There's this man in my tiny town who rides a tandem bicycle all by his lonesome. People may think it strange, but I begged everyone to find me a tandem with no thought of someone accompanying me. Rather, I pictured me and the man, racing down dirty side streets, down back alleys, down the hills separating flooded land that now serves as community gardens.
By the time my parents nabbed me a tandem, I was no longer alone. For I'd joined hands with a boy from this very same town, to live in a house, to drink, to dance. Much to my dismay, he didn't share in my giddiness to ride up and down the streets with hands in the air, feet off the pedals, baskets galore. Like my Toms shoes, I wore him down all summer long until he agreed to take a ride with me.
I unburied my new-to-me tandem from the garage while he stood back, arms folded and newly sunburned from his long days chopping down dead trees. We mounted, him in front because we are traditional like that. Down our lane, down a hill, and down some more we flew and flew. Surrounded by hills is daunting to most, but not to someone like me who lives and loves to be on two wheels.
In the moment, I never thought of the return passage. A few minutes into our tandem tale, he muttered something about heading back. He'd had enough. But I was still smiling, just enjoying the frenzied freedom feels, even with a man twice my size disrupting the view. With haste, he turned us 'round, and up the first hill leading to our house. Determined to enjoy the last few minutes, I lifted my chin skyward, eyes closed to the Indian summer surrounding us. Stopping abruptly, I shook off the reverie to notice his glare. He said, never again, you're not even trying. And I began a mouthful of apologies at not pedaling enough, at not pulling my own weight.
We never rode again. But this story is not of woe. Just a few summers later, I found myself adjusting my wee babe into his bike seat passed down from his father. And though I never got the chance to race the tandem man in town, my babe and I go fast and dip 'round trees, and he squeals and I sing and our hearts are so damned full that I feel as if I may burst from truly knowing what it's like to live: to be a mother. All at the back of my handlebars. All while riding on bikes with boys.
Tonight, the rain was trying so hard to get it right. While it sputtered, I dressed my tot in his winter coat and we hopped on our bike. We talked of the rain, of the leaf-like halos in our hair, and soon enough the stars sewed out this map for us to find the moon. And we talked about that until we climbed up those same steep hills to our home--a home that is the biggest and the smallest we will ever know.