We paused for a moment as our bus dropped the poles that had given us power as we moved quietly underground, and the diesel engine started. The operator opened the doors while doing so, and I was momentarily whisked from my train of thought. The cool breeze! The scenery! The lovely scent of the trees outside! I sighed softly, sad to be leaving. I looked at the water to my left, knowing we'd shortly turn into the tunnel that would connect under the harbor through to the airport, and my impending flight to the other coast.
Ocean to ocean, it would be. I recalled again the conversation from the previous day. As I sat in a coffeeshop, I closed my laptop on my work for a bit and made a call. With his greeting, it was evident he knew who was calling. I wished him a happy Father's Day, and we proceeded to gab for a bit. Knowing I'd be at the other ocean soon, I said as much. He then recounted a story I'd forgotten.
New Jersey, he said. He'd been cast into the ocean and told that it was time to swim.
I remembered my own childhood: too many years of swimming lessons in the local high school's pool. I passed, after a while, but a placid pool is hardly a match for anything you'd find in the world. Regardless, I hadn't drowned in the intervening years. That was something, at least.
We learn the lessons of the generation before us, what we feel they might have done better, and hopefully carry it forward. At least, that's our hope. It seems rather unlikely I've have an opportunity to do better at passing on water skills, or anything else. But I'm still going to observe, remember, and learn.
It was just over 90 minutes since I'd clambered aboard the borrowed bicycle for a morning ride. I knew the end of the trail was unpaved, but it wasn't clear where the trail ended. When the ever-narrowing dirt rut I was following ended, I looked at a map, and realized how far I'd gone. Might as well spend a couple more minutes, I told myself: I was so close, even though it would change my return travel plans.
As I called her, the brief stop was still on my mind. After negotiating a large, multi-lane traffic circle, I locked the bicycle to a sign, snapped a picture, and walked east a very short distance, until the land ran out.
I'd thought, as I looked at the picture of the water beneath my feet, that maybe I should have called from the beach. That moment had been my first steps in the ocean. I wondered when hers had been. Now we were chatting, and I mentioned where I'd been. She volunteered an answer before I could ask the question.
"I won't make it back for dinner for your birthday," I told her. "I'm still in Massachusetts." All week I'd been musing to myself and others that I wish I lived here already, but as we talked, I realized the impending move wouldn't be without a different set of burdens.
The trip back down the hill was chilly, but I had no time to think about how cold I was. It took all my concentration to pay attention to the underlit road that led back into the river valley from my brother's house. A strategic error in judgement, I joked: the sun had gone down hours before, and I found myself needing to bike 9 miles to the hill overlooking the valley of the other river in a sundress and sandals as the temperature hovered less than 20 degrees above freezing.
The respite from the wave of feelings was welcome, and I quickly forgot the idea of doing an abbreviated ride to toss the bike on a bus for half the trip. I'd visited friends en route the other direction, and we mused, among other things, about how we'd not seen much of each other recently. Both of them, upon catching up with my life, offered whatever help they could muster, but I was sure as was invariably true that I could make a go of things myself.
Upon arriving for my nephew's birthday after the long slow slog uphill from the river, I chatted with my brother's father-in-law, who groused that I hadn't acknowledged him a month prior while bicycling inbound from the far-flung east suburbs as he drove the other way. I told him how often a horn from a passing motorist was harassment instead of a greeting, and he seemed surprised.
The hours since then had included countless other emotional moments as well. Someone pulled a book off the shelf that my brother had written and illustrated as a grade school assignment. From the front fell a picture of me, the day before my 18th birthday, with my girlfriend on our way to my prom. The convertible which -- as cars went -- would probably always be the ideal I aspired to reposed behind us. I thought about my impending birthday and realized the significance: 25 years ago!
As it came upon time to start heading south, a cool breeze through an open window led to a bit of panic. My sister lent me her light cardigan. My soon-to-be sister-in-law asked if I could use a pair of pants. But nothing comes with quite the unique set of feelings as when a man offers you his flannel shirt, and that man is your father. I never got, and never will get to be, daddy's little girl. I put the feelings aside in the moment and offered a pragmatic take.
"I'm a size 10. I'd be swimming in it."
After the climb over the river crossing positioned at the high end of the numbered grid of the city, I turned away at the traffic light from the most beautiful steel bridge of 1961 to warm myself by pushing at the ascent to the peninsular plateau. The only feeling I had time for as I pushed on was unabashedly positive: I could finish this ride, however cold, because I was a bad-ass.
Heading to lunch, I mentally computed a reasonable route for a bicycle, and headed across the plateau that fills the inner area of peninsular Pittsburgh. About midway, while stopping for a traffic light, suddenly familiarity washed over me.
The smell that impugned upon my lungs was one I knew well, but while placing it took but a moment, I had to look over my shoulder to figure out why. An auto body shop. As a child, my father would often, upon finishing body work on a car, get out the spray gun, attach it to the compressor, and refinish the vehicle in the garage just below my childhood bedroom. The smell of enamel being applied was still one I remembered, even if those occasions were now many years gone.
This was easy, though. An obvious case, easily explained. There were other, innumerable times, where an odor evoked feelings I couldn't so readily pinpoint. Some transported me instantly to a place, while others simply offered déjàvu with no evident memory to correlate.
How much of your life is ingrained, and do you notice it? I've recently redoubled my efforts to practice self-awareness, and occasions like this one certainly provide an opportunity to flesh out the building blocks that made me the woman I am today, big or small.
The red dress that clung to me had been chosen for its classic look, not as the uniform of power as suggested in the article I read shortly after putting it on. But my leg-baring wardrobe defined me just as much as the incessant cycling which had so sculpted my now-visible pins. I realized shortly before that the date I'd had stuck in my head was wrong: it had already been over a year. After I'd tidied the house on May 11, 2014, I'd taken off the pants I was wearing, laundered them, and shortly thereafter donated them to Goodwill. And then, pants were no longer a thing I owned.
The date hadn't mattered so much as the occasion. Last year, as I had before and did again this year, I cooked for our families for Mother's Day. But last year, I was worried. I hadn't seen my father since my niece's first birthday, and while I hadn't disguised my newly-budding body, I'd done nothing to draw it any notice. And so, when on Mother's Day the appointed hour came, it turns out the person to break things to him was not me. No, compounding my many failures as a child, my mother told him.
I've said before that the path to this point has been marked by challenges, but that almost none were the ones I expected. And that's true: while I was always the odd child, it felt like if anything the amount of family strife I experienced had marginally decreased in that year. But that's not my point. I've read, over the past days, tales of Mother's Day. Even as I read the good stories, I digested the admonishments from some at others who for whatever reasons would not or could not celebrate their relationships with their own mother, interspersed with other stories of what those reasons were.
For me, it comes to this. When I explained to her the journey I am undertaking, I'm certain she didn't fully understand. In spite of that, when I faltered at finding a way to express to my father why I never managed to be the son I felt he expected, she did. She stepped in, and cleaned up my mess.
Like a mother.
They'd been warned the car was coming for service, so I popped my head in just to hand over the key. She greeted me as I noticed the man who'd been talking to her. Old enough to be my grandfather, he turned to me and sized me up. "Young lady, you should be wearing a jacket. It's still chilly outside!", he said, before stuffing his hand in his pocket and handing me a Werther's candy. We all chatted for a moment, and then I collected my bike bag and helmet, unwrapped the candy, popped it in my mouth and then headed on a ride up the hill.
The weekend had included dinner with my family, a stark contrast to the Easter before. My previous absence hadn't gone unremarked, and this year things went well, better even than I had right to expect. But Easter used to be a holiday we all spent at my grandparents' house. I wondered how they'd have reacted. My grandmother, still with us, seems to not grasp the transition. I'd like to hope, though, that they'd have been as supportive as this man was.
I was nervous as I climbed aboard the bicycle for what was sure to be a boring ride: short and flat, crossing from the coffee shop I'd just left and would later return to over the river for a meeting downtown. Within a block, I regretted my lack of gloves, but there was no time for that. When a professional's time is being donated, respecting it is important.
I swapped my hands into my pockets for warmth as I rode, choosing my path carefully to avoid needing to take a lane on a bridge busy with late-morning rush traffic due to construction elsewhere. The goal was obvious, but the timing gave me a heavier heart than it might have been otherwise.
Five minutes before the appointment, I locked up the bicycle and walked inside, hoping my hands would be warm before another was offered to me to shake. I had my fingerprint card and my birth certificate, and within minutes I was being briefed by the attorneys who'd be filing my name change petition. But as I signed several copies of the document petitioning the court to legally recognize me as Daria Phoebe Brashear, I was distracted by the previous day's news that the first Brashear optics factory, probably visible by squinting out the window behind me in the office tower, was being demolished.
If he was "Uncle John" to those who held him in esteem, I'd hoped that the preservation of this site would provide people also with a view into the role of his beloved, "Aunt Phoebe". Today, though, it was clear that was not to be.
It was just a movie, a romantic comedy. There was no reason it would hold anything on me, but as we broke for the evening, I felt melancholy. The message of the movie was that truth enabled love. Between the means in which it did, and a discussion hours earlier about children, I felt reamed.
I shared a joke about calling a child Gotham, and she said it would be how I could get her interested in a child, before admitting she still had no immediate interest in children. I hadn't felt the need to pass on my genes until recently. Now, though, my inability to carry my own offspring stung severely. I went from indifference about procreation to being ravaged by my inability to carry that child to term myself.
I'd also considered, something the movie had just driven home, the things I would never have, the things I'd tried to find substitutes for. I wanted what so many teen girls probably did. I couldn't scream too loudly. I was hardly the only one who'd never be wooed, caressed, held, swooned over.
I don't feel like I can share this truth with my spouse, at least not right now, without jeopardizing our relationship. I'm not sure I can share it much at all, and so only a handful of you can even see this. I'm supposed to know better. I'm not supposed to want what I know I can never have.
I'd just ordered lunch for pickup in a bit, and needing some exercise, I headed back toward the hillside. A quick trip up a small street I'd shown my spouse when we were returning home from somewhere nearby got me partway up. She had observed that day as I drove down a way she didn't know "You bike here, don't you...". I mix up my routes, taking in different bits of a slowly evolving neighborhood with every ride, savoring its history even as it's reshaped around me.
After crossing the adjacent ravines, I climbed along the edge of the curving road. The street hadn't existed when the first part of our house was built. It was added later to provide a connection to a suburban, by their own claim, trolley line that looked to connect new housing to my own burgeoning, industrial neighborhood. At the top of the hill , where the trolley line ran, was the old turnpike to Brownsville. It seemed fitting that I had passed the building housing the association named for my ancestor, his (and thus my) surname emblazoned on the side above a quote from him. Our family, after all, had lived in Brownsville, in a stone house that despite the abuse of previously being a beer distributor as well as being hit by cars occasionally still stands on a corner on the old National Road.
I'm keenly interested in history, and so it's no surprise I'm intimately familiar with his. He's a well-sung person, a self-made man as it goes, and one who gave back to his community later in life. But part of the story that is not widely spoken of is the part his wife played. I've mentioned her before. On this day, one where again I had to get my ID out for something, I was reminded that someday, when I got carded, I'd have 2 things to be proud of: my name, and hers. This day, sadly, would not be that day.