Six and a half years ago, on a sweltering August morning, I began my freshman campaign. I remember stepping out of Jones and thinking, “Wow, every girl here is ridiculously pretty. ” Hyperbole aside, I was raring to launch. During that fall semester, I had a public speaking class on Tuesdays and Thursdays that started at 7:30 in the morning. I can never remember, but it was either just before or just after the time change, when it’s still dark out at 7:00. Regardless, even under such uncanny conditions, I still had to make that long and winding trek to Burton Hall twice a week.
I recall one morning in particular, when a cyclist pedaled right past me as I walked down the sidewalk. For reasons I’m still not entirely sure about, I immediately started counting the seconds it took for him to reach the end of the walkway and compared it to the time it took for me to travel the same distance. After processing my rough calculations, I came to an emphatic conclusion: I needed a bike. Besides, I figured the time I could save for sleep alone would’ve been well worth the lump sum investment and then some. Within a couple of weeks I finally had my own wheels.
As finals week came and went, my inaugural semester reached its conclusion. An old friend of mine congratulated me for “surviving,” but to be honest, it was no big deal. Up to that point, nothing ever was. Of course as time went on, I could no longer say that. Well, not with any shred of honesty. Before college, the most difficult period of my life was grieving the death of my grandmother. She was like my second mother, if there ever was such a thing, so losing her is something I can still hardly believe. Beyond that, most days were relatively uneventful.
Sure my temper landed me in the not-so-good graces of my teachers and principals, but other than that, high school was mostly humdrum. I dissected several animals, my friends were usually under the influence of various sorts, and I almost went to prom. Trimming off the minutiae from my first year as a collegian, the most interesting thing to happen to me was having my beloved bike stolen. Even after only a few months, I had already developed an intense bond with that steel framed beauty. Lesson learned: always lock up your bike, especially at night.
Although I hate to admit it, my own irresponsibility led to this tragic turn of events. At least I still have the memories, something no perpetrator can ever pilfer. While my time with that bike was short lived, so too were the days of ease and simplicity. I bought another bike soon thereafter, and things seemed okay again. With my sophomore year underway, I looked forward to one-upping my freshman performance. Then I met a girl in a course about art history. Her name was Gabby. I know I said that all the girls on campus were pretty, but this girl was on another level.
She was an actress with big hair and skin like butterscotch. We quickly became friends, and I eventually asked her on a date. I made sure to use the word ‘date’ when I asked her in order to eliminate any chance of confusion. She politely said no. I was crushed, but I recovered. Soon afterward we lost touch. I then met another girl named Brooke. She was a transfer student from Orange County, California, so naturally I thought that was pretty cool. We stayed close for almost two years. Going into my third year, also known as my first junior year, Brooke invited me to a house party that she and her roommates were throwing.
Apparently it was their cat’s birthday, so the event on social media was appropriately titled “Fiesta del Gato. ” Being the late bloomer that I am, I decided to finally attend a full fledged college party at twenty years old. This place had it all: pulse pounding music, booze, hookah, scantily clad women and belligerent fellas who were either arm wrestling or playing beer pong. If I recall correctly, the only food on site were pretzel sticks and Jello shots. After that night, I learned that parties and I just do not mesh well together. And I never did see that cat.
To digress for a moment, the first girl I ever asked out on a date was also named Gaby, with the obvious difference being that she only used one ‘b’ to spell her name instead of two. My ninth grade self could barely get out the words in a coherent manner as my voice was shaky and my breath was nearly absent. She literally laughed out loud before she patted me on the shoulder and ultimately declined, and so began an impressive streak of rejection, or as I like to call it, “one of life’s greatest teachers. ” Fast forward back to my first junior year, when I met another girl who, as unbelievable as it may sound, was also named Gabby.
There was so much about her that fascinated me, but it was her eyes that struck me the deepest. To spare you from an epic that would make The Odyssey look like flash fiction, we remained friends for years, even after I failed at making a move to take our friendship to the “next level. ” It’s been a little over a year since I last saw the third Gabby, but I’ll never forget her. She helped me grow a lot, even though she and I were never more than intermittent besties. She gave me my first kiss, which is something I am not too ashamed nor embarrassed to admit considering I was a ripe old twenty-one.
Did I mention I’m a late bloomer? For as long as I can remember I have always blamed all the shortcomings and mishaps over the course of my life on one person in particular. My biological father was never a positive contributing factor throughout my childhood, which is something I battled internally for years. Alcoholism is a very real disease, and I have seen firsthand how divisive it can be. For me, the worst part of it all was having to grow up and see how his absence affected my sister. Naturally I tried to assume the role, but I could only do so much.
The few memories I have of my parents together are loud, only loud. He still lives nearby, and he’s been sober for over a decade now, but the damage has certainly taken its toll on our relationship. On the rare occasions I do see him he gives me money, probably because he feels guilty for every thing he did and didn’t do for us. I’ve since grown into my own man, without his guidance or his wisdom. Sure I would have preferred that he’d have been here for all the times I acted out in school, or that one time when I made the honor roll, but I have since forgiven him, even though my mother never will.
Over the course of the few years when I met the two college Gabbys, my life had taken shape in ways I did not expect. I changed my major twice, from Journalism to Pre-Dental Hygiene to English. I donated blood for the first time, and several times after that. I went through a piercing phase that was more fun than I had anticipated. I adopted a pup from a farm and named her Rosie. My twin earned two degrees and married a firefighter, while I remained a single undergrad. I went on numerous first dates, and only a handful of second dates. I finally found love, and then I lost it.
My brother and his family moved in with our mom. Words were said. Things were broken. I never saw my brother again. I tried to drop out. My mother wouldn’t let me. I tried to move away. My step-father wouldn’t let me. I gave up… twice. I mismanaged both attempts. My depression deepened. I sought professional help. It helped for a little while, which was enough. I moved into a new apartment. I started to feel better. Then, my second bike was stolen. Lesson learned: listen to your mother and don’t leave your bike on your car. I withheld the bad news from my mother until I was closer to replacing my second bike with a third.
She’s not the type to unleash a furious wrath when something goes wrong, but I can tell when she’s disappointed, which honestly might be worse. Those months when I was left to my own two feet felt like I was in a cyclist’s limbo. I was living in my own Hell, sans a bicycle. The thing I enjoy most about riding a bike is that weightless feeling I get when I pedal so fast before freezing in place and letting my momentum carry me along. The best moments are when I’m at the top of a hill, and I take my feet off the pedals. As I roll down the hill, I stick my legs out to the side, almost as wide as the smile on my face.
The wind fights against my chest; it flows through my soul. Conversely, it’s absolutely disheartening whenever the chain breaks, or one of the tires flatten, but such is life. The last time I saw my father was this past Thanksgiving. In a way he finally did something for me, because I used the money he gave me to buy another bike. I anticipate that over the course of my time with this bike I’ll experience more chances at love, more side-splitting laughter, and more agonizing hardships. Though I’m on my third bicycle, chances are I’m not on my last. And even though it might not be much, it’s enough to keep me going.