The relationship had become like a favourite jumper; it was wearing thin at the elbows and didn’t really fit any more, but neither of us had the heart to throw it out. Four years of Saturday nights and Wednesday evenings and Sunday mornings had built up a level of comfortableness which was wonderful until we realised we’d somehow become friends who shared a bed. “Look how superior we are to other couples,” we’d think. “We don’t fight anymore!”
When we finally did gather the courage to give up, it was the bike I turned to for comfort. I’d spend evenings and weekends going up and down the river, as far and as fast as I could. I knew that I was trying to escape from things that I was carrying along with me, but that didn’t matter, just as it didn’t matter that I knew we were doing the right thing by breaking up. I had no plans and no one to see, so I’d ride until I ended up in a different county or until the river started to turn back on itself. I was trying to not think or feel, attempting to replace emotion with the thrum in my legs and a breathless void in my chest.
My bike—brand new, thanks to a government scheme—was better at being a bike than I was at being a person. It had a suspension fork and disc brakes and didn’t lie awake at night wondering if it had made a mistake. Despite the bike’s comfort and technological superiority to my old one, the main reason I bought it was because of a single phrase on its online blurb which said it was “most at home on the canal towpath.” It was marketing patter, of course, but that was alright. I’d found my soulmate, and it had 21 gears and quick release wheels.
There wasn’t anything special about the day I crashed. Maybe if we’d still been together we would have met up with friends, or gone for a walk, but instead it was just me and the bike and as much distance as I could put behind me. I saw the torn-up concrete as it came towards the front wheel, and in the instant between the realisation and the crash I understood that it was inevitable, that every furious pedal had brought me to that moment.
The bike went to the left and I went to the right. Neither myself nor the bicycle broke, but my right leg and arm were nastily grazed—skin replaced by blood, grit and a small island of plasma just above my elbow. The feelings which I’d been racing from came flooding back, and joining them was fear that someone would come by and see me, maybe even try to help.
The idea that someone would see me so thoroughly felled was embarrassing, but a little comforting in its horribleness. I was consciously aware that the moment was a low. It was difficult to imagine that I could feel any worse, which at least meant things might get easier: a long trudge uphill to somewhere better.
After I’d wallowed for a sufficient amount of time I got back up, righted the bicycle and headed towards home. I was only able to use one arm effectively, and was about an hour away, but I was moving again. I stopped off at a supermarket to buy medical supplies and gin, both of which seemed necessary. For the first time in a few years the cashier asked me for proof of age. I offered my right arm, and she seemed satisfied by the response. Once I was home my flatmates cleaned up the wound, and the three of us drank until everything seemed better.
The injuries were painful for a while, and faded one by one. The body can be overly symbolic sometimes. All that’s left of that day is a patch of disturbed skin near my elbow that looks like a dark pink thumbprint. It doesn’t hurt anymore, and when I look at it now it’s hard to remember a time when it did. But it’s still there, regardless: a part of me.