Thursday, October 6, 2016
4 Years On: In Which He Teaches Me How to Ride a Bike Again
"That's it. Now, watch how I push off. Just put your foot on the pedal, like this. And chill. You don't even need to go anywhere. I mean, we could stay like this all day if you wanted to!" he says, as the bike knocks awkwardly against my ankle and I grip the handlebars so hard, my knuckles turn white.
We're in the middle of Epping Forest. It's an overcast, fall day. The leaves have started turning and some even crunch under our wheels as we cycle through the trees. In the distance, a horse clip-clops away from us. Otherwise, it is silent.
Eventually, we reach a clearing that gives way to a beautiful lake, which I use as an excuse to stop for a water break. I take in the serenity of our surroundings and suddenly my heart beats faster: 'Is he going to propose?' I think to myself, slightly giddy at the thought.
But then I remember: we're already married. We've been married for four years, nearly together for twelve.
But there he is. Smiling sideways at me as we pedal faster on the dirt track, shouting encouragement: "You're doing great! You look much more comfortable than when we first started!"
And there he always was: holding my hair back while I threw up in the bathroom sink during a bout of food poisoning; pulling my head into his chest as I sobbed over bad - no, devastating - news; doing a silly dance in full-view of a plane full of passengers to make me laugh.
But he wasn't always there - he couldn't be. 2.5 years of our 12 years together were spent apart on two different continents. I still can't listen to Death Cab For Cutie's Transatlanticism without being reminded of that period: those sad, sad days.
Like every couple, we bicker. We argue about who took out the trash last or whose childhood home was bigger. We argue about towels left on the floor and wet footprints on the carpet. We argue about tones of voice used or mugs of unfinished tea hidden in places, left to grow moldy.
Then, the other week, when we were embarking on Project Organize-The-Shit-Out-Of-This-House, I found a book I'd made for him in 2008: "365 days", I'd called it, filled with descriptions of 365 activities we did together.
"You have to hear this," I said, laughing as he came to the door. I sped-read through a few pages before getting too choked up to finish reading this one aloud: "Window shopping at Habitat and picking out furniture for our future home together." Because, back then? That "future home" was just a fantasy - and nothing more. It was impossible. The, "someday, but probably not". There was so much uncertainty. My future in the UK wasn't even secure. That "future home" - it was imagined. So far off in the distance, we couldn't even fathom it.
And here I was, married to him, sitting in the home that we both owned, and actually, really picking out furniture at Habitat for our real home.
And that's why I cried. Relief, yes, but joy - joy at crossing that finish line, with our arms triumphantly raised. And love. So much love.
In John, I found my life partner: someone I love, trust, and admire. Someone who encourages and indulges me as much as he kicks my ass and makes me want to try harder. And vice versa. Someone who treats my friends with the same kindness and love as he extends to me.
Someone who makes me want to be better.
I watch my friends search for soulmates, deserving of so much more than what life haphazardly throws in their direction. I watch friends find their not-quite-soulmates before realizing they weren't meant to be after all, parting ways and picking up the pieces. I watch friends settle down with partners who are very much not their soulmates and try to make it work despite this - and it makes me ache.
I watch all this go on as I watch the back of my husband's head on the pillow, rising and falling in time with his breath, when I wake up on Sunday mornings before him. I watch it all and I think to myself: I am so goddamned lucky.
I get on my bike and I pedal on, pushing off faster and easier this time, as he looks over his shoulder to check where I am.