Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The ride after

Date: Dec. 8
Mileage: 37.6
December mileage: 199.8

To start, I wanted to send out a huge thank you to everyone who has donated to the LIVESTRONG Challenge. Together we've raised $2,205 so far, which is simply amazing! There's still one more day in the raffle for a chance to win a sweet Olympus Stylus camera (just like the one used to take all the pictures in this blog.) Five bucks is all it takes. $50 nets you 10 times the chance of winning. And everything goes to the fight against cancer, so everyone wins! (Except cancer.) Donate here!

That's the very good news. The rest of this post is kind of a downer. You can stop reading here if you want to. It's just that sometimes it's cathartic for me to write it all out. I mean, that's why I keep this blog.

So I took my bike to work today. I didn’t mean to. I didn’t want to. I already knew the roads were covered in 11 inches of slop and the bike paths weren’t plowed, because I had already gone for a 25-mile snow ride earlier in the day. During that ride, I took to the beach when the roads became too slippery and sloppy to navigate. The smooth sand felt nice but the streets were covered in goo, and to top it all off, the falling snow had switched over to hard, cold rain. I certainly didn’t want to go back out in the gunk. But when I couldn’t coax my car out of the slop-coated parking lot, I didn’t have a choice. I rushed around to gear up yet again and commence the ride/push to the office.

I had to jog with my bike through deep snow the last half mile on the bike path. I finally arrived at work late, soaked and coated in grit, sans any kind of brown-bag dinner (It was going to have to be old Power Bars again.) I thought I was having a bad day. Realtive to others, I really wasn't.

I was fresh from the restroom, still holding a wad of dripping clothing in my outstretched arms, when the message reached me. Mandatory meeting. Those two words, when said together, set heavy in the throat and only sink deeper, becoming thicker and more nauseating as the syllables resonate. A “mandatory” meeting is anything but. These days, in these times, everyone knows what gets said at mandatory meetings, and no one wants to hear it. I pulled my wet hair back into a ponytail and shuffled into the conference room.

In mandatory meetings, the hardest words are always blurted out first, followed by an eternity of condescending rationalizations. I often wonder why anyone bothers with the rationalizations. Nobody’s listening. Nobody. The hard words are out there. The white lights of shock have streaked through and blinded everybody with private, searing thoughts. As the rationalizations droned on, I fought the urge to get up and walk out of the room in anger, or solidarity, or frustration. I scanned the faces of my co-workers in a plea for levity. But there was no out-of-place humor in their expressions; only guilty relief. Some among the group had not been invited to the mandatory meeting. Those of us who had were grateful.

“This is reality,” I kept telling myself. “This is the real world.” I continued to grope for levity. It’s one thing to laugh at "Office Space" and “The Bobs” and corporate downsizing in your favorite movie from the late ‘90s. It’s quite another to watch your coworkers, people you know and like and respect, stiffly carrying armfuls of their personal belongings to the door.

“It should have been me,” I kept thinking. “Why not me?”

The hits keep coming and they’re not going to stop. I’m beginning to think it’s no longer a question of how long I’m going to try to hold on to the dream career I've wanted since I was a little girl — the life of a newspaperwoman. It’s becoming a question of how far into the North Pacific I want to ride the Titanic.

The air was steeped in silence when I left work, well after 11 p.m. Dim moonlight flickered through mottled breaks in the clouds, and the night looked bright, almost like dawn, as the light reflected off a blanket of new snow. Soft rain fell as I unlocked my bike and I breathed deeply, grateful for the solitude. I didn’t want to ride to work, but when the day was done, I couldn’t think of anything I wanted more than to ride home. The quiet allowed for meditation, the winter twilight for clarity. My legs felt warm and close, but my thoughts were muffled, as though they were coming to me from a unknown distance. I focused but couldn't hear them. The whir of studded tires and the splash of snow-dammed puddles were lost to an all-encompassing silence. I focused harder. I whispered rationalizations. Still I heard nothing. There was nothing to hear. Even when you have already given serious consideration to changing your life, the approach of the tipping point is deafening.

“This is reality,” I kept telling myself. “This is the real world.” The miles passed, and the snow just kept melting, and melting.