It was the weekend and I rode my bike to the river. Someone had set up a ramp for stunts. Kids were ramping their mountain bikes off of the ramp and into the river, leaping from the seat at the last minute to try and grab a large knotted rope that was affixed to a tree branch. My bike was a lightweight road bike designed for long distances at a moderate cadence – I had paid $680 for it, second hand, and replaced several of its components over time according to my personal needs and preferences in long distance biking. I was a member of several internet forums dedicated to bicycle riding and maintenance, engaging often in prolonged discussions regarding the relative quality and efficacy of differently manufactured and designed bicycle parts. Riding and maintaining my road bicycle, and, more recently, some other road bicycles I had been building from spare parts, became my primary hobby – I rode my bicycle for my commute and on weekends. I would go on extended trips on the weekends. At night, I would calibrate and clean my bicycle in the garage, post on the bicycle fora, and plan new routes to ride. I was feeling healthy, fit, and fulfilled by the hobby’s cumulative, cross-domain nature – the act of riding was physically rewarding, while the planning, shopping, trading, and maintenance components of the hobby were mentally fulfilling. I slept well, and awoke eager to engage with the various aspects of the hobby, which was a departure from my previous lifestyle marked by prolonged depressive episodes and suicide ideation. In the years prior, I had become obsessed with the idea of death. Whenever the experience of living my life became overwhelming, I would invoke its nature as a refrain, as a warding spell – it became central to me, a part of me. I carried the absolution of ending my own life with me at all times, through all traumas and joys, large and small. Death was a component in all my thoughts and feelings, a pallor through which I experienced my life, discoloring everything, drowning out all other hues, and in that way, it created for me immense comfort. I obsessed over my own death and the fact that I could, at any minute, bring about my own end. Every question was answerable with death. Every purpose was closed off by death. Every joy and yet, equally, every pain, was mutable by death. In conversations with colleagues or family, I related all topics to death, to the certain doom that all things faced, constant and inviting. I spent my time in cemeteries, examining the names and dates and projecting lost hopes and ambitions that were cut off by an unexpected illness, or constructing in my mind elaborate manifestations of grief and decay, of continual pain and anguish that culminated in necessary, rushed suicides by gun or noose. I took immense comfort in surrounding myself with death – I found community, freedom, an immense openness among headstones, a sense of belonging, a compassionate, mute understanding by generations of similarly hopeless and suicidal forebearers. In their company, I sought cool relief from the hot sun in a shadowed ditch, the dirt against my cheek, the deep, churning soil against my fragile skin. My despair felt impossibly small pressed up against the largeness of the earth and the fact that somewhere in its depths lay every person that has ever died. Then, two years ago, the pallor lifted, and the bicycle had taken death’s place. It had become a symbol for a new era in my life – I no longer yearned for death as an escape and instead found purpose and joy in daily life, and the more I filled that daily life with my bicycles, the more I found purpose and joy. However, my life has since returned to shambles due to unexpected personal and professional catastrophe, and so the era of the bicycle has come to a dispassionate end. I rode the bicycle onto the ramp, which warped the front wheel irreparably. I went over the edge and into the embankment below. I was unable to grasp the rope.
Zac Smith is the author of 50 Barn Poems (Clash Books).