Bereft and Befriended

My god, the things I’ve learned this week.

I’m aboard yet another COVID-ridden death tube on my way back home to Portland after a week in Tucson and Phoenix. Rows 28-30, y’all better have your shit together and not be carrying any small round nasties. In fact, everyone on this silly metal canister with wings should just stop breathing for the next 3 hours.

I did end up going to the BMX National in Phoenix. A single rider getting wadded up on the second obstacle of my first qualifying moto made it possible for me to make the main events all weekend long. I “bunked” in the Team 505 pits with folks from Albuquerque, one of whom I knew and the rest I didn’t. There were very few riders from ABQ, which is weird because PHX is just a hop away.

The trepidation I talked about in my last post regarding this National was not unfounded. I should have listened harder to my intuition. M was not at the race, so that was a relief, but ultimately it became clear that my heart had already understood what my brain failed to grasp, and it was a much more difficult lesson than I had anticipated.

When I’d finally settled in to the pits and was getting ready for my first moto, that’s when it truly hit me that I was there without M, and it made me deeply sad. BMX was the one thing at the end that we still really did together as best friends. The Phoenix race in particular is one we’ve done at least three times, maybe four. It felt so strange to be there without him, without our cooler and folding chairs and friends, chatting about the competition and our bikes, writing our motos and gates on our arms in Sharpie. It felt strange not to have him say to me: “the pros are up, come on!” It was weird not to have to remember his moto numbers along with my own so I could make sure to watch as soon as I was done with my cruiser lap, still breathing like a freight train and trying to scream with what was left of my lungs for him to GO, GO, GO!, and then hitting Village Inn in the late hours of the evening when the motos finally wrapped for the day.

It didn’t just feel strange, it felt awful. Like half of me was ripped away again. Like I’d run a sprint for miles to move away from something, only to be dragged back by the hair, kicking and screaming.

These Nationals are truly family events, with moms, dads, sisters, brothers, and friends all cheering for their family members as they zip around the track. Food is shared. Stories are swapped. Backs are slapped and fists bumped. Hands are held when someone is injured. Hugs are in order when the qualifying round didn’t go as planned. There are a million ways to show you care about someone at these events, and it’s an opportunity to do exactly that.

M was my family.

As someone who is truly alone in the world, I’m now exempt from being cared for. Had I been injured, there would have been no one there for me; no one to tell my work or my dogsitter what had happened to me (note to self: make a will). The loneliness as I’ve described it ad nauseum has been a constant dull ache over the last year, but at the Phoenix BMX track it was much sharper and more acute, brought to the surface by the overwhelming proximity of so much unfamiliar family. As I waited at the top of the start hill for my main event on Saturday, desolation crashed like a wave over me, and the tears threatened.

So I learned an important lesson: don’t revisit places and events that were special to me as they relate to M. At least not now. I didn’t feel this way when I raced at a local Portland track recently, so the issue isn’t the bike, or even BMX in general, or racing. It’s trips we’ve taken together, and events we’ve attended where we acted as support for one another.

I also learned that I don’t think I want to race BMX anymore. I think I might be over it. Whether the ultimate catalyst was the sum total of this past weekend’s experiences I’m not sure, and I will have to examine that a little bit more in depth. I do know I’ve felt this way for a while now, so the National is not the only reason. I can say with certainty that Nationals in particular are a bit of a bore. You race a total of three minutes per day, and you have to be there all day while the qualifying motos and main events cycle through (no pun intended).

Bouncing around on a dirt jumper actually sounds like more fun to me. I’m going to take my bike to Gateway Green when I return to PDX and hurl myself through the pump track and over some jumps and see if that feels like more fun. I love BMX practice at the track, but the racing part just doesn’t appeal to me like it used to.

All of that being said, dear Ghost, I’m pretty proud of myself for doing that big race on my own. I took my bike apart, shipped it halfway across the country, put it back together (with a little help from a local bike shop…I was missing a part), drove myself to Phoenix from Tucson, raced all of my motos Friday and Saturday, made and raced both mains, and greeted a few people I knew. It wasn’t the best experience, but one I feel I really needed to have it in order to learn the lessons I did.

Back in Tucson, I really think I became friends with the women I traveled to meet. They are both fundamentally stellar human beings, friendly and open and warm. At our age we all have back stories, we all have failed relationships and/or relationships that are currently foundering on the rocks of indecision or imbalance, or both. We all have careers and big life choices in our pockets. I learned that it’s comforting and very important for me to be with these women who seem to understand me. It’s been so long since I’ve had a good circle of friends, so I’m looking forward to making sure these relationships are kept up.

These new friends also gave me some context and insight from which to move forward (or steer away from) certain aspects of my life. It was very helpful. Hearing their stories and gleaning new information about trials they’ve been through and people they’ve known brought new degrees of clarity and understanding. I think that if I just keep my eyes on the prize and keep striving toward being my best self, I will be OK. Everything else, and I mean absolutely everything else, relationships, work, parents, friends, it’s all peripheral. My relationships with other people are important to me, but I will always only have myself. We die alone, no matter how many people are present.

I need to learn, like an infant, to self-soothe. I need to learn, like an adult, to self-parent.

It was a good week, Ghost. Thanks, as always, for listening, you gorgeous ephemeral wisp of a reader.

Girls in the sunset.

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