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In Tandem

Marriage is a backwards bicycle built for two.

Photo by Soroush Karimi on Unsplash

 Along the rocky trail, snuggled between overarching branches that look as though they wish to kiss, our story begins. How we got here—miles away from anything—is unclear. What we know is that we wanted to go for a bike ride. “Mountain-biking is such an inexpensive way to stay active,” you had said, so we bought ourselves a bicycle built for two with the hope that it would bring us together.

Suddenly, the bicycle would not move. I climb off to discover that the handlebars are now facing opposite directions; the seats are adjacent. It’s impossible to ride this bike. “Never fear,” you say with masculine ease. “We can disassemble the bike: we’ll spin the seats around, turn the handlebars upside down, take the sprockets apart, and bend them in the opposite direction. Hey, do you have a bobby pin?” you continue. I give this idea a thought. “There's no way we’ll be able to make it safely work,” I say sensibly. “The sun’s going down, we don’t have the adequate tools. This corkscrew of a path will be hell in the dark!” Then you say, “We can’t just leave the bike here. We’ll never find it again! Just hold the wheel while I bend the spokes." I roll my eyes. “You’re wasting your time!” I say with an exasperated shrill. “We’ve just got to take it apart!” You hiss. In a huff, I turn away and begin to stomp down the broken trail alone.

The air is thick with humidity; the path is sharp with stones that only wish to scrape my knees. I follow this torturous trail when I suddenly realize that I’ve abandoned my best friend with a bicycle that he can never ride alone and yet we can never ride it together. I would not desert him, but that’s exactly what I’d done. How could I? I stop abruptly: I must turn back. Soon the path is familiar as I turn a corner only to see him crouched down by the wheel. Without exchanging a word, we begin to push this backwards bicycle down the path together.

Soon we speak of our dreams of better bike rides and serendipitous synchronized sprockets. We laugh about the length of this adventure and how this treacherous tandem bicycle is such a mystery. I hear the cacophony of crickets interrupted by a car horn; soon we see the roadway. Rejoice! You run ahead to an opening in the thicket and announce, “We made it!” I glance down at the bicycle only to discover that both sets of handle bars are now facing the same direction—I reply, “We did make it!”

I awoke as I heard a branch scrape the window in the wind. He laid there asleep; I memorized the expression on his face—calm. I hadn't seen this expression in a long time—not since the accident. I remembered a time when we were young, spontaneous, full of vigor—how times had changed. I planted my feet, sat up, reached for the armrest, and swiveled my hips into the wheelchair. I pressed my leathery hands on the wheels and lurched forward in a squeaky roll. I glanced back at him; his eyes glinted in the pale light. "Do you need a hand?" He said with a rasp. "I'm okay, go back to sleep," I whispered loudly.

I rolled down the hallway, over the bump-transition in the floor, through the arch that we used to hang mistletoe by that was now a meter above my head. I rolled past the wall of images of who I once was. With a shadow of longing I pushed by and reached into the pantry. I pulled out a potato, took a peeler, then a knife, then cut perfect cubes for hash browns. I cracked the eggs, took a whisk, twirled and twirled and twirled until they were a solid sunny yellow. With adequate tools, I believe, anyone can make a beautiful breakfast—but never, ever, forget the bacon. I slapped two slices on the grill and put the percolating French press on the opposite counter. He would bring that to the table.

"Honey, breakfast!" I called from the kitchen, and with one plate on my lap I rolled to the table. He grabbed the coffee, cutlery, and his plate and joined me before I even had the wheelchair brakes on. "What's on your agenda today?" He said as he savored a sip of the darkest roast coffee. "Laundry," I said absolutely. With two potatoes on his fork he replied "Okay, but..." he dipped them in a sputter of ketchup, "could you also bake bread, and clean the floor?" I hesitated then said, "I really don't think I'll have time." Then softness welled up in his eyes. "Do what you can do," he said kindly. Hmm... I thought, what can I do? I resented that question.

My days seemed longer than they did before, yet not a fraction of my chores were done in time. In time for what? I had this unkind clock in my head setting the tempo for my life. As breakfast concluded, he put on his work boots on then lingered for a minute without a word or a movement. I used to kiss him goodbye. "Have a great day," I said from the table. "You too," he chanted in response as he stepped through the doorframe to outside.

Tick-tock the wall clock ignorantly continued. I was mad. Why? Because I couldn't do anything. A wallop of self-pity fluttered between my eyelashes. I must pull myself together to get the laundry done in time. I will not be defeated by pairs of socks and underwear; I put the taunting basket on my lap. Onward I wheeled down the hallway, over the transition to tile, through the kitchen, and around the corner to where the washer and dryer lived. The soap, however, was on the upper shelf. I stood up with too much gusto: my wheelchair shot out from behind me. Inhale. Exhale. My heart beats. Fear shuttered in my knees. I held on tightly to the washer in front of me. I could not move my foreign limbs in sequence to reach my chair.

The wind whinnied through the door frame as footsteps jumped through. "I forgot my jacket," he called out as he swung open the closet. "Honey!" I yelled from the laundry room as shame flooded my eyes. "Yes dear?" He answered. "I forgot to kiss you goodbye!" I called out with an attempted steady voice. He turned the corner and saw his wife laying there just a heap on the floor. Surprise breezed across his face as he waited for my reaction. "I fell," I said casually, and then he lowered himself to the floor, took my hand, looked me in the eye and just sat there beside me.

Read next: Black Sheets
Ellie Ennas
Ellie Ennas

At the age of 18 my life changed forever. I had just married my best friend and was expecting when I was in a horrific car accident. I sustained a traumatic brain injury, took years of recovery, and now I want to share my experiences.

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In Tandem
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Black Sheets