I wrote this story by mistake!
How did this happen? Well I wrote down a call for writing submissions that was looking for NONfiction stories about bicycling/sex/sexuality/queerness/feminism as FICTION in my schedule – and so proceeded to churn out this little gem, noticing only on the day of submission my mistake. WHOOPS!
I’m very fond of my mistake. It’s about bicycles, and bisexuality, and coming of age (I wish I had been able to come out to my parents with the flair that my protagonist does). So Happy Pride Month, everyone!
I was afraid of bikes for far too long.
My parents put the fear in me: not scraped limbs but broken ones. Broken necks. Fractured skulls. They would not buy me a bicycle, and not even Santa Claus or Jesus could be appealed to in the matter.
So I tried bicycles out in secret.
Furtively, my friend Kyle tried to teach me how to ride a bike, “even though the seat’s all wrong”. We were eight and nothing happened beyond the quickening of heartbeats and long looks and flushes, our hands disentangling when I toppled over into the gravel, skinned my shin, and we suddenly had to think of a good excuse to tell my folks when I got back home.
Then I was twelve and it was Stacey, her blonde hair held up in an unshakeable ponytail that could miraculously withstand any length of helmet wear. She showed me how to fasten the strap of her borrowed helmet underneath my chin and when I nervously held her hand there for a moment too long she smiled and pushed up on the tips of her sneakers to kiss my nose and I felt like the shimmer of a hundred spokes reflecting the starlight and then we had to go inside because her mom had made pizza rolls. She had to move back to Chicago a couple weeks after that.
Secret lessons, stolen in private: accruing velocity, but slowly.
In middle school I sat on the bike handlebars of a guy that I dated for a week, then broke up with him. I made a bouquet of paper flowers for a girl I liked, and she wove them into the basket of her bicycle and kept them there for months until they got caught in the rain.
So far as my parents knew, I’d never touched a bicycle.
In high school Angel taught me how to replace a slipped chain, their hands questioning and dexterous, and me wanting to answer. Jen taught me how to patch tires, her lips applying just the right pressure as they met mine. There was something inflatable in these minutes, quiet and joyful. Every second spent floating made coming down to earth that much more tolerable.
One night we snuck out on bicycles, a spare one borrowed from a friend’s sibling for me, our tires licking the asphalt as the blue-black night sang above. We rode away from suburbia, out into the raw fields studded with rocks and weeds. Jen brought marshmallows and graham crackers, but Nick forgot the lighter, and the chocolate bars had melted in the front pocket of my hoodie. Our fingers got sticky as we ate the sugary goo. Nick’s sister passed an insulated mug of tomato soup around, and we looked up at the stars and mangled the constellations because we only knew Orion’s belt and not much else. We sat and felt close next to all that space, and small, and fell asleep on a few dirty towels that we’d brought along with us, and slept badly but happily on the hard, rocky dirt.
When I snuck home in the early hours not long after dawn, my parents were waiting up for me. Their eyes ate into me, dark underneath the yellow house lights. They yelled at me, painting a picture of my evening with their lurid colors, but getting everything wrong.
The next day after school I took out some of the money I’d been saving, and bought something for myself. They said it would be delivered the next day.
“I think there’s been some sort of mistake,” I overheard my father say at the door.
“Yes, would you mind checking the address on the order again?” My mother added.
I jogged over to the door, just in time to greet the delivery person from the bike shop holding the violet Schwinn. “That’s mine,” I said.
“Can you sign here?” The delivery person asked, handing over a clipboard.
“But honey, be reasonable!” My mother exclaimed. “You can’t even ride one of those things.”
My signature written, I passed back the clipboard and hopped on the bike, then rode it for a quick jaunt up and down the driveway just to see the looks on their faces before I walked it into the garage.