The poem, by Linda Pastan, is here. The reaction is from me to my mom.
I don’t remember learning to ride a bike. In fact, I remember Dad taking the training wheels off of mine and having it sit there in the garage. I remember riding my scooter — a Christmas present, I think — until I was taller than the handlebars could accommodate. And I do remember the bike, maybe the first thing I ever owned that was not kid size. Also a Christmas gift for sure, pink and purple, one I hadn’t asked for and so was kind of confused about at the time. I didn’t love it immediately, but I was also surprised to find that I didn’t have to learn to ride it. Credit the scooter and the training wheels, but I took off and flew.
In time, I came to value that bike for what it meant to me: freedom of movement. I wasn’t allowed out any later, I know, but that bike meant I could go farther and do more in the time allotted to me. I used that bike to ride past the houses of my first boy crush and my first boy romance — the difference between the two was that the latter knew I existed and returned the attention in some way, though we were both to unsure to figure out how to act on our feelings.
About my teenage years, there are a lot of things I haven’t told you, but mostly I was trustworthy. That bike was my adrenaline outlet when I was unreasonably angry. It was how I first learned to negotiate busy streets and the male gaze, particularly in summer.
Of course, it was also somewhat responsible for my little sister’s broken arm, but you already know about that.
And in all honesty, I never thought I would fly so far from home. I thought I was too attached to you and Dad, to this earth and concrete and freshwater and church that raised and fashioned me. But this grounding gave me security. Security gave the freedom to explore, and so I did.
I tried to be gentle at first, or cautious, choosing a college that was within an weekend visit or emergency drive of home. It gave me a safe tether while experimenting with how to flap my wings. It gave me training wheels.
I will not lie: This venture out West was not without some broken arms (metaphorical, not literal) and some also metaphorical crash landings. Being with a person who cuts you off from all the friends you had before and who actively prevents you from making new ones, insisting that he be the center of your world? That is its own special brand of fucked up and not good. But you have this first marriage, the one before Dad, that you never talk about, and I think you must understand at least a little of what I am saying.
But this place I was, this out West place, it did not let me fall. When I shook myself free, there were friends and support networks, and I think they had been there all along. For all the public bootstraps rhetoric here, there are some truly lovely people who give without ever expecting one to give back. Some of them are from the backwaters of the reddest red states, and in my finer moments, I try to be like them.
And this life I have now, it’s not easy, but it’s honest. At my job, there are people locally who believe in what I do 100%. There are people in power who distrust my very existence. In my love life — don’t even ask when I am getting married — my partner and I each bring our own baggage, each one different flavors of fucked up. I have some rape trauma and PTSD; he has some clinical depression, aggravated by what over the decades, I could only partially say. I think it’s fair to talk about us both as the recipients of verbal and emotional abuse. The same I could say for me and you.
The bottom line is this: I’m not always screaming with laughter, but I am sometimes. I am pumping for a better life. And I am always, always waving hello because I am owning my life.
Your oldest daughter