Monday, July 14, 2008

Bike Riding

One of the few good memories I have of interacting with my (now deceased) stepfather was learning how to ride a bike. We lived in Manteo, North Carolina, well before it turned into the resort town/vacation spot it is now, before anyone ever heard of the Outer Banks or put OBX stickers on the backs of their cars to complement their now plebeian and undistinguished Ron Jon window stickers. Back then the town was poor, and many locals, including my stepfather, were fishermen. (And many of the fishermen and their dirt poor families whiled away the time listening to Southern rock and getting stoned, but that's another story.)

For my 6th birthday, I got a bike for a present, a little kid's BMX (redline squareback, I believe). My stepfather, who generally took little interest in me, patiently taught me to ride it, giving me balance support and encouragement, and running alongside me. As I got familiar with it, I was able to pick up speed, and the gyroscopic (centrifugal? centripetal?) force of the wheels was a better stabilizer than my stepfather, so he began to let go, and I was riding fine... until I noticed he had let go.

Noticing that I was on my own was the source of my first few falls. I wasn't prepared for the psychological stress of it. Doing something this dangerous and complicated myself? Preposterous! I barked alarmed complaints out of fear and anxiety, demanding to know why he let go, as I wobbled, overcorrected, and fell. But soon my confidence and experience outweighed my fears, and I managed to regain my balance after I wobbled, and eventually to ride smoothly, as all kids do. By the next week, I was riding with the neighborhood boys around the 1/4 mile dirt circle behind our trailer park, and by the end of the summer I was a daredevil, the youngest in the group of kids I hung with, but jumping over our makeshift cinder block/plywood ramp with as much gusto as the rest of them. In the end, I was the first brave enough to jump the ramp when it was set ridiculously too steep, landing hard but not crashing, inspiring my peers to overcome their fear of getting hurt by replacing it with a greater fear of looking chicken. The little kid did it, why can't you? Bok bok baaawk!

Switching gears -- and if you can manage abstract thought, you'll see where I'm going before I write the punchline -- my first marriage was a complete trainwreck. I've managed for years to not speak ill of my ex-wife in this blog, and I don't intend to now, but the fact is our marriage was a travesty. I felt unvalued and unloved, and looked on other men with suspicion. I developed frown lines, acid reflux, slowly became fat, and closed myself off from my family and friends in an attempt to appease her and gain her love again. She, in turn, thought I was treating our marriage as a job, doing things because I had to, not out of love or affection. She viewed me as having no interest in the world, preferring to sit at home and download nudie-gifs rather than going out to listen to music or just be with people, and treating real-world issues like a flowchart, binary thinking robot that I was.

So, that was a mess. We broke up hating each other, and only after years of separation did our respective wounds heal enough for us to work together amicably for the sake of Stacey. Again, the point here is not to blame or complain, or drag my dirty laundry out for daytime talkshow-esque public scrutiny and commentary, but rather to provide some back story for what comes next.

What comes next? Liberty, who is, by my best reckoning, the perfect woman. Young, alive, nonconformist. Beautiful. Well-read, intelligent, funny. Open to any wild suggestion, believing that I can take care of her, and trusting that I will. I've written about her here a few times, you can guess how I feel about her. Read all the entries from last September until now to get the gist of my feelings for her. They run deep.

Without hyperbole, and not to try to butter her up when she stumbles across this later (as far as I can tell, she doesn't frequent my blogs), and not because she is the relationship I am currently in, but because I have reflected on this privately, and found it to be an irrefutable truth: Liberty has made me happier that any person ever has. She has inspired me to be a man who is strong, asking me to lead. She has made me feel like my presence was valued, showing me smiles and attention whenever we were together. Her love and affection made me into a better man.

And now, we've been married and living together for a few months, and regular life has injected itself. We've seen each other sick, had busy schedules that left us both tired at night (if you're under 18, try not to contemplate what that means), and we've passed each other in the halls without stopping for a quick snuggle. A few times I found myself reading more into that than was there:

"Oh Jesus! She hates me now. I'm latching on to an empty heart, following her around like a lost puppy, what the hell did I do wrong!? No! Don't take this away from me! It was perfect! Have all the years of drinking from aluminum cans catch up to me and give me Alzheimers, have the next soccer game I play cripple me, have the bad wiring in my house short and start a fire that burns it down, have my boss determine that I cost too much and lay me off. But not her. Don't take her love from me, it's the thing that means the most to me."

And like the little boy who fell off his bike because he noticed no one was holding him up, I choked. I barked a confused, accusatory complaint. "Dude, there's nothing wrong, settle," was the response. The love was still there, and still is, and is stronger even than I thought it was. Think of this: Imagine a girl with a young kid who is barely scraping by, whose car falls apart during your courtship, whose cell phone gets cancelled, who struggles every day to get out of bed in time for school or work. She lets you seduce her, moves in with you, lets you be the support that gives her a car and a phone, asks you to stay with her sick kid when she can't miss an exam or when no one else can open at her store. And then she gets comfortable around you, and doesn't spend every waking moment trying to secure her status by exploiting her body. What could that mean?

It means, naturally, that she trusts me. She knows I don't want her to be a doting sycophant out of fear. Her position in our house feels safe to her, and she knows how to claw her way back from the brink of collapse, if need be, but she keeps coming home to me. She keeps inviting me to be with her family and friends, and she trusts me enough not to play a servile role, but to be herself.

What an amazing complement!

The affection? Still there. After a few days of cooling off after I lost my head, we naturally found ourselves in each other's arms. And I can feel the man she turned me into asserting himself, confident in his own position, and his character. I'm back, better than I was, and I don't need the constant whispers of "you are good and I want to be with you" to know that it's true.

Thank you, Liberty, you are amazing, and I have never loved a woman more. And I will be as daring a husband as I was a cyclist, confident and relaxed, with faith in our marriage strong enough to look cocky.

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