Violence Against Women Act: Verbal Abuse in 2016

Life of Lice

Back when I believed in things like God and Good,

G’s like low church bells on my mouth’s pallet,

I told my friend, how beautiful it is that a family

of fleas might build their home on my head and he told me

 

to pray to God, muted breath collected on pillowcase

as I asked God, why He made us so soft, baby skin

mice, and them so hard? Lice women and children brood

thirsty and week, we hear nothing of Acts of Violence

 

Against Women, against me, day after day,

until Back in 2001 when I asked for my first knife

and the man who wasn’t my father laughed

and said “girl, you’d have to be a boy

 

scout for that.” Between Him and Him

we good fleas hibernated for our couple

months, day after day, with no food but the quiet;

dandelions trying to hold on to spring,

 

and I tell my sisters, their yellow, yielding faces,

At least flees stay together while they live

on something much bigger

whereas the cuckoo is abandoned

 

in a strangers nest, a mistake, unwanted, and maybe the mother

could have pushed it from her womb, never asking

for the imposter,baby birds, flightless, cotton heart beats shaking,

breathy chests, like people but without limbs or mouths.

 

I wondered if they ever hear of a laws such as Violence

Against Women act, and that it could expire

when I glance at the bald spot on mother’s

head because her hair was torn from her skull,

taking Him for all that He Had.

 

And I wonder about the Independent Women Act

in a life punctuated by men who are not my father

and collected in blackened cheeks and aggressive cracks

in the wall, but we fleas need heads of hair, like back

 

when I sobbed on my bedroom floor and my mother

stroked behind my ears, pillow-warm,

touch like lavender, whispering baby,

its just for a little while, and my sisters and I,

we build our home in a stranger’s nest.

 

I look to her, broken skinned, and say we don’t need him

she nods, lipstick-caked smile blushing across bruises

hushing  just for now, spending

her laughter to the phone, to him, you want this.

 

I ask why bother with Free Women  

Acts when a man who is not my friend

touches my baby bird sister, and asks for her to need

his head of hair, and she wants to say yes.

 

Words like Grab and Groin, the soft Gs

turn hard, the growls of curses clog my throat,

when my friend turns to me and says,

you want this.

Three years ago, when the Violence Against Women Act was up for reauthorization, I wrote this poem.I was horrified that a piece of legislation protecting women could be disputed, never mind that it had to be created in the first place. The law allocated federal funding not just to law enforcement (which many advocates argues exacerbate the problem as survivors’ fear involving the police could discourage seeking help), but to transitional housing, special assistance for victims in rural communities and the disabled, and civil legal assistance.

Hearing Michelle Obama in Manchester, NH say these words last night selfishly felt as if she had read the novel of my life and wrote a one sentence summary. I know I am not the only person who felt that way. I swallowed salty tears as I listened to her summarize something I so acutely felt and could not express in words.

“All of us are doing what women have always done… we are trying to keep our heads above water, trying to pretend like this doesn’t really bother us **maybe because admitting how much it hurts makes us as women look weak** maybe we are afraid to be vulnerable, maybe because we have become accustomed to swallowing these emotions and staying quiet, because we have seen that often people won’t take our word over his…”

Today I am so tired of this cyclical fight, a fight that feels like it is not gaining ground but simply starting back at the beginning like a DVD left in the player as we fall asleep. I can recognize that my experiences have even been a lighter load than those in more vulnerable situations than mine- because of race, lower socioeconomic standing, a lack of a support network, or less access to education that could expose the abuses that have become a part of our understanding of the world.

 

Do not feel as if you can pat yourself on the back quite yet for an imagined understand of what I am saying. I bring all this up not because I believe many who read this are abusers. Our republican candidate has normalized and legitimized abuser speaking tactics– and I am talking before the audio was released of him bragging about assault. I have listed some of them here (not as a political statement but as a reminder that behaving this way to a person is unacceptable, manipulative, and a way to remain in control) so that we can all take the time check ourselves, our friends, and our family. These are randomly gathered from several resources- feel free to do your own research.

  • Blame you when you get angry, but does not take responsibility for his or her own behavior.
  • Complain about the way you talk and dress.
  • Twist your words and misinterpret what you say.
  • Ignore or invalidate your feelings.
  • Make sarcastic comments and then tell you you’re misunderstanding them.
  • Humiliate you publicly or privately.
  • Make fun of people or things important to you.
  • Repeatedly bring up past arguments or disagreements, while refusing to have instructive discussion on how to solve the problem at-hand./ continues to say the same thing over and over
  • Ridicule you, then tell you he or she is joking.
  • Treat you as if you are the child and he or she is the parent.
  • Abuser does not let other speak by butting in or talking over
  • Calls you names (stupid, slut, whore, crazy)
  • Unpredictable violent outburst

 

Since Trump has now created a very low standard for treatment of women, it is easy to feel that, as people who are not publicly and nationally bragging about sexual assault, we are not contributing to an environment of abuse. But our language and words can, and if we are not aware of the implications of our actions, then we are part of the problem.

In the safety of my current life, here in Vermont where I feel love and support from so many empathetic and knowledgable people, I wonder at my emotional responses to these issues of domestic abuse which I felt I had left a lifetime away. I wonder how I can feel such deep resounding sadness and anger when I now have control and freedom over my own safe living situations.

Does this all feel like a repeat of everything else you have read on social media?

It has taken me a long time to find comfort in speaking out again unjust behavior and treatment of women. In college I could not acknowledge rape as friends drunkingly forced themselves on semi-conscious girls. I was embarrassed as friends were pushed out of college parties for calling out men for treating women inhumanely and saying terrible things. I felt like feminism was man-shamming and disassociated. I share this because I get it- I used to keep quiet too.

Today, though, I am tired of feeling out of line for calling out people for inappropriate behavior, for feeling like a burden or sensitive when I express feeling uncomfortable over someone’s treatment and reference to women, and for feeling like my insistence of checking our language somehow makes me condescending. I feel like we all here (being more in the sense of association) identify as progressive, but each time I stick my head out on the line I feel vulnerable.

In the second debate, Trump’s response to the leaked audio of Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women he said,

“They are just words.. anyone who knows me knows that they do not reflect who I am.”

But words do reflect who you are. Is that the kind of people we want to be?

 

“The truth is it hurts. It is like that sick sinking feeling you get when you are walking minding your own business, and some guy yells out vulgar words about your body. Or when you see that guy at work that stands just a little too close, stares a little too long, and makes you feel uncomfortable in your own skin. It is that feeling of terror and violation that too many women have felt when someone has grabbed them or forced themselves on them and they said no but he didn’t listen.”

 

Let us all take the time to listen.

 

The Nest

I have had a lot of sad airport moments. I was sad when I left Ireland, summer of 2012, after I extended my stay there three times, and after laughing with the old timers at Dick Mac’s about how I would never leave. Part of me felt like I should stay there in Dingle and paint, and let the things I left behind stay behind. Part of me felt like I belonged there. Thank you George Dugan, and may you rest in peace old friend.

 

I was sad when I left England, not because I felt like I should stay in Canterbury, but because I fell in love with a Dutch boy and fantasized a life different and far away from my own, because I had friends there whom my hunch told me would remain far away forever. I wrote my lost love a letter in the airport, promised I would return, wrote letters well into the summer and fall. But I did not cry much in the airport.

 

I was sad when I left Santa Barbara last summer, carrying my plastic tupperware bin, clear to reveal my chamois and jerseys and leftover cliff bars, through the LAX airport. I wore my only pair of sports shorts and Tevas and did not feel self-conscious in contrast to the LA culture, only distant from my body; My body which had propelled me from the East to the West, felt wrong for passing so easily over the terrain, so hard on my collective soul (shared with 31 other riders). My tears were held back for another time.

This summer where I have the space to rest and reflect, to live a happy and wholesome lifestyle, has also given me the pause to remember the environment that pushed me to challenge my daily pattern a year ago.

The only time I can remember visibly crying in the airport was December of 2014. I was in Cleveland, Ohio, leaving the state for my second time. While I had never thought much of Ohio, I knew then that I did not like Cleveland. I did not like the very empty art museum, the four lane highway that took me to my mother’s new house, or the escalades that parked at the orchards outside of the city.

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That fall I had realized there was a possibility I would have no parents at my wedding, if I could ever choose to get married. Then, I still could not fathom what a symbiotic relationship could look like with any partner, one that did not involve pain. If I had children would they be allowed to see their grandma, would she be alive to see their faces? The time bomb uterus weighed heavy in me. Would I fall to the same demons that had taken my mother from me, and her mother from her and her sisters? Would I choose a path of loneliness?

That winter I learned the details of Grammy’s untimely death quickened by alcohol abuse, of an accident that brought my mom rushing back to her family after a decade of separation, of the abuses inflicted on her and her sisters. I felt the weight of a cycle and my path already chosen for me. It was the first time I began to think about the possibilities of having a family one day, but only because I wondered if my own future children would have a mother who was mentally ill. I wondered who would take care of my children if I could not.

 

We went to Applebee’s before I went to the airport. I remember feeling cold as I watched her drink an Irish coffee, knowing that I would not stop her. I was tired, grateful for the painful holidays to be past and to no longer feign happiness. Weeks before we had gotten into a screaming fight at an Applebee’s after I found her sneaking alcohol in an ice tea. Again we yelled in a gas station, as I kicked the door open to a bathroom where she was chugging sour apple liquor, and again in a Petco after I followed her into a bathroom stall and found bottles in that little garbage with the dirty tampons. A week before she had driven her car into a guardrail after several near head-on collisions. Christmas week she spent in bed as my sisters and I went through the motions- tree, gifts, dinner. Fate, luck, or God had brought us safely to the airport where she would continue to drink and stare at me with glassy eyes, dead and distant.

 

We were silent, me conforming to her current state- removed, unfeeling. She dropped me off at the gate and for the first time in hours I spoke to her. I told her I did not think she would live to see my family. Her head fell to the steering wheel and her thin arms hugged it as she sobbed, and that is how I left her. I did not cry until the sliding doors were sealed behind me. It was the kind of cry where strangers gave you a wide girth, where service people averted their eyes when attending you, where kids looked up at you afraid.

I returned to Vermont to begin fundraising for Bike and Build, to work my forty hours a week, to train for a four thousand, five hundred mile bike trip when biking five miles down the road still seemed exhausting, and to leave the painful memories a flight away.

 

This morning I could smell the rain coming through my open window. Isn’t it amazing that here in Vermont we get so cold we wear coats to sleep for half the year, and in the summers we open our windows all the way, and still have to sleep naked to keep cool?

 

I woke up from a dream about my mother. I was wrestling wolves, I was with my team, a team that seemed to encompass all forms of comradery I had ever encountered. She was asking for help, and I knew to find the trick, to find what the alternative motive was beneath her plea. It’s a blur but she was there and I could feel that something terrible would happen.

 

I texted my sister, “Sometimes I feel like I should reach out to her even though I’m angry and sad. I just wanted to share.” She quickly responded that she also had a dream about her last night.

 

“It’s sad because she really did try to do everything for us.” she said. It doesn’t seem fair, does it? That through my mother’s illness she still spent every drop of energy trying to give us a better life than she had. Even so, she isolated us, hurt us, and pushed us away.

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Bike and Build was so unexpected, so intense, beautiful, emotional, physically and mentally exhausting, I forgot the context that drove me to sign up. I forgot graduating college and feeling no sense of accomplishment, or working at a corporate bookstore before getting my job as a grocery stocker. I forgot the depression that nipped on my heels as I busied myself, buried my head in work.

Addiction can really steal a person from you. For me I was used to the cycle of losing my one parent, yearly, bi-yearly, monthly. Each onset of illness felt more definite, more lasting, and more hopeless up until that 2014 Thanksgiving week when I wondered if it would ever end.

I signed up for Bike and Build having just begun to acknowledge my eating disorder, a coping mechanism I used to keep control and to punish my body for failing me. Never life threatening, it was how I responded to my body feeling dirty, grotesque, useless or disappointing. I was told an eating disorder is a way I try to impose structure, is an addiction, and I felt like my mind had tricked me into a fate I swore I would never fall prey to. The irony stung more than the stomach bile.

 

In part, I wanted to bike across the country to be reminded that my body can be a wonderful tool. I wanted to change the feelings of it being a cage or a weight, to have a relationship of gratitude instead of hate. I told myself it was for the cause, something I cared about, to help people and spread awareness. My motivation was for me- and it doesn’t feel good to say that.

 

It was hard not to resent people who had parents sweeping them away to forget, who had down time at home or with rental assistance while they realigned their path. I felt weak for not embracing my independence, immature for needing help. I wanted someone to talk to but honestly I didn’t want to talk to anyone at all.

I remember being on the bus three weeks after my trip ended. I was rolling into Burlington for September 1st, a day that is quickly approaching again even though it can’t have been a year. I was coming from Boston, from Chicago, from the seaside of California, the desert of Texas, the Grand Canyon, the New Mexico mountains. Interstate 89 shoots you into Vermont like a movie scene, and the foliage was just beginning. My belongings were in a shed, I had no room to rent. I cried then too, because I was coming home.

It took leaving to know that Vermont is my home, and that family is something you choose. And though I didn’t have parents to call each night, I had packages from my young, hard working friends filled with granola bars and funny gifts, loved ones driving long distances to say hi for a few hours, places to stay as I made my way back east and until I found a new home, phone calls and texts from people I did not know were listening.

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Home is a nest you build around yourself in the branches of people who were always there. Today I am overwhelmed by the comfort and security I am gifted with. Although I do not make much money, I know that I am safe, loved, with a house and meals that I am able to afford each month, and with an immense network of people who won’t let me fail. If the feared fate follows me, at least I will have an army to face it with.

Dear CUS riders,

 

Don’t feel like you have to read this now, or even ever.

While Today I’m in Burlington Vermont, my mind is in Amarillo, Texas. I remember the parking lot behind the church we stayed for a week. It was a thunder storm unlike the kind we see up North- you could see it coming far in the distance before the heavy rain broke the sticky heat. My arms were wrapped around my strong, trusted leader as he sobbed his goodbyes into my shoulder. Time stilled as I imagined a life where I never left to bike across the country- would I be by at a fire with my friends, or carelessly watching Netflix? I try to imagine continuing on without him, without Bridget, without Patrick. I did not want to re-enter the church, because I was not yet ready to finish  our journey.

Today in Burlington I feel as lost as I did that night.

 

This time last year, I thought that no one could understand what we were going through. I received letters from strangers like the one I am writing to you now. They said things like “I’m also from the East Coast” and “Ride on.”‘ Some people said they had lost loved ones on similar accidents.

 

I remember the morning of the accident knowing the ambulance was for one of us as it flew by on a mostly quiet road. We could show you pictures of us smiling, haloed by the rising sun. When we got back on our bikes after a worrisome text, stop at lunch and do not keep riding, we immediately crashed into each other. Our adrenaline made us startle, and we could not speak the unspeakable.  At the half way point we quickly tallied who was in and who we were waiting for. With every returning face we rejoiced for another life safe, but silently, for we knew that not everyone would return.

I wonder now where my leaders found the strength to make the calls.

Our mourning shattered us. Sometimes we would hold each other but our minds were miles away, replaying that stretch of road, the events leading up to the accident, that last conversations we had had with our two friends.

I was right though- no one truly can understand we went through. Your individual battles with your emotions will be unique and yours only. I want you to know that grief is a strange beast, and although you are already aware that your team is forever changed, that grief will surprise you in the way it affects you, or your team mates. Grief can also dig up some old feelings, past hurts or traumas, self-doubt or insecurity. It’s okay. You are not being dramatic or selfish. Do not let grief make you feel weak or think less of those mourning around you.

The few days in Wheeler, Texas, I spent outside on the pavement against the church wall. I had a journal out but I only wrote three lines. We fell asleep watching Disney movies but all woke up to someone’s night terrors. I shared a cigarette with a team mate and I don’t smoke. Time was as heavy and thick as the Texas heat.  Five days have passed for you, CUS riders, and I wonder if it has felt like an eternity.

 

If you choose to keep riding, continue to check in with yourself, and feel no shame if it feels different. Support your team mates as they make their own decisions about safety. There is no weakness in stepping back. Something scary I realized is that sometimes when you feel passionately wronged and hurt, it is easy to cloak yourself in reckless behavior. I rode some days with anger, and those days I endangered myself and team mates.

It’s hard enough to leave Bike and Build even as a “normal” trip. Our bodies are transformed, different from the ones we left with. We are used to being transient, yet surrounded by our family. In the safety of home after ten emotionally and physically exhausting weeks, one can forget that grief aches with the rain like a missing limb.

 

I am going to be very candid here. I think one of the greatest challenges for me was what followed the wake of our trip. It is so easy to bury back in your life. I did not know I would feel guilty for surviving, or that I would wish I could have been a better support for my peers. It was hard for me to check in with Bridget’s recovery because I worried I would remind her of what was lost. My lowest moments began the day we packed our things, friends leaving on planes abruptly, chamois and water bottles left behind. I felt unprepared for real life.

 

I did not know I would be so angry. I wanted to blame cars, roads, or sometimes myself. This anger did not peter out throughout the year- it disappeared and came back only in inconvenient moments. CUS riders, a lot of us needed intensive support after our trip. Sometimes this year felt like being a boat come loose from a mooring.  Be present for your peers. Not everyone will want this- some people will need space to heal- but for those who do. Also, be brave and reach out when you, yourself, are overwhelmed.

Be honest with yourself, your friends, and your family. The biggest mistake is denial. Your souls are already naked, your comfort as a living being has been shaken, and you have felt loss. Accept your feelings as they wash over you, and be patient when others do not understand.

I ride my bike every day here in Burlington. I make sure my voice is heard by my neighborhood planners and city councilmen about bike safety. I take long day trips with friends and am very vocal about enforcing safety rules. I did not know if I would want to bike after this trip, and I do not think everyone does after such an intense experience.

Knowing that a person who had such a positive impact on the world is no longer here, I work hard to be my best, as do many of my team mates. I continued service work after my trip. We collectively can not replace what was lost, but it is our responsibility to compensate for the imbalance. I will always carry that spirit with me.

Something remarkable that you will learn is the strength of the people who surround you during this time. I never felt exposed to such a high concentration of wisdom and resilience. Our leaders, Patrick’s loved ones, Bridget and her family, all became more than human. They are symbols of success, reminders that individuals can overcome impossible odds. My team mates shared bone chilling insights that felt like answers to puzzles I hadn’t realized I was fumbling with. I know you will have those people in your team, companions being beacons of willpower and determination. 

Let them know so that they may have the strength to continue on.

And know that you are that person too.

 

802-448-0670-to chat

Corrinemarie.yonce@gmail.com to write

Be strong.

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Anniversary

A year ago today, a choice was made to change perhaps not who I am, but who I decide to be.

Thank you for the leaders who taught me so much, my fellow riders who taught me about myself, those moved enough to donate, to the strangers that took us in, to the vast network of people who came to our aid in tragedy, and the riders who continue to ride . Three cheers for biking, a thousands shouts for affordable housing,

Patrick for you we ride on.

 

Entry Level Lessons

*DISCLAIMER* What you are about to read is my personal account of something that happened to me, but affected others in the workplace in uncomfortable ways who were both men and women. The hope in sharing is not to place blame, but create conversation that encourage open, respectful, and safe work places for people of all gender identities.comicstrip2

I went through a period of being embarrassed to admit that I stocked groceries for my living. For two years I unpacked boxes of cereal and cans of beans to pay rent and buy food. The subjects that I went to school for, painting and creative writing, were reduced to hobbies. I was ashamed that my costly education could not propel me farther.

Originally, I could not explain the relationships I had built with coworkers, or the strength to which I believed in the values of City Market. I could not even explain how invested I was in doing my job well, in working hard, in teaching and learning. I never chose to talk about how, through working there, I really got to know my pride, how I learned to work in a system that, for better or for worse, has bosses bossing bosses, or what leadership can mean in a place where morale can get really low. At the Co-op you say hi to people just because you see them all the time. You recognize people by the bread they carry, the carts of eggs, or the buckets of kimchi. I valued my work at a place where resources were accessible, where I was part of my community landscape, and where the wage was somewhere above minimum.

I feel publicly comfortable saying that leaving my grocery job made me sad. I want to share some insight I gained from the experience.

I encountered a really uncomfortable situation in my workplace. Part of me feels like I am doing wrong by talking about it, that I am embarrassing myself or my coworkers. But I learned so much from the minor altercation.

My manager sent some inappropriate e-mails. It was almost a year ago now, much warmer, and I was sprinting to make a bike fitting after leaving work. My schedule was packed as I prepared to bike across the country. I remember reading the first email on my cell phone before I rushed into the store, and then again as I fled to my studio to set up for a fundraising event. His e-mails began as a response to my thanking him for his generous donation to my Bike & Build fund. At first I was confused by his persistent messaging, then convinced I was being pranked by a friend.

Mostly they were erratic, but eventually the e-mails built up to calling me pretty and sending his phone number. In the grand scheme of things, the exchange was fairly tame, and pretty normalized. I had similar interactions with coworkers at other work places, and to think I would somehow skate free in the safety of the Co-op was fairly naïve.

Coming from a family of females, a single mom with three sisters, male harassment in the work place was almost natural. My sisters were undergoing far more inappropriate and even unsafe situations in their places of employment. Our habit was to make jokes about it, to roll our eyes and move on.

When I returned to work after the weekend, though, I was pretty uncomfortable. A part of me questioned what gave him the idea that I would be an easy target. I examined my clothing choices, and wore more masculine attire. I worried that my friendliness was misinterpreted. I tried to keep busy.

The sentiment quickly escalated. I felt silly for once thinking He really valued my work ethic when maybe he just had something else in mind. I was pissed for every time I had applied to a higher job, had an interview, for being denied. I was disgusted by all the times I asked Him to meet with me one on one,  times that were spent alone with Him in a small conference room as I became excited for some problem I thought I had solved. I hated my male coworkers, for hanging out with him upstairs, being paid more, laughing, talking about guy things and making inappropriate jokes behind the sales floor. I know I did not feel this way before the e-mails, and it was hard to be level headed after.

The short interaction happened during a pretty overwhelming time in my life. I was preparing for the bike trip and distracted by heavy family issues, among other “life things”. A large part of me decided that my feelings towards the week of e-mail discomfort was over-dramatic, amplified by what I already had going on. I talked to some of my male coworkers, those holding leadership positions, who were very sympathetic to my manager. They expressed remorse for his drinking problem, and felt bad for his loneliness. “He does this to us too,” they said. “If we lose him, we lose all the great things he did for that department.” “Don’t leave the Co-op on that note, or they won’t want to hire you.”

“Well, did you ask him to stop?”

So I sent a stern e-mail, allowing him the pass under the condition that my female coworkers, almost none of whom had the opportunity to move pass an entry level position at that point, would not be subjected to the same discrimination.

Halfway through the summer, I received a text from a coworker. Almost to the other coast and on the side of the road with my bike, I read that someone had discovered our unsettling communications. I must have mistakenly left open my e-mail on a computer where I volunteered. It was bad timing, the bike trip at this point the most immeasurable challenge I had ever faced. The conversation came back to haunt me. I was mortified, embarrassed. My team mates were furious for me but also at me. I am so outspoken about right and wrong, it did not make sense for me to let this go. How could you not say anything? Why would you let him get away with that? And the worst-

Who else do you think he is doing that to?

I was lost after the trip ended, sad to leave my team mates and heartbroken about the tragedy that befell us. My plans to live out West were dropped. I was confused, my sense of pride and strength drowned out by my sense of loss, for our friend and leader in the accident, for my team at our dispersal, for a moment that was gone as soon as it began. I needed home. I was broke. My family wasn’t a safe place. I needed a job.

I received an e-mail from the very same manager, asking for me back, telling me he saved a position for me. It was entry level, bellow the one I left at, and I would have to wait for a higher position to open again. I scoffed at the boldness, shocked and suspicious.  But in a time of unfamiliarity and lack of structure, the recollection of those who had worked with me and encouraged me to do this trip, who helped fund the journey, and the comfort of a familiar pattern were too tempting. At the co-op, I had a team.

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When I agreed to go back, I could not justify the interviews again, the disappointment, the shame of working as hard as my male coworkers and being stuck bellow them, progressing at half the speed as the people who started the same time with me. I could not commit to full time, and I knew I had to find a different job.

My first day back, my manager did not stop walking when he addressed me, and certainly did not look me in the eye. I laughed to a coworker about it. For the weeks to come, he never looked at me again. I wondered if he was surprised I accepted the job offer.

I started feeling dumb. Is this what I deserve for my entry level job?

Over drinks, I tried to explain the gender imbalance to some coworkers. They were angered, citing different upper managers who were female. “I will judge an employee by their work ethic and not account for their gender.” I could not articulate, drunk and emotional, that their biases were subconscious, that they were not aware of the uncomfortable environment their female counterparts were subjected to.

I found myself struggling to be the same leader I had previously prided myself on. I was angry, hurt, and resentful. I fixed my attention on every flaw, unnoticed by my managers, of my male superiors and fumed about criticism given to me, regardless of how minuet or relevant.

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A huddle (team meeting) following the holidays was led by the new store general manager, ours absent. An announcement was made that our grocery manager was on administrative leave until an incident was investigated. My stomach flipped and I could feel my face get hot. I remembered the text I got over the summer. I felt guilty. I immediately reported my experience.

Two weeks later I was asked to sit in an office with two operations managers and a union steward. I told them what happened. I printed the e-mails. I started to tear and was offered a tissue. I hated myself for being so emotional, and spending energy on a single person’s stupid decision that affected me so thoroughly. I was told it wasn’t just me, that other girls had come forward. I was given a number to call a therapist that gives three free sessions. My manager was fired. And that was the end.

I did not feel victorious. Very few people spoke to me about it again. I gave my notice and left with such mixed feelings. In the same place that I had found my core support group, I was betrayed. The remainder of my time at the market I spent trying to create conversations around gender equality and respect.

I think I have always been an extremely nostalgic person. I wanted great change to come from the exposure, my female coworkers given support and empowerment. I had believed that the co-op was more just than any other work place, that its employees were valued and respected. While those on the floor along side of me had that perspective, it didn’t feel like upper management cared.

I was confused. I had such good relationships with people all across the store, those working the lower paying jobs on the sales floor and those working up top too. But still, I felt the injustice was barely noticed by those who were not very close to me. It was as if the greater store cared more for maintaining an image of equality than actually enforcing it.

Those who did talk to me about what happened, it is important to note, were extremely supportive. I could tell they were just as unsettled and hurt that such a situation could slip by in the place they loved to work so much.

I hate that, despite how great of a work place the co-op actually is, this was not an isolated event. It was ongoing. No one knew not because they did not care, but the behavior did not strike people as unusual. Under this manager’s influence, men excelled not because they were much better than the female equivalent, but because he was more comfortable with them. The big picture is that we work in a society where men are most likely to be in power, and we have become so used to men treating women’s worth unequally in terms of their value as workers. Sexual harassment is normalized, to the extent that it is not a problem until it is physical assault. And sometimes not even then.

It took distance and time for me to understand that so much of my reactions were responding to triggered family trauma. The wound of gender inequality is not one opened fresh by the desperate outreach of my former manager. It is something I have witnessed with my single parent, who more than once developed relationships with men whose trust she needed to secure her job, and ensure she could feed her children. The power dynamic, however willingly entered, becomes a system of abuse, both metaphorically and so often literally.

I wish I could say that this was an accident committed by a lonely man alone, that the oversight in my workplace was unique. That is not the case. These are the real struggles of working class women in America. It is eye opening to see that even in my community where I have so many people supporting me and whom I trust, that this kind of accident can happen.

It’s Not Over

It’s Not Over- Not to be confused with the Daughtry song.

I have seen names written in paint, on the grey bridge under-belly adjoining cattle fields over a brook in Illinois. In New Mexico, I have seen names sprayed over awesome red cliffs that dwarf me and my bike. I have seen names defacing large piles of stone in fluorescent in Arizona and names carved into bathroom stalls and green plastic Porta Johns across the country. I have seen names spelt in rock in the middle of the desert in California, untouched by rain, wind, or creature. I have seen names memorialized on crosses, made of wood, of plastic, of metal, adorned in flowers, streamers, toys, and paint. Names outlast body, outlast memory, outlast sense of place.

How will I memorialize this trip? Will I tattoo the thirty one names on my body down my rib cage? Will I scale a brick building one night, with paint cans jangling in my Camelback? Did we do it justice by spraying the names at Cadillac Ranch, ankles deeps in painted mud? Should I chalk about it and post it on Instagram, stuff the caption with so many hashtags that the whole world will somehow read it? Is writing this post enough?

How will I tell everyone how much I have changed, about the new weight I carry? How can I promise myself I will never forget? How do I carry these people with me so I never miss them in my new life? How can I thank all who have helped carve me- the people who were the vehicle that carried me across the country, more so than my own bike? How do I make these names outlast this summer?

 

I keep trying to write this post but I find myself writing instead to the people who endured with me. “I am afraid I will never see you again.” To the “enlightened,” which so many of my teammates are, the knowledge that we all come away so influenced by each other, to the point where we have thirty one new lessons, unique bite-sized virtues that we will always carry, is enough. To some it is enough to know that we have taught each other to see the strengths in everyone, even those who seem least similar to ourselves, that we will find familiar friendships in strangers. To some these new truths are enough, but my childish, whiny ways demand more. I have always been bad at goodbyes.

It seemed right to spend these last moments on a swing, which was when I began writing this post- in Santa Monica, CA. That is how I spent the second afternoon, months ago in Andover, Massachusetts. Andover feels like years ago. Cyclical- on swings the second to first day and the second to last. There has always been something soothing about swinging, more than the nostalgia. What goes up must come down. What begins must some day end.

When Andy and Abbie found me they called it brooding although you could go with sulking as well. During our last family meeting we had more to say than the time allotted for us. It seemed like everyone just wanted to vocalize every lesson, to thank every person who helped them get there, to convey the individual love spurred from each unique moment.

“I was so busy living my life that I forgot I had control over it,” Grace confessed over our final fire- another tool to take back into our lives waiting us at home.

“I think all the people on this trip have become apart of my ‘A Team.’ I’m just really happy I met you all. I think it is really hard for 32 people, roommates, riders to get along all the time and we did a great job doing that.”- Katie Collins

It seems our lessons will never end, and it is true, even now away from Bike & Build, its teachings continue to weave its way into my lifestyle.

Of course, we did not scratch the surface of such an insurmountable feet. I was left with so much more to say. I stayed up until three in the morning despite the 5:30 wake up. Really, I would have chosen no sleep at all, just to prolong the departure.

 

I wish I could say that reaching Santa Barbara was a joyous, light experience

In a lot of ways it was. Nate rented a bike just to join us in. Maddy had run the last mile, because she could not bring her bike. Suzette rode with us, in her pink chamois, her bike guided by Patrick’s wheel. Tyler watched with his arms crossed and feet planted like a silent, proud dad. We threw our bikes into the sand as soon as we saw the water, not caring for derailers, or bike chains or brake cables. We sprinted, not ran, not hurried or skipped, we sprinted to the ocean and grabbed on to each other’s necks, laughing and sobbing. I could not tell if we choked for the sea in our open mouths or for the relief of having finally made it.

Suzette dipped Patrick’s weal in the Pacific joined by her father, mother, and Rachel. ReRe, Bridget’s mom and main cheer squad, weaved through us and we all dunked her wheel, the horde of us lifted en masse by the waves. No, it was not as if our friends were there with us. But at least we could somehow signify that they both had finished the trip with us, because there was not a day, on bike or otherwise, that we were not riding for them.

I cannot convey what I was feeling that night, our final night, because, really, I could not understand my emotions or thoughts even then. I had already said goodbye to a friend, so the finality had started to sink in. Then there was champagne and sun, followed by so much activity- trying to find showers, making it to our final meal, meeting people’s parents and loved ones, the alumni that had joined us…. a slideshow of our trip, unedited, of before the accident and after, of the whole ten weeks that felt like ten years.

The next morning was Patrick’s service, back down at the beach.

His parents felt like people I had met before. His mother told us that previous Christmas Patrick told them how grateful he was for them. His father joked that Patrick worried he looked like him (which he certainly did). My heart broke for them, two parents who should be celebrating with their son. Later, Maddy would tell me that meeting them made her realize that while we were undergoing a terrible loss, they suffered from losing a piece of their life.

Later on I would cry to my friends, my strong and beautiful (words too cliche to fully encompass what I really mean) leaders, and anyone who would hear me out. I moaned that it was so stupid how we could prepare for rain with our rain jackets, for sun with our sunscreen, how we could fill our Camelbacks each morning with water and pump our bike tires with air, and yet we would show up to a funeral service without goddamn tissues.

I think we all had so much to say about Patrick’s passing, but when it came to his service, many of us were just plane out of words. After his death our whole trip was lived as riders who were not hit, as riders who were missing their teammates. Our team was a different team altogether, our spirit at the end was the film negative of the beginning- the same in form but opposite in color. Even in the space where the tragedy weighed less on our minds, there was no way not to live as the twenty seven who continued to ride.

Abbie, however, prepared a speech. I love that girl so much, I can’t express (I find that these posts are littered with that phrase, “I cannot express”) the pride that warmed me when she looked into our sobbing faces and spoke the words we were fumbling to find.

We sat with our sadness until it left the air stale and heavy and we made a choice to pick ourselves up. And while we love you for the little things we miss you for the big things.

So for you we are stewards.

For you we ride swift.

For you we ride on.

Suzette and Rachel, like characters from a book, continued to be pillars of strength, their presence almost superhuman when they stood to speak. Suzette looked at us with determination, undaunted, blue eyes sharp and too familiar. She talked about our universal need to find that thing we were meant to do, sharing an experience from her Bike & Build that  felt very applicable to our own. She finalized with “Patrick found what he was meant to do.” And he did. He was an amazing teacher; his lessons now follow us as we honor his memory. And still, on this trip he managed to keep learning how to be a wonderful leader. And that is was Rachel stood to tell us- all that Patrick learned.

When Rachel spoke her demeanor complemented her cohort’s, a white to Suzettes red, water to her fire. She opened Patrick’s journal and began to share his insight. She tilted her chin up when she spoke, smiling despite the steady stream down her cheeks. Later her and I shared a laugh through tears, Rachel saying that only Patrick would be so nerdy to fill his journal only with the lessons he gained. He spoke of what he learned from individuals, and with every name and memory he called out, our hearts squeezed a little tighter.

Rachel shared this poem by Mary Oliver, something she and Patrick had bonded over, and something that now strums in all of our hearts.

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.

 

Patrick’s journal ended on this quote of Abbie’s. It weakened my knees to hear that Abbie’s profound wisdom was his last takeaway.

“In times of uncertainty I fall back on my characteristics rather than any skill set.”

Like a beat her words settled in the turmoil of our thoughts, a stone in a flooded river. We will need this knowledge in our days to come.

Weeks earlier on our first night in New Mexico, staying in a tiny yellow church in the Valley of Fire, Lauren shared a quirky story about a bug flying into her ear as a child. We all laughed at her young stubbornness, how she refused to go to camp until her mother took her to the hospital to get it removed. That night I woke up at three in the morning with a tickle and a loud woosh in my ear. I ran to the bathroom, tilted my head beneath the sink, and flushed a moth from my ear.

This trip is like a book- no detail goes overlooked, without significance. I cannot believe the tale we were woven into, the rhythm of every moment and word spoken. How is it that Abbie was the one rider to speak at the service, and also the last line of Patrick’s journal? How is it that we each came with our own agendas and were given a new course? How is it that Bridget is the girl in the hospital, the most optimistic, rational, and level headed? Why was Patrick taken from us, just when our team gathered our stride, when Patrick learned to reach us in a knew way, when our leadership team began to cover all our needs, and we began to understand and support them? Why Patrick, who took extra time to teach us lessons of good stewardship, no matter the environment nor time of day?

How am I now away from this team who created me, and how can I continue on without them?

After the ceremony, we all kind of dispersed like marbles, drawn apart and together and apart again in that universal tendency towards chaos. I drifted toward the beach and looked to the Pacific, the ocean I had imagined seeing for the past six months. Four women stood there, their backs to me. Sam, Brittany, Rachel, and Suzette were framed by the late morning sun, hair tossed in the breeze, quiet as they shared the view of the same ocean. In that moment I questioned how I could meet such rounded, strong individuals, all in the course of three months. From where I stood, they looked so much taller.

I watched the waves beat the shore. I was transported back to a conversation I shared in Tulsa, when Maddy asked us what we were all grateful for. Abbie had said she was grateful for water. Symbolically, it has always stood for new beginnings, for cleansing of the past. For a moment I am grateful for the tide, because it is almost a relief to know that there are some things just out of your control, that you cannot change, that nature and time will decide for you. Like the swing, the tide comes up and goes back down.

The next day, while packing my Camelback, I found myself fighting the compulsions to pack Cliff bars, sunscreen, extra shorts, a bathing suit. It felt empty with just a ticket, a journal, a book. I felt proudly defensive marching through the airport with my bin in arms, held shut with clear packing tape, and with my safety triangle still dangling from my backpack.

It was weird to fly over, in just a few hours, what took months to travel. I sat in the window seat, face pressed against glass, to watch my triumph belittled into elaborate grid systems, interrupted by small mounds and wandering lines of water. The past weeks became a map- two dimensional- and was pulled beneath me like a strip of film.

On the airplane my mind ran in circles. I found myself obsessively texting some of my fellow riders, looking for some sort of comfort, and being disappointed when I find that talking through text did not hold a flicker to the flame our friendship emitted only a day before.  I did find that this need was not unreturned, and, as per tradition, my friends had nothing but wisdom to offer to the hurt.

Claire was able to articulate the wandering, grey feeling that settled since the trip ended. “‘ I remember feeling really lost, like the kid whose mom forgot them at soccer practice, or like the final scene of a really good, 12-year-long sitcom…It gets easier. It’s neat meeting up after and seeing what real life looks like for you and everyone… I’d imagine it’s like what a parent feels like when their kids go off into the word and do coo’ things.”

It takes work to be happy, but it always has. Just as it is easier to let your room (or bin, in our case) be messy, to eat fast food instead of to cook, to fly down the back of the hill instead of to climb it, it is easy for each person to find the rut of hardships and to not pop back out.

Tyler shot us all a quote the day we all began our travels (because, really, is it Bike&Build if Tyler does not share a quote?)

“When you fly across the country in an airplane the country seems vast; but it isn’t vast. It’s all connected by roads one can ride a bike down. If you watch the news and there’s a tragedy at a house in Kansas, that guy’s driveway connects with yours, and you’d be surprised by how few roads it takes to get there.” -Donald miller

“Your driveway is connected to my driveway, just a few roads between us,” he finished.

This world is a small place. Like Grace said, it is important to not get so caught up with the pattern of “living your life” that you forget you have control. You can see the places you want to see, be with the people you want to be with. Yeah, you cannot change other people, but you can change yourself. No story is too far or too foreign to affect you.

We have the responsibility to ourselves and each other, to all who invested in us, who sent us care packages, who read our posts, to everyone who prayed, and called, and told their neighbors about what we are doing, to each affordable housing group that we worked with and who applied for grants, to the strangers we have touched and never knew; we have the responsibility to be the best we can be, and to uphold the mission we set out to do.

Even if this is the last post-ride blog post, this is not the last lesson Bike & Build will teach me, and this is only the very beginning of a journey that has already been set into motion.

The world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.

Patrick, for you we are good stewards. For you we ride on.


  

  
  

Winds and Uphills

this is my first reblog- what a cool this I can do!! woot

Life in the Bike Lane

Seligman to Kingman, AZ
Arizona continues to surprise us with its sublime beauty. The day started with us at the Kampground of America in Seligman. We were riding 88 miles to Kingman, Arizona which was not able because it was the first In n’ Out we were going to encounter. For the uninitiated, In n’ Out is a fast food chain on the west coast known for its cheap burgers, shakes and the animal style secret menu. All the Californians had been waiting for this moment so bug plans were made to meet at the restaurant.

Matt very eloquently said (as he was wont to do) “every day is a challenge but never for the reason you expecting to be.” It keeps everything interesting within the rigid schedule and structure of each day. We expected the day to be challenging because of the distance. It was the longest mileage since…

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Through the Desert, Desolate Departure

You know how people will tell you that something is going to change you, and you will believe it, and imagine it… and then it does. And it is just not anything you imagined?

In Columbus, Ohio (what feels like years ago, not weeks), two Bike & Build alumni chortled at the prospects of us biking to 29 Palms, California. “It’s ganna change ya,” they insisted between pints of beer. Our only comfort then was that the experience was so far away.

Four days before our trip ends, Andy and I sweep into 29 palms. Indeed, it was a journey. He had asked me casually the night before to join him. For those of you who do not know what sweep is, it is the final two riders that follow the group at the very behind, carrying a small first aid kit and an extra tube. They are on the road the longest. Sweep will signify that everyone made it in.
Patrick and Bridget were sweep the day they got hit.

The thing is, I agreed without missing a beat- call me delusional. Days previous I had confidently asserted that sweep would not make it through the desert without being vanned [definition: to have your ass saved by the van]. One hundred thirteen degrees, are you kidding? Vanned. But that morning, after we gave our crew the appropriate head start, it did not occur to me once that we would not finish our ride.
To this moment I cannot tell you where we found the strength. I think in the weeks to come the story will be less believable to my ears. Many who read this cannot fathom and will never undergo the heat we biked through and experienced for twelve hours. For a hundred miles there was no service station. We passed through an abandoned town that was decorated with shoes, peoples’ names written in stone next to an unserviced railroad track. Nothing and no one comes out here enough to move anything.
Honestly, the two of us maintained high spirits and consistent energy for most of the way. I don’t know what it is about that guy, but I owe it to Andy Short to making it through to 29 Palms. And not just me. When we happened upon three dehydrated riders ten miles from second lunch, he acted quickly. He flagged down a car to carry them the last ten miles, and volunteered to wait with their bikes. In the time it took for him to explain our situation to the French-Canadians, I had really only dismounted my bike. Our pal Abbie had shoved herself beneath a bush (I just add that because there was shade conveniently located about ten feet away that she passed up). There is more to the story, but really our delusional plottings sound more exciting to us who lived through it than to any reader. The real surprise was that Short was able to pull Andy Gorman and I through the last thirty miles of the dessert without hesitation. Sure, the heat and adrenaline probably pressed our minds into a weird kind of high, but I truly felt like the journey was in some way spiritual.
As the trip begins to tie itself up, there is a strong sense of homesickness, of identity crisis. “I’m afraid because I know I am no logger the person who left home, and I cannot change that,” Lauren admitted. I also dread the day when I won’t share gym floors and church basements with these people. Abbie says that we are all cookies that no longer fit the cookie cutters that shaped us back home. Only time will tell how we can respond to that.

The night in Wrightwood, Arizona was cool- 64 degrees. Crickets and toads created a constant blanket hymn. An owl called in the distant. Yesterday we were in a city, crowded by fast food chains and choked with cars. The day before we were in the desert- dry, unpopulated, barely touched. That night we were on a mountain, embraced by forest.

I wrote, “I am overwhelmed with emotions that feel like they are from ten years ago.” For some reason when things get so emotionally charged I habitually equate it to the years of puberty. Puberty is the emotional threshold for everyone, right? “Tonight beneath these tall pines on a mountain, I feel small. I feel like a bump in the earth, young and old. I could be here for ever.” Bike & Build time is compacting weeks into a day, years into three months. At 24 years old, I have aged a decade on this trip.

We stayed at an empty bible camp. The outdoor amphitheater allowed us to finally implement the long-awaited talent show. I was, again, taken by the wealth of qualities my team had to offer. The same people who approached every physical, mental and emotional challenge with a serious determination, took the stage with creativity, charisma, and hilarity that had me sprinting to the forest to relieve myself. I have written that through them I have learned of myself. Now I am inspired to be more than who I am. I left the talent show early, not because I did not have fun. It just hurt to imagine saying goodbye to these people.

I realize I don’t know how to not fall in love with people. With places. With small items. Habits. Every time I leave it feels like heart break, inevitable. I have no choice. It is hard not to fixate on the comfort I will loose. Brittany and I agreed that it feels like a breakup. We know what has to be done and just hate saying the words.
Our dear friends Maddy and Nate rejoined us for our coming wheel dip.Having them there reminded us that we were missing two special riders- Bridget and Patrick. Maddy’s quick, pointed wisdoms have reminded me how much we changed since her departure, and how much we missed her. She talked about the effects of this trip when we return to our lives. Maddy cleaned out her closet upon returning to her life left behind, unattached to the abundance of material after living from an 18 gallon bin for a few months. She said “just knowing what y’all accomplished each day reminded me why I chose to be in grad school learning public policy.” We feel like we need to create change. I wonder how this trip will change my day-to-day life back home.

Two days before the trip I lost my yellow moleskin planner. For those who were with me on the leg leading up to this journey know that I had become fiercely reliant on the little book. I mapped every hour of my day, forgetting to leave time to eat or rest, allowing the never-ending todo list to roll into the next day, just enough so that I felt never accomplished. It was a control issue, a coping mechanism.
The coincidences of this trip have the uncanny ability to push better change. This trip has forced me to allow a natural flow to my day, to give way to the unpredictability, to let good habit become instinct, to not always need a list to show how productive I am. Time management has never mattered less, yet some how each day we manage to bike between 60 and 100 miles, take care of our equipment, pack and unpack and, again, pack away our things, tend to group-benefitting chores, and, more often than not, explore a completely new and alien town.
I feel like this trip is a text book where I have only read the spark notes. It is going to take me a long time to figure out what it is I learned.

Perhaps the scariest change we anticipated was meeting the loved ones of the leader we lost. We have been joined by Rachel, Patrick’s comforting, wise girlfriend, and Suzette, his fiery, passionate sister. There was a kind of inherent shyness from our party and there’s, to be total strangers but feel a connection- them who were the people to shape and share the Patrick who taught us, and us, the people who created the lifestyle he lived for his last two and a half months. In many ways it was what we expected- Suzette’s sharp eyes, her quick curiosity, her bold statements and intent mannerisms were so much like Patrick’s it hurt. Rachel’s level responses, encouraging remarks, and open personality matched Patrick’s description. These were the people Patrick cited most during our travels, and it was clear in person why they had such a lasting affect on his life.

Their presence felt so right. I cannot imagine this trip ending any other way. I can see why these two women were an important part of Patrick’s life and I am amazed to continue finding so many people who astound me. Yes, it was sad. Even though we joined this trip to become more engaged with the affordable housing cause, the loss of Patrick has become integral to our journey and what we will bring into our future lives, so I am happy to end it right.

For me, as trips, journeys, major-life-events, etc, come to an end, the hardest part is always packing up before moving on. Cleaning out the coolers and bins with bleach makes me wonder about the lives of the next people who will use these. Next summer whose hands will hastily pull the yellow tops off the snack bins during lunch? How will their summer compare to mine? Again, I think about the paths of strangers, mine and someone else’s, crossing. I think about how my life, how Patrick’s life, how all the lives of the people on this trip, will some how influence another’s.

  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  

  
  

  
  
  
  
  
  
  

Against the Headwinds

The town of Williams, Arizona was once a primary stop for Route 66 travelers. However, along with many Route 66 towns, the village was tossed into the past with the introduction of Interstate 40. How is it that a highway can have such a profound effect on a town? We had our second to last build day there. Our task, assigned by Habitat, was to clean a graveyard. Due to town budget cuts, it had not received maintenance since Bike and Build had last rolled into town a year ago, and who knows when before that.
Raking through the tombstones, death heavy on our minds, we also combed through our thoughts. The work was methodical, cathartic, and heavy. Tombstones are not memories, they are a memorial intended to outlast ourselves. We weeded through the styrofoam circles with plastic flowers, the faded flags, the flaking crosses, the ponderosa pines shading worn stone faces, blankets of pine needles. We thought about who we were before Bike and Build, who we are in our team, who we would be after.

The neglectful treatment of the dead was sad. But the tombstones reminded me of all the peoples whose lives I have touched without meeting.

The previous build site, refurbishing a home of an elderly woman in Flagstaff, AZ the site leader approached me saying I had a phone call. The woman calling (already forgot her name, though I promised I wouldn’t) had hosted another Bike and Build team and read my blog. She said she had hosted Bike and Build for years, and four years earlier a rider had an accident which kept him in the hospital for a week. She spent the week visiting him. Reading my blog had moved her enough to seek me out and personally thank me. It was astounding to hear a stranger so inlfienced by our experience. I felt like we were, in some ways, making an impact. More than that, the phone call left me with a sense of responsibility.

Much of this route, though, feels as if nothing could change it- tied back in time. We pass through as tourists like dust on a breeze, outsiders peering in. Route 66 has the nostalgic tourist charm that I am familiar with from Cooperstown, NY. But there is a twinge of sadness intertwined, the glory and fame not what it used to look like. It is clear that the advertisements and paraphanial are no longer retro, just retired. The shops smell of mildew, and the signs are missing letters. The Burma Shave signs that line the highways have dark rhymes that no longer read as humorous to those of us who have experienced loss and are acutely aware of the risk we run on the road.

The trip is so loaded in lessons that it is hard to process in the moment, but once again I am struck with the sense that it was “meant to be.” We are simultaneously caught in the charm and horrified by the white-washed, sexist, and very closed-minded mentality of the rural areas off Route 66. In many small towns there is a clear issue with education and poverty. I felt as if people were stuck playing the roles the trickle of tourists wanted to see because it is the only life they knew. Route 66 became a reminder of how America left behind it’s slow moving charm for the fast highways, and left behind the people in them as well. It is good to see the part of America we did not expect to see.

You can look at a group of people and tell right away how, superficially, they are different. We are trained for that since the beginning, just like the ispy in the old Highlights magazines. This picture has a cat in the tree and this one doesn’t. From the get go we had those clear extroverts and the quiet introverts, the competitive and complacent. Less obvious are the ways people process and view the world differently.

We all love the summer sidewalk sits against the host building at night, though. Every time I seek this quiet corner I find that another has beat me there, which, in turn, has lead to thought provoking conversations. It’s the time and place to turn over the rock and peek at critters of someone’s headspace.

A few of these occasions my peers have admitted “I don’t feel like I have changed,” or “I don’t feel the change yet.” Given all the feets we have overcome, it is hard to believe. When so many people are enduring the same trial, it is easy to normalize the experience and be blinded to change.

Grace pointed out that while people work hard to visualize the change they want to be, they forget all the hard work it takes to get there.

A member of our team had to make an early departure, again. The last night, before I retired to my thermarest, I caught her figure, a punch-out silhouette, hunched on the sidewalk of our church, cigarette in hand and a plane ticket. The absence of her vibrant, eclectic personality is a loss, and a reminder, again, to be grateful for the unique characteristics people have to offer.

Just to reiterate- learning is hard.

There’s a constant sense of intense change and I just wonder how I am able to keep responding to that need. It is the trial of Johnstown, PA (our introduction to steep climbing) all over again, amplified ten fold. “Had you asked me before if I could do it, I would have said no.” Yet here I am.

It is also hard to remember to take care of yourself. I confided in Abby on a ride into Kingston, Arizona that I worried I was unable to be there for my team mates as much as I wished to. We had stopped at a field of horses, probably thirty of them. When we ducked under the barb wire they nuzzled for food, and our pause among the heard took us back five weeks earlier, when the trip was in lighter spirits. Abby, always with a clear mind for her friend’s emotions, responded, “Maybe your lesson here was not to take care of other people, but to take care of yourself.”

The lessons do not seem to end, they only become more challenging as they farther leave the physical realm and enter the deeper questions of self, purpose. I think of Kim, our crazy, ambitious friend leaving. Her decisions was one of bravery and maturity. We have realized that what is best for us as individuals may not be best for the group.

Describe to me the Grand Canyon. If you have never seen it, you have a pretty specific image in your head, based on google images, some post card you received, or an old national geographic magazine. You’ll say simple things like “it’s big, it is red, it is deep.” But you just don’t have the vocabulary to portray the soft blue glow of early morning light carpeting the bottom as slowly the tip top rocks glow gold, the hot neon orb climbs the eastern sky. You don’t have the words to convey the sensation of hiking, just you and a friend, alone into the canyon- wind picking up, dust staining ankles red. And then, you cannot speak of the urgency as the sun sets, casting long purple shadows rolling dusk in. Well, now I do.

Similarly, anyone can talk about loss without experiencing it, anyone can imagine a bike trip, speak of the sites we’d see, but phrases can barely signify this greater experience. I have found I am growing numb. I don’t know how I should feel. I am still in it. But I know that this bike trip was never about us.
Andy had a lot to say as we hiked out of the canyon, lit only with the light of a dying cell phone and scrambling in the wind.

“We can’t see it because we are in it, but I am a big believer in positive thinking, and I think that we will continue to be affected by Patrick in positive ways. His lessons are practically branded to us.”
We have so many people invested in us, supporting us, and we have been given a significant privilege. It is our responsibility to be the change we hope for, and to work hard for it.


  
 Q


  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  

Back on the Bike

Someone asked me how I thought our lives would be different if we had been on another Bike & Build route.

It is weird seeing  pictures of friends back home doing normal people things- cookouts, music shows, snaps of their random, day-to-day habits.  But even stranger is seeing pictures from other Bike & Build trips doing exciting activities, or maybe even the same activities, and feeling a divide. They do not carry the weight of loss like we do. I say this not in resentment but rather in acknowledgement, because for some reason I don’t wish to be anyone different than the person who is here- with this team, learning to overcome.

Tragedy is like poetry- everything pauses to breathe and the specifics, the still, quiet notes, become clear and rhythmic. Like a beat we remember- the single muddy puddle with twenty frogs off the side of Route 66, the feeling like we traveled back in time, so much so that a passing Fed Ex truck is startlingly out of place, the way the back of your left leg taps your bike lock, coiled beneath your seat, with every down pedal stroke.

Everything now has been divided into before and after.

How do we resume our trip? Even though we put on a brave face, we are all a little scared. I don’t know how many of us are actually afraid of being hit, so much as afraid to acknowledge the hurt, to feel the vacancy.
We are more than mourning a single moment in time. This is now the lense through which we experience our world.

Our first bike ride was into the Vally of Fires in Socorro, New Mexico. There was something epic and necessary for the return to be through this desert stone. The black rock of a long dormant volcano is beautiful in it’s scarcity. 

The preceding night, beneath the naked Milky Way in a humble church, we went around the table to tell the host about what we had learned on the trip. It was the first time we presented since the accident. Everyone chose their words very carefully, as if trying to tell each other and ourselves our gathered wisdoms more than the host. I realized that this ritual would never be the same to us.

“You can choose your family,” Abby said looking across the table, past the little yellow church, over the empty thin streets.

I have been thinking a lot about spirituality. I didn’t grow up with a strong religious upbringing or education. In fact, I had a pretty confusing spiritual background, having briefly attended a Catholic school, while simultaneously attending the Jewish community center for after school programs. Staying in churches for seven weeks prickled my curiosity, but in lieu of recent events, the theme has become a constant itch, a blossomed contemplation.
That day of the accident was like a chess game, every detail leading to a factor. What if we had left earlier, or later? What if Brenna’s ride group was not at the restaraunt when the man came in who heard the news? What if Roger and Cathy had not been behind the driver that hit our friends- would Bridget have made it? How would we be if the accident had happened three weeks earlier- would we resume? 

The climb into Pietown, New Mexico just had that feeling of… connectedness. It could not have come sooner and could not have come later. Timing this trip has a consistent sense of irony. The cliffs were sharp, red, plateoing. Some distant mountains almost looked like clouds. Climate literally changed beneath our tires. We biked through miles of yellow daisy feilds. We watched six enormous satellites approach, and as we passed they turned to face us. We later learned their purpose was to find life on other planets. 

As the air cooled,  the vegetation grew, and we closed the distance between us and the sky, we crossed the continental divide. Elk crossing signs punctuated the curving, climbing road. The rivers changed directions, and in many ways, so did we.

The red barked trees lining the way are called the Ponderosa Pines. Andy says they smell like vanilla. Their trunks are fat, tall, strong and red. Their presence is a shock and comfort after biking through the Valley of Fires. Just the pine smell reminds me of home, and some how their strength makes me feel brave to face the climb. 

Strong. I have been thinking about the word “strong.” It has been tossed around a lot through recent events, a word I fumbled with myself when lending a shoulder to friends. Lately I don’t feel strong. How does existing through this make you strong? I feel more like a passenger in the back seat of a bus, or like a log carried by the floods we experienced in Missouri. This is just how it is, and here I am.

They call Pietown the land of entrapment, but Nita, our bubbling host, insisted it is the land of enchantment. We were welcomed with pie and brought to the toaster house. 

Nita bought the house after being bewitched by Pietown. One day a hiker came by asking for water and she discovered her home was on the path of the continental divide. From thst day on she became a hostel and a celebrated stop for those passing through the little town. Over two hundred travelers walking or biking across the country have come together at the toaster house this season alone

. The fence that borders the remarkable place is littered with toasters. At a strange moment the foreign site triggered a memory.

My father has been gone a long time now. But when I look back on him, I see him in the garage. His work table is messy with screw drivers, saws, scattered nails, but most noticeably covered in broken toasters. It was something that drove my mom crazy, and later in life, when she was especially cross with me, she would say “just like your father- you can never follow through.” I didn’t see it that way though; to me, the determination to fix a thing, and the loyalty to the object was charming.
 Nita explained that her toaster broke one day, and, not wanting to throw it out, she stuck it on the fence. From there on out, people started giving her their own toasters, some even mailing them. She said she didn’t know where half of them came from- they just showed up. It felt like a sign, too much a reflection of a memory she knew nothing of.

Nita raised her family in the little home.  She said “I didn’t teach my children not to speak to strangers. You can find a friend in everyone- sometimes you are glad to see them go, but you are still able to take away a lesson.”

Pietown, despite it’s small size and remote area, actually reminded us of the vastness of the world but the scope to which we can effect people. The interconnectedness of lives sometimes feels too perfect to be random.

Emotions are as thin as wax paper. Our first town hall meeting was tough. The circle we sat in was noticeably smaller. Usually we talk about our highs and lows for the week; we chose to leave out our lows since the low was obvious. Then we move on to what you are grateful for and I just felt like I had so much to say. I thanked Ben for sitting with me while I cried on the stoop, and Andy for his patience when I wanted to give up biking. I wanted to say more, perhaps I wanted to spend the whole evening thanking people, thanking Abby for collecting my emotions, to Jamie for being a rock, to Claire for flying out to support us. It was as if I had only that moment to thank everyone and suddenly I had so much to say. The sensation was overwhelming, choking.

In reflection I realize that I was responding to my regret for not expressing my gratitude to Patrick- for every day he worked to lead us, went out of his way to teach me a lesson, or even just for his way of being completely and honestly himself. More than that, I regret that I did not feel more appreciation for the “pre-accident” days, when my lessons were simpler ones to conquer. 

The funny (not haha funny) thing is that we all came on this trip to overcome something, or, some would argue, to run from something. Yes, we care about the affordable housing cause, but we could have confronted it countless other ways. There was something in each of ourselves that we sought to better. The sadness of this trip is just a larger challenge to overcome.

Our hearts are all letters

Our wisdoms a song

Our feet are on a train

   
    
    
Ei