Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Day 44: Niagara Falls, NY, to Henrietta, NY

Today's Mileage: 82
Average Speed: 16.9 mph
Max Speed: 33.0 mph
Moving Time: 4:51
Blog & Ride Details

One of the cyclists on the tour celebrated a birthday today. While I, of course, wished him the best on his day, it made me think about how certain days hold entirely separate meanings for different people. It reminded me of a conversation that I once had with Rickey about birthdays and deathdays.

I made a conscious effort to have a good day, a good bike ride. I didn't want my positive effort to feel trite and contrived, but I also didn't want anyone to sense my mood and assume the burden of psychotherapy when they should be enjoying their tour. Underneath my attempts at genuine smiles, there were particular scenes from my life replaying in my mind. They replay with more frequency during this time of year.

Seven years ago. Cullowhee, North Carolina. Rickey and I had not spoken in two weeks. Following a fight over his attempt to illegally fill a forged prescription for pain medication, I had been ignoring his phone calls from Augusta, Georgia. I wanted him to feel like he was losing me, like his behavior was destroying all we'd ever had. And if he didn't get his life together, there wouldn't even be a friendship left. I wanted to make him suffer a little. How immature it seems now. How stupid it seemed immediately after the phone call.

When his father's name flashed the incoming call on my cell phone, I assumed it was Rickey. That his cell phone had been turned off yet again. That he was using his father's phone as he had numerous times before. I remember the last thought I had just before I heard the Earth crack in two: "Ok. I'll talk to him now."

The thing that perplexed me the most after Rickey died is that no one else's world came to a deafening halt. The Western Carolina Men's Basketball Team still left for their WCU Canadian Tour a few days later. My best friend still left North Carolina shortly thereafter for her role in "Mother Divine," which WCU was producing in New York.

After the funeral in Augusta, our friends went back to their lives, and much to my amazement, life went on around me. And my mother temporarily moved into my apartment to fully devote her time to helping me get on with mine. Brushing my hair for me or running my baths whenever the simple act of looking in the mirror would bring me to tears. Giving me pedicures while I stared at the ceiling. Finding shows on television when the remote in my hand idled listlessly on the TV Guide Channel. Forcing me to eat when I actually valued the sharp hunger pangs that dulled the intense pressure crushing my heart. It's like my mind could only accept so much anguish at one time. As if soothing the throb in my stomach, allowed my mind to fully bear the agony in my chest. I preferred to feel hungry.

Much of the day after - and the days in the wake of - his death are blurred in my mind ... and dark. But some moments are clear, defined in the creases of my memory. I remember laying in the bathtub, listening to a repetitive drip ripple on the surface above my feet. If I focused on the tiny sound of the drip and magnified the echo in my mind, I could make the bathroom tiles stop spinning.

I fought sleep because each time I awoke, I spiraled down through those first fuzzy moments where I had to realize he was gone all over again. There are few things worse than having a dream where everything is alright and waking up in a reality where everything isn't. And then more tears. I cried so much that I began sobbing to my mother about how I didn't want to cry anymore. It is a painful thing to cry because you can't stop crying.

Present day. Somewhere between Niagara Falls and Henrietta. I was alone, pedaling from the first SAG stop. Just as I was thinking about how there are people who can continue to impact your life long after they are gone, The Swiss Train rolled up and asked if I wanted to hop on. I enjoy cycling with them and always appreciate their invitations. As I assumed my spot in the paceline, I hoped that the opportunity to study their cycling form would provide the mental diversion I needed. It didn't.

Rickey's death defines me. Partly because I'll never get over it ... and mostly because I let it. Because if I don't let it define me, it feels like I'm letting him go.

It seems like events that occur or choices that are made branch our lives toward this direction or that, slightly varying our plans or wildly veering us off a previously envisioned course. These branches add new meanings - no matter how subtle - to our core ... but few single moments define all of the big and little parts that make up our entire being.

His death - seven years ago today - was my defining moment, in which my life currently exists in two parts: everything that happened before he died and everything that happened afterward.

It has created this vendetta with time that I am always battling, causing me to ironically seek ways to fill my days with ultimate highs, which can leave me feeling equally low when those highs pass. Like withdrawal.

The passage of time has a way of simultaneously fulfilling you and creating voids. Three years after Rickey died, I began having an urgent need to fill those voids. Pursue big goals. Move to New York City. Travel. Make more goals. Cycle across North America. Feel like I am living my life to its absolute fullest ... since I have gotten to see years that Rickey never will. It's the creation of my own internal heavens and hells.

There's another moment in Forrest Gump that has been replaying in my mind since Toronto Mark's initial movie scene reference.

Jenny: Were you scared in Vietnam?
Forrest: Yes. Well, I-I don't know. Sometimes it would stop raining long enough for the stars to come out ... and then it was nice. It was like just before the sun goes to bed down on the bayou. There was always a million sparkles on the water ... like that mountain lake. It was so clear, Jenny, it looked like there were two skies one on top of the other. And then in the desert, when the sun comes up, I couldn't tell where heaven stopped and the earth began. It's so beautiful.

That's what moments have been like on this tour. There have been so many places where I couldn't tell where heaven stopped. My hell drifts away, and then the rest of the scene plays in my head ...

Jenny: I wish I could have been there with you.
Forrest: You were.

More images from Niagara Falls to Henrietta:

Click here to view my entire photo album of Day 44 [TBA].

The Ride Leader's Official Report:
Henrietta, Day 44
Across America North:
Henrietta photos


Monique D. said...

crying yet again...

Very sweet Katie.

Anonymous said...

Your words remind me of an beautiful LCD Soundsystem called When Someone Great Is Gone.....thanks Katie, that was special.