Thursday, October 01, 2009

The Thing With Feathers

War broke out inside me as we rode out of the parking lot in St. Charles. "You can't give Molly up," whispered the gray side.

"You can't look a gift bike in the mouth," hissed the blue side. "They gave you a bike."

I hardly felt the bumps.

The pedals felt wrong.

The gears glided from one to the next.

The seat pinched every portion of my lower anatomy.

They gave me a bike.

The trail wound past a gravel pit, a concrete plant, a riverside park, a small lake. Liz rode up, panting. "Can you believe this hill?" she asked. I hadn't noticed we were going uphill. I was busy arguing with myself about being disloyal to an inanimate object and hating that damn seat.

HATING that seat. It hit me ten kinds of wrong: too hard, too wide, too close to the pedals.


At the beginning of the summer, Deb and I rarely spoke and had very little in common. Despite being family for more than 35 years, Jim and I had never had any real relationship. Rolled eyeballs were Brendan's default setting when I talked. On the trail, we laughed. We helped each other. We shared.

I had to keep the bike.

"The bike." Without a name, it was just a bike. It needed a name.

Daisy for the Gerbera daisy on the handlebars?

Rusty because the daisy was red?

Charlie because they gave it to me in St. Charles?

Nothing fit. It didn't feel like a bike with a name. It felt like a bike with a damn hard seat. It also felt like love. I spun back and forth as the pedals spun round and round.

After we got home Sunday night, I put Molly's seat on the new bike and rode through my neighborhood. Suddenly, the bike fit. It wasn't just good, it was fabulous. Forcing myself into the house to unpack and start the laundry wasn't easy. I cruised the neighborhood several more times before dark, loving every minute of it.

Monday morning, I rode the new bike to Mom and Dad's for coffee. It was a wonderful morning—chilly and blustery but beautiful. I shared the trail with eight wild turkeys, one doe and a handful of cyclists. Steam rose from the river in ribbons twisting toward the sky like prayers rising to God.

Riding nine miles into the wind, I had plenty of time to contemplate a name for the bike. Something connected to how I got her, to what she means to me. Something with a literary hook. Like the original seat, nothing fit. They gave her to me to ride the Katy Trail, but I could hardly give my bike my daughter's name.

The trail is named for the MKT Railroad. Maybe Emma.

Heading down the hill toward the dreaded barricade, something caught my eye. As it got closer, I recognized a feather swirling in the breeze like the opening of Forest Gump come to life. It fluttered and flitted, closer and closer. Just as I entered the trees, the feather skidded sideways, right at me, and tangled itself in the bike's brake cables.

Amazed, I screeched to a dead stop and plucked the feather from the bike. I ruffled and picked at it, then tucked it into one of the holes of my helmet. As I settled back onto the seat, the name struck me.

Emily. My new bike is Emily, named for the MKT and for Miss Emily Dickinson, who wrote:

"Hope" is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—"

I rolled down the hill, for once picking up speed rather than braking as I approached the barrier. I patted the feather to make sure it was secure and stood to cruise between the ugly hunks of concrete, my weight balanced equally on the pedals and hope perched firmly in my soul.


george said...

Never look a gift bike in the seat...

Go Mama said...

Fully realized. Beautifully written.

mamatulip said...

A wonderful name for your new bike.

Deb Shucka said...

Covered in goose bumps here, and crying. So much love and balance and hope in your words. Love to you and Molly and Emily and Katie.

Carrie Wilson Link said...

Yes. Yes, that's it alright!

kario said...

YAY! For all of it. The writing, the riding, the compromise, the awareness - all of it.

Amber said...

Perfect! Very nice choice.


cheryl said...

Emily finally gets to see the world from the other side of the window. She's free!

Michelle O'Neil said...

Gorgeous writing Jerri. Just gorgeous!

luckyzmom said...

In total AWE!!