The UntoldFirst Place: Summer 2020 Writing Contest
I hated cycling.
When my date asked if I wanted to ride a bike in the park, all I could think about was the perfectly kept old bicycle that sat useless in my mother’s basement. I smiled and told him that I didn’t know how to ride one. When he offered to teach me, I laughed and changed the subject.
We just started seeing each other. He didn’t know much about me, nor I about him. Maybe, I would tell him why I hated cycling if he stuck around long enough. Or maybe I wouldn’t. It wasn’t a secret, exactly, but it wasn’t the kind of thing that one would go around telling every person they met, either. The last thing I wanted was to be labeled as a girl with ‘daddy issues.’
The date went well, I would say. He texted, saying that he had a great time, we should do it again soon, and he’d definitely teach me how to ride a bike this time. A winking emoji. I texted back saying sure, it sounded great. A smiling emoji.
I did like him. He made me laugh, which was a first. And I could spend time with him without feeling the need to get away, which also was a first. I was out of my comfort zone, and it was terrifying… but also exciting. Finally, I thought to myself.
It was a cold, mid-September evening. I walked up the stairs to my mother’s house. The door was unlocked, as always. It was sad, really, how she turned, leaving the door open into a habit. Living with a husband like hers, it only made sense. She never knew how late into the night he’d come home.
“Hey, mom, how are you feeling?” I asked as I took off my scarf and placed it on the back of a chair in the living room, where I found my mother sitting with the blinds shut. Her head snapped up, and she gasped, “Oh! I didn’t hear you come in!”
I sat on the chair in front of her. “The door was open. Seriously, mom, you need to start locking the door. You live alone, and it’s dangerous. What if a robber breaks in?”
She waved me off. “I’m not alone! Enough with the nagging, you’ve just got here! Tell me, how is work? Mila said you’ve been busy these last few weeks.”
I nodded. “Yeah, it’s been crazy. The company is opening a new branch and… Yeah, just… It was busy.” There was no point in explaining my work to my mother. She’d never been interested in what I did or how I did it.
She pouted. “You didn’t come the other week! You know how I feel when I’m alone during the weekends!”
Last week was my turn to stay with her, but I had a date, so I didn’t come. If I was honest, I could have re-arranged my plans, but I didn’t. I guess it was a small act of rebelliousness. Sometimes, I grew tired of doing everything for her, as if she was the only one hurt over the years.
Her selfishness was cruel to her children, and she didn’t even know it. My mother believed that “Every neglect of duty on a husband’s part had to be redressed by the children.” And we had been her therapy dogs since birth—me and my younger sister Mila.
I pressed my eyes as I felt the headache behind them increasing. “Yeah, I’m sorry. Something came up.”
She clicked her tongue. “What can be more important than your old lonely mother?” I protested. “You’re not old! You’re forty-seven, mom. That’s still young.”
She snapped back, “Oh, so that makes it ok for you to break your promise? Why? Does it feel good to make me wait? Am I not worth your time?” I saw her hands start to shake, and her eyes tear up.
I knelt in front of her. “No, of course, not mom. I’m so sorry. It won’t happen again, ok? I’m really sorry.” It was difficult to hate her when I could clearly see how much she hurt. But it was equally difficult to love her with the way she hurt us.
I didn’t go out that weekend. Or the weekend after that. I didn’t text him back when he texted, asking if everything was ok. There was no point. I was forever stuck in a nightmare from which I couldn’t wake.
Out of nowhere, he showed up at my door to see if I was alright. For the first time in my life, I was so happy I cried. I ran inside so he wouldn’t see my teary eyes. Then, he texted me, saying he’d wait for me to call him if I wanted. I cried harder.
I stormed into my mother’s house, crying. I went straight to the basement. There it was—the reason behind all of our misery: dad’s bicycle.
My father was crazy about cycling. He would take his bicycle to work and go riding with his friends every weekend. He would leave his wife, who was alone in the city, at home. He would leave his little daughters alone and enjoy the rush of wind on his face as he rode that damn thing. I always wondered why he even bothered to marry in the first place. He was no family man. He must have known it. So, why?
I never spent a single holiday or weekend with my father. He was barely home. He would leave early for work, come back late at night, and do it all over again until the weekends when he wouldn’t come home at all.
So, I hated cycling. That polished bicycle kept my father away from me. Years later, my father offered me to go cycling with him. I looked at him, shocked and speechless, and left the house. How dare he? Now?
I kicked the bicycle. Again, and again.
I felt hands on my arms, shaking me, and turned to see my mother. She was crying, too. “It’s ok. You need to forgive him. If you don’t, it will haunt you for the rest of your life. We all need to move on.” I clung to her and cried in her arms for what felt like hours.
Sometime near sunrise, she gave me a notebook I’d seen her reading throughout the week. “I found this in an old box last month, but I couldn’t read it until a few days ago. I was looking for the right time to give it to you. You should read it. Maybe, sit with him?”
I sat next to my father’s numb body, attached to several machines keeping him alive, in my parent’s room. I read several entries:
“Today, I told my wife that she should go out, get to know the city, and make some friends, but she just started crying. She barely talks to me. I think she regrets coming here. It breaks my heart, and I can’t stand the way she looks at me with empty eyes; the light is gone. I think she hates me now. The only thing I can do is to stay away from her. To cause her less pain. Because seeing me pains her.”
“My children don’t like me. Every time I try to talk to them, they just run to their mother. Why won’t they just play with me? Am I putting too much pressure on them? I just want to spend time with them. They grow up so fast.”
“I am a stranger in my own home. Whenever I return, my family stops talking and laughing. When I ask a question, my daughters barely answer with one word.”
“Today, I asked Nina to go cycling with me. She looked at me with disgust. What I felt at that moment…”
I swallowed a sob. It couldn’t be.
What did he do when we thought he was having fun? Did he really spend his whole life thinking his own family hated him? When all we ever wanted was his love and attention?
I went downstairs. The sun was up.
“I thought about it for days. I’m going for a walk. And don’t forget to bring your keys next time. I’m going to lock the doors,” my mother said while putting on her coat.
I watched her go and then dialed a number. “Hey, I was wondering if you still wanted to teach me how to ride a bike.”