I’m standing in the kitchen looking out the back window towards the garage. My husband has just removed his Schwinn from where it rests in the corner. He crowns his head with a bicycle helmet and adjusts the strap. Then, he releases the kickstand, mounts, and pedals off. He has left the garage door open.
I’m not upset at this gaffe because he is wearing his helmet and has remembered to take with his cellphone, notepad, and golf-sized pencil. They are gone from the counter where he usually keeps them. A good sign.
I’m vigilant this morning because yesterday, when I was unaware, he rode off, leaving the helmet on a hook in the garage, and the phone, pad, and pencil on the counter. And, instead of protective covering, he was wearing a baseball cap topped with AM/FM radio headphones.
When he returned from that bareback ride, he entered the house and was still adjusting the volume on his headphones when I blocked his path. I stretched my arms to grab his two shoulders. “Take them off and look at me,” I said. “You can’t hear when you have them on.”
I didn’t say this, but I thought, Isn’t it enough you can’t talk, why do you want to squelch another of your senses? I didn’t voice this because we avoid discussing his condition - Primary progressive aphasia, a degeneration of the frontal lobe of the brain that affects speech.
I reached up to remove one of his ears pads. He did the same on the other. “Honey,” I said, looking straight at him so he couldn’t miss my words. “You cannot, must not, wear these earphones when you’re riding your bike. It’s against the law.” I don’t know if this is true. In Tommy’s case, it should be.
“You have to wear your helmet and take with your cellphone and notepad.” He nodded yes, and started to put the radio earphones back on his head. "Remember, honey," I said, “if you should run into any problems on your ride, you need the notepad to tell someone to use your cellphone to call me." He put two thumbs up. He got it; I think.
Today, with all evidence showing he has heeded my words, I use the remote to close the garage door and head for the couch. I need a break. As I sink into the cushions, I recall the first time I saw Tommy on his bike. He wasn’t wearing a helmet back then, but we were merely neighbors, not yet a couple. If I registered any problem with this risk, I must’ve have kept it to myself.
The year was 1996 and I was separated from my husband of 30 years and had recently moved into a new townhouse on Henderson Street in Chicago. In the mornings, Tommy and I would wave, him on his bike, me walking my dog.
In the evenings, his wave turned into a pause at my gate to pet the dog. We’d chat a bit. Soon, we became a twosome, and then after my divorce, a married couple.
Throughout our 14 year marriage, Tommy continued to ride that old bike, until one day, when the garage door was left open, it was stolen. We replaced it with the Schwinn, and added the helmet, lock, bell, and basket.
I wish I could send Tommy on the road as he was when we first met: a helmet-less, happy-go-lucky, assured rider. But I can’t, and I don’t. I insist on the helmet, the cellphone, the pad, and the pencil.
These days, once he pedals off and clears the driveway -- protected in the gear I count on -- I make sure I close the garage door. Everything inside remains safe.