I went on my last summer bike ride tonight. I intended to drop off a library book and go home, but there is a hill near the library, so I rode down it. And I sweat. Everything sweats in the summer.
And I rode my bike to a place where my only memory there is with her. We rode our bikes there one time. She has thin hair, so the ends would blow in the wind while the hair on the back of her head stood still. She rode a bike with no abandon. It scared me to death when she would race the car trying to pass us.
Then I rode to a place where my memories are held with thousands of others. But we broke in and made our own memories. John Prine was there.
Then I rode my bike to the museum and the bench where we sat and I apologized and she tried to forgive me. A few months later she would decide that she couldn’t, and two years later she would decide to marry someone else. I took a picture of the bench because I thought it might be important.
Then I rode my bike to a house where another girl lived a long time ago. There is a screened in porch where we fought and kissed and decided it would be the perfect place for a green, stolen park bench. I took a picture of this porch because it might be torn down one day.
Then I rode back across town to the building where I would run into another girl. I would be on my way to class, and she would be leaving, but she could convince me to skip class with just her eyes.
So I rode up the shortcut to her house. I rode past her front porch where we studied and fought and loved each other and hated each other. There’s a dented mailbox in front of the porch. And there’s a dented wall just inside the front door. I hope someone has fixed those dents. I didn’t take a picture of the mailbox because I hope I can forget it one day.
Then I rode up the one way street to her second house. This house holds some of my best and worst memories. I would come here when I should have gone home. I would come here when I felt illustrious and proud, and I would come here when I felt broken. I would help her pack and she would make me coffee and I would forget to drink the coffee because I was talking to her. And we would waste away the day.
Then I rode back down the one way street, past the deli where I drank beer with friends, past the house I called home for four years, past the cemetery where I would read and call my mom and throw the baseball, and down my favorite hill. Then I rode up the hill, and I rode back down it because this is where I would find solitude. On a street with no lights, gaining speed and feeling the wind.
Then I rode home. I got in my truck, and I drove to the airport. I parked, got in the bed of my truck, lit a cigarette, and started a book I should have read two years earlier because it would have made her happy. I took a picture of the runway because this was the most important place to visit.
On my way home, I drove past a house full of people watching a football game that took place eight months earlier. This town is fueled by football and the boys who sweat while playing it. It’s fueled by the students who sweat on the way to class. It’s fueled by the freshman who sweat at the cookout at the beginning of the year - shaking hands and throwing frisbees and figuring out how to make friends all over again. It’s fueled by the people who sweat in the bar - subsiding to the effects of beer and dancing with a pretty girl or cute boy. It’s fueled by the fraternity boys and sorority girls who sweat by the pool as they attempt to attract attention and deliver attention in a perfect balance. It’s fueled by the individuals who sweat while running - gabbing with friends or making sense of their lives or finding peace with God. It’s fueled by the pastor who sweats in his robe because the air conditioning in the old sanctuary sometimes goes out on Sunday morning. And it’s fueled by the friends who sweat on their front porches - talking about the years behind them and the years ahead of them and their fears and their loves.
Sweat is summer’s great equalizer.
“Nights were best. Then as the thick singing darkness settled about the little caboose which shed its cheerful square of light on the dark soil of old Carolina, they might debark and, with the pleasantest sense of stepping down from the zone of the possible to the zone of the realized, stroll to a service station or fishing camp or grocery store, where they’d have a beer or fill the tank with spring water or lay in the eggs and country butter and grits and slab bacon; then back to the camper, which they’d show off to the storekeeper, he ruminating a minute and: all I got to say is, don’t walk off and leave the keys in it-and so on in the complex Southern tactic of assaying a sort of running start, a joke before the joke, ten assumptions shared and a common stance of rhetoric and a whole shared set of special ironies and opposites. He was home. Even though he was hundreds of miles from home and had never been here and it was not even the same here-it was older and more decorous, more tended to and dream with the past-he was home.”
“Not about us. Not about our kids feeling good about themselves. It’s not about happy, feeling good. It’s about doing the right fucking thing.”