Tidal Forces

Waves crash in rhythm,
Ceaseless, steady metronome
Sacred beat of life.

Another Oregon coast inspired haiku that I finally finished this morning during the service at church (believe it or not). The topic was about holy moments and I couldn’t help but recall my holy moment walking the beach on Wednesday morning as I contemplated my husband with whom I’d last visited the Oregon coast. Thoughts of him came up quite a bit while I was there. Nothing tragic; just wistful melancholy. Somehow, while walking the beach, I started to feel some spiritual cleansing. Thus the previous traditionally spiritual haiku. This one is more earthy, and thus probably more me, though you might replace the word “God” in the previous poem with “Mother” if it didn’t have so many syllables. I guess with the wind tussling my hair and brushing my cheeks, I felt embraced by some holy, soothing spirit. Like my Mom when was upset as a child, holding me and telling me everything was going to be okay… even when she couldn’t fix what saddened me…

I Heart Seattle

I have been in Seattle for nearly 48 hours and I must say that I’m in love. I’ve been here before–in September of 2006–but it’s like my first time here. I was a cyclist in 2006, but I’d only recently bought my Giant, and so I was not quite the obsessed cyclist I am today. For someone who loves cycling and is a cycling advocate, Seattle is where it’s at. Commuting by bike is not unusual–people in all states of attire jump on bikes to get around town. The city is filled with all manner of hill and these cyclists intrepidly ride up them. Triple cranks a-plenty. The girl at the bike shop where I rented my bike said that most people have triples thanks to all the hills… Don’t know how true this is, but it sounds logical.

I spent this morning making a practice run to the STP start line. Which is a good thing because I missed a turn somewhere, got lost, and ended up on an inadvertent tour of the University of Washington campus (which was awfully busy for a summer session) while trying to find the E-1 parking lot at Husky Stadium. I finally found it, but couldn’t figure out where the actual start line was nor any of the STP arrows leading out of the parking lot so I figured I’ll just be following the crowd tomorrow morning.

I then proceeded to explore the Burke-Gilman bike trail further north from UW to Magnuson Park. I mistakenly thought that the Lake Washington Loop Trail was actually a loop and then when I pulled out my map and realized I was headed endlessly north, I turned around.

I wish I had more time to explore the Burke-Gilman, and actually complete this Lake Washington Loop, which appears to go through Redmond, but perhaps in another visit. I’m thoroughly impressed by the extent of Seattle’s bikeways. It’s overwhelming to a cyclist–I just want to explore the whole city and all its trails by bike. I just can’t believe how “commuteable” this city is with all its bike lanes and sharrows. Cyclists are welcomed on all streets and seemingly tolerated for the most part. Only in Boulder, CO have I previously felt so welcomed on the streets. They say Portland is even friendlier for bikes. Be that the case, I think I could really grow to love the Pacific Northwest!

I’m staying at a lovely B&B in a residential neighborhood by Green Lake. I’m within easy distance of my friend Sarah’s apartment and can easy get there by bike. I actually feel like having a bike in this city is much nicer than a rental car could ever be. In fact, I’m more comfortable by bike than I would be trying to drive around here. Perhaps I should quit my whole life in Ohio and become a bad-assed bike messenger on the streets of Seattle.

I’m a little nervous about STP, but not so much about the hilliness of the route anymore. I’ve been assured that it’s “flat” (which is to say there are no serious hills) and the supposed big hill into Puyallup is only 7% grade–no problem for me! I think my nervousness mostly has to do with the normal pre-ride jitters–getting to the start line on time, finishing in the middle of the group, moderating my pace, etc. I think after today’s confused attempt to make it to the start line, the nervousness is justified. The ride starts at 5:15am and asks that you start no later than 7:25. That’s damned early for Mars Girl. I’m not a morning person. Combine morning grogginess with navigational impairments and it will be a challenge for me to successfully get to the start line. Hell, I got lost going to and from the TOSRV start/finish from Joanna’s apartment and I’m from Ohio (and kind of know the area where TOSRV starts/finishes).

Well, hopefully I got all the wrong turns out today. I think I kind of know the general direction in which I need to go. I guess I’ll have to leave plenty early to account for mis-turns.

Overall, though, I’ve been having a great time seeing the city and hanging around my long-time friend Sarah and her kids. It’s been really relaxing and a great get-away. I needed a vacation. I can hardly wait to experience STP, despite the general pain (challenge) of back-to-back centuries. It’s always fun to do something new.

In all this gushing about cycling, I neglected to mention how great the coffee, salmon and beer are! Not necessarily having all those together. But the coffee is like being in Europe and there’s a coffee shop on every block. Forget Starbucks–there’s a ton of nice little places with their own unique twist and specialty treats. Every ale house, pub, and bar has a line of beers on tap that I’ve never heard of, the “cheap American classics” of Bud, Miller, Coors, etc are thankfully impossible to come by. And you can buy salmon in the grocery store that’s never been frozen and tastes so much richer than any I’ve tasted back home. I’m in heaven!

Sky-diving

I’m going to marry this man! I thought about thirty minutes into our dinner at El Compesino’s. We had dispensed with the small talk, gotten through the “getting to know you” questions and I’d already learned that he loved to backpack, ride a bike, travel–all the things I’d always wanted in man. In college, I’d made a check list of the qualities I was looking for in a husband. All my girlfriends had told me that I was being a bit too picky; I couldn’t possibly know what qualities I’d disqualified that might compliment mine in ways I couldn’t imagine. But I knew. I’d made that list after a significant breakup with boyfriend with the directive to to help guide me in my future choices. It helped me define what qualities I thought were most important to me in mate–separate the minor from the major. As I sat at that booth talking to Mike, I saw the list in my head and as he revealed more of himself, huge check marks materialized next to every item. Oh my God, I thought excitedly, the man from my list really exists!

“You’ve been sky-diving?” I mused, impressed.

Mike nodded. “Three times.”

“I’ve always wanted to go sky-diving,” I said. I was convinced I wanted to try sky-diving after my first ride on the Demon Drop at a Cedar Point–a vertical roller coaster that dropped you straight down from a 131 feet, allowing you to experience free fall for a few seconds. I’d been deathly afraid of the ride until my best friend Melissa made me go on it with her, and then after that it was my favorite ride in the park. I figured if I enjoyed that thrill, I’d probably enjoy a longer free fall from a greater height. A few times in college, some friends and I had talked about going through a sky-diving course at a drop zone that wasn’t far from the school, but the plans had never actually materialized, probably partially due to lack of funds since we were poor college students. The idea had been pushed off to a corner of my mind where all the things I’d like to do before I died lived.

“The drop zone I’ve jumped at is just over near Parkman,” Mike said, referring to the very same drop zone my college friends and I had toyed with visiting.  “We should go there next so you can watch the jumpers and decide if it’s something you’d want to do.”

By the time we left the restaurant, the date was going quite well–comfortably so. Some of my nervousness had dropped off and we were easily chatting back and forth, probing thirstily for more information about each other. Nothing is more exciting than those first hours of discovering a new person, someone who hasn’t heard your stories and knows nothing about you and likewise, listening to new stories you haven’t heard. The mystery begins to unravel like opening a present on Christmas morning. It’s even more thrilling when what you find inside the beautiful wrapped gift is even better than what you asked for.

My radio was playing softly in the background of our conversation as I drove my old Honda Civic to the drop zone. Mike had already marveled that I drove a stick shift–he did too!–and was, as men most often are, impressed that I know how to drive stick. I had the station tuned to some alternative station that we weren’t paying much attention to. Suddenly, Mike stopped mid-sentence and reached for the volume dial.

“Oh! I love this song!” he exclaimed, turning up the volume. “It reminds of me Europe.”

It was “One Night in Bangkok” by Murray Head from the musical Chess. I’d never heard the song before, but ever since that moment, it has become a theme in the soundtrack of my life that reminds me of that first date with Mike. I jokingly call it “our song,” despite the fact there is nothing at all romantic about it. In fact, the song is laden with tongue-in-cheek sexual innuendo–mostly of the homosexual and transsexual variety. Mike knew all the lyrics and was merrily singing them as he performed exaggerated dance moves in the passenger seat. “The queens  we use would not excite you,” he quoted theatrically with a glint in his eye. His performance, to me, represented a comfort with his own sexuality and bespoke of an open-minded attitude towards LGBT issues. I know it was just a song–and one that was making fun of the seedy underside of an Asian city–but it represented, quite accurately I would learn, a socially liberal attitude. Another check mark to add to an important item on my list.

Besides, he looked so cute as he playfully moved and sang, almost as if making fun of himself as he did so. He was obviously very confident and comfortable with himself (I, for one, would not have offered to subject him to my singing voice quite yet). I liked that he could cut loose a little, be goofy, even though I was still restraining myself somewhat.

When we arrived at the drop zone, I was immediately under-impressed by the complete casualness of the setting. From the road, it looked like any other farm house on a nondescript road in rural Geauga County. A small hanger, which one might mistake as a barn at first glance, and a large white house were the only two structures beside a large grassy field from which planes were taking off. There were a lot of people milling around, chatting and hanging out, including a group of Amish sitting beneath a tree picnicking. It was not quite what I imagined a drop zone to look like. I imagined it to look more like an airport–busy, professional, by-the-book.

Mike animately began explaining in detail each stage of the jump as someone parachuting by static line (a line that automatically deploys the parachute of a student jumper) would experience. We watched as a group of student jumpers cram into a little Cessna and the wobbly little plane took off from a landing strip cut through the grass of what looked like any old country field.

“Look. Grab. Look. Pull. Pull,” Mike explained, demonstrating the maneuver of checking for the handles to a main parachute’s cut-away and the reserve parachute,  and then pulling the cut-away and deploying the reserve in an emergency. “That’s the mantra you will remember after the course.”

We sat down on the porch of the house overlooking the air field which was where the planes took off and the jumpers landed. We watched the Cessna packed with students making circles around the air field, gaining the altitude necessary to deploy the static line jumpers. Mike chattered beside me, describing how he felt in those moments while the plane climbed before he made his first jump. I could imagine it felt similar to the Demon Drop car ascending the tower to its final destination while my brain screamed, I want off of this thing!! His description of moving his body out the door to grab the strut of the Cessna’s wing reminded me of those seconds the Demon Drop car would sit above the track before it dropped, the whole world laying below you, no turning back. I could almost imagine the moment of letting go of the strut–of flying, falling, floating–and the shocking seconds that seemed to stretch to hours before the parachute deployed.

The jumpers were released from the plane, one by one. Tiny parachutes sprouted from barely perceptible little dots in the sky. I had to squint against the sunlight to watch them as they wafted down under canopy, directed over a radio–which we could all hear through the speakers on the house–by a man standing in the middle of the field watching each jumper. Being under canopy was apparently the most relaxing part of the process of jumping. Like flying, Mike told me. Goosebumps formed on my flesh at the thought of it. I couldn’t imagine anything more thrilling, more adventurous, than jumping out of an airplane. I knew right then that I wanted to do it. That I would do it.

I relayed my inspired thoughts to Mike who only smiled knowingly and patted my back. He had no response. He knew because he’d felt it too. The calling to an overwhelmingly frightening challenge. We understood in each other that yearning to break all molds of conventionality, to do those things most people would fear to contemplate. We shared that lust for experiencing every moment to the fullest, to try everything once and to never hold ourselves back. We had the very spirit of life in our veins.

We stayed at the drop zone for several hours, watching student jumpers and professionals alike. I marveled at the way the professionals made tight, quick turns that seemed to swing their bodies sideways. They came down under canopy much quicker than the students, their turns executed frequently to increase speed. They landed on their feet while the students were taught to force a tumble upon landing. They made jumping and handling the parachute easy and effortless. It was thrilling to watch. I wanted to be like them.

Meanwhile, I kept wishing for Mike to make some sort of move on me. I thought he was interested by the way our conversation was going, but he wasn’t trying to do anything I’d expect, like grab my hand to hold it or touch me in some lingering way that indicated he craved the contact I was starting to desire. Was he just humoring me? I couldn’t tell what he was thinking. I was too timid to make the moves myself, though I did occasionally bump his arm with my shoulder or “accidentally” touch his hand when we walked side-by-side. He just wasn’t picking up on my subtle attempts at flirtation. Or maybe he wasn’t interested.

Finally, he reached out out and massaged my shoulders, his manner casual as if he were doing me a small favor. I tried to hide just how much I enjoyed that physical connection, fearing he perhaps saw the move as more platonic than I wanted to interpret it. His hands were gentle, but firm, as he actually worked from my shoulders a few knots of tension that had formed throughout the course of this date.

“Well,” he said at last as the sun was starting to lower in the sky and the number of planes taking off began to decrease. “What do you want to do next?”

(Oh my, welcome to post 500!! I’ve been writing away at this blog for over three years and now, at last, we come to post 500 with the continuing saga of my first date with Mike. My, how that seems singularly appropriate being that I started this blog as a concept to discuss how cycling helped guide me through the journey of grief. However, this blog has become so much more to me. Even if no one else ever read it, I would be fulfilled in knowing that I have some place to go to express myself where maybe, just maybe, my voice is heard…)

Compy’s

Whenever I drive the stretch of highway on Route 8 between Route 303 and Graham Road, I think of the first time I drove it to pick up Mike at his townhouse for our first date. Sometimes on a warm day in early summer, with my windows open, and the world alight with sun like it was on that day, I can almost remember being that 24-year old year girl excitedly anticipating the outcome of that evening.  The road, like my life, seemed to stretch out endlessly before me, each exit leading to a new and different possibility. The exit at Graham Road would lead me to both the greatest happiness and the greatest sorrow of my life–the impossible duality of our relationship that I always battle to embrace. It’s hard to love the happiness from the depths of sorrow. Even now with the perspective with which to look back.

Driving towards that exit when nostalgia strikes, I can simultaneously see Mike with the eyes of the girl who did not yet know him and those of the woman who most intimately did. I can almost feel that tumbling and turning of my stomach, my sweaty palms holding the steering wheel tight, the shallow breathlessness of every inhale of breath. I know the outcome of that first date, but I can still remember the thrilling ecstasy of the unknown. I embrace this ghost of my former self with both bitter sadness and painful longing. I still exit the highway at Graham Road for my home–a quarter mile from where I lived with Mike–but the road no longer leads me to the life I once I knew; it leads to a place where I’m still emotionally stuck. A dead end.

Our first date was on May 30, 1998. I know this because Mike later programmed a reminder in his Palm Pilot so that he could always commemorate the day. I thought he had a great memory until I was going through his Palm Pilot after his death. He had titled the reminder “Compy’s, Sky-Diving, Couches” which identifies, in a language we both understood, the special events of our first date. It’s these little details that I come across among the possessions he left behind that I get glimpses into Mike’s mind; I’m warmed as I realize what a tender heart he had. I always knew he was a romantic, that he saw our date–as well as certain events in our life together–as just as special as I did. But it wasn’t until I was forced to rummage amongst his possessions that I fully could see the extent of his love for me in the small things he didn’t always say.

When I stepped out of my car into the parking lot behind the row of townhouses of which Mike’s unit was a part, Mike was standing at his back door. He called my name to ensure I knew where to go as the house numbers were at the front of the building. I walked to the gate that surrounded the tiny patio and he motioned me into the house. He was dressed casually in a t-shirt and pair of shorts; his feet were bare. I crossed the threshold into what was obviously the living room. My first immediate thought was, Is he gay?

Having only recently graduated from college, I was used to the spartan decor of young, poor men: posters on the wall, milk crate tables, ratty couches and futons, dirty walls, clothes left carelessly on the floor. Mike’s living room was spotlessly clean and contained a couch and two smaller chairs, a fire place, and a nice throw rug at the center of the room to protect the white bur-bur carpet in the most trafficked area of the living room. Three M.C. Esher reprints hung on the walls–framed, even! The only part of the room that looked makeshift, like the younger men I’d been exposed to, was the small TV which sat upon what looked like two end tables. Still, not even that looked tacky or out of place. I was impressed by the sophistication his cleanliness and decor represented. I knew he was older than me–though how much older, I wasn’t sure–and the stability of his world was attractive to me, especially since my world as a recent graduate had barely gotten started. His living room showed me exactly what I imagined I could have in my own apartment some day. My own welcoming space.

I sat down on the couch as Mike reached down to grab his tennis shoes. Out of nowhere, two cats converged at my feet. The black cat, sleek like a panther, walked with deliberate caution towards me, giving me a look mixed between mild curiosity and disdain. The black and white cat approached cautiously as well, but as I looked down at her, she lifted a paw and waved. I reached down to pet her and she waved again.

“Be careful,” Mike warned. “The black one nips.”

Mike introduced the black cat as Tanya; the black and white one as Nicki. Later, as part of our story, Mike would remark that Nicki’s waving at me was her way of saying, “This one’s a keeper, Dad.” The truth is, Nicki waves at everyone to get their attention. I later taught her to do it on command so that I could show off her talent to any and all visitors who came into our house in an attempt to make her endearing to even those heathens who don’t like cats. I’d always loved cats and Mike immediately got points in his favor by having two of them. In my experience, it was very unusual for a single guy to have cats as pets. This was not helping ease my initial reaction that questioned his sexuality.

“So do you like Mexican?” asked Mike as he put on his shoes.

I shrugged. “Sure.” To be honest, I don’t think I’d ever had real Mexican food at that point in my life. Taco Bell was probably the closest thing to Mexican I’d ever eaten. But I’d never been a picky eater and I was always read to try something new.

“There’s a great place down the street,” Mike said. “We can go there.” And that was restaurant called El Compesino’s. The “Compy’s” part of Mike’s Palm Pilot reminder.

Two outs, bases loaded

Then, as today, it was my habit to check my email first thing in the morning. An email from Mike awaited me the morning of our planned date:

From: Michael F.
To: Heidi E.
Subject: PLEASE CALL ME NOW!!!!!
Date: Fri, 29 May 1998 22:40:36

Greetings,

I guess GOD does not want me to take you to Put-In-Bay.  He blew-up my car.  Ironically it DIED 1.25 Miles east of I-71 and I-80.  Isn’t that your neck of the woods?

So. please call me as soon as you pick this message up.

[reiterated his phone number]

I am sure I will be here, I am now a pedestrian.

Mike F.

Ugh! Thwarted again! It was starting to seem as though a date with Mike was never going to be. At least this time the reason for our disconnect was not my fault. But still, all of this back and forth was placing a lot of stress on my already over-stimulated nerves. It did seem as though the fates were against us on this pairing. Unavailability certainly does make a person attractive for the longer we failed to connect for a simple date, the more desperately I wanted this date to happen.

It’s funny that it never occurred to me that this date could really flop. All the things I have learned in the years after Mike to expect from a date with someone I barely know or don’t even know never occurred to me: that we might share nothing in common, he may have some weird quirks I can’t get over, he may be completely boring; or worse yet, he may be dangerous, violent or a psychopath. Somehow I had this clear assurance that something wonderful was about to happen if we connected. I suppose that’s mostly the carefree imprudence of youth.

Still I felt caught in the mesmerizing force of the little bit of his personality I’d already seen at Woodchuck. When our eyes had briefly met on the makeshift volleyball court, I saw in his eyes a tender shyness that asked quietly to be noticed, a calm kindness, contrasting with the confidence with which he held himself outwardly.  And then there was that mischievous grin–the look I’d come to learn was classic Mike, the expression that was left on his face in death–that seemed to alternately laugh out loud at the silly, inane circumstances of life and proclaim, “I’ve got it all figured out.”

I couldn’t help myself. I was intrigued. And now I was left frustrated, for our date was now most likely delayed for another day or, worse, he was lying to me to back out of it. Judging by the time stamp of the email–10:40pm the previous night–I was already running late on my call to him. Maybe there was still time to salvage this. Nervously, I picked up the phone and the dialed the number. But all I got was his answering machine. I left a message, this time remembering to actually include my phone number, and I spent the next hour or so waiting for a response while trying to pretend–and convince everyone else in my family–that I wasn’t waiting for anything.

Then it came. The phone rang, my mom answered and handed it to me. I could hear the muffled sound of people in the background and muffled voices over a loud speaker.

“Hi,” Mike said. “I’m at the dealership buying a car.”

Huh? I thought. “Okay…” I replied, confusion in my voice. Most people take their cars into a shop to get repaired. But I didn’t know him well enough to inquire further into this strange venture into impulse buying. Even though now I was slightly worried that perhaps this man had a spending problem, a part of me didn’t care what he had to do to make sure the date would still go on.

“I’m crunching numbers with the salesman right now,” he went on. “I’m sorry about Put-in-Bay.”

“That’s okay,” I replied. I felt myself on the verge of a nervous stutter. I was afraid of the answer, and I didn’t want to come off unsympathetic or selfish, but I had to ask the question anyway. “Do you, um, think we might be able to do something together later this evening instead?”

Mike’s voice became a little more animated. “A spontaneous woman,” he said approvingly. “I like it.”

I silently let out my breath, relieved. He’d accepted my suggestion not as the desperate act of a lunatic woman, but instead the laid-back spontaneity of an easy-going woman. If only he knew the truth…

“But I don’t have insurance on this car yet,” he sighed. “So I wouldn’t be able to come pick you up.”

“I could drive out and pick you up,” I said, a little too enthusiastically.

“You’d do that?” Mike asked, sounding impressed and relieved.

Of course I would, I thought quickly. I’d do anything to keep this date today–not tomorrow, not next week. Today.

“It’s  no problem. I’m a woman of the 90s.”

“Well, then I definitely owe you dinner,” he said. “And somewhere nice. Not McDonald’s.”

I wondered who he had ever dated who suggested a dinner date at McDonald’s. “Oh, I can’t be bought off with McDonald’s,” I retorted.

Mike chuckled at that remark and continued, “Well, think of some place you’d like to go. I’ll call you back when I get done here at the dealership.”

As I hung up the phone, I was again filled with bubbling excitement. An hour or so later he called back and we arranged to meet up at his house in the early evening. Having woken up early for the original date, I now had a lot of time on my hands to be nervous before I even needed to head out. I spent my nervous energy being a complete girl, going through all my casual shorts and tops and ultimately deciding none of them would do. So I went shopping and bought a few new pairs of shorts and matching tops. One of those outfits I wore to the date. It’s sad that I can remember exactly what I wore: a pair of navy dress shorts–with a belt, which I rarely wear–and a navy, blue and black tank top. I wonder if he remembered what I wore that night… Most men probably wouldn’t remember such details. But, as I would soon learn, Mike wasn’t like most men.