You search my face for an answer, a reason, some meaning to what has happened, but I have no words to make things better, no way to make it right.
I can only try to hide my sadness from both of you as I wonder just who and how and when. To think they just waltzed through our backyard gate, past the window as we slept, and made off in the dark without a sound. Now here we are, standing together in the morning light, looking through our shed’s open doorway, and all that’s left is the empty space where your bicycles used to be.
Thieves, crooks, burglars, bad guys – call them what you will, they got away clean. And they made you cry, though you tried to hide the tears as best you could.
But how can I explain that sometimes these things happen? Or tell you there are those out there who think nothing of doing something so cruel. Or worse still, admit we will never know who took the bikes, never know why, that they are most likely far away by now, and they are never coming back.
I will file a police report, of course, for all the good it will do. But I’ll still feel foolish for not waking up as the bike wheels click-click clicked down our driveway. And to think that on so many other nights I’ve gone from room to room or lay in bed and tuned my ears to every sound. Or stirred each time the furnace knocked as the heat kicked in, or the storm door shivered in a strong breeze, or the end of the tree branch brushed against the gutter. I see the question in your eyes. I am your dad. How could I have slept through it?
And I confess I grew careless these past few weeks and sometimes forgot to lock the shed each night after you finished pedaling up and down the streets where we live. Now that you’re older – one almost a teenager, the other close behind – you have been riding more than ever, pushing farther out into our neighborhood each time you took the bikes out for a spin. You have your friends now, the games you play, your places to explore, and you don’t need me to watch over you as much, to check your brakes, adjust your seats, or pump up your tires like I used to.
There was a time when I was never more than an arm’s length away, and I like to think of all the bikes from long ago. Turn back the clock now to the fire-engine-red beginner’s BMX and the pink Barbie bike with the streamers on the handles and the basket on the front. I remember the training wheels from your first two-wheeler days. And don’t forget the scooters, and the tricked-out tricycles, and the obligatory Big Wheel that took you down the bumpy sidewalk in front of our old house in the city.
Back then, I spent weeks teaching you how to pedal, my hand always on the back of your seat to aim you in a straight line. But now you are well on your way, cranking along under your own power, across the yard, past the mailbox, and into the street.
And now this. I could say those thieves took a bit of your innocence, but the outer world is already pressing in from every direction. You are old enough now to know there are heartless people out there, and that fair play is not always the rule. TV and the Internet are your daily windows into all of life’s vast and confounding strangeness.
It is said that things can always be replaced. But where your bikes once stood there is now a touch of fear, and with it, no way to restore the time that came before. Now you’ve seen how an ugly world can rattle the latch. And from now on I must remember to lock the lock and double-check the handle, but still give thanks for everything inside the shed the thieves did not take: the winter sleds ready for the first snow; the gardening tools we’ll take out again this spring; the boogie boards that wait for summer duty. All that’s ours and tells our story, right where it belongs.
If I could only keep the little shed locked, hold these days in place, protect you from all that is out there beyond this neighborhood, not lie awake wondering when the family we are, the seasons we have known, and the life we are living will sneak away when we aren’t looking. For if I have learned anything as a father, it is that what is here today can be gone tomorrow. Yes, things can be replaced. But time cannot.
We will get new bikes, of course – bigger and better ones, too – and I’ll be there to watch you hop on your seat and race down the hill and disappear around the corner. No time to waste, I know. There is so much more to explore.
And standing here now, I think of the morning when I will turn the key, swing wide this door, and smile at the spot where your bikes used to be. Your wheels – these years – will have taken their leave, gone in the night, once and for all.
This time, I will leave the shed unlocked. Because you must ride on, not think of turning back, and make the world beyond your own. Just remember, it is never too late to find your way home.