Nine Million Bicycles

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Boise, Idaho

“All right everyone. Savasana!” their instructor said. “Do not skip this! This part of the routine is crucial. This is where you allow your muscles to relax so your mind and body can absorb all the benefits of today’s practice.”

When she started going to Yoga classes, Paula Stevenson nearly quit after the first one. All of it seemed so…silly. The poses, their names, even the breathing. It seemed like little more than some kind of New-Age stretching, and yet she was paying good money to go there and…stretch. But thanks to a younger woman in the class who agreed with Paula’s daughter that it was a great form of exercise, she kept coming. By the end of the first month, it was starting to make some sense to her. By the three-month mark, the benefits were becoming obvious as her body became firmer, more toned, and she felt overall healthier.

After a horrible, completely unexpected betrayal by her husband of 23 years, Paula’s life had been so turned upside down, she’d been mentally and physically torn apart.

She worked as a school nurse at a local elementary school even though she was only an Licensed Practical Nurse of LPN and not a registered nurse. The law required an RN to administer medication, but when a school had made a ‘reasonable effort’ and couldn’t find an RN, an LPN could be hired and legally do the same things.

She’d worked in a nursing home and a hospital for many years, but this job afforded her a much-needed break from the stress of working around people who were often terminally ill. It didn’t pay much, but her husband had a great job, and he’d encouraged her to take it.

The ‘big revelation’ came toward the end of the school of year, and not long before their 22-year old daughter, Eileen, was graduating from college. He’d mentioned both as though he was doing her some kind of big favor, telling her Eileen’s last tuition check had been sent.

After years of dieting, swimming, and doing everything in her power to stay young and healthy, she’d still been ‘rewarded’ with her 51-year old husband informing her he was leaving her for another woman. A woman who, at 28, was really little more than a flighty, dingy little girl.

When he first sat her down and told her, Paula laughed. He’d always been a big kidder so she was absolutely certain he was joking and about to tell her why. It wouldn’t have surprised her to hear him laugh then say, “No, seriously, we’re going on a weeklong cruise to Alaska!”

But when she saw the seriousness in his eyes, she said, “You’re not kidding, are you?”

“No. I’m not,” he told her. “I’m as sorry as I can be, Paul, but I’m not kidding.”

She sat there too stunned to even move before telling him, “My name is Paula—with an ‘a’. I don’t like being called ‘Paul’ and I never have. And as far as you being ‘sorry’, you’re damn right you are. You are a sorry sonuvabitch who needs to pack his shit and get out of my house! Tonight!”

She couldn’t remember the last time she swore, but swear she did. And an hour later, he’d packed his…stuff…and left.

Still reeling from the revelation, she went to the liquor cabinet and poured herself three fingers of Glenlivet 18 Scotch, an amount she hadn’t had in one sitting since she was in college herself. She slammed it in two swigs, shuddering from the strong taste after each drink, then poured another. And then another as she wept and wallowed in self-pity.

And for the next two months, she did pretty much the same thing every evening, and on days when she wasn’t working, it started in the afternoon and continued until she either passed out or threw up.

If not for the support of her daughter, who was a senior in college at Idaho State University in Pocatello, Paula thought she might have added a fistful of pills to her nightly Scotch at some point and gone to sleep for good.

Eileen was just as torn apart by what her father had done as her mother, but she was so close to graduating that she couldn’t come home when she found out. Instead, she’d listened to her drunken mother cry and sob night after night until one day, Eileen couldn’t take it anymore.

She was just three days from being done, and refused to answer the phone until her last exam was finished. When she completed it, she got in her car and drove the four hours it took to get home then sat her mother down and read her the riot act. She didn’t care about the actual graduation ceremony, and ended up not attending. She knew they’d mail her diploma to her, and all she cared about was getting home and taking care of her mom.

“Mom. I’m sorry Dad ruined your life. I’m sorry you’re hurting. I’m mad as hell at him, too, but this HAS to stop. And it has to stop NOW.”

Paula cried and tried begging her daughter to understand, but she was having none of it. She picked up the half-empty liquor bottle and poured it all down the drain then checked around the house for others. Finding none, Eileen told her mom to go to bed and sleep it off, and that they’d talk about it the next morning.

Looking küçükçekmece escort back, Paula had never been more ashamed than when she walked into the kitchen that next morning, her head still pounding from the hangover, to face her daughter.

But she’d never felt more proud when her daughter told her, “I love you, Mom, and we’re going to get through this together.”

Paula started apologizing but her daughter stopped her.

“No. Forget it. That’s in the past. Just like your marriage. It’s behind you. All of it. What matters now is moving forward, and today we start doing that. Together. And one of the first things we’re going to do is get you back on the diet and exercise path.”

Her daughter stared right at her then said, “And no more booze. None. Got it?”

Paula nodded then said, “But how? How do I…move on?”

She and Eileen took their first Yoga class the following morning during early June. They also went online and developed a plan that would provide good, healthy nutrition then went shopping together.

Within a month, Paula was feeling like her old self again. At least physically. She was still hurting from the betrayal, and she wasn’t exactly ‘digging’ this Yoga thing yet, but she felt a lot better, and with her daughter home for the summer, or until she found a full-time job, Paula thought she might just be able to do this. By Labor Day, she not only felt better physically, she was feeling much stronger mentally, as well.

Eileen routinely encouraged her mom to listen to music as another component of the healing process, and although she let her mother choose the music she listened to, Eileen quite often made suggestions her mom occasionally found enjoyable.

One of those occasions happened the first time Paula listened to a song called “Nine Million Bicycles” by a pretty young British woman named Katie Melua.

She barely got through the first stanza before she felt herself tearing up. By the middle of the song she was crying uncontrollably. The lyrics were so powerful they overwhelmed her as the words spoke to her, touching her very soul.

She listened again and heard, “There are nine million bicycles in Beijing. That’s a fact, It’s a thing we can’t deny, Like the fact that I will love you ’til I die.”

The tears kept coming until she’d listened so many times she could finally do so without crying.

“That’s how I want to be loved,” she said to herself when the tears finally stopped falling.

Yes, she’d been in love, and she’d even been loved by her soon-to-be ex-husband. But she’d never been loved like that. Ever. And now, suddenly, she wanted that more than she’d ever wanted anything.

And then reality set in. How was she even supposed to find love again let alone love like that? Eileen had been out at a job interview during her mini-meltdown, and when she got home, her mom explained what had happened.

“Wow. I love that song, too, but it’s never done that to me,” her daughter said.

“It’s kind of silly. I know that, and yet I…I still want that. Even at 49,” her mom said.

“Then prepare yourself for it and wait,” her daughter said.

Her mom gave her a look that said, ‘huh?’ so Eileen tried to explain what she meant.

“Do everything in your power to be the kind of person worthy of that kind of love then wait. Not passively. I’m not talking about sitting at home waiting for Prince Charming to knock on the door. But as you continue getting healthy again and meet people, be open to finding your ‘prince’ in places you maybe hadn’t thought of looking before.”

“And how do I do that, o’ Wise Guru?” Paula remembered asking her daughter who had just been hired to start a new civilian job at Mountain Home Air Force Base located about an hour’s drive to the southeast of Boise.

“I don’t have all the answers, Mom. But I’d say you keep taking Yoga, keep eating right, always look your best, and start looking. Everywhere.”

“Oh, gee. And here I was thinking this might be difficult,” her mom said a bit sarcastically in an unusual moment of self-pity.

Eileen sat down next to her mom then said, “Mom, you may be 49, but you’re one of those crazy-lucky women who still looks 35.”

“Ha! Yeah, right,” her mom said, knowing she’d often been told she looked much younger than her age for many years. So a part of her believed that was true, just not that true.

“Yes, right,” Eileen replied. “Did you know I had two women ask me if we were sisters when we started taking Yoga classes together?” her daughter asked.

Paula looked over at her and said, “Really?”

“Yes, Mom. Really. You’re hot, and Dad is a total fool.”

“And an ass,” her mom added.

Eileen laughed and told her mom she agreed.

“Just…well, don’t limit yourself to men who are Dad’s divorced friends. I mean, if it turns out one of them is a really great guy, then fine. But, I don’t know, maybe try…spreading your wings a little. Get creative. Be open to new things. And levent escort keep in mind you’re a really great catch, Mom. Any guy would be lucky to have you.”

“Thank you, honey. And congratulations again on your job. I am so very proud of you,” her mom told her.

“Ah! Thanks, Mom. And I’ll always be here for you even though I won’t actually be living at home with you much longer,” Eileen said. “But I’ll only be an hour away, and I’ll come visit as often as I can. I promise.”

“Now it’s my turn to tell you to ‘go spread your wings’. Go. Start your career. Make your own way. And whenever you’re ready, you can start a family. And please, please, please, do not worry about me, okay? I’ll be fine.”

Eileen had been so hurt by her father’s betrayal she’d lost all interest in men and in dating. But after getting this job, a job she’d really wanted, and one in which she’d be around hundreds of young, single men, she felt hopeful again. And who knew? Maybe she and her mom would find their Prince Charming. Or at least someone who wasn’t a total frog.

Eileen had five days before she needed to start her new job, so in addition to packing the things she’d just brought home from college, they boxed up everything else she owned. All of it got staged in the garage so they could easily load it into a rental truck to which her little Toyota Corolla would be hitched when it came time to leave.

In the meantime, they spent as much time together as they could going shopping, attending Yoga classes, and anything else they could fit in.

On the way back from Yoga the following day, Eileen turned the radio on for the first time in quite a while. It was a country station, so Eileen reached out to change the station as they heard the DJ say, “All right, folks. It’s request time! Give us a call here at KNOT radio where we will NOT say ‘no’!”

The play on words was old as the radio station, and both of them laughed after not having heard it in ages.

The DJ continued.

“At some point during the day, we’ll play one of your requested songs, and we do, all you have to do is listen then be our 9th caller to win a four-day, three-night beach vacation. You know, just like in the Luke Combs song! Our lines are open right so give us a call at 1-800-KNOT and tell us your request!”

Her mom glanced over at her then hit the ‘dial’ button on her Bluetooth.

“What are you doing?” Eileen asked.

“I’m making a request.”

“You? You’re calling a radio station?” her daughter asked with a smile. “A country station, at that?”

“Why not? Is there something….”

Before she could finish, another male voice answered.

“KNOT radio. What’s your request?”

“Oh, hi. I uh, I’d like to hear ‘Nine Million Bicycles’.”

“Ah, a Katie Melua fan, huh? This is a country station, but all right, young lady, I’ll see what I can do for you. And what is your first name?”

“Oh. It’s Paula,” she told him.

Whoever was answering the phone had a very nice voice as he surprised her by singing, “Hey, hey, Paula. I want to marry you!”

She knew the oldie by heart and did her best to sing back, “Hey, hey, Paul. I wanna marry you, too!” before they both started laughing.

“All right, Paula. Just stay tuned for your song, and when you hear it, call back and be caller number nine!”

Before she could say ‘okay’, he said, “Oh. My name isn’t Paul, by the way. It’s Lake, so I’ll have to take a raincheck on that whole marrying you thing, okay?”

Eileen’s eyes opened so wide it made her mom laugh.

“Oh, okay. Um…lucky you,” Paula told him with a nervous laugh.

“Hey! My mom is a GREAT catch! You’d be lucky to have her!” Eileen said rather loudly.

Lake laughed then said he had other callers waiting.

“Maybe next time, Paula!” he told her before the phone went dead.

Both women laughed then Eileen said, “See? That’s what I’m talking about, Mom. You could have flirted a little bit with him, and maybe gotten to know him.”

“Oh, please!” her mom said. “You make it seem like I have to appear desperate!”

“What? No! Not at all. Just be open and aware. That’s all I’m saying. Don’t let any opportunity pass you by.”

Her mom gave her a very disapproving look, shook her head, then said, “That’s not how my generation gets acquainted. Girls like that were…shunned.”

“Maybe, but I bet they had the most fun…back in the day,” her daughter said with a laugh.

“Listen to you!” her mom said, as though Eileen’s comment was untrue or even ‘scandalous’.

Her mom looked over again then said, “Please don’t tell me you were one of ‘those’ girls in high school.”

Her daughter just smiled and said, “I’ll never tell!”

Her mom tried not to laugh but lost the battle, and when she did, Eileen laughed, too.

Then suddenly feeling melancholy, Paula reached over and took her daughter’s hand then said, “This is what I’m going to miss the most.”

“Ahh! Me too, Mom, but I told you I’ll be kurtköy escort home all the time, remember?”

“I know. But once we get started in a new job in a new city, time has a way of getting away from us. I know you’ll try, but it’s a lot easier said than done.”

“Well, then you can come visit me,” Eileen reminded her.

“Yes, until you meet someone and want your privacy,” her mom replied without sounding resentful or accusatory.

Her mom smiled at her in that ‘you know what I mean by privacy’ way and it made her daughter laugh.

“I know what you mean,” Eileen said as she thought about how long it had been since she’d had any real privacy with a man. She also knew her mom was right, and while she was looking forward to this new job, it made her a little sad to think about leaving her mom alone again so soon. But she’d turned things around so completely, Eileen felt confident her mom could and would hold it together after she left.

When they got home, Paula thought about her phone call then realized she didn’t even own a radio that wasn’t in her car.

“Eileen? Is your old boom box packed up yet?” she asked her daughter once she found her in her room.

“I’m not even taking it. All of my music is on my iPod and I can listen on all kinds of apps. So why would I want a big old, spacing-hogging boom box?”

“Good point,” her mom told her. “Mind if I borrow it?”

“No, not at all. Hold on and I’ll get it for you.”

By the time she found it in her closet, Eileen knew why her mom wanted it.

She handed the huge box to her mom then, with a smile, said, “To listen to KNOT just hit the ‘On’ button then the FM button then use this button right here to tune it.”

“Ah, okay. Got it. Thanks, honey!”

“Good luck—Paula Girl!” her daughter teased.

With KNOT playing in the background, Paula made lunch for her and Eileen and kept it on as they ate. She was just swallowing a sip of water when she heard the DJ say, “Okay, folks. This is our request song o’ the day. It’s a little unusual for KNOT listeners but our call screener seemed a little smitten with the lovely lady who called it in. So, Paula, be caller number nine and you’ll qualify to be our big winner!”

As he pronounced the last syllable, the unmistakable soft voice of Katie Melua filled the room.

“There are nine million bicycles in Beijing, and that’s a fact….”

“Hey! That’s your song!” Eileen said even as her mom was up and looking for her phone.

She’d kept the boom box out but failed to set her phone by it. It was still in her purse, so she fumbled around until she found it then realized she didn’t have her reading glasses on and couldn’t see the screen.

She handed it to Eileen and said, “Call for me!”

Eileen knew the 800 number, punched it in, then handed it back to her mom.

It rang three times, before the same baritone voice answered.

“You are caller number 12. Thanks for calling KNOT, and please try again tomorrow!”

“Gee, thanks, Lake,” Paula said once she recognized his voice.

There was a moment of silence before she heard, “Is this Paula? MY Paula?”

“Well, it was until you just broke my heart,” she teased looking to her daughter for support.

Eileen was giving her ‘two thumbs up’ and smiling like crazy.

“So does this mean it’s over?” Lake teased back.

“Well, at least until tomorrow,” Paula told him.

“Whew. So there’s still hope, right?”

“Uh…maybe,” she said playfully.

Lake chuckled then said, “Unfortunately, I gotta go here again. I have every line full. But I hope you do call back—Paula.”

Before she could say she would the line went dead.

“Way to go, Mom!” Eileen told her.

“That was…kind of fun!” her mom said.

“And who knows? This Lake guy might be single and hot!”

“Ha! And probably your age,” her mom said with a mild amount of sarcasm.

“Even so, you did great,” her daughter said. “And he might be older than you think.”

Her mom raised one eyebrow then said, “Men my age don’t work at radio stations answering phones and taking requests.”

“Okay, so maybe he’ll be 40…ish,” Eileen said.

“What? Honey, I’m fifty…-ish. Why would I ever go out with someone who was 40 or even close?”

“Because he’s hot?”

Paula made a kind of snorting noise in response.

“Okay, but he might be really nice, and super smart, and…totally hot.”

“Then he won’t want to date a woman like me,” her mom tried telling her definitively.

“If he has any brains he would,” her daughter told her.

“You see, that’s something else I’m really going to miss, too,” her mom said before bending down and hugging her daughter.

Paula turned the radio off after learning she’d been too late, and didn’t turn it back on until the following day after Yoga class. She’d never cared much for country music, but because of Eileen’s positive influence on her to try new things, she was willing to give it a chance.

As they drove along on their way home that next day, a song came on from the guy the DJ had mentioned the day before who’s song mentioned ‘a four-day, three-night beach vacation’; someone named Luke Combs.

Eileen, who was no country fan, either, turned it up and sang along causing her mom to give her a ‘what’s up with that look’ and also listen to the words.

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