The afternoon after we fought, I thought I wouldn’t be able to do anything but watch stupid television. It’s a crappy coping technique I picked up recently, and we’ve even talked about it, how it doesn’t actually fix anything, or bode particularly well. But what else is there for the housebound, the mindstuck? I curl up with my heart palpitations and inner lightening bolts and I say “what’s on next.” And “Don’t touch my stomach, I feel sick.”
So when I got out of the car that afternoon and slammed the door, and realized it would take me an hour by subway to get home, and by then you would all be in Worcester, then Putnam, and that meant I would have . . . at least eight hours to kill — the only solution I could think of, beyond sleeping pills or hallucinatory drugs, was television. True Blood. Cartoons. Madmen. Netflix instant streaming, Made of Honor or some other ridiculous thing.
I opened the door to our apartment.
I tried to elicit sympathy from the cats.
I put down my things, and I sat down on the bed, and I opened my laptop and like a drug fiend got everything meticulously in order, the software installed and the piles of tissues and the plaid pajama pants, and then I thought “no” — and I changed into shorts, filled my water bottle, and strapped on my helmet.
Nearly every time I get on a bicycle, it is with you.
We decide where we want to go today, who will lead, the signals for needing to stop and rest. We pack food and water, or lock up outside grocery stores, movie theaters; we throw our bicycles onto the grass and spread a blanket. The last time we went adventuring, you wanted to reach the Arlington Great Meadows. “We need to stop,” I’d said after forty-five minutes in the July heat. “I’m tired. I want to save some energy for the ride back.” You found us a clearing off the trail, and we spread out our blanket that day and watched a little league game, wondering what the Great Meadows would be like — if we would ever make it there, or if it would just get added to the list of Things We Wished We’d Done When We Lived Here.
I am to girlfriend as terrier is to dog: that is to say, you lead, I follow. Dopily, unquestioningly, because you always know the way, and I like to think of other things. Like the smell of wet grass, or how that man hole looks like an upset monster. You would say later that this is one of the things that bothers you, that you are always the one holding me up and guiding me around, but frankly this is just how I live regardless. Dopily, unquestioningly. I exit trains and follow the masses, I drive and forget to read the signs. I’ll just keep going until I hit a T or leave the state. I’d never pay rent if you didn’t remind me every day, for three days, at the end of every month. The day after we fought, it occurred to me that I didn’t even really know how to get to the bike trail off Mass Ave — and once I was on the bike trail, I had no idea how far away the Great Meadows were, or how I would know once I got there — and I could find all of these answers on Google Maps, in two seconds. Nah. Fuck it.
This is how I live, and it used to feel like a choice I was making, but lately it’s felt like a trap, a neuron path beaten smooth and flawless as new pavement. What is the fastest way to Mass Ave?
I go the first direction my head turns, which is up the hill.
Pedals churn, I switch gears, a cool breeze shifts up cotton short edges, down collar bones. The nice thing about biking is that the scenery is always changing. What is that you say, you have problems? You’re anxious lately and you don’t know why, you’ve felt insulted, misunderstood? Signal left. Keep going, it’s bound to be out there somewhere.
I take Mass Ave all the way into Arlington, and then I finally see the entrance onto the woods of the Minuteman.
I pass the pond with the ducks and swans. Girls with wicker baskets and high schoolers waddling in oversized jerseys. Everyone is walking their little white terrier and no one thinks he needs a leash. A kid rings his bell at me and I ring back (but he doesn’t smile, because kids never act the way they do in movies, especially in Boston). I pass the little league field, the place I took our pictures. I keep going. There is no one on the path any more. The trail leads under stone bridges, their underbellies littered with crushed plastic cups, gashes of graffiti.
Then, plumes of unfamiliar white flowers explode on either side, and suddenly the woods open up, and the horizon melts into an endless sea of green and purple — blue violets swaying in the wind, some ancient house on the top of a hill, slowly peeling white paint. I put on my breaks abruptly, turn around to pull my bike off the trail. I lean against a block of wood only to realize it read “Great Meadows.”
So here it is. Where we didn’t go. The air is clean and good, mosquitos nip at my ankles. There is a sign posted here, nature hikes every third Saturday. Fire pits scar a grassy hill, leaves rustle overhead. And beyond, the endless blue violets. I stand there for a moment and look over it all like some lonely king.
Then I get back on my bicycle and ride and ride and ride until it is dark, I am home.