My sister's bicycle rests on her fence. It seems unusually tall, almost menacing. It's summer and the sun is disappearing, the colors muted and grainy, as if mixed with dust. My sweet niece wants to ride bikes with me, and I want to. I really do.
The last time I rode a bicycle I was ten, and it was a spring day exactly like my niece's day. I could ride for hours, like I was flying. While I rode, I would make up stories in my head. One day, I thought, I would write a book. I picked up speed.
Then I hit a hole in the broken sidewalk, at just the right angle. I flew over the handlebars and tried to catch myself. Something cracked.
My right arm was broken through, like a wing, and I could see the bones.
I once took a class that was nothing like writing and everything like being dissected. Writing felt pushed into a formula, and my words didn't add up. To take something you know by heart and spread it out, flat, for others to examine and pick apart can be a terrifying thing. It makes you wonder if your numbers are the wrong numbers, when really- it has nothing to do with formulas at all.
I can't tell her no. More than that, I don't want to.
My niece's bright eyes show no trace of knowing my fear. With shaking hands, I unlace my sister's bike from the chain link fence. It rattles tin. I put my feet on the pedals and wobble, skitter. Suddenly, I'm balanced. I ride forward and the wind kicks up, bringing with it the invincible feeling of summer. None of my fears are coming true, and I remember what it's like to love something that has hurt you.
When people say it's just like riding a bike what they mean is something you used to know how to do will come back to you. They mean it to be comforting, easy. I wince when I hear the expression, because what I remember the most is pain. The same has been true about writing for awhile.
Except for lately. Maybe it was time or distance, or the encouraging words of friends and, sometimes, strangers. Maybe the things we love can't be explained or quantified in the way we expect to understand them. Whatever the case, words have come back like they never left. One day the numbers were gone; it was only this quiet page and the small things I know of beauty and bicycles.
I am learning again how to fill my two hands with stories. My words feel a little rusty, but they're here. They're the feeling of flying and cartwheels in summer grass. They're freedom and slow forgetting, and if you look closely, right here, they're tracing the outlines of two girls, riding bikes at dusk.