Zac Smith ~ Healthy, Fit, and Fulfilled

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).