Tuesday night I came home from my day of soggy, rainy cargo-biking; took a shower, had dinner and watched the news with Sweetie -- and spent a good part of the evening feeling unsettled and increasingly anxious. And for about an hour I couldn't put my finger on exactly why.
So I talked with Sweetie about what I was feeling. And in the course of talking, it came out in a rush.
I missed being a bicycle mechanic.
I didn't miss all the non-mechanical things that were part of my work at Citybikes -- the head games, passive-aggressive behavior and interpersonal politics; the co-worker who regularly came to work late, hung over and bragging about how much he'd had to drink the night before; the other co-worker who regularly scheduled days off in advance without bothering to arrange for a substitute mechanic; and above all, the endless and increasingly unproductive meetings populated by fewer and fewer workers.
What I missed was handling wrenches and help customers to get back on the road. I missed the heft of a really fine box wrench in my hand; the tactile knowledge of mechanics' feel, developed over eighteen years of turning wrenches; the sound of a pump head leaving the tire valve with a decisive, short phsst! when correct pressure had been reached; and the odd ability to dribble a bicycle wheel on its inflated tire across the floor even though I couldn't do the same with a basketball.
I walked over to a bag in the entryway of our house, and dug around in the bottom of the bag until I found the thing I'd tossed in there back on September 24. I dug it out, brought it back to the sofa, unfolded it in my lap -- and burst into tears.
It was my shop apron.
Made of heavy cotton canvas, now stained from chemicals and greasy with oil, small hand tools still clunking around in the pockets where I'd left them. I remembered grabbing my apron off the hook in back and, in one continuous motion, stuffing it angrily into my bag as one of the last things I'd done before I walked out the door of Citybikes for good. I felt the grease that had been worked into the heavy fabric, and remembered how stiff the apron had felt when it was new; would I ever work enough to get rid of the stiffness? I did. It took about ten years.
So tonight, I sat in my living room and looked at the greasy, work-worn apron in my lap, held it close to me, and cried. Not for hours or anything, just for a little while. I cried in recognition of the fact that, while I had planned to gently and gradually phase myself out of the bicycle industry, my exit from Citybikes had been sudden, harsh and unplanned. It had robbed me of the happy ending I'd wanted, and had broken a piece of my heart. I'd been so busy trying to mostly move forward that, until I'd made some time the other day to putter at home and work on a bike, I hadn't really give much thought to the reality of no longer being a professional bike mechanic.
I feel better now, much calmer. But still sad. My apron sits folded up on my desk, within reach.
Occasionally as I type, I reach out and touch it, feeling the heavy fabric under my fingertips and savoring the odd, sweet familiarity of bearing grease and chain oil that have worn into the fibers.
Tomorrow I will empty its pockets, wash it, and hang it on the hook in the shed.
Then I will go back to writing my lesson plans.