Leaning up against a tree, a garden gate, a front porch or door, or lying flat on the ground wheels still spinning from the jumping off and running exit of its owner; bikes make me happy. They beckon memories of adventures and visits. Of serious errands and sentimental deliveries. They beckon memories of my best friend.
When I first moved to the Jersey Shore it felt like a childless wasteland. My older siblings were all disgruntled by our relocation: Jersey City to Jersey Shore. They were not company. My younger sister, four plus years my junior, just too annoying then. I sat on the front stoop for entertainment – watching. I read. I dreamed. I waited for the mailman. In those days I thought being a mail person might be the happiest job in the world. To be able to deliver letters to people! Joyful notices of celebrations or birthday cards. I never once thought of bad news or bills coming by post. It was the wonder of good news and the dependability of the postman – 6 days a week, rain or shine, that held my gaze. My regular postman started saying hello back. Then chatting a bit.
“Had I met anyone yet?”
“You look to be the same age as my daughter, Paula.”
“Really, you have a daughter?”
“We live near here. You should go call on her one of these days.”
Riding my bike on a mission now, I scouted the neighborhood and decided he must not mean too near. I could find no one. I waited till I could clarify “near”. I told him where I had gone and he gave me more details.
“Paula needs a friend. You should go find her.”
Back on my bike, one day I just sped purposefully to the house he described, white with black shutters, across from the empty lot where later we would play touch football. I skidded to a stop, threw my bike down with purpose and went up the walk towards the front door. There was no one around. No car in the driveway. It felt like the house was asleep yet I now knew that they too, had six children. Surely someone was home.
There was a bay window looking out at the street. Hedges lined the house but they were not so overgrown that I couldn’t peak through. I approached the window, stood on tippy-toes to peer inside where the back of a couch was even with my gaze. Up popped a face! Wide bespectacled brown eyes gazed in surprise back at me. This memory never fails to bring a grin.
There was no alarm on either of our parts as if our adolescent selves quietly affirmed oh, there you are.
“Who are you?”
“Are you Paula? Your dad told me about you. Why are you laying on the couch in the middle of the afternoon?”
“Do you have a bike?”
“Want to go for a ride?”
Smiling, “Because we can.”
And we did.
Best friends. Buddies. Confidantes. Adventurers. Poets.
College girls. Maids of Honor for each other. Wives. Mothers.
Paula was the steady gaze of chosen family for me.
We rode back into each other’s lives when change, celebration, challenge or heartache faced us. We always answered the call. Always tried to be there even from two different coasts.
Bicycles. There is magic in them.