Letting Go of My Bicycle

Jess Mack

My bike was stolen last summer. I guess it was my fault, really. It was simply leaning against the side of our bungalow, not locked up or anything. I mean, it was partially hidden behind a grill and you would have had to walk through two gates to get to it, so it’s not like I was all, “take my bike, world!” But in the heart of Venice, California, my bike wasn’t locked up and so somebody took it.

I shouldn’t have been surprised and mostly, I wasn’t. While I’m not irresponsible, I work hard to not hold on to objects. Partly so that when a loss or a break does happen, it doesn’t sting so bad. I try to remember that it’s always coming, and then once it happens I work to embrace the challenge it presents in letting go. “It’s just a bike.” It was meant to go.

But the loss of that bike, settled a bit deeper into my soul. Bikes are all great. But this wasn’t just any bike. It was highly personally appointed, with a bell and kooky red polka dotted panniers. And when it disappeared for good, I had to admit to myself the baggage it had been carrying for so long.

This bike had been the best gift I’d received from a nearly decade-long relationship that had ended traumatically. A hold over from a person I no longer wanted in my life. This bike had accompanied me through the years of healing and searching (and apartments) directly after, had ridden me through a bad accident, and waited patiently for me in a storage unit the year I moved to Bangkok.

My bike in its heyday

I got the bike — a grey Diamondback commuter hybrid (one-part uncool, one-part responsible) — in 2011 when I moved to Seattle from NYC. Whereas in Brooklyn, I had been terrified to ride a bike, petrified of cab doors and the carelessness of the City, Seattle was a fresh start.

I would be a cyclist in Seattle. Yep, that’s me! I have one pant leg rolled up and maybe a bit of grease on my face. I bike to get around! I rely on the strength of my own two legs, two lungs, and two eyes to move me deftly through the arteries of this verdant, hilly city. In Seattle, my bike was the ultimate symbol of my new life: independent, outdoorsy, adventuresome. For the first four months I lived there, I didn’t have a car — I only had my bike. I was incrementally intrepid, for me, a pretty anxious person. Little by little, I gained confidence. I used my bell first timidly, then aggressively. BELL! Coming through, Mister. Watch it.

We lived atop a five-block stretch of steep uphill, above a bike trail. So to get home always included an uphill grind. I loved that, actually. Grinding out in gear one, standing on the pedals I would pretend the trees lining the streets were cheering me on. I would mentally high five the parked cars and by the time I passed the cream Volvo wagon always parked on the East side of Corliss Ave, I knew I was in the homestretch.

I really hit my stride with that bike. I biked 8 miles round trip to hot yoga on the reg. I persevered through many rainy days. Up and down countless hills. I finally felt cool in a bike helmet.

When my relationship collapsed in a fantastically horrible heap a year later, I moved out and took almost nothing with me — except my bike. I was beyond crushed. Sometimes my bike was a painful reminder of the fullness I’d so recently had. It was June then. The first month Seattle starts to open it’s eyes to summer skies. I was just back from a yoga retreat in Costa Rica, where, in addition to weeping through every asana, I felt proud of the small but significant headway I’d made on beginning to heal myself. Back on my bike, in a new sublet, feeling, OK, I got this.

Riding home in the bike lane early Friday evening, June 8, 2012, on a flat avenue (there aren’t that many in city of hills like Seattle), the next thing I saw was darkness. A deep thud and blackness. As I came to, my body was face down on the pavement. Dislocated from my mind and the sounds around me. Wisps of reality started to return. I didn’t see anything. I just heard things. “Don’t move.” “Somebody get her bike.” “Miss, do you know what happened?”

Things were black. My ankle hurt. My elbow pulsed with shocks of nerve-y pain. My wrist felt limp like a crushed flower. They slowly turned me over. I don’t know who “they” was. They loaded me onto a backboard and into an ambulance. I didn’t notice the crowd gathered around . I didn’t see my bike. I didn’t notice my house keys thrown into the street from the fall. “Miss, run your tongue through your teeth — did you break any?” No, thank god. “Do I look badass?” I meekly joked. “Do you know what happened to you?” I think I was doored.

I would later learn that the police came and passersby, including the man who doored me, said they didn’t see or know what happened — one minute I was up and the next I was down. The fall cracked my helmet and knocked me unconscious briefly, convulsing. My wrist broke the fall for my face, though my cheekbone broke my wrist as they both hit the pavement. I cracked my elbow, pulled my shoulder, and had road rash through layers of clothing down to my skin along the left side of my body: ankle, knee, hip, elbow. Even my backpack and my laptop case shredded. Somehow no one really saw what happened, and no one really knew. I know my bike did. But the police report said that I fell on my own: a bone breaking crash on a flat street, just a girl and her bike.

“Do you have someone that can come pick up your bike? We’ll take it to the fire station,” the EMTs said. I didn’t, really. That was kinda sad. I believe in physical manifestations of emotional reality. Looking back it makes sense two months into attempting — and failing — to process the crushing trauma of my relationship’s demise my body just simply broke apart. Couldn’t hold it together.

This is not a fun cast shape to be in, let me tell you.

And while my brittle body broke, my bike was untouched. When we had crashed, my bike and I, it fell on top of me. I broke its fall. I took it into the shop for a tune up just in case, but they said it was perfect.

For the rest of the summer in a cast, my bike sat patiently by in the backyard. A witness to the breaking and the healing.

In September, I moved to Bangkok. I needed a fresh start. I left my bike with my friend Ali to use, and later it sat patiently in a storage unit with the rest of my belongings until I returned. I visited Seattle a few times while I was a way and our reunion was always momentous. It was exciting with a twinge of sad. Back in the saddle. We’d been through so much. We just kept going.

More time went by. I moved from Bangkok back to Seattle. Then eight months later, to Los Angeles. I packed the bike in with my other belongings and trailed it down the coast to a new life and new love.

It carried me around the cool dude chill time streets of Venice Beach, down the boardwalks and past the roller skates. It was a different world for my Seattle bike, drier, flatter. But we rode it out. Then eight months after that, the bike was gone for good.

Reunited.

Whoever took it couldn’t have known the relationship I was in with that bike. And what a warrior it was. An adventurer. A witness. A companion.

When someone takes something from you, you lose the thing alongside the agency you had to give that thing away. It’s a double loss, at least. The bike was mine, and mine to decide to part with. To watch get rustier. To bring to the Good Will or whatever. To ritualize the journey we’d had together and decide the moment it was time to say goodbye.

I would never have chosen to have it stolen, but actually, it was a gift that it was. The space created by its sudden loss allowed me to realize the vestiges I’d carried with me through that bike for years. A gift from a person from another lifetime, that I did not want. A witness to an accident that was weird and mysterious and painful, and from which I’d long healed from. A sister warrior of uphills, because I’d needed company on the uphills for so long. A fellow survivor. The bike was suddenly gone, allowing me to marvel at the vestiges gone with it. And then, a sense of vast relief. This is how the story was supposed to end.

I waited a month and then bought another bike. “Have you ever been fitted for a bike?” the man in the store asked me. “No,” I said, which was the truth. “You’ve probably never had a bike the right size in your entire life,” he said. He meant because I’m over six feet tall, but it felt like he meant it on a more soul level and I thought, “you’re right.” I was ready again for agency. He fitted me for a 22 inch men’s bike. I chose a bright red frame and had them attach a bright orange basket. I felt tall and capable as I rode it around the parking lot. The larger frame — my old bike must have been 18 or 19 inches — allowed me to stretch out. To ride straight and tall, as I am.

I bought it for myself, then I locked it up.

Jess Mack

Written by

Jess Mack

I pass the mic. Love to grill meat & fight for women’s rights

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