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  • meredithgood

Triumph on Two Wheels

I have always been one of life’s wanderers, navigating my, at times wayward, path with wings on my feet and ants in my pants. But when it came time for my sister’s third deployment, someone needed to care for her son while she was away. I had just gotten back from my round-the-country train trip anyway, so I could stand to settle down and slip into surrogate Mommy role for a year- right? Gulp.

Bonus- I work from home and can pretty much live anywhere, so I got to thinking- why not turn the whole thing into an adventure? Next thing you know, I was packing up and moving myself and Nephew to the nearest beach. We were both excited by the prospect. A year among the salt and sea, I mean— what could go wrong?

Now, my sister is, and has always been, way savvier about these kinds of things than I am. She recognized right away that my nephew and I are complete opposite beings, and a year cohabitating could, and probably would, lead to a few pitfalls. So she sweetened the pot a bit before flying off, and Nephew and I found ourselves the proud owners of two brand new shiny bicycles. Specialized and Trek, respectively.  A snap of the helmets, and we were ready to roll, right?

Not so fast. Our first few months together were, well, challenging. Right from the start Nephew and I communicated like two strangers meeting at the Tower of Babel. His language- '10 year-old Gamer', while I only speak 'I'm 38 and The World is Awaiting!' Rosetta Stone would be wise to consider broadening their selections, and adding these to the catalog. More often than not I found myself walking away from a conversation with Nephew muttering  "What the heck just happened?" Eventually we settled on the universal language of 'Polite', and it worked for us. Mostly.

Nephew's interest in his new bike lasted for about two whole rides, and in the interest of picking my battles, I left him to his computer, and hit the streets solo. I made the most of my shiny new toy- riding to the grocery store, the gym, even to the movies , but never quite making it to the ocean, even though it was only about two miles away. You see, an imposing drawbridge stood between it and I, and yours truly was much too intimidated to make the crossing. The bridge was flanked by two skinny strips of concrete, barely wide enough to allow for side-by-side joggers, much less bicycles, and with traffic streaming steadily in between, along with the grate that allowed the bridge to draw open, well, who could blame me for choosing to turn back each and every time? But I was happy enough with my established routes.  

So there Nephew and I were, living near the beach, making good grades and good money respectively, and seemingly making a success of our time together.

And then came January, and I lost my job.

My company had run out of work- something I didn’t even know was possible!

Right away I set about making a plan. Of course I was going to diligently send out resumes, but I would also use the- what I was sure would be brief, time off for good purpose. I was going to edit the novel I’d been working on for years, and polish and shine the pages until they were showroom ready. Yes, I would forge a new path, and someday soon maybe even say goodbye to my existence as a 9-5er. It seemed almost serendipitous! I mean, how lucky was I to finally have the time to accomplish my goals?

So I got down to business. Every day, as soon as Nephew left for school, I began to edit, and worked, worked, worked until he arrived home in the late afternoons. I consumed copious amounts of iced coffee, puffed on an endless chain of cigarettes, and edited my way right through from Once Upon a Time until The End.

The morning I declared that any bookseller would be lucky to have my masterpiece, I clicked save for the last time, and promptly submitted my pages to twelve literary agents. Two hours later, my phone rang with an offer to come back to work. I was only needed for a short-term project, but I was pumped all the same. So okay, the Universe wasn’t exactly lining up with my original plan, but once I was back in, surely more work would appear. I was just happy to be back in the land of bi-weekly paychecks. 

I don’t know why, but once the project ended, it came as a complete and utter surprise to me when I lost my job again.

The second time hit hard. Much harder than the first. And to make matters worse, I now found myself almost daily on the receiving end of rejections. From both prospective employers and agents. Within about three weeks all of my manuscript submissions had been rejected, right along with all of my resumes. I was running out of hope fast, and money faster. Inevitably, depression soon followed. Mentally I sunk. Brimming with frustration, and constantly on the verge of tears, I was convinced I was only good at one thing- failing. Physically I wasn’t doing so hot either. I could only seem to get a boost from food and/or alcohol, and soon it began to show. Not a crazy amount— 10 lbs maybe, but I have a small frame, so an extra 10 on me and I get all lumpy and bumpy and nothing in my wardrobe fits. To put it mildly, I don’t carry it well.

Something else started happening about that time too. Something even more troubling. My old friend anxiety came knocking. Since my late teens, I had wrangled with a few lightweight doses of anxiety, but a couple of years ago it had hit me full force. After a job change, two moves, and a bad breakup, I found myself unable to drive on highways, stand in a crowd, and at its height, to fly on a airplane. I had literally hustled off of one right before the doors closed and my mind crumbled. But I’d made some much needed changes, spent a few months on medication, and gotten things back under control. Over a year had passed, episode free. But now it had crept back in, and pretty soon I was running all of my errands in the quiet of early morning, because I could no longer handle the chaos of mid-day.

So there I was, my body expanding, my world shrinking, and with a kid depending on me to hold everything together. Something had to give.

And one Sunday morning, it finally did.

I woke up earlier than usual, awash with the icky repercussions of the multiple beers and midnight pizza I’d consumed the night before. Raindrops tapped on my window, and a cold wind whooshed through the trees, and while I should have felt warm and cozy tucked inside my down comforter, instead I just felt lousy. Lousy about my health, lousy about my bank account, lousy about my lack of prospects, lousy about what I would do if I lost my car and our apartment, but even worse than all of that, I felt lousy that I was also failing at the one thing that was within my control— my response to it all.

And all of the sudden I was just tired of feeling lousy.

So I got up. I layered on enough clothing to ward off the cold slap I knew I was about to face, and added on one more layer still, in the hopes that it would make my non-rainproof gear rainproof (it didn’t). Stepping outside, I ignored the startling rush of cold, the plink of raindrops on my cheeks, and I hopped on my bike, and began to peddle. I was going to the beach.

When I got to the drawbridge, I steered onto one of the narrow sidewalks, and, with baby horse legs propelling me forward, I went for it. Traffic whizzed by, rain pelted my face, and my fingertips were achingly numb from the cold, but I kept on. At the highest point, where only a waist-high concrete barrier stood between me and a serious downward plunge into the drink, I realized something— I was smiling. To the whizzing passersbys on that cold rainy morning, I’m sure I looked like some kind of lunatic- biking across that bridge with a big grin on my face. But I didn’t care. In fact, I smiled all the way to the beach.

It would be two more months before I was back to work, and though I leaned heavily on my credit cards to keep us afloat during that time, we made it through. And in the meantime I rode my bike to the beach every Sunday morning, rain or shine. And soon enough I was back to running my errands in the middle of the day. I dove into another edit, sent out more resumes, and kissed my beer and late night pizzas goodbye.

When the weather grew warm again, I found myself ready for a new challenge- paddleboarding. So I did it.

And then, when I got an invitation to fly out to LA for a weekend, I did that too.

My wings were back on my feet, my ants were back in my pants, and I felt capable once again. And to think it had all started that one Sunday morning with a simple bike ride to the beach.


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