Tuesday, July 29, 2014

It's Like Riding a Bike and Other Unforgettable Responses

There’s just some things in life we never forget how to do, and like that old saying, “it’s as easy as remembering how to ride a bike.”  Well, I had the opportunity to put that theory to the test.  I rode a bike for the first time in nearly two decades, and you know what, it really is something I automatically remembered how to do.  It was like second nature. My feet knew when to peddle, and balancing on two narrow wheels  became natural as the bike became an extension of my body.

I’m not saying riding the bike didn’t come without its complications, because my muscles would protest that sentiment, loudly.  It didn’t take but the first half mile before I started feeling the strain.  By the close of mile two, they burned.  Granted, I wasn’t riding on level asphalt, but some pretty steep hills, yet able to push through and make it back home.  I think riding this bike is going to be great in my quest to stay healthy and fit.  I can’t wait to see the results.

How much do we control our responses?  Do we even control them at all?  I can recognize them if I pay attention, but usually that observation comes after the fact.  It’s not like I’m consciously thinking about how I’m going to respond to life’s situations.  I have some automatic responses I wish I could change.  But I’m finding it’s like pulling your hand out of a fire because it burns.  I’ve seriously been trying these past few years to have a different response to things that hurt me.  My ‘natural’ response is pull away, slam up a wall, turn around, and walk away, sometimes even run and hide.  Instead, as I felt the heat rush over me in the middle of the pain, I stood and faced it, holding onto all hope that it would make a difference.  It didn’t.   Only now I carry burn scars along with all the others.

I saw my family together last week as my ex showed up to help me and my kids move my stuff into my new apartment.  There were moments of playful banter, working together, and laughter between us - familiar like riding a bike; it felt normal and natural.  We moved with a rhythm and worked together to get a difficult job done.  The fantasy was good, but then it was followed by a moment of reality … a moment that hit so hard it took me four days to even acknowledge it existed because my automatic response was to slam down my feelings and escape into work to keep my mind so busy it couldn’t face it.

That moment?  After lugging several heavy boxes, furniture, and equipment up two flights of stairs in the middle of a Georgia July, I was exhausted, hot, sweaty, and every muscle I had cried out in pain.  I just wanted to lie in the floor and let the air-conditioning cool me down.  Instead I had to help unload one more truckload of my son’s things at his dad’s.    I knew my ex, son, and daughter were also tired, you could see the exhaustion on everyone’s face.  There was an awkward moment where we all stood under the carport looking at each other, because this was the moment of truth. We weren’t a family any more.  Slowly, we all turned away from each other.  My son left to return to where he currently lived.  My daughter turned and walked back into her father’s house.  My ex turned and walked toward the path that led to the backyard to put our dog in the fence (well, I should say his dog now), and I got into my car to return to my apartment.

My automatic response was to feel bad and take the blame for breaking up my family.  After all, they’re still together – I’m the one that ran away.  They have their Thursday evening family dinner with Grandma and Grandpa, they see each other every day, involved in each other’s daily lives, which continue on as usual – just without me.  They didn’t fall apart, so I obviously wasn’t the glue that held everything together.

What was it in that moment that hurt so much it took four days to feel?  I didn’t matter.  I didn’t matter then and I don’t matter now that I’m gone – the family goes on without me or without missing a beat.  Like riding a bike, running away felt natural, something once you learn how to do you never forget no matter how long it’s been since you last did it.  And the response was usual  - without protest and unwanted – as have every relationship I’ve been in except with my children.  I’ve ran away from just about everyone in my life – parents, siblings, first fiancée, husband, friends, and careers and not once has anyone ever tried to stop me.  Not once has anyone fought for me. I will never stay where I’m not wanted.  I tried to stand in that heat for 20 years, all I got was burned. But today I remind myself – I didn’t break up my family – my ex gave up on me almost from the beginning.  It just took 20 years for me to give up and learn to love myself enough to care about me, what I need, what I want.  Just as my muscles hurt when I returned to riding a bike after 20 years, running away hurt too.  But, it won’t hurt forever.  Just as my muscles acclimate to its new workout, I too shall acclimate to my new life.  It’s like riding a bike and other unforgettable responses.

I still remember the mission and reason for my escape.  Someday someone will love me enough, and I will matter enough, that they’ll stop me, hold me, and never let me go. Until then, I’ll endure the pain of heartache as others come and go in my life, but I’ll enjoy the breeze on my face and revel in the healthy results as I peddle into my new life.

Till next time,

~T.L. Gray

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