Fresh out of an MA program, I’ve nothing doing but a wait-and-see adjunct gig for fall and nine hours a week tutoring for an online service. I work in real-time with students from wherever as they muddle through narratives, literature reviews, and the like. When a student isn’t signed into my “classroom,” I review essays. I comment on three HOCs and three LOCs. That’s the deal. Here, student, are a few big things to consider. Here, student, are a few small things to consider. Here, student, is a summative end-text paragraph. Please make these revisions and resubmit. I want to get good at this. I need to care deeply. I have no idea what’s next for me, and the time-audit reports I get after each shift can, in a certain grim light, look almost meaningful.
Somewhere between another marijuana legalization pro/con piece and a real-time tutorial, I open a rambling, passionate mess of a narrative. The author is a freshman at a place called Truckee Meadows, and she’s filterless. The writing weaves and bobs, it rolls back on itself, it’s plumb flush with exposition on family trees and savage feuds vividly recalled between her fellow middle schoolers. It’s utterly earnest and written, it seems, in one sitting with only the audience of the self in mind. I’m charmed half to death. I believe her: the cafeteria really was the worst. And screw coach. That guy sucked. Through the digressions, though, the essay’s framing action—the day she needs to remember—pays out at a junkyard where the narrator and a boy named Wyatt salvage parts to fix her bike. The seat keeps sliding down its post.
Wyatt, I learn, as they rummage through old sinks and trash bags, is moving to Iowa before summer’s end, which might as well be Io. The grief this causes her is palpable. At my desk, which overlooks a weedy lot two blocks off the shores of Lake Superior, I grieve with her, considering my own next move. I’ll go for my PhD or I won’t. I’ll stay in Michigan forever or I’ll leave tomorrow. I’m so in control I’m paralyzed. Summers end and stuff changes. For now, though, Wyatt’s around. He’s smart and he’s nice and the trailer court where his dad lives is just through some woods. Wyatt, in blue jeans rolled to his knees and a black t-shirt, is the handiest damn kid in their county, and he shims the loose seat with a whittled bit of pallet, pounds it snug with a rock. It’s a great triumph when the narrator bounces once then again to see if the seat will hold. It does. This quote, tucked in the middle of a page-long paragraph, nesting there between the sorrow at losing Wyatt and the joy of a job well done, delights me so much I commit it to memory: “’Wyatt,’ I said to my best friend Wyatt, “This bike’ll do. Let’s ride!’” It’s become a rallying cry for me, something to say when the effort at hand will have to suffice.
So the ride is enough. For the rest of the essay, the seat holds. Nothing is resolved. No one leaves. There are no maudlin declarations. She just rides with Wyatt and describes the speed and the heat and the ponderous junk heaps they jump their bikes over. And that’s everything. That’s the point. It’s been the point all along. I get that now. But ten years ago, I needed to know what happened next. “What,” I’m sure I wrote, “is the lasting significance of the moment?” As if she hadn’t shown me that. As if joy and the promise of loss and a bike that will do weren’t significant enough.
Adam Houle is the author of Stray (Lithic Press, 2017). His poems have appeared in AGNI, Shenandoah, The Best New Poets anthology, and elsewhere. His fiction can be found in Cimarron Review. He lives in Darlington, South Carolina with his wife, Landon Houle, and their three dogs. For more information or to drop a line, reach him at www.adamhoule.com or find him on Twitter @swell_houle.
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