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wheels turning, gears grinding [narrative]

taking life by the handlebars

In the past two years, various breakthroughs around the world have pushed the limits of scientific discovery. An mRNA vaccine was FDA-approved for the first time. Worldwide quarantines have made philanthropists out of bored remote workers. Public health officials, healthcare workers, and first responders have been excruciatingly overworked, showing what it means to be a true humanitarian hero. Dr. Albert Bourla, a Greek-American Jew born to two Holocaust survivors, is the CEO of the most significant biopharmaceutical company of the 21st century. But most significantly of all, I, Marin Warshay, proved that it is indeed possible to forget how to ride a bike. 

Now, you may be wondering how a layman like me is changing science, but it’s true. Surprised? Me too. 

It wasn’t easy—let me walk you through how I got here. 

This past summer was a season of growth for me. The warm months always seem to bloom with more than just flowers, and I had started to feel like another of the sun’s creations. The signs of change were budding in June—hard to notice; or easy to ignore. Only now, as the cool fall breeze is approaching, am I realizing the fruits this summer has borne.

This summer I loved in ways I had never before. Newfound love for my friends, for myself, and, for a fleeting moment, of normal life. But among these loves, there was one that felt different. It was intense, exhilarating, and cruel, all at the same time. It was the first thing I had been able to call mine in a while. I felt like I was carrying a secret—I knew it was special and felt no desire to explain it to anyone else. It’s hard to say why I wanted that. But when something becomes part of your identity like this love did for me, it doesn’t need a reason to stick around—it just does. 

This time it didn’t last forever. The grief process was long: It takes effort to rid yourself of that piece of who you are. I found myself lost, lacking a substantial identity, wanting something more permanent. 

***

For a while, I not only identified as “the girl who doesn’t know how to ride a bike,” but the girl who forgot. I learned as a kid and then I suddenly wasn’t able to ride anymore. It was a conversation starter, a fun fact, a quirky tidbit. I enjoyed that; I always enjoyed getting a laugh out of people. A validation confirmed by others’ joyful reaction. 

I didn’t want to let go of the external validations—the laughs about my biking abilities and beyond—but one day my friends dragged me to the Hope High School track and I had no choice. 

Bright blue skies, clouds in my stomach. Sweat beaded on my palms and my temples. My reluctance was splashed across the rubbery rust-colored oval of the track like a ring of fire. I could smell the heat radiating off the synthetic tires as I wiggled them with my grip on the sweaty handlebars. My friends were talking, but I couldn’t hear them. The wind was tapping on my ear drums—or maybe I was just hearing the drumbeat of my heart. 

My friends were there to help me ride, but only I could embrace going this distance. Only I could decide to round the bend of the summer with a new attitude. This obstacle I had to face alone. 

Another secret. But the moment that my feet started to pedal, it would be told, and it would no longer just be mine. I was scared. I told my friends that, hoping they would say we didn’t have to do it, and I could just walk the bike home. But they didn’t, and next thing I knew, the bike was beneath me and the pedals were in position. 

Despite my internal storm, I remember how wonderfully supportive my friends were. Somehow, they knew exactly what I needed to hear, because it was only a matter of minutes before the wheels were spinning, and my friends looked smaller in the distance. I was pedaling! My legs bent and straightened in rhythm for a few solid minutes. My stomach skies cleared and I let out a little giggle. As my gaze pivoted to look at my friends, I let out a breath that I hadn’t realized I was holding. My inner dialogue was no longer screaming at me. 

My friends welcomed me back from my lap as the same person I was when I departed, just with a new way to get from place to place. The sight of my friends’ faces made me realize that secrets are pointless. They only create gaps between myself and the people I love the most. 

Upon crossing the finish line on that memorable track, I realized I would never have been able to do it alone. Regardless, I would never have wanted to. And that is the notion I will hold onto for all the impending tracks of life—sharing is deep, it’s certainly not shameful, and why wouldn’t you want to invite others to ride alongside you? My heart was warm and my adrenaline was pumping. I walked my bike home in the end, smiling, so that I could leisurely revel in this moment of joy. But the summer wasn’t over. 

I had to confront my other secrets, and my heart was full of them. I didn’t have a dramatic epiphany or a spiritual awakening of any kind. I could just feel it—the moments when the clouds arrived in my stomach, and when they finally disappeared—right in the pit of my stomach. It’s crazy how easy it is to lie to yourself. Especially when you want to trick yourself into being happy. 

So I made a decision: to choose the loves that I knew would stick around. The ones who were clapping for me when I veered the corner on my borrowed bicycle. The ones that taught me to ride so we could enjoy biking together, not because they thought it was weird that I couldn’t. The ones who knew me all along, whether I felt like I was hiding or not. 

It was one of those decisions that made me realize my own strength. As if my mind decided for my heart, and my heart thanked it later.

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***

The heart is a confusing thing: there aren’t words to explain how it feels when yours is broken. But when it is, you’ll know. And I do, because I’m still figuring out how to put my own back together: all summer long, someone pulled on my heartstrings like they were elastic bands. They snapped back like a slingshot, piercing through my chest on their way back in. And sometimes I still think that it would be easier to hide my secrets inside. But I chose vulnerability, and I choose it every day. I might have to shift into a higher gear here and there, but my pedals are always moving.



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