Stella Leventoyannis Harvey

I Don’t Think He Likes You Very Much

I stood in the elevator of my apartment building, gripping my handlebars, holding my bike upright, balanced on its back tire. I jerked myself further into the corner so as not to take up too much space. My elbows and knees were grazed and oozing. A track of grease and blood ran the length of my right calf where chain had chewed away at skin. My helmet was cinched at my wrist as a piece of armour might sit. The bike wobbled in front of me like a shield.

 I wanted to get into my apartment and have a shower, tend to my wounds. It had already been too long a day for a confirmed inside loving, bookworm like me. Yes, I am a runner. Have been since I was a kid. But I see running as a form of exercise, something I do in a specific period of time every day to stay fit. That’s it. I don’t treat running like entertainment, something to do for fun. Heaven forbid. So what was I thinking that made me take on the bike trails of the Northshore mountains? I’m a wimp with little, if any, sense (period) of steadiness or surefootedness.

The elevator lumbered and stopped. I’d never get home. I’d had a similar thought just an hour or so before when I manoeuvred my bike around and over roots and rocks on a ledge the width of the bandana that hung around my neck.

The door opened and my neighbour−an elderly woman led by a pint-sized shaggy dog−walked in. “What happened to you?” she asked. A bit of blood spotted the top of my running shoes and threatened to drip onto the clean tile floor.

The doors closed behind her. Trapped. God, would this day never end?

“Out for a bike ride,” I replied, trying to keep my voice chirpy yet steady. My legs quivered in exhaustion. “On a date.” I added. Why? I have no idea.

She looked at me as if I’d said I’d just spent the day with the unshaven, slack shouldered busker who frequented our street most weekend nights.

Undeterred, I said, “with my new boyfriend.” I guess I wanted her to share in the excitement of a newfound relationship.  I was happy, I suddenly thought, excited then, at 40 something, as I might have been at 20 something years before.

“I don’t think he likes you very much,” she said, as the elevator doors opened. She walked out, the mutt commanding the lead. The doors closed behind her. I laughed at those words then, and remember them each time my-then-boyfriend, now-husband forces me out on what I refer to as another death-defying adventure. He laughs when I describe what we do as ‘death defying’. He’s a mountain man. And you know, I’m not (a mountain man or a mountain woman).

Whenever he overhears me telling our friends about our exploits, he reassures them that I’m a storyteller and prone to exaggeration. Ohreally? I have several pictures he’s taken of me at the precipices of one mountain or another. Yes, that’s me with that strained smile pasted on my lips. The void is usually just behind me.

I’ve scrambled up rocky peaks, hiked and biked ridges too high for any sane human being to be on, climbed and descended, crawled and fallen in more mountainous and wooded terrain than I had ever read about in my many, many beloved books. My neighbour’s words and my own questioning, not far out of mind. Maybe it’s true. He doesn’t like me and he is actually trying to kill me.

And yet each time I’ve pushed myself to do more (or more accurately each time he has pushed me to do more), and I’ve survived, I’ve been grateful (and not just to be alive) for the experience. I’ve been to the top of mountains I’d only read about, seen views that made me gasp, and found a courage in myself I didn’t know existed.

I’ve had the best experiences of my life with the man I live with. And through it he has shouldered all my tears and complaints brought on by fear and uncertainty and a lack of trust in myself, in him, and in nature. Of course he would. He’s a mountain man.  And as we know, mountain men are stoic and solid as the mountains they love.

“I don’t think he likes you very much.” If I could speak to my old neighbour now, so many years later, I’d tell her, “This is what like, or more accurately love looks like. Bloodied and torn, scuffed and bruised, but content nonetheless.”

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