keep on pedaling

graffiti of a bicycle painted on a cement wallThe ocean is loud tonight – we can hear it all the way up at the house, the waves banging on the shore. Outside sounded to me like a windstorm or rainstorm but then I looked out and the trees were still, the pavement was dry. Oh, I thought. That’s the ocean. I can hear the ocean from my where I sit curled up in my pajamas, curled up in a book, curled up toward the tenderness of night.

This has been a quiet day, a joy day, an intside and in day. There was time on the beach, under mottled sun and clouds, time in the waves (in a bikini top that maybe was not made for rough-riding in the water – ahem). There was time cuddled on couch reading reading reading. There was time working on the book. There were catch-as-catch-can meals and a long bike ride and ice cream.

(Of course. All the days have ice cream.)

At the end of the long bike ride, as we cruised back into our little neighborhood, I sat up, dropped my arms from the handlebars, and coasted, arms hanging down at my sides. And then I started to petal, still with no hands, for just a second, reinhabiting the girl I’d been at 8 and 9 and 10, summers of dirty hair and feet, brown-limbed, cruising around the different neighborhoods we lived in after our parents separated and then divorced, me and the bike a single machine, a thing of beauty, all mechanics and propusion. My legs kept us going, and the bike kept on carrying me around corners and under wide leafy caravans of canopy, up past the neighbor man watering his garden, the women and their baby strollers, the older kids who wouldn’t talk to me, the women inside their small houses who I could only see sometimes through kitchen or living room windows and about whom I made up momentary stories, before causing on to the next house, the next block, the next street  – if I kept in motion, kept in motion, maybe things would be ok. But was I really thinking lie that? The truth was, I just liked to move. I was that kid with tangled hair and boys’ striped tube socks and boys’ blue keds.

Anyway, tonight I felt that tomboy girl in my limbs as we whipped around the corner passing a couple of boys on their bikes, boys about the age that girl inside was, and I pedaled hard, arms down, one hand resting on my thigh. It came back, I thought, and just smiled to myself. I remembered how to do it. They mean it when they say it’s just like riding a bike.

It would be easy for me, at this point in the writing, to slip from this good reminiscing into the horror that was just over that girl’s horizon, all the terror she didn’t know she was about to slam into. Yesterday, after my evening write, I thought about somehow presenting this fact: that every day there is some clear and vivid and solid remembering of those years of violence, some slice of aftermath, something that reminds me of him or me then or what I am still living with, carrying — not because anything especially triggering happened, just because it was a Wednesday, you know. It was just real life. We could call these blogs the Incest Diaries.

It’s not that I necessarily want to make these post all about incest or loss or rage or terror. It’s that it’s just there for me — it’s that this is what everyday looks like for me. This is my normal: There will be a moment when I, reflexively, imagine his response to a story or situation, or notice that something I think or say or do came from him, when I will get dropped into the body of that violence that still lives in the middle of me and have to yank myself back out. Mostly, these days, that yanking happens in a split second. I don’t get dredged down into hours of murk, not to mention days or weeks, all that often anymore. The memory is just that — a memory. You know how that happens just over the course of a day: you’re going about your regular routine, making dinner, showering, listening to the radio, getting ready to go to work, and you think suddenly about something that happened when you first learned to drive, or you hear a song on the radio that reminds you of the boy you had a crush on when you were 4. Me, I remember who it was who first taught me to —

Let me not get into that now. I honestly don’t want to. What I’ll say is that yes, the incest was with me today, just for a moment, a kind of tug on my awareness, an invitation to drive down the bad old road, an opportunity to slink into self-hatred and shame, but instead of following that rage and sorrow, I turned my head forward again, took a deep breath, remembered who I was and where I was with[1]. I drew on all these goddamn many years of learning how to acknowledge the memory and then let it slide to to the side of my consciousness, where, soon enough, it slipped down my slick edgings and out of sight for another little while. I know it will be back. That’s what living this life is like. But I don’t have to let it take over.

You see how we get here? I think the Incest Diaries is a good name.

Today there were two sand dollars and some lovely and exciting stories and waves that crashed over me and took my breath away. In the last few years, I’ve finally learned to ride waves. Never mind that I’ve lived near an ocean since 1997. Never mind that I’ve gone to the ocean as often as possible as soon as I moved to within just a few miles of her rushing and careening breath. My sweetheart asks me, Didn’t you go to Scarborough Beach? Crescent? That was where everybody went to swim. But I didn’t swim when I lived here before — I was a boy, trying so hard to be a boy, and I didn’t like my body, was deeply uncomfortable in a bathing suit, and–being a kid from Nebraska–had no idea what to do with a body of water that kept moving all the time and didn’t let you decide for yourself how you wanted to move within its undulations. But some years ago, as I got more comfortable in my skin, I decided to try again. I watched little kids bouncing as the waves approached, and I learned to do the same.

We forget how to do this as we age, and the waves knock us down, hard. This happened to me at Santa Cruz, in Southern California, too, when I took the risk of getting into that always-swelling-and-falling sea. I got taken down, pulled back hard, sand in my suit and hair and mouth — nothing terrible, just the ocean reminding me who’s boss. There’s something about learning to write [2] the waves, learning how to the the sea carry you, learning how to dive under when you see the crash coming, one that looks too big to ride out. Learning to dive under — I push in, drop my hands, shove back up, and keep on pedaling.


[1] (this was a typo, but I’m leaving it!)

[2] (another typo! ride, I mean…)

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