Biking Hans Solo: On Brushes with Death, Vanity, and Being Grateful

Sometimes we move too quickly and pile too much on.  This time last year, I spent my mornings in my grandmother’s basement writing furiously as I took on any freelance gig that would help me recover financially from my separation from my husband. After  a few hours in front of my laptop, I’d crack the door that led into the laundry room and open the back door that led out the yard, just so the light would flood in and I wouldn’t lose my mind in the shadowy space.  Fast forward to this year, and I’m making more than I’ve ever made at any other day job, working around the clock on creative projects while trying to scale a business, and juggling my fitness and parenting goals in between.  Awhile back, I started feeling a little overwhelmed by my schedule, but I kept telling myself I’d take a decent break after Ramadan, which ends in mid-June. Only, I didn’t make it that far. The universe put me on my back instead…when I got hit by a car while riding my bike.

I’m writing this with my medical bracelet still on.  I could’ve removed it at any point after the crash, but staring at it is what actually prompted me to write this.

(Not this, silly. I meant that I wrote this blog. These words are Frank Ocean’s.)

After what seemed like ages of mucky, rainy conditions, Thursday’s bout of sunshine sparked something in me. I left work in a cheerful mood and decided I’d skip an evening of product research new business and get on my bike instead. I hadn’t been on it in so long that I had to grease the locks a bit to get them off.

My bike.

It was a bummy little Huffy my ex bought me a few years back after I complained that my little brother had trashed my last one.  And even though I’d neglected it all year, I truly loved the darn thing before it became a mangled piece of scrap metal last Thursday.  In a way, many of my happiest moments during that dark time in my grandmother’s basement came from the days I’d finished a writing deadline and decided to take a ride down the D.C.’s recently gentrified H Street to treat myself.  Dressed both appropriately and ridiculously in biker shorts, Chucks, and a studded fanny pack full of quarters, I’d ride to Atlas Arcade to engage in a futile battle against the computer-player on the cheesiest game ever–Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Sitting at my usual spot near the window was my euphoric place, and I had set out to revisit it, or at least some version of it, on the day I got hit.

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Taken last year while I was chaining my bike up next to that blessed basement.

I should mention that I am observing Ramadan, but when Muslim women are on their periods, they don’t fast.  I guess Allah was like, “One burden at a time, kiddo,” …or something far more eloquent. Anyway, I say that to say that when you’re an ain’t-shit Muslim like I am, and then make the leap to swap your sinful shenanigans for a month of peaceful deprivation, any chances to take advantage of non-fasting, sunny days become tempting. Too tempting. So, after I got home from work, checked the mail, and decided it was too sunny for the gym, I decided to hop on my bike.

Oh. Before I forget, I should also mention that my bike tires had gone flat in their months of neglect.  During a time when I had less money but more time, that never would’ve happened. I had a bike pump then that I kept fastened to it all year round, but when I moved into my new space, things got shuffled around and that was one of the things that got lost.

Why does that matter?

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From Pexels. Pfft. I’d never ride anything without a bell on the bars.

It matters because, had my tires been full, I wouldn’t have rode in the opposite direction that I originally planned in search of a gas station where I could pump them up.  It matters because, if I had been riding more instead of letting my alloy-made friend rust in the gated garage of my semi-luxury building, I would’ve noticed the flat tires ages ago and stopped at a store to pick up a pump.  It matters because, had I not tried to pick up where I left off and drum up some nostalgia on a whim, there wouldn’t have been such a sense of urgency for me to ride it that day.

So. Even though the old me would never have let the tires go flat in the first place, if the old me had, she would’ve at least taken pause and figured out some other physical activity to do that day. Because the old me was in no rush; the old me could ride at any time.

But I am not the old me.

I am a new me with less leisure time, a few more pounds, and a deeper sense of desperation for my old joys.  And when the new me saw that the ties were flat, the new also me looked around and saw the shadows of other people growing tall as they walked their dogs or hurried from the nearby train station with a lightness in their step that told me they were chasing the last sunny minutes of the day too.  So the new me decided that I would not back down from that, or any other hiccup in my plans.  The new me, the one that is a proud owner of a respectable credit score and new, heavy-duty Kuerig and an expensive care plan for her crooked teeth and newfound DJ friends in London and speaking engagements scheduled throughout the year and makeup and hair products in her newer, larger bathroom that are worth more than most of her old dresses, was determined to ride that fucking bike anyway.

patrick
The face I made while pumping my tires at the gas station because I felt my evening bike riding plans were coming to fruition, and I didn’t know I’d be street pizza in less than five minutes.

Why?

Because the new me had, unknowingly, tipped past the beauty of struggling to manifest things and fell into the ugliness of being vain about the (few) things she’s manifested.  And the new me wouldn’t realize how ugly that truly is for another 15 minutes.  Yup. The new, faux-improved me wouldn’t get that jarring reminder of what’s important until she was separated from her bike and her shoes and her sanity in the milliseconds after being struck by a motorist going about 35-40 miles per hour down Central Avenue on a dazzling Thursday late afternoon. In a scenario that went a little like this:

Miguel’s “Banana Clip” blared in my headphones as I finished putting the air in my second tire.  I replaced the nozzle and hopped back on, ready to hit my original destination: the FedEx Field parking lot.  I rode to the crosswalk as Miguel crooned in my ears.

“Banana Clip in my love for you!!”

I paused at the busy intersection and saw that all the cars were paused too.  The new me was hyper-aware that the sun was sinking in the sky, and offered inner assurance that I’d make it.  The old me, out of the sheer instinct and habit of nearly daily riding, would’ve registered that the pause meant that the last cache of cars had finished heading through the green light, and what I was witnessing was the slight pause that occurs before the next group made its way through the light.  The old me would’ve taken one glance at the situation and fished her phone out of her fanny pack to use that time to search for a new song as she waited to see who’s light it was and, most importantly, when it would be safe for her to go.

But the new me, the one with deadlines at work and a new car (with a goddamn backup camera she never uses because she doesn’t trust it) and a bank account meant only for vacations and a collectibles table full of indie comic books that she has no time to read but desperately wants to and an appointment with an eyebrow feathering specialist and a new organic ketogenic meal plan for her son because she doesn’t want him to be as chubby as she was in high school and 17 unfinished blog posts and a book she’s only 80 pages into writing after working on it for years and an urge to have another baby even though her sense of logic and lukewarm interest in men rages against it? THAT ME? She could see feel the setting of the sun and see feel that she had so little time. So little fucking time to do anything anymore.

And that’s the me that pushed off into the stalled traffic, the vainest version of myself who just knew that she would make it to the other side simply because she is the protagonist in this story and thus, can not; would not die. And she was right–but just barely.

I rode slowly, then picked up the pace as the light changed and traffic had begun to lurch forward–towards me. Still okay, though, I thought.  They were still moving a little slow and I was two-thirds across already.

“Yeah, I let it ring like (graa)!”

What I didn’t see was that one car had been heading toward the light while it was red, and had decelerated, but then began to accelerate because the light had turned green before it reached a full stop.  (We’ve all done it: Bummer. Red light. Oh! Now it’s green. Vroom.)

“I guess I’m TRIGGER happy…ha ha ha!”

SKKKKKRRRRRT. BOOM.

There’s a widely shared and somewhat confirmed notion that you see your life flash before your eyes in this brief but beautiful reel when you are certain of your impending, untimely death. Many crash victims I’ve read about or listened to have stated it so. But this was not that.  I did not know that I’d be struck; what I knew was that I’d be safely across the street and singing my heart out to Miguel in that gargantuan FedEx Field parking lot in a few short minutes. So, when the truck mashed into my back tire and sent me flying off my bike and out of my shoes, it was a moment of total surprise. By the time we’d seen each other, there was no time for my brain to put that eulogy reel together.  There wasn’t even time for my body to tense up as a reaction. No. There was just this fraction of a moment in which I calculated that the car was definitely going to connect with me. Then, it did.

I remember flying. Then pain. Then noise.

As I lay on the ground,  all I could see was fuzzy whiteness. I could hear people screaming. And footsteps. But I couldn’t see them. I struggled to push myself onto my elbows.  My right hip felt…wrong. Like it had been tenderized. Small objects started to take form in the milkiness, and I could see the outline of a man and faintly hear the voice of another.

“My GOD! Are you ALIGHT?!” said the man. He sounded terrified.

I wanted to assure him, but my breathing felt labored and strange, so I prioritized instead.

“La hawla wala quwwatul la billah,” I muttered.

“What’s that?” I could hear the anxiousness in the man’s voice. “Are you…are you alright?”

Now there were tears. And an awful, awful sound that I was surprised to find was coming from me. I was wailing. In English. In broken Arabic. In pure, unadulterated pain.

The rest is a blur.  I was lifted and a neck brace was fastened around my neck. My right side and the back of my left shoulder was on fire. The EMTs spoke casually to each other and made jokes. I find that part dark. Like, really dark. Then, several blood tests, CT scans, and family member visits later, I awoke to the my mother’s face. It was 3 a.m. and we were “waiting on the last tests” and “to see if you can walk.”

Whether I could walk or not would be the deciding factor in if I’d be released. So, I willed myself up and onto my battered legs around 4 a.m. and took a few cautious steps, made possible by the codeine fuel coursing through my bloodstream.  Then, after the arduous task of getting my clothes back on, I let the hospital security guard walk me to, then help me slide rather awkwardly into the passenger seat of my mother’s car. When I got home, I went to bed and stayed in bed. I slept like I hadn’t slept in months, with nightmares and dreams for bed mates, and the sound of my mother’s voice whispering updates about me into her phone in the other room as my lullabies.

And all of this is okay, because I think…no; I’m actually sure I learned something. Or maybe I re-learned it. Either way, the moment I was home and coherent enough after the crash, I did several things. (Admittedly, the first of those was staring blankly at my hospital socks and then the wall as I gathered my thoughts.)

I took out my journal and wrote some things down for myself, much like I’d done last year. Only this time, I wrote out a life with more space in it. Oversized pockets of space meant to hold oversized joy. A life that won’t require an alarm clock or so much time away from my son or my sun. A life with more sand in my shoes. Funny thing is, I’ve already been putting that life together amidst the melee of my daily, perfunctory things. A meeting here, an investment there. Hundreds of hours of studying over there, working as quietly as I could. But, I piled it on too soon. I piled it on top and suffocated my joy. Luckily, I know better now. I have to measure the pace better. I can’t push off into the perilous traffic of the unknown, and you shouldn’t either.

Carve out your joy.

The world will not fall apart when you do.

Carve out time for yourself in every phase of your life…no matter what.

No one else will do it for you.

Every vacation is not rest if you take it and don’t actually rest. (My last “vacation” was mostly a nightmare. Travel alone if you truly want to rest.)

Don’t let your situation get dire. If you die tomorrow, your company will replace you. Your lovers will replace you. Everyone and everything you know will soldier on, so you have to place value on yourself.

If you let too much time go without self-care, you will want to dole it out for yourself in big heaps, and then you risk going overboard.

You risk going too fast and too far.

You risk the crash.

But even if you do, find the blessing in even that.

Because the universe will nudge you when it’s time for you to slow down, and if you ignore it, it’ll just force you–

–to take rest.

 

One thought on “Biking Hans Solo: On Brushes with Death, Vanity, and Being Grateful

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