Cycling With My Ex-Lovers
by Laurel Flores Fantauzzo
I biked only once with Anne. She told me if I wanted to explore somewhere besides the route she’d chosen, it’d be my responsibility if we got lost. So I followed her through Manhattan, trembling astride a heavy old cruiser. When drivers passed me, they stared. I was slow, I was scared. It felt dangerous for me to be seen.
Then I fell. I stayed stunned in the middle of the avenue, under the part of the frame I didn’t yet know was called a top tube. Anne cycled back toward me, and I cried when I saw her face. She was angry. Or she was scared, and her fear would always look like anger.
Four years passed. Our breakup. My move to Manila. I tried biking again, this time with Maria.
Maria believed in gears and maps. She had stronger shoulders than mine. I clung to her back and sat on her seat as she stood and pedaled. I felt safe with her body as the engine.
She lent me her extra bike. She taught me to use a bell and blinking rear and forward lights. It’s important for people to see you and hear you, she said.
Together we saw beaches and street-side basketball games and billion-peso homes behind gates. We biked through shadows and neon. In gray mornings. During downpours. Sometimes Maria would smile and leave me stranded between traffic lanes while buses and jeepneys and sedans did their best to kill me.
Then she cycled to someone else, and never back to me. I returned to the US and biked alone for a long time, even after I met Malaya.
Malaya didn’t bike anyway. She preferred running on trails and driving too fast. I made her music mixes she could play while she stumbled over tree knots and got into small accidents. She liked how each mix seemed to tell a story.
One night I was the last to leave, after a small dinner party. She showed me to the back porch and asked if her new, used hybrid would be okay in a downpour.
Don’t make a habit of it, I said. The chain might rust in the rain. But once or twice is okay.
I ran my hand along her down tube. Moments later, I ran my hands along her bare back. She pressed her palm to my breastbone, lowered her mouth below my ear, and murmured, Wow.
After a few weeks, Malaya asked to end our midnight visits. We knew it was because she loved me. I told her we would stay friends.
I could never really imagine biking with her. She would never stay steady on a route with me.
For months after, we shared secret smiles. She’d touch the back of my shoulders and say, You. But I went back to cycling alone.
Then one night, after a few days of not eating, I sprinted on my road bike, my eyes wet.
Malaya saw that I wasn’t wearing my helmet. I wasn’t looking at her or anyone. I didn’t use my bell or either of my lights. I cycled fast, straight on, headlong.
So Malaya called me. She called me and called me and finally after midnight, lying next to my splayed bike on the floor of my apartment, I answered. I couldn’t explain my sobbing, or the danger I wanted to put myself in. I just wept.
I don’t know where I am, I finally said. I don’t know.
Listen, she murmured. Listen. We’re—us two—we’re whatever. But I actually really do care about you. I don’t want you to be hurting like this. What can I do? I want you to believe me.
I believe you, I said. I calmed my breathing. Maybe just—just tell me a story.
She hummed, thinking. Then she told me a kind story. Something about how much she liked looking at the back of my neck when I wasn’t watching her, how she liked that I was a boyish woman, how I was gentle and strong, how I would be okay.
I closed my eyes and let her voice recede. I remembered the last time I locked my bike to the railing of her front staircase.
You ever going to join a cycling team? she’d asked, offhand, opening her door for me.
Cycling is an inherently solitary act, I said, and I’m an inherently solitary person. It’s my destiny, really, to be alone.
She seized my face with her hands. I was startled, but her palms were warm, and soon I felt safe.
Look at me, she said. Look at me.
I didn’t understand. Then I knew what she wanted me to know. She was here. She saw me.
So I held my hands against hers, holding her holding me. And I looked at her. I looked at her.
Laurel Flores Fantauzzo is the author of The First Impulse, a finalist for the Philippine National Book Award. Her young adult novel, Sometimes There are Trees, is forthcoming. She currently teaches in the English department at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, and lives between Honolulu and Quezon City.