I have never had a boyfriend who did not own a bicycle. If they were not cyclists initially, well that was the first Christmas present sorted. And by the time the mushroom loves had puffed and burst, each romance had its own two-wheeled tale. For I have measured out my love life in banjaxed bicycles.
It began, as all great romance should, at sixteen. The vehicle was a stripped back, black hybrid and its rider was Andrew Smith. We met at a fairly tame Halloween party (the only scandal was a missing doily from the arm of Aisling Harte’s sofa). I was dressed as a dead punk. I don’t recall his costume, but I know that when we exited the Beaumont home en masse, he was freewheeling beside me. He took my number at the Shell garage crossroads where, as if by some moral design, the boys always turned off in one direction and the girls went home in the other. Unsure how to draw the exchange to a conclusion, I panicked, and for the following week of school was ridiculed for the ludicrous line that seemed to split as it bolted from my lips, half left hanging, the other part haunting me all the way home to Drumcondra: “Let’s do lunch”.
Of the ensuing textual exchange, I only remember exaggerating my knowledge of Led Zeppelin and panicking that I wouldn’t get to HMV before our date – my first date - the following Friday. We were going to the Santry Omniplex with an established couple, Brophy (my friend) and Dunny (his). I exploited the incestuous links of secondary school dating. A sighting of Smith putting his guitar aside in order to respond to my text made its way through the north Dublin grapevine and into my history class. These were the kernels that sustained us.
What I wore to the cinema, an outfit to which I genuinely gave consideration, makes me want to give my 16-year-old self a great big hug. Jeans wide enough to smuggle children into the country were accompanied by a long-sleeved Che Guevara top (bought in Asha), a striped beanie and a choker fashioned out of thick, black elastic.
The film was ‘Mr Deeds’, atrocious but irrelevant. My attention was fully spent on the tentative positioning of hands. The credits had barely come up when Dunny and Brophy absconded, leaving us talking loudly enough to distract from the fact that our fingers had finally interlocked.
I do not recall the first kiss - just that neither of us wanted to leave. We wandered in the opposite direction of home, him pushing his bicycle with one hand, my palm occupying the other. For fear of sweating/having to remove my personality-encapsulating beanie, I had left my bicycle in Drumcondra. Our ramblings brought us into Santry Close and past the home of Ciara Moloney, a new friend from school. As such, she was still a relatively abstract notion to my parents and served as a regular alibi. Both myself and Brophy had left home that evening purporting various plans with the faceless Ciara Moloney.
The rain started as it came time to head home, and Smith gave me a backer on the great downwards slope that connects Santry to Drumcondra. We sped by the Omniplex and the turn off for his home in Artane. We sailed past Plunkett’s field, where acquaintances were wrapping up an evening of knacker drinking. We had just cleared the retirement home when the bike wobbled, I yelled, he cursed and ‘bang’ we went into a pole. I see it now in slow motion, unable to testify to the accurateness, but with my shoe leaping from my foot and disappearing into the night sky, going up but never coming down.
We were unscathed, but my right runner was gone and Smith’s front wheel buckled. The disappearance still mystifies me. A grey plain of road and flanking pavement, there was nowhere for it to hide. Smith’s steed was wounded but he could still play the chivalrous knight. He slipped off his right runner and presented it to me, north Dublin’s own Cinderella.
The rest of our six-month dalliance has been reduced to a few memories. A first outing in town, for which I bought a copy of Hot Press only to find him already at Central Back when my affectation and I arrived; making out in a friend’s sitting room every time she disappeared to make unwanted tea; cycling two abreast back past that Shell garage; failing to properly hang up on the Friday afternoon I telephoned him to break up – an accident that meant he heard the shamefully flippant account of our conversation I immediately gave to an eavesdropping friend.
Yet, in my oversubscribed vault of nostalgia, there is a memory that has never been downsized. I am standing sheepishly at my front door, sopping wet and wearing one comically-sized shoe, my trousers providing a greater example of capillary action than we ever saw in biology class. Marginally behind me is a semi-shod boy (the very opposite of the mature, sensible, female Ciara Moloney) with an awkwardly angled bicycle.
My father opened the door and did me the great service of taking this erroneous tableau in his stride. He went to work on the bicycle (I am descended from a line of committed cyclists) while I ran upstairs to find a replacement sock for Smith’s drenched foot.
When he left, I went to my room. I wrote a poem in which the symbolism of ever-turning bicycle wheels was overwrought to the point of rust. I placed my redundant left shoe in a box under my bed, where it would later be joined by letters, a guitar plec and a silver bracelet shaped like a bicycle chain. This last one I do not make up. It was only meant as a loan but it outlasted all the other keepsakes – lasting at least as long as it took for the next suitor to ride into town.