As I sped alongside Minnehaha Creek I could hear the quiet rush and gurgle of its course, see the occasional flash of the sun like diamonds in the woods. Kids were just starting to arrive for baseball at Lynhurst Field, their red and blue helmets balanced awkwardly on their heads. I swung west onto Harriet Parkway because that always gave the better view of the IDS Tower shining in the sun, Foshay standing at its historic distance with windsurfers bobbing and weaving across the lake. Past the bandshell, up Calhoun Parkway, past the Gold Dome of the Greek church and past the Zen Center hiding in the bushes, past the beach and the canoe rentals—you could ride past just about anything on a summer day in Minneapolis and feel as though you were stealing from a dream.
I cruised through the green lights of Lake Street on my way to Kiley’s house and five minutes later when I was carrying my bike up the stairs to her house, and she stepped out of the front door with her neon green cycling cap and New Order t-shirt and her white cycling shorts and white socks against her tan legs I felt almost weightless.
“You ready to ride?!” she asked.
We were going to do a lazy half-century through the entire city and Kiley had been planning the stops all week. My answering machine was worn out with “No, NOT Valley Pizza! Village Wok instead!” and “We need to crash the hill on St. Anthony Boulevard: Marshall is out!” I was too busy and dizzy and stupid in love to argue with any of her plans, as long as I was a part of them.
I looked briefly down Kenwood Parkway towards Hidden Beach, then forward to a day of riding with Kiley as we clicked gears toward Cedar Lake Avenue.
“It’s going to feel sooooo good to sit tomorrow morning,” she said, referring to Sunday mornings at Zen Center and the soreness of a long day in the saddle. “It’s too bad summer can’t last forever.”
“It can’t,” I said, “but we can fly today!” I shifted up a gear and raised our cadence 15 RPMs.
She flew with me and soon we were winding along Cedar Lake Parkway, not saying anything—just riding, our purring chains giving occasional way to the buzz of our freewheels. I was sure I had no idea what love was supposed to feel like—but if it kept on feeling like playing Scrabble with her family and making out at Blake’s house while Renault snored on the floor and the sensations I got from the delicious smell of her sweat after a ride around the lakes, then I would take that as an introduction to the parts of love I had missed from the start.
We crossed Highway 12 up into Wirth Park and had to shift down a few gears over the hills and she shouted back to me as our freewheels whirred coasting down to the golf and ski lodge, “Is this what it feels like to race?!”
“This feels better!” I yelled. There was only one Black Dog Time Trial left of the summer.
“You are going to win someday, you know!”
“I don’t know… I’m going to try.”
“No—you are going to win. Your character always wins, eventually: it’s what happens afterwards that makes the story.”
“Even the love story?”
She turned back to me, beaming with her massive, white, gapped teeth.
“ESPECIALLY the love story!”
And that’s how things went with Kiley all summer—great, glorious—sometimes wet and wonderful—but with me increasingly feeling like I was a character in a story of some kind…. a story whose author I could never really identify. Was it supposed to be me doing the writing, or acting to a script unknown, or worse: some Proximity-defined narrative of which I had to learn the lines? Kiley sometimes made the hairs on the back of my neck go up because for all her gorgeous innocence (and even not-so-innocence), she bubbled with a peculiar genius for understanding how “life worked”: and now placed me dead-center in a plot that unfolded before her and was supposed, it felt, to ring like a Zen bell. All I could hear was silence. All I could see was her smile.
And Kiley was right, of course: summer can’t last forever. And the most beautiful thing about being in love, in summer, in Minneapolis is that you know that it will end. The disease of the world will take over and your love will turn sour (and please, please don’t ever let it: even though we know it will, we must not say so) and the trees will give up their service for another year, turning every color of rage against the dying of the light, and the hard frost will turn tumbling in the grass into hurt, and the snow will come, with its second and third helpings of sad uncles and a football team reminding you that failure is an option, and then the light will almost seem as if it is going to die forever, on a cloudy day in mid-December… and you will hold, deep inside of you, the memory of Minnehaha Creek rushing past your ankles as it flows out into the Mississippi, Longfellow’s Hiawatha Falls roaring in a white wall behind you—a memory that like many things in winter becomes changed by the cold, the hard damage that comes with darkness. And in that memory you will still be standing in love, in beauty, in Minneapolis—in the best city in the world: your lips pressed hot against the future and the rest of you grasping for something that will remain.
Ummon Says “All Days are Good Days”
Ummon stood before the monks in the hall: “The first fifteen days of the month? I won’t ask. The days after that? Tell me about those days.” Before anyone in the hall could speak, he answered his own call: “All Days are Good Days.”
This is the tenth section of Zen Arcade, a novel by Joel Turnipseed. We will be publishing a new section every other Sunday until Summer 2015. Read them here or get an email notification when the new section is available.