After all these years, it sometimes feels like I have only a handful of memories of my father. A memory of him turning our back seat into a tent on a road trip to Disney World. A memory of him helping us create our first AIM screen names. A memory of the two of us, dancing around the living room, my feet placed carefully on his. And memories of him teaching me how to ride a bike, in the parking lot of our apartment complex.
Fourteen years later, I still haven’t learned how to ride a bike. Audiences are bewildered by this; it seemingly rivals “I didn’t read Harry Potter” and “I’ve never watched Office Space” for most appalling fact about me.
Opportunities to learn have abounded, and yet I’ve thwarted others’ attempts to teach me. In college, walking down Sheridan, a bike in tow, my friends volunteered to give me a lesson. Or so they claim; I have no recollection of this, but their testimony to my adamant refusals rings familiar.
I turned another offer down by simply stating that I had no intention of pulling a Phoebe in Central Park, ever. (Undoubtedly, a lesson in the light of day at a public park ranks high on the Public Humiliation Index, but for me, it was mostly just an easy excuse.) Walking around the East Village one day, another friend pointed out that we were within feet of a Citi Bike station. But I declined that proposition, too. A fourth forced me to sign up for a Bike New York class with her, and I did it. But as I registered, I made a mental note that if slash when I cancelled, I needed to do so more than a week in advance to avoid the $50 cancellation fee. Eventually, predictably, unapologetically, I sent that cancellation email.
People ask me why I’m so reluctant to learn, and I can only muster a vague, terse nonresponse: “It’s personal.” For a long time, my own hesitation stumped me. I want to learn—or I think I want to—but my actions indicate otherwise.
My mom and I are finally alone, the flurry of relatives and strangers, shuffling in and out of our apartment, offering their condolences, has momentarily ceased. I can’t remember whether I’m crying or not, but I know it’s one of the first moments that I’m letting the gravity of what’s happened settle in. I’m finally contending with the moments that would never be, the things we’d never do. All that would forever remain unfinished.
When I finally break the silence, I ask solemnly, “Who will teach me how to ride a bike?”
Maybe it’s a silly and stupid and superficial question. Maybe it makes me sound self-involved. I wished I could take it back as soon as I said it. I don’t know exactly what I was thinking, but I know I didn’t care about whether I ever learned how to ride a bike, and I sure as hell did not care at that moment. The bike lessons, after all, had been daddy’s idea, and one that I don’t think I’d ever been particularly enthusiastic about. Instead, I think the question embodied my sense of loss, in the only way I could express it at the time. Because now I knew that this story—of my dad teaching me how to ride a bike—wouldn’t end with him watching me finally fly on two wheels.
I know that the day I finally learn how to ride a bike—and I think that day will come—will be a Big Day. A day that I remember forever. It’ll be the end of the story that begins with my dad, me, a pink bike and a parking lot. It won’t be the ending I originally anticipated, but I want an ending that lives up to my reformed expectations. I want an ending that’s perfect.