Diamonds in the Rough

-Name changed to protect the innocent (?)

Miles once flew to Oregon from North Carolina with a saddlebag and a bike as checked baggage. The way he told it, when he got to the airport on the other end, he retrieved his bike from baggage claim, put it together in the airport, and rode out the doors. He was raising money for a halfway house for teens, or something like that. I have a picture of this guy, 6 feet and change, model-handsome, climbing on a bike and riding out the automatic doors of the airport. I see it in my mind’s eye every time I’m collecting my bags from a carousel. When I came home from New Mexico, the time he refused to pick me up at the airport, I stood at the carousel alone with my bags and conjured him up, watched him hoist himself on his Cannondale and call “come on!” to me over his shoulder. He never showed up, and I hitched a ride into Raleigh with some guy who took pity on me standing there in the airport, going on 28 hours awake, crying, abandoned by my fiancé after one strategic phone call from my mother, filled with tales of my “exploits in Taos.

On the bike trip cross-country, Miles would walk into a 12-step meeting, announce “I’m an addict with no place to stay” and invariably go home with some hot woman or another. Once, he was in bed with one of his hosts when in walked a man with a shotgun. “did she tell you she was married?” he yelled. “TO ME?” he added, as he was leveling the barrel at my soon to be fiancé, who was running, half naked, toward his Cannondale touring bike.

Miles made it to Texas before he got sidetracked. He hooked up with some people who were running medicine across the border into villages in Mexico. After he was robbed at gunpoint in the Mexican desert, stripped of his clothes, blindfolded and left to die there, the halfway house project seemed too far out of reach and just not that important. At the memorial service, the woman who was dating Miles at that time told us how very small his voice sounded on her answering machine when he got back to the states. “I just want to come home,” he said. And he did.

I met him a year later. It was a tumultuous, nasty affair and both of us were crazier for having participated in it. I loved him just the same. While we were in the throes of relationship death, he confided in me that he’d met some Good People and that he might cut his hair soon. Miles had beautiful hair, hanging far beneath his shoulder blades and peppered with highlights you’d swear came from a salon, but didn’t. I giggled a little when I tried to envision him with short hair. He confessed to me that he was afraid if he lopped off his long hair he would lose his strength, no longer be able to resist the temptation of me. But, he said, it was time to Grow Up and Be a Man. He was ready, he said, to be a respectable member of society. To Make Something of Himself.

Once when I was trespassing in the apartment that we used to share, I found a box on the top shelf of my old closet. It was the Amway Beginner’s Kit, small packages of some of the most popular products-laundry detergent, glass cleaner-stain remover. I sometimes try to imagine the 38 year old Miles-would he be an Amway Emerald now, or maybe even a Diamond? Would his respectably short hair be going grey? Would he have a perky, blonde wife who read “Total Woman” beside him as he devoured “Man of Steel and Velvet” each night before they went to bed?

In a bizarre twist, not even two years after Miles’ death, I would be married to an Amway “Consultant”, hauling TeenHer (then only a few months old) to conventions to hear about how the Other Half lived, and how if we just worked hard enough and set up the correct hierarchy in the household, (read=let the Man do the Man’s work, because really, if you take that away from him, what motivation does he have to excel? That’s why women should never handle the money and should ALWAYS be the House manager) we too could have a half million dollar car and take our kids on field trips to Japan with their private tutors.

Every time I was at an Amway function I searched the room for his ghost. Every time I met a new “consultant”, I wanted to, but didn’t have the guts to ask, “Were you the one? Who almost convinced Miles Smith to cut his Samson hair?”

I look for Miles still, in restaurants, dreams, in movies and TV shows. Sawyer on Lost reminds me of Miles. Every time I climb onto my road bike he’s with me. Maybe that’s why I have such a love/hate relationship with cycling. Whenever I’m on a particularly rough run, pumping hard at the pedals, trying to keep an even cadence, I can hear him calling over his shoulder “You’re doing great, baby!” that time we rode almost 15 miles from our house to a meeting in Cary, my first bike ride in 8 years.

Things were so bad when we finally parted ways that I don’t think I can accurately say that I miss him. But I really do miss who he might have become.

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