In the Shadow of the Merlin

I knew I was in trouble when he brought me back to his apartment and she was there, waiting for us. Leaning up against the wall.

Sleek, slender, sophisticated, exotic. She was polite upon meeting me, but quiet.  He regarded her with a reverence and adoration I had not anticipated.

It would have been easier if I’d hated her outright, but I didn’t.  She was stunning.  It was hard not to stare.

It was clear that this would be complicated.

In those early months of our togetherness I managed to cut her out of the picture. On the weekends, Sal and I skipped town in his little red Bertone convertible and headed out to Santa Cruz, or up to Half Moon Bay. We stayed out late dancing, slept in, and then had long mimosa brunches.

She remained in the room, leaning against the closet where I’d first met her. And though I technically had the upper hand, her insistent patience worried me. She was unflinching and steady – she knew something that I did not.

Every now and then they would disappear together.  Long hours of wondering where they were and what they were doing and when they would be back.  He’d come home looking refreshed – rosy cheeked and energized.

She would smirk and then sigh and then settle in to her place of rest against the closet.

It never occurred to me that it might be strange to be competing with a bicycle.  From the start, she seemed like a worthy adversary – beautiful and intelligent.

She was titanium – hand-crafted – a Merlin. He’d worked at a bike shop for three years to buy her only the best components. He kept her sparkling clean and running smooth, touching her bars softly each night when he returned home from work.

They’d raced together and suffered together and climbed mountains together.  He loved her in a way that I could not expect to be loved.

I accepted my place in our triangular arrangement until, eventually, I had to return to Seattle to finish my final year of college. I wondered if I’d lose him after all.

The distance presented a precarious challenge but I crossed my fingers, signed up for a frequent flyer account, and hoped for the best.

Miraculously, it worked out and in June, our plan was solidified. My degree completed, I was moving permanently south.  We would start a life.

I called him early one morning to confirm details. The plan was for him to fly north, help me pack and ship my belongings, attend my graduation ceremony, and then fly back together.

But there was a problem.

“I don’t have enough money for the ticket.”

“What do you mean?  We’ve been planning this for months…” I couldn’t comprehend how a grown man with a professional job could be completely broke.

“This is kind of a big deal, Sal.” I said evenly, “This is kind of a deal breaker – you know?”

“I’ll find a way.”

I hung up, unconvinced.  But despite my doubts, he showed up on my doorstep the following week.

“How did you do it?!”

“I sold the Merlin.”

He was smiling when he said it but his eyes betrayed an undeniable sorrow.

That was it. She was gone.  A few thousand bucks between hands and a great love shattered. I was immediately overcome with my absolute unworthiness.

I should have been elated, I suppose, but I recognized Sal’s love for the Merlin as an essential part of who he was. That love defined him in some way. It shaped him.

Standing there in the doorway with him at that moment, I knew that we had created a page in our history that would never fade.

Some women are forced to live in the shadow of former lovers or ex-wives. Me? I live in the shadow of a bike. And some nights before bed I will flip the light off, put my head on his shoulder and ask, “Yeah, but was it worth it?”

Most of the time he answers without missing a beat, “Of course”. But everyone once in a while I catch a moment of hesitation in his voice – and I know that he still thinks about her and wonders where she is.

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19 comments

  1. Indescribably beautiful writing Heidi! Thanks for such a great Friday post!

  2. Oh Heidi! This post is so beautiful.

  3. Little,

    Your writing just keeps getting better & better – this actually moved me to tears! (Shocking for me, I know!) You are worth at least 1,000,000 Merlins.

    xo

  4. Heather

    Heidi,
    You are such a gifted writer! I love this post. So eloquent and touching.

  5. heartbreaking.
    I once sold an Alfa Romeo Spider, a car I had waited 15 years to own, in much the same scenario, and to this day it moves me to nausea thinking about the moment I accepted the money for a future I desperately wanted and had no other means to achieve.

  6. Thanks for sharing….this was beautiful. Talk about commitment!

  7. Thanks to everyone for the comments. :) This is definitely a piece of “family lore” that I’ve been waiting quite a while to get right. Your feedback reassures me that I captured it.
    And thanks – always! – for reading. And commenting. I love to hear from you all. It’s the fuel that keeps the words flowing.
    Best,
    Heidi

  8. Ahhh… the Merlin.

  9. Heidi… This was fantastic!! I cried!!!

  10. your talent is extraordinary. incredibly well written and engaging. please keep it coming.

  11. Yeah what they said. tears and all. I hope Sal understands how close you come to understanding the sacrifice.

  12. Heidi:

    Your skill with the pen (or keyboard in this case) amazes me. Any man worth his salt would gladly give up the Merlin to be with a woman such as yourself. Of course, there would be those days when we would reflect back on our “first love” with fond recollection, but never with regret. Thanks for the wonderful perspective you bring to life. I always look forward to reading your next post.

  13. WOW!
    Thanks for the post. The writing was wonderful. I can tell that a lot of thought went into getting it right all the way through!
    I found it extremely moving as well.

  14. Teamsluggo

    A great article, so much so that I felt like I just lost one of my bikes. Great Writing. Paul

  15. That was beautiful…

    Thank you.

    ~ J

  16. damn you heidi. this still chokes me up a bit even after reading it for the 4th time.

  17. I turned 40 not long ago, and my wife bought me a beautiful Colnago. It was a re ignition of an old love affair with cycling that my lovely wife does not share, but happily encourages in me and our two very young enthusiastic bike loving children.

  18. I’m way too fragile to be reading this right now. But I did anyway. And it was great as always.

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