When I moved back to Tokyo two summers ago, my mother was growing about three different things on the balcony. A net supporting a curtain of leafy vines stretched from our second floor balcony to the roof, sprouting delicate flowers.
“I’m growing bitter gourd,” she said.
“Is it working?” was my response.
As this is Tokyo, where a backyard is considered a luxury, my mother’s horticultural experiments usually take place in giant, black planters that resemble witches’ cauldrons. Appropriately, they seem to yield little that is edible. In otherwise bountiful moments of the year, my mother will put on an old, wide-brimmed straw hat, pull on rubber gloves and disappear with a large garbage bag in hand. She’ll return an hour or so later with a corpse of a blueberry bush, or some other casualty of neglect half protruding through the plastic.
“Can you help me move one of the big planters? I’m replacing the blueberries with eggplants this year,” she’ll say. “Oh, but be careful, don’t try to do it alone, I’ll help,” this 5’3, 85 pound, 65+ year old Japanese woman who pouts when a size 0 ends up being too big will add, “I know you’re not very strong.”
My response is always something along the lines of, “what….what are you doing?” Because between the plants, the dog, the house, and making sure that my father doesn’t die of starvation because he barely knows how to use a toaster, my mother’s made herself into quite the accomplished lacquer ware artist. There are never enough hours in the day two weeks before a deadline for a competition, but she will insist on swimming lessons once a week and social obligations I wouldn’t bother ever penciling in. I don’t get it; it’s like she hates sleep.
I’ve often looked at my mother’s never-ending list of things to do and simply shaken my head. I always preferred to focus sharply, obsessively on my loves, because I didn’t want the additional worry of other distractions. I also wasn’t sure if my heart had room for too many extra things, as if loving something else would signify some hint of apathy. In those moments when I can’t stand to turn the pedals without sobbing, my natural inclination has been to simply smother myself with the bike. I don’t know, it always seems like a good idea at the time.
Looking back on those crazed moments, what I ultimately didn’t want to face was doubt shrouded as “other priorities” that might crowd in and push out the sweaty suffering. I remember looking at the mess of scars covering both knees after a week riddled with too many meltdowns. Why did I do this to myself, I briefly wondered. I remembered something my sister had said the first time I tore up my knees: “Ew,” she had scoffed, “I hope it was worth it; you can’t ever wear a skirt again.” And that had been okay, because when you limit yourself to one love, it has to be worth it.
The funny, inevitable thing is that I caved and wrenched that stubborn heart of mine open, just a little. A few weeks ago, I clipped out of the bike, inhaled, and let myself get distracted away from my watts by designs, secret plans, and other half-formed things that are currently tumbling towards a doozy fixation. I made a dress that will hopefully always show half my tan lines and all of my scars. You wouldn’t know it from the arid desert this blog has turned into the past week, but I wrote, too. I lost some sleep doing all of the above, lost more sleep to ride and watch the Tour, and was surprised to find myself happier for my multitude of loves.
Like the omnipresence of some degree of Kevin Bacon in Hollywood, you could easily trace all of my current daily distractions to the bike and therefore claim that nothing has really changed. I think that’s the point: true loves – like, the really real ones – should never be so limiting that they impose straitjackets, blinders, or simmering doubts of potential loss. They should, instead, usher you out the door on sunny days to ride and put a book, a keyboard, or a sewing machine in front of you on the rainy ones. They should do things like wake you up at 5am to insist on some quality time together, yet share you without guilt or jealousy, allow you to kill some poor, unsuspecting plants every year, and never, ever be your obligatory one and only. They should set you free, really, and kiss you always so you keep coming back.
Again and again and again.