I’ll be the first to say that it’s kind of silly. I’m not really sure how it turned into a “thing,” or how so many people came to know about it. Maybe it’s because they all kept offering. “Let me teach you!” they’d say, and I would shake my head. “You don’t know what you’d be getting yourself into,” I’d retort, and adamantly insist that no, no, you’re not the one. Sorry, but no.
Honestly, I was completely content with not being able to ride a bike. Everyone asked how it happened—how did a little girl growing up in suburban America miss out on such a crucial skill? And I don’t know. I had a bike with training wheels, but they just never took the training wheels off. To get to my best friend’s house in the neighborhood over, I’d cut through the land that belonged to the Countryman family, climb the fence, and traipse through the woods. Later, I ended up moving to the street she lived on anyway, and then I could just walk up the hill. I never thought much about not being able to ride a bike, but when I did, I shuddered. I don’t do well on my feet, and most of my near-death experiences have involved moving contraptions (“Golf carts”? More like “death traps.”)
But when I got to college, all of my new friends were shocked when I said, “I’ve never ridden a bike without training wheels” in our “Never Have I Ever” game. (By the way, that was a killer move and I’m pretty sure I beat everyone because at that point, I’d never eaten a peanut butter and jelly sandwich either. Cha ching.) As my new friends turned into my friends and then into my old friends, it was always a funny quirk about me that they liked to bring up. “C’mon, I’ll teach you!” they implored. I would shake my head firmly. It’s not that I didn’t trust them; I just know I have a certain reputation with, er, coordination, and I felt like it was going to be an arduous task. Finally, I made the decree: “Look, I’m going to let my future husband teach me. That way I’ll be able to fall down as much as I need to.” It both shut them down and put off the task; see, I wanted to learn to ride a bike, but I wanted to do it at some distant, hazy point in the future. And so I went about, walking on my own two feet, denying offers left and right. And I was happy.
I met Caleb the same October day that I got the worst haircut of my life. I sat in Janie’s bathroom and sobbed as I stared at it in the mirror. For 10 whole seconds, I refused to leave the house. And because I have the best friend in the world (I am in debt to her for many things, but this stands as one very important one), she told me to shove it and get dressed. And because we sometimes do the things we’re told to, or because I didn’t want to stay home, or because life is made up of these seemingly insignificant moments that recolor everything—or perhaps because of all of the above—I did. I put on a blue sweater and got in the car and drove a few cities over. And it happened just as inconspicuously as that: We happened to be standing around, and one of us happened to say hello. And we happened to have a good conversation or make each other laugh or catch one another’s references. I can’t remember what we said, but I do know that he struck me, because later, on the way home, I asked Coston, who knew him from high school, about “that boy in the white T-shirt.” (This is how I know, Caleb, that you were definitely wearing a white T-shirt the night we met.) “Oh, Caleb?” Coston said. “What a great guy.” I added Caleb as a friend on Facebook.
Things happen as we’re living; that is to say that Caleb and I became friends and then better friends and then old friends. We flirted with the idea of dating those first few months, but thought better of it and instead just kept in touch. I never thought about why, and I never thought it strange that we’d only seen each other in person a handful of times but talked so often. There were months that went by without contact, but then one of us would start the conversation again. “I found this book and thought of you,” he’d tell me, or, “Hey, what’s new with you?” I’d ask. Years passed this way. I dated other people, though not seriously. He thought about dating other people, though not seriously. We stayed in touch.
During the spring of my senior year in college, Caleb asked me to edit his medical school application essay. We reconnected in a deeper way because graduating from college—and not knowing what was about to go down—and applying to medical school—and not knowing what was about to go down—had their similarities, namely that we were both in places where neither of us had the faintest idea of what was about to go down (in more ways than we originally thought). Our messages back and forth went like this: “Great blog post. I understand that everything is up in the air, but you’re doing a great job!” and, “Good luck on the MCAT! Even if you fail, we’ll all still love you.”
One fall afternoon—almost exactly three years after we first met—we got a cup of coffee together. We were both nervous since it had been a long time since we’d seen each other, and we both brought buffers (I brought my roommate and he brought his sister; you know, just in case). But after a few minutes, I forgot they were there. If we were in a rom-com, this is the moment where the musical overlay would begin to play as I threw my head back in a laugh, my eyes dancing at him. Everything about him made me want to say yes. That coffee date turned into, “Do you want to come over after work?” which turned into late nights on my sofa, which turned into dinner at the J. Clyde, which turned into, “When can you meet my family?”, which turned into drives back and forth between cities, which turned into love, as they say.
It was as if the us we would be had just been waiting to become. In so many ways, it happened easy, like breathing; in other ways, it happened hard, like climbing rocks with one hand. We were the same, and we were different. We went together and we had to learn how to go together. We fell into love and we had to jump. We still do, actually.
For my birthday this year, Caleb took me to a secondhand bookstore, where he tried to convince me to let him buy me a collector’s edition of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn [ed. note: Please read this book if you haven’t yet.] Then he gave me athletic socks—what I’d been asking for for months—and we ate Hawaiian pizza on my balcony while it rained. It was perfect. But the next day, he told me he had another present for me. He looked at me with eyes that said, “Let me teach you,” and I nodded. Everything about him made me want to say yes.
Perhaps you’re thinking the best way for me to end this story is to show you a picture of me riding that bike, but the truth is that I can’t yet. But he has been teaching me, and let me tell you—it’s harder than it looks (my hat’s off to all of you who did it as 6-year-olds.) The first time I climbed on, I think both of us were hoping a little bit that maybe I would take to it like I took to eating pizza, since I’ve always been great at that. But I didn’t: I got on, flailed around a bit, and at the first sign of wobbling, I put my feet back on the ground. But Caleb isn’t giving up, and neither am I. I learn like this: “There you go. Find your stride. Don’t worry; I’m not letting go. I won’t let you fall.”
So I did.