Recently, my husband, Preston, and I took a trip back to my hometown in Ohio. He wanted to pack our bicycles, which we rarely use when we are here in Tennessee, so he got out the bike rack and hoisted it and our bikes up onto our car, and we drove the seven hours with them atop.
The week we were in Ohio, a heat wave came through, and it was sweltering—so much so that I didn’t take evening walks, as I normally do when I am in my hometown. We ended up getting out in the morning only; during the afternoons and evenings, we stayed inside where it was cool. I was thinking we might not get on our bikes at all.
But one morning my husband said he wanted to go for a ride, and I was up for embracing the heat and sweat, so we got on our bikes and pedaled to the Little Miami Bike Trail, which is blocks from my parents’ house. This SW Ohio trail is 78 miles long—not that we were planning to do more than a few miles of it—and is part of the nation’s largest network of paved, off-street trails through woodlands, farms and towns. The bike trail has run through my hometown for decades, and I’ve walked on it a mile or so, but I hadn’t gone too far on it in many years.
In fact, the last time I could remember going more than five miles one-way on the trail, I was in my twenties, and I was dating a man who loved to ride a bike. He loved biking so much that I bought a black bicycle just so I could ride with him. One day we biked the trail all the way to Xenia and back—sixteen miles round-trip—and another day, when we had been dating about six months, we biked to the beautiful bridge partway to Xenia and got off our bikes and looked over the edge into the Little Miami River. It was September, and I can’t remember now if it was hot or chilly. In my memory, it was just right. He was quiet at first, as was I, staring down into the water, and then he asked me to marry him. I can’t remember now if he had the ring with him or not. I only remember that he asked, and I said yes, and it was the last time we biked to that bridge and it was the beginning of our engagement that led to a marriage that eventually led to a divorce a few years later and to the end of a thing I had believed in so steadily that it stunned me that it was over.
I was not eager to return to that bridge, especially in those first few post-divorce years when memories were still sore and tender, but that was so long ago.
When Preston and I recently rode down the Little Miami Bike Trail, I was unaware of how far we had gone until suddenly there was the bridge and there was the river. Sometimes it’s good to not know where you will end up before you get there. The bridge was bigger than I remembered, more metal, more height, but memory does that—changes things as we change. The bridge was still beautiful, serene, a place to think about important things, a place to look over the edge and contemplate questions and answers. Preston and I stood side by side and peered into the water from up high.
I’ve thought about how this place was once a point of happiness for me, and later one of melancholy, and now just another place on the trail, a stopping point before we turned around.
Preston and I got on our bikes and pedaled the miles back to the place I grew up. We got ice cream. We slept late. We got coffee together in the morning, as we always do, with his carrying my computer for me into the Emporium so I could write while he ate breakfast across from me, waiting for me to be ready to go on with our day.
I’m glad the bridge is still there, that it waits without judgment, the water reflecting what it sees and nothing more. I picture the two of us in its reflection.
Shuly Cawood is a writer and the author of three books, including the memoir, The Going and Goodbye, and the forthcoming short story collection, A Small Thing to Want.