Last November I entered a national writing contest. Well the news is out and I did not win, I know it's shocking. The winner is a professional writer, also shocking, right. Winning wasn't the point but merely entering was what I wanted to accomplish. Below is the story I entered. I took several parts of different stories and combined them into one. This year I plan to enter again but will have more time to craft a better story. Thanks to everyone that gave me words of encouragement and support. So here it is:
I look down at my right hand, palm facing up. It's covered, uneven, blotchy, and dripping. Drop by slow-motion drop, on my pants, my shoes, the floor. I see red. My fingers are so coated that my index and middle fingers stick together easily. I test the tackiness by moving the two fingers out and in, out and in, like I'm cutting thin air with my crimson soaked finger-scissors. I can feel it drying on my skin, making it tight. I'm entranced by the glossy sheen and I get lost in thought.
My dad and I had an arrangement. The sort of thing that just kind of happens. No one sets out to make a pact. It developed naturally, I guess. Although, I know him; he yearned for moments to teach, to impart his vast knowledge, experience, and passion. To watch over someone as he pushed through a problem under his own power was a sweet victory. It brought him the kind of joy that turns the monotony of day-to-day living into something cool.
Teaching moments crowd around me like weeds, so he never had long to wait. Just around the next corner, another stupid mistake, and another wonderful opportunity for him to teach me something. Dad didn’t dish out lessons on a whim. He was not the sort of man that stood on a soap box with a bull horn to declare his mastery of this or that. Quiet, reserved and patient to a fault perhaps. He would wait for just the right moment, a moment like this.
I’m frustrated. I’m perplexed. I stare at my hand and then back at him, my brows pinned together like two rams with their horns locked. Every one of my questions to him was answered with a question.
Argh! “Just tell me the answer!” I blurted.
Nope. Not yet, it wasn’t time. I hadn’t walked far enough down the path. I kept asking questions, but I failed to bend them into the right shape to hook the ring of the lynch pin and yank it free of its burden. I was bad at asking pointed questions. One of his greatest skills, I think, was his uncanny ability to ask the right question at just the moment it needed to be asked. I'm too impatient for that nonsense. Plus, I know he knows the answer. He just does; certainly he must. Why should he make me suffer through finding just the right question? Why does it matter so much to him?
To him the lesson wasn't really the one I thought it should be. The problem, the one at hand, is rarely the real problem. Not the one that needs fixing, a remedy, or a sternly taught instruction to prevent it from happening again.
No. Not this problem: red hand, red pants, red shirt, red shoes, and red floor. The resolution to this sticky situation will not prevent its reoccurrence. He quietly looks at me, waiting. Softly. Breathing deeply, I smell the unmistakable muskiness of our garage; a mixture of truck oil, wheel bearing grease, dirt, hammered metal, and cut wood. Eyes closing, I mentally back track, tight-rope walking along the train rail, following the hardened steal line in my brain that leads me back to where the train left the station, to that moment, the one where I must have jumped the rails. The spot I made the wrong choice.
AH HA! I got it!
I look at him eagerly. He sees it in my face, the confidence streams through my 7-year-old body. I smile up at him. He smiles back, slowly opens his hands towards me as if presenting me with a gift and asks, "What is your question?"
Into his two clean hands, I hold out for his inspection, my red right hand. I ask him my well-thought question, proudly, "How do I hold the can of spray paint so it paints my bike and not my hand?" "Ah!" he says thoughtfully, as if I had just asked him to explain the nature of blue sky, "Excellent question, let me show you how to do that AFTER I show you how to get this paint off your hands".
And so it went, year after year, I would screw up, he would teach, and I would learn. The lessons became more complicated and problems turned into projects. For Christmas my friends would get bikes, fully assembled and ready to ride. Not me, dad would give me bikes, but they each came as a box of parts, pieces and bits. We’d spend all day putting them together. Year after year, bike after bike, until, it seemed, I didn’t need his help any longer.
I was fixing my friends’ bikes now; the ones that got to ride their bikes as soon as they got them. The same ones who would ride past my garage, chasing each other, popping wheelies, hitting jumps and doing cool power skids while I sat there trying to figure out how to pack wheel bearings. I was seven and my dad just smiled at them and waved, “Hi boys, nice bikes ya got there.”
The years went by and we sort of settled in to this arrangement where he would ride the hell out of a bike and then give it to me. He would go off and buy a new one for himself. I would spend all my spare time in that garage tearing the bike apart, sanding the frame, painting and putting it back together like it was brand new. Every once in awhile he’d walk past the garage and wave at me, “Hi son, nice bike ya got there.”
The funny thing is, I don’t remember ever riding with him, just fixing and rebuilding. Weird. He rode every day and so did I. I guess that’s just the way it was. He and I and bikes.
He had a great passion for cycling. Riding a bike was something very different for him. He was into cycling like a fish is into swimming. It was just simply something he did, no clubs, no nonsense, and no matter what. He rode to and from work (6 mile round-trip) year round, in Colorado!
He owned countless bikes over the decades and the deal was: I got his old bikes after he rode them into the ground. I would then disassemble, paint, and rebuild them to make my own bike. But since I moved to Washington 20 years ago, I no longer got his old bikes. The deal just kind of fell apart. Distance is a difficult thing to bridge sometimes.
Well, a few days ago my brother delivered to me the last bike he ever rode, a Specialized. Technically not the last bike he owned. A few years back he retired the Specialized and dropped some serious cash on an all carbon-fiber bike, which he rode despite being almost completely blind from macular degeneration and his body riddled with cancer. How he managed that, I'm still not sure. There came a time when even his strong-will could not keep him balanced on a bike. He reluctantly traded it in on a three-wheeled recumbent, which he rode nearly to his last day.
This bike, the Specialized, now standing proudly in my garage, represents the return to the old system: he rides, gives to me, and I rebuild it into something of my own. That's what he wanted, that's why he wanted me to have it.
Resurrection, Dr Frankenstein style.
I look down at my hands, they remind me of how his looked when I was 7; wrinkled, torn, cut, damaged. I grab his bike and close my eyes. Over the past few months I’ve held myself together. Bound up a million broken bits with a wafer thin veneer, sharp corners and crumbling pieces pushing the limits of the shallow skin. But now I feel it tearing and a small hole starts. Tighter and tighter I squeeze the handle bar grip in my right hand and the seat in my left but to now avail. I’m breaking apart, shredding into ribbons and a million pieces shatter and tumble like an avalanche of rocks: bouncing, crashing, and bashing each other as they fall across the floor.
It’s like Christmas morning and I’ve crumbled in to a box of parts, pieces and bits. No instructions, no dad, and worst of all no questions. I don’t even know where to begin. So I just stare at my hands, palms up in front of me, flushed red from the blood rushing back into them after releasing the death-grip on the bike. From the bike, to my hands and back to the bike I stare. Blank, thoughtless, numb.
For now I think I will let it rest, peacefully.