“Fear keeps us focused on the past or worried about the future. If we can acknowledge our fear, we can realize that right now we are okay. Right now, today, we are still alive, and our bodies are working marvellously. Our eyes can still see the beautiful sky. Our ears can still hear the voices of our loved ones.”
— Thich Nhat Hanh
Nothing would make me happier than this. Nothing can, nothing could. I’m on my spray-painted black Mongoose and it’s me and Charlie and Milla and we are out in the church parking lot behind the house. Riding circles around each other. Weaving in and out of one another’s erratic paths.
It’s this past week. Cold, clear. The leaves are all on the ground now and Thanksgiving is over and so even though it isn’t officially winter yet, I say it is. I don’t go by the calendar anymore. I’m too old for that shit. This is winter and we are riding bikes after school in this gentle winter sunlight. Our thing is vaguely synchronized, without intent, and yet it is spectacular in its own right.
We’re lone riders chasing purpose in union. Like deer playing in the forest. No one sees it go down. No one sees them quit their eternal nervous breakdowns in the constant face of danger and just say: screw it.
Let’s run at each other and swerve out of the way at the last possible second like a close call train crash.
There are crows out across the creek today. They aren’t always there but when they are, you know it. They are talking loud, hammering each other with blasts of squawk and echo. Mostly they don’t talk over each other but sometimes I notice it. And I wonder if it pisses them off like it pisses Arle off when I cut her off in the middle of a sentence like I do so often. I would be pissed too. But I come from a long line of that, I think. Of grown-ups who impulsively slice into the live words of others with their own breaking newsflashes. As if my ideas cannot wait. As if my thoughts are entitled and my impatience is justified and my presence in this conversation is a gift to those who are lucky enough to be standing nearby as I spray spittle on them and wave my hands and passionately emphasize my endless opinionated points. Points that have no origin and no death. Points that were never even born up out of anything but caffeine or wine. Or both at once, like a speedball. Like some wild-eyed soapbox preacher screaming in the park under a driving rain.
I slip in between Milla’s boardwalk cruiser and Charlie’s small Mongoose and we look tight. Rehearsed almost. As if this impromptu trio of street performers suddenly converged on one another in some euro-square and spontaneously combusted into these short inspired bursts of sure collision meets great escape. Each time we narrowly miss popping into another bike and human, I shoot up in my seat and exit the move with a swift thrust/ pushing down hard with my right leg/ throwing the bike forward with gusto/ a spike buck with an attitude diving between two joyous fawns like he was some cocky matador in the old stadium in Pamplona/ teasing two bulls at once/ risking everything for the sheer spectacle of it/ for the sensory overload/ for those lucky enough to be bearing witness to this sorcery/ to this… this… inexplicable enchantment.
Charlie smiles as a crow hollers at another crow. Or at us. It’s too close to call. His teeth break through his lips as he watches my bike shoot by his. With that, I am unarmed completely. His grin, the youngest I will ever lay any kind of direct bio-claim to in this world, it runs arm-in-arm with this cool calm 4pm we are living in. It is the kind of smile that could freeze an unfolding battle in its tracks, I think. Charlie’s towhead popping up out of the turret (or up out of the muddy trenches)/ cannon smoke ghost swans moving just above the ground/ and there he breaks it out/ in the crosshairs of a foreigner’s long gun/ an instant before they send his kid brains silhouetting playful deer against the dirty blue sky/ he smiles out over the land and the soldiers pause/ turn to venerable stone/ watch wide-eyed in fascination at the sight of a young boy smiling as he picks his nose a little as if there’s nothing in the goddamn world wrong with that right in your tired greasy violent face.
Dad, can we ride up that alley and take that ride we did before?
Charlie says this and his stepsister raises her eyebrows as he does just as we all three pull out of a death-defying move I like to call ‘Three Titanics’ where we all lock eyes and, like, kind of move closely past each other’s wheels without hitting anything or hurting anyone. Yeah, yeah, yeah, okay, okay. Maybe all of this pageantry is more or less made up of the same lame dance over and over again, but let me tell you something, Sherlock Holmes, okay?! When you are out there in the church lot on a ‘winter’ afternoon in the ‘winter’ sunlight and you are riding bikes like crows dive-bombing themselves on a high wild thermal, you fucking feel like you are running down that enemy canyon at Mach 10 in Top Gun 2.
Anyway, I know what Charlie means when he says it, and when Milla asks the same thing with an arching left brow, I pull General George Sykes (my bike) out of the magic circle of three and aim him, wordlessly, up the block/ north/ towards the old mountain looking down on the town. The other two follow me.
We are outlaws in the Mexican moonlight.
We are cavalry in some hostile town.
We are, each of us, upon Harleys. Ripping hellscapes from our pipes and running the sidewalks like they were highways. I do a super weak wheelie behind my old house a few doors up from where we all live now and I can hear Charlie doing one behind me a quarter second later. We are so linked in/ so in tune with one another. I swerve my front wheel a little, like I’m drawing a snake on the alley stones and I hear the two of them doing the same thing behind me and I almost piss myself with unstoppable joy.
It is a powerful thing, to be a leader. To be out in front and raise your freshly-licked index finger to test the wind and then to sense, TO KNOW, without even seeing, that the rest of the army is doing the same thing that you are doing right behind you, and the sun is setting, and the music is triumphant and glorious and hints at victory to come… but with great loss, it swarms the heart with this kind of electrifying buzz that can only come from knowing that you are believed.
And believed in.
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Serge Bielanko lives in small-town Pennsylvania with an amazing wife who’s out of his league and a passel of exceptional kids who still love him even when he’s a lot. Every week, he shares his thoughts on life, relationships, parenting, baseball, music, mental health, the Civil War and whatever else is rattlling around his noggin. Once in a blue Muskie Moon, he backs away from the computer, straps on a guitar and plays some rock ’n’ roll with his brother Dave and their bandmates in Marah.