A Story About a Bike

The story I’m about to tell you, it doesn’t capture the whole of my life. It isn’t everything that I am. I have to keep reminding myself of that. It only captures just a few moments… a few very brief moments… of what led me here. While it might seem random, and it might seem to drift a million directions, I promise you that every piece and every detail of what you’re about to read is important. This isn’t a story to skim. It’s one to take your time with, if you truly want to hear the voice behind it… If you truly want to understand.

When I was 26, I had to make one of the hardest decisions in my life. She asked me to decide… because she couldn’t do it herself. She couldn’t bear to.

My wife was pregnant… We were pregnant… with a baby that she had already thought she lost. The bleeding that was so severe that she took it for a miscarriage many months before, it was only a sign of what was to come. She wouldn’t see a doctor, because she was absolutely sure what had happened. But after those months had passed, and after we went in together to see a doctor, when it became clear that the baby was still there… after all that, there was a choice to face.

The doctor called it Trisomy 13. It’s a disorder similar to Down Syndrome, but the extra chromosome happens with the 13th, instead of the 21st chromosome. It’s a brutal, brutal condition, and it’s one that usually leads to miscarriage. When it doesn’t, though, it leaves people, almost always, in the place we were at.

It was a boy. But, if the baby lived at all, it had almost no chance of making it past three weeks. And, the extra complications in our case meant that just giving birth could mean losing two lives… not just one.

We were extremely far along in the pregnancy… well past what most would call the point of no return, but those lines had all disappeared. The choice we were left with was an impossible one to make… to move forward, knowing it would kill them both, or to end the pregnancy. It was an impossible choice, but we still had to decide. We had to make a decision, and we chose losing just one, instead of two.

That was the second hardest choice I’ve ever had to make.

The hardest decision? That one is a little more complicated…

Years later, after the marriage had long since fallen apart, and after the combination of depression and working from home for nearly a decade had both taken their toll on me, I was in pretty bad shape. There was a job ad in the local paper that caught my eye though, and it gave me a glimmer of hope. The job was working for the local school district, working in the IT department. It was what I really needed.

The application went through, and luck somehow ended up on my side. They offered me the job.

My first day was July 28th. Nine months and two weeks later, I felt like a completely different person. It was my 34th birthday, and for the first time in a long time, I felt happy for it.

Work was no longer a prison. I wasn’t trapped alone anymore with my own thoughts. I looked forward to going in every day, spending time with people all trying to be a part of something good in the world, and going home at night, almost always with the feeling that I’d been a part of doing something meaningful. And on that particular day in May, as I took in just how much had changed for me over the last year, I realized that against all odds, I had started to have feelings for someone else.

It was the first time I had really allowed myself to feel that way since my divorce.

She was someone I worked with, and someone I felt closer and closer to each day. Her life hadn’t been an easy one, but she had persevered through the hardships, to become a proud single mother of two boys. Working with her, I had learned a lot about the person she was, and about everything she had overcome to be there. But, what I didn’t know, was whether she felt the same way about me as I did about her. That part was a mystery I couldn’t solve without asking the question.

Getting the courage for that wasn’t easy. I thought of a million ways to try to say what I wanted to… a million ways to ask the question the right way… trying to find the right words to use. So badly, I wanted to get it right… so I went with the only way that I knew I wouldn’t stutter and stumble into a babbling mess. I closed my eyes, and I typed a letter to her.

After I gave the letter to her, I wasn’t sure at all how she would react, but in it I made sure to let her know that if I mistook friendliness for something else, if she didn’t feel the same, or if it was just all too complicated with us working together, it was okay. I would understand if the answer was no.

She didn’t say no… But she did say she had to think.

Even if that was just her being nice, I was more than happy with the answer. It gave me a little hope for what could be.

While I waited for whichever answer eventually came, I wanted to show her that I was serious about what I had said. So, I did what sometimes guys tend to do, and I went for a bigger gesture.

She had mentioned that with summer coming, and with her boys being home alone now while she was at work, she really wished that she could stay in touch with them more easily. FaceTime was just starting to be popular, and the moment she mentioned it, I already knew what I wanted to do… even if it was going a little past overboard. When I offered my card to pay for the iPhones, I think it caught her a little off guard, but she was overjoyed to be able to do video calls with her boys.

Before the feeling wore off, there was one more thing I wanted to do.

Money had always been tight for her, but she loved those chances she got to take her kids to the local amusement park. With them getting older though, the time she had left where they could still enjoy it the same was was starting to pass by. I wanted her to be able to get at least one more summer with as many trips as she could manage to take them, so I splurged one more time and bought her three season passes.

Her youngest was going to be with her the day I gave them to her, so I put them in an envelope and told her to open it later, in case she didn’t want him to know they came from someone else, once she found out what was inside. I think curiosity got the best of her though, and she took a peek. Without any hesitation at all, she let Keegan see.

“I wish you were my dad, Jimmy.”

The words hit me harder than I think I’d ever felt before. I didn’t know what to say, and I don’t even remember the words that did come out of my mouth, I was so stunned. But, I do remember having to turn around a second to try to hide the tear that was welling up in my eye.

Not too much longer after that, she broke down and told me that she didn’t think it could work out between us, but that she hoped more than anything else we could stay friends.

My heart broke a little at the news, but I understood. She never said whether it was just too complicated or whether it was that she didn’t feel the same. A small mercy. But looking back today, I think it was pretty clear that her heart just wasn’t in the same place. It wasn’t meant to be.

All of that, as much as it hurt, I was okay with. I was still glad that I had come to a place where I had the courage to ask… the courage to try again.

When Keegan’s birthday was starting to get near, even though I knew I’d never be a part of his life, or her life, the way I had let myself imagine for a minute, I still wanted both of them to be able to enjoy it. It wasn’t much, but I gave her money to help her make the occasion a little more special.

I let my mind still wander with the thought of ‘who knows what maybe someday the future might bring?’

She asked me if I thought she should use the money to get him a new pair of custom Nike’s or if she should get him a bike. Thinking back to when I was fifteen and what I would have wanted, I told her the bike sounded like a great idea.

And that’s what she bought. A red and black wonder that looked fast, even when it wasn’t moving. I couldn’t have been happier to be some small part of it.

Someone once said that no ending is ever truly happy or sad. The end is just where the author stops telling the story. It still goes on… it’s just untold. In that moment, I was happy. I didn’t know what was ahead, but I knew that I had started trying again… trying to find a direction… trying to move forward… and trying to find joy again in my life…

Keegan was riding that bike two and a half weeks later, when he was hit by a train.

It’s been more than seven and a half years since it happened, but even today, as I write this, there are still nights I wake up screaming.

The headline the next day would read “15-Year-Old Bicyclist Killed by Train,” but I was there when she found out, the day it happened. Officers told her how he went through the gate after one train had passed, not knowing a second was coming the other way. After they got her back home, the first question they asked was whether he could have had headphones on that could have stopped him from hearing the whistle. “…He loved to listen to music on his iPhone…” was about all she could manage to answer.

Late at night, a year and a half later, my truck slipped on black ice at 70 miles an hour. My first thought, as it started to flip, was “Thank you… It’s finally over…”

Over and over I turned, more times than I could ever count, but some how… some way… I was still there when the world stopped spinning.

Whether that was chance, or whether it was fate, when the dust was settled… as I crawled out over the glass, from the wreckage of everything upside down… I made a choice.

It was the hardest choice I’ve ever had to make… I decided to keep going.

Nothing got better right away. Making that decision wasn’t an instant revelation that turned everything around. Deep wounds never fully heal. There’s always a scar. But I don’t regret deciding to pull forward.

Over time, I’ve found that sometimes helping other people has managed to help me too. It might just be as small as giving someone a random smile. Other times, something with a little more purpose. And every once in a while (this one, it isn’t as easy), letting other people help me too.

There are so many people out there that go through silent struggles the rest of the world never sees… Many of them so much worse than anything told here. For anyone reading this that might be going through one of your own – It’s true that no one else can ever truly put themselves in your shoes, but I hope with everything in me that you know you’re not alone.

Ahead from where we are is the untold part of the story. I don’t know where that leads, but I know that it’s a chance for something meaningful… and that chance makes it worth it.