Love does not have to be between two people. Sometimes love encompasses the inanimate.
| I know young girls are supposed to fall in love with heroes, movie stars, teachers, or even pimply boys who sit next to them in class, but my first romance wasn’t with a person; it was with a bike.
My fire-engine-red Schwinn was new, and it shone with all the sparkle of chrome that is carefully polished daily. It was my first three-speed bike, and I loved it.
I rode that Schwinn to school, to my friends’ houses, to the store, and to any errand my folks cared to send me. As long as it required riding my brand new Schwinn, I was eager to go.
I owned that bike, my birthday bike, for only fifty-six days when tragedy struck. I had parked it at a neighbor’s house. Its kickstand worked well, and I was proud that I could park the Schwinn upright instead of having to let it fall flat onto the ground in a heap of tires and chrome.
I remember walking into the house, eager to see Linda, my best friend. I don’t remember now what was so important, but it seemed then that every news item -- whether it was that Joe just got a haircut and looked awful, or that Janice who lived down the street was seen talking and WALKING with Eric -- held an urgency to discuss.
It happened even before I got to tell Linda why I’d come. The scrunch pierced through me with chilling shivers as if Tobias, Linda’s little brother, had dumped a tray of ice cubes down my back. Horror rippled through the air. Had I heard a car motor start up? My mind was on instant replay; all versions said the same thing.
I was frozen only a minute in the land where Horror takes one. It was just like the hell the minister preached about: everyone I knew was standing all around me with their mouths open, aghast at my stupidity. Disgust frosted their eyes. They were pointing long, accusing fingers at me. I had done it; I had murdered my bike!
“No!” I cried out, and I ran out of the house, letting the screen door slam behind me. I didn’t wince when it banged. I didn't hear it. Nothing mattered but that I should go to my beloved, brand new red bike.
And then I saw it -- twisted and sad -- stuck beneath the wheels of my best friend's family car. I had left the bike on the driveway, carelesslessly, irresponsibly. It was all my fault.
I felt sick as I stared at the result of my terrible sin. The bike's handlebars were bent into awkward shapes, pointing at me in accusation. They were right to do so. I had failed “Big Red.”
Lovingly had I tended my bike each day. I had checked its chain daily, testing for the need of a drop of oil. I had sponge-bathed its parts to prevent dust. I had polished its chrome. I had used special seat protector -- the kind meant for automobile seats, guaranteed to keep the leather new-looking always. I had whispered secrets to the bike. I had loved Big Red, and yet, I had failed it.
I lifted up the Schwinn. It couldn’t stand on its own. The wheels no longer rolled smoothly. They were broken strips of rubber and metal, flattened from the weight of the car.
I tried to make the kickstand hold the bike’s weight, but even it had been crushed beyond redemption. The kickstand wouldn’t move. It had bent rigid.
Up to that moment I was calm, ignoring everyone around me. None of their words penetrated my grief. But with the kickstand as final proof of the complete destruction of my bike, the enormity of it hit me.
I cried then: not with dainty drops of salted rivulets that crept down my cheeks, but with a deluge. My grief was the kind the ancients used to write of when they witnessed women mourning their loss by yanking out hunks of hair. My anguish was the deep-down-from-the-heart angst that surfaces upwards in waves of despair. The sobs melted the frozen reaches of my soul -- that ice land which had never been thawed before.
Linda’s family tried to calm me down, but I was beyond their words. I had fled to an an inner world they couldn’t touch. In vain, they tried to pry my clasped fingers away from the carcass of my beloved bike, but my fingers would not release it.
My mother and father came; they parted metal from flesh. Dad must have thrown my bike into the garbage. Big Red was certainly beyond repair. I never asked what happened to it. I walked home in a fog, swallowed up by the overdose of emotion.
When I reached my room, I fell onto my bed, hugging my pillow and then, although it was still daytime, I slept with emotional exhaustion. When I woke my pillow was wet, but my tears had dried up. The inner iceberg that we store inside to protect us in times of raw emotional need, was frozen again, or perhaps, depleted and must regrow. Probably the latter was true; I was sore, and I felt hollow inside.
Days passed. I walked everywhere. I wouldn’t go into the garage or to Linda’s house. I knew that was silly. But I couldn't. I was in mourning.
“It was only a bike,” my parents kept telling me.
I didn't argue, but I couldn't respond.
Time passed. I earned money helping my father in the yard that summer. By the last week of vacation, Dad said I’d earned enough for a new bike. I didn’t quite believe him; bikes were expensive, but I was appreciative of his kindness.
Two days before school started again, I went to the bike shop and picked out a new bike -- a blue Schwinn. That second bike was shiny with bright. I took good care of it. I never again parked it anywhere near a car. I polished it faithfully; I oiled it. I took care of its seat.It was a good bike, but I never told it my secrets. I never loved the blue bike.
Maybe, it’s called growing up, or perhaps, it’s just "growing hard," but the iceberg inside my heart never allowed entrance to the blue Schwinn.
After all, it was only a bike.