever ride the half a mile to see movies at The Grove.
Not wanting to take advantage of Peter’s time, I rode the bike down the sidewalk just twenty feet before turning around. It wasn’t comfortable. My legs bent too close to my body and my back hunched forward like a cat. It took Peter offering two times to raise the seat for me to accept. I did stupid things like this often – not changing things that would be the obvious solutions to my problems. “It’s okay,” I would say, shaking off someone’s invitation to help me, even if it meant I did things like not buy a bike that was perfectly fine for me and wasting an afternoon walking thirty minutes from North Brooklyn to South Brooklyn and then thirty minutes back, empty handed and frustrated.
He took my purse and told me to ride around the park, get a feel for the bike. Changing the seat had made all the difference; my legs rotated in circular motions, the left knee rising as the right knee fell, over and over again. I rode through the park’s center, little kids skateboarding and riding scooters, unwatched, their parents likely enjoying some time to themselves.
It was cloudy and the air felt damp against my skin. It had been so long since I had thought about nothing. My normal thought process – frantic and planning and searching and panicked – had slowed down to a tolerable roar. Left. Right. Left. Right. Steady. Left. Right. Steady. I thought only of not falling over. Bliss.
I came back to where he was, standing at his place against an over-painted wrought iron gate. “I’ll take it,” I told him, and then I handed him a bunch of twenty-dollar bills that I counted out between my right and left hand, the sound of paper against paper indicating our transaction.
“One two three four five. One two three four five. One two three four five.”
I thanked him and rode down Driggs on my very own bike. It felt strange to be in New York and own an item that was a further extension of myself. Vainly, I wondered what I looked like riding it down the street. “There’s that girl on the red bike,” someone might say, and they might see my blonde hair and my focused stare and think that the bike said something about my personality, which it didn’t. There was something liberating I knowing that I had purchased something not wholly because I thought it looked cool or was in my taste, but that it would get me from A to B, that it was light, and that its 57 cm measurements accommodated my long legs.
Later, I met my friends on Grand Avenue. We were riding over the bridge to watch the friend of a friend play in some beer-soaked bar on Houston. I was indescribably nervous. The bike and I were still new to each other and for whatever reason I didn’t trust it. I kept thinking – even though I had learned how to ride a bike over twenty years ago – that a tire would come loose and I would pitch forward. I imagined myself falling over on pavement. I thought about what bones would likely break first – if it would be my arm or my collarbone or possibly a hip. “Get a helmet,” my mom told me. I thought about that, too.
I watched my friends barrel down the sloped portion of the bridge, gladly picking up speed. I was jealous of their freedom. I pumped the brakes and kept my pace measured. Somewhere towards the end of the bridge, I began to realize I had trust issues in general. With people. With things. It would take me awhile to get used to this again.
At the bar, my friends drank shots of tequila and drank bottles of beer. A jazz band played horrifically in the corner, obliterating my ability to hear and think clearly. Outside, the sun went down and the clouds moved in, threatening to bring in another day of rain. And in an hour, we left, going back up and over the bridge. A giant, yellowed full moon hung low above the bridge. Lightning snapped in the distance, beyond Manhattan, beyond Brooklyn. We rode next to moving subways filled with blue seats and stationary passengers. Cuh-clack! Cuh-clack! Cuh-clack!
In Brooklyn, white flowers bloomed on the branches of trees overhead. Dogwoods, I think. The neon lights from bars and Laundromats reflected off of their petals, changing them blue and purple and red in parts. We dropped Jo off at her apartment. Justin came next. We rode together along the water, Manhattan to our left, shining and sturdy and glowing brightly.
“I fucking love New York!” I yelled. “I fucking love New York!”
And then I rode alone, just me and the moon, my love of the place having come back, just like riding a bike.