Sat 26 Jul 2008
out. Saturday morning in the zoo-like crush of the local farmer’s market. old ladies and old hippies sweep by me, children push past. all our bodies are just a little too close – and mine just a little too large to accommodate the dodging i attempt – but the thronging mass is cheerful, busily engaged with wax beans and homemade sausages and shawarma with tabouleh, please.
i am standing, Oscar in my arms, his hands snaking over my shoulder to swipe at the display of chocolate chip cookies behind us. i am balancing my market bag and the giant lettuce i’ve just purchased – from which i half expect a Cabbage Patch Kid to emerge, yellow yarn hair and all – when suddenly i realize that i am actually doing this, this perfectly normal, multi-task-oriented, socially and commercially engaged juggling act. that i am standing holding thirty pounds of squirming kid on one hip with thirty pounds of bedrest and more offspring spread across the general middle of me and juggling a wallet and organic lettuce and the cookie that i seem to have managed to buy and begin to nibble on without even noticing, and that i am carrying on three conversations at once, and that it is all, like an intricate act of magic, working. my legs are holding. my back has not collapsed. i have not dropped the child nor the lettuce nor – god forbid – the cookie. and despite having not been out in public for more than four months, despite having hardly made chitchat with anyone in the interim, i’m saying hi to an old acquaintance and babbling about tomatoes to a vendor and keeping Oscar from stuffing his entire half of the cookie in his mouth all at once, and it is easy. natural. sheer body memory.
until i pay attention. then my eyes grow wide and glazed and Oscar leaps from my arms and runs into the crowd whilst i trip over my own bags and lettuce tumbles around me. suddenly, mechanisms exposed, it is all too much, exhausting, this press of people, this exertion. this normalcy. and for a second i want to flee screaming from the market like a bat out of hell, and retreat to the safe predictability of ye olde couch, sanctuary.
i mentioned to somebody early this week about how coming off bedrest is both exhilarating and discombobulating at first, because simple acts that you’ve taken for granted most of your life have, in the duration, become curiosities, foreign and unaccustomed. how they play themselves out in living colour, almost assaultive, because your protective filters have been turned off for so long. the response?
i’m sure it’ll be just like riding a bike.
i laughed, which i think confused my friend. but this friend has not known me so long as to realize that twenty-three years ago this week, at thirteen, i managed to fling myself over the handlebars of my bike on my way to work the very last morning of my very first summer job, a three-week all-day babysitting gig. i landed on my face. smashed the left side of my jaw into smithereens. split my chin open, and re-graded the gravel road with the lower half of my visage. knocked out a tooth that my just-removed braces had been working hard to align for years. bent the frame of my bike enough that it was unridable. spent three months with my jaws wired shut, carrying little scissors in my pocket to unleash the steel facemask in case i for some reason needed to vomit and wanted to avoid choking to death. had my first taste of the relief that is morphine, and the nastiness that is withdrawal. started grade nine looking like Bride of Frankenstein.
i have been on a moving bicycle exactly twice in the twenty-three years since. and both times, it felt both utterly normal and terrifyingly bizarre, all the intangibles of that delicate balancing act wrought vividly visible by the fear and cloistering that had separated me from the act in the duration between. i ride a bike like most of us would walk a tightrope; in a state of acute awareness and surreality.
this morning, i dusted myself off, caught my errant child, retrieved my enormous, slightly bruised lettuce, wiped some cookie crumbs from the shelf that is my belly, and headed back into the crowd, smiling to myself. i was nodding, noting internally, with great interest, heck, it IS exactly like riding a bike. it’s fun, and probably doesn’t look strange from the outside. but dude, it’s also crazy as shit.