The Eyes We Had Then

Sep 1, 2017

There is, on my right calf, a tattoo of a bicycle, drawn in bold black lines and iconic style; it's almost like an ideogram, the crossbar a simple horizontal line and the wheels matching geometric circles. Two moles dot the space below it, and light, wispy hairs poke out from amongst the space formed by its lines.

I can see myself lying prone in the back of the tattoo parlor on 16th street while the young, thin Japanese man whose only English to me was a thumbs up and a smile hunched over my outstretched leg and painstakingly filled in the thick bars of black composing the design I had taken from a street sign. Who was that young man, who sat there, breathed through the pain, enjoyed it even, who shone with a pride he could barely conceal when showing off the tattoo?

The young me later encountered an older gentleman in a position of power who marveled at the tattoo. The older man was thrilled at the similarities between us - he had a light blue dolphin on the dried and fleshy skin near his his achilles tendon that reminded him of his youth; our tattoos symbolized rebellion and vitality and sexuality to him.

To the young me, it wasn't so much a symbol of something abstract as a representation, a distillation of what I thought of myself at the time. I liked bikes. I liked the feeling of expansiveness and power that came with being on a long trip, camping at night and riding during the day. I liked the feeling of self-determination, the sense that we were masters of the road, that we could make our own fates, that we could decide how far we could bike today, no one else. I liked the rush of speed that came with riding a fixie in the city, never stopping but rather flowing, weaving around traffic, the sense of connection with the physicality of my body and my bike.

Now the extent of my cycling is the daily trip to take my daughter to daycare. She points, she babbles, she occasionally grabs my pants from her seat right behind me and tries to pull them down. She shouts as we pass the water fountain at civic center. I shout along.

One time an older woman chatted with us at an intersection. "I have a grown son now," she said. "I never did the bike thing, but, seeing you, I wish I had. She's pointing at things, she's singing, she's learning..."

"Yea," I said. "She likes riding the bike."

The young me. The me now. Is there any connection between them? I sometimes catch a glimpse of that Alex, when the throbbing pain in my knee lets up long enough for me to go for a jog, and I feel the sun on my back, the exhaustion filling me and being repulsed by waves of energy; he sings, he shouts, he is joyously exuberant at the mere fact of being alive. He is powerful.

I have a habit of taking notes when I think of things to write. I do so in order to prevent myself from forgetting. The worst feeling to me is to lose a story idea to the ether, they float so effervescently that if I don't catch them, don't pull them down, they will wisp away. I was worried about losing this story, I had had the thought and didn't have a chance to write it down. Then, stepping into the shower, I caught a glimpse of the bicycle on my calf; the story was there. It was a memento of me, the person I was who got the tattoo, what he believed and what he cherished. It will be here many years from now, when I forget about him again, reminding me.


Originally posted on Google+