In and through the tunnel

Today I rode my bike slowly through a tunnel formed by an overpass. I have avoided it since July of last year when I fell with my bike, foot caught in the front wheel, head against the muddy, wet concrete. The last memory was the sound of the helmet cracking like an egg against cast iron. I thought: “This is it, there is no future you.”

It was dusk, and the cicadas echoed like monsters underneath the bed. Time dripped from the bolted seams of iron from the overpass. The thunder of cars passing above was the sound of head bone against helmet, against concrete, like when a bird hits your window.

I thought:

Someone else will have to walk my large misunderstood shepherd.
My husband will have to do his own taxes.
Mi mama will have to fix the pink bathroom tile without me.

What else could I say? Sure, I wanted to stay. At the exit to the tunnel, I saw my abuela, who went to sleep in March and never woke up. I yelled out to her, “¡Abuela, espereme!” Wait for me! Desperately, hot tears running down my cheek, I tried to untangle myself from the bike, struggling with the titanium beast, so I could run to her, but the weight of it pressed me against the ground. I surrendered into the concrete.

Abuela didn’t even bother to turn back. She kept walking, perfectly straight, apron in a bow by her waist, as she did at the mercado when I was 5 and had lingered too long by the lady selling bananas.

In the distance, I could hear my husband’s voice, quietly calling my name. He called my name again, quietly, like wind pouring through marsh reeds before rain. Wherever I was, I turned back, and gagged, his hand down my mouth.

“In case you swallowed your tongue,” my spouse told me, his usually stoic Swedish face showing fear. “You have been gone a while. Do you remember me shaking you?”

I wiggled my toes. I believed I was back.

There I lay, the seams of iron patches perfect above, cracked helmet, throbbing hips, left side of my face with pieces of mud caking off. I sat up, took a deep breath and told him it would be dark soon. We needed to get home. He nodded quietly. We got back on our bikes and rode home slowly. At the top of the hill, I did not look back toward the tunnel.

The next day I was in the emergency room, and they told me I had a concussion. “How did you bike home like that?” the ER doctor asked. Grief and trauma can numb you.

Today, I did look down from the top of the hill and saw the mouth of the tunnel, waiting for me. There was no fog of grief that kept me from tending to the present moment. My abuela had left this world, and I was still in it. I wanted to stay, for her, for me.

As the sun sank just past the pines, I lifted my foot to the right pedal and dove into the slope, slower this time, more mindful, and entered this new life.

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