"A cut, color and a...perm," I wretched out that last word through almost-clenched teeth a week before I flew out to New York. A part of me internally wept at the cost involved in getting my hair to look somewhat presentable, and the other side heaved a sigh pregnant with relief. After a move that involved buying too much furniture and a trip to Paris, saving money had turned into a favorite sport. The first thing to go was non-shitty coffee. After that, it was clothes, my hair, and waxing appointments. I couldn't decide whether to prioritize paying my coach over food expenses, but I knew that worn down chain - the one I've been meaning to replace since, um, June - would probably survive a few more weeks until I made it stateside. It just meant that I had to shift up twice in the back, then down once to actually shift up a gear. But like no big deal, right?
Because by then it was almost a game: to see how long I would last before I went completely insane and either shaved my entire head or went on a shopping spree for stuff I didn't want. I vented my frustration by tweezing my eyebrows a lot, even if that didn't change my messy hair, the boring, dated wardrobe, or the races I couldn't afford. I started to get really into it, nesting down in my self-created patheticness like a homeless junkie.
"But if I really loved racing, I should be willing to go broke for it, right?" I asked a good friend, while high on self-imposed poverty.
"No, I think that's called 'obsession,'" she said bluntly.
In that brief moment of clarity, I called my hair stylist. The hair triage I'd requested ironically cost less than a race [entry fee, transportation, lodging] would have, and less than what standard tune-ups go for, here. It felt like cheating. I still made an appointment to get waxed the next day.
And you know what? It hurt [my wallet], but it felt really fucking good. I even went so far as to mentally pat myself on the back for "totally pampering myself."
Less than a week later, I walked into my favorite bike shop in New York City to see my bike in a familiar stand, the bar tape rewrapped, wheels trued, front derailleur cable trimmed [I have embarrassingly large calves], chain replaced, cassette cleaned, frame polished, and that gross and yellow-ed chain stay sticker peeled off [there's a new, clear one on there now]. It was only then that I stupidly realized that I hadn't been pampering myself at all. I'd taken care of basic, personal hygiene; apparently something I'd unlearned how to do for both myself - and more importantly - my bike.
The most embarrassing part isn't due so much to how my bike now hums and purrs, instead of creaking and rasping. Or knowing that I don't have to do some DJ turntablism on my gears to get them to actually shift. Or how my frame is no longer covered in several layers of self-pity and misery. It's embarrassing because I finally realized how all those people on Hoarders slowly slide down the spiral towards a house filled with garbage, dead cats, and old bills. "I...I really can't let this one go," they always say, caught in that weird space between weeping hysterically and full-on panic, to the professional organizer/psychologist, while clutching a phone bill addressed to a family member from 1975. And that was totally me.
That might be a slight exaggeration, but the point is that focusing on saving as much as money as I could possibly squeeze out of my salary to enable my riding pretty much blew up in my face. In like, the worst, most humiliating, bukkake-esque way possible.
I suppose I shouldn't be surprised at the irony of how letting yourself go tends to bleed into the things you love, even if you're ignoring yourself in an attempt to keep them above the water line of flooding desperation. It still caught me by surprise, in part because I believed that it would work out. Unless we're talking about ex-boyfriends or frenemies, I don't actually believe that my unhappiness is a prerequisite for others to be happy. Sometimes, though, deferring the option of happiness appeared to be the lingering status quo. So instead of fighting it, I squeezed it to me. I wasn't just kind of dealing with a tight budget; I actively made myself miserable, as if I could use that to build up credit towards future happiness. And in clinging to that idea, I failed to realize what it was doing to the very thing I was trying to save.
The bike - clean, still pristine - and I are back in Tokyo. As odd as it might sound, it's always a struggle to adjust back to a place others would call my "home." The little things, though, like my bar tape, the derailleur cable that won't chew up my leg warmers, a new chain, are reminders that I really should let myself be happy. At least, you know, once in a while. That doesn't mean I won't wait a few weeks longer than I should to get my hair cut, everything waxed, or my chain replaced. It means that I'll try, as much as I'd feel guilty about it, to not settle [too, too much] for simply "content."