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  • J. is the reason I had five bicycle accidents in five months. It started immediately after we first kissed. Soaring through Berlin’s empty streets at dawn, still tingling and triumphant, my purse slid down my arm and into the spokes and my front wheel jammed to a halt. My legs flew over my head, my back wheel over the handlebars, and there I was, lying on the cobblestones with my bike on top of me.

    I never told J. For him, accidents were par for the course; an inevitable consequence of following through on whims; a way of constantly touching and testing the physical world. J., strong and lean with long nose and crooked lips, pulled off recklessness with a certain competence that made me feel safe.

    We taught his nieces how to fall by running through the woods at full speed, dodging trees, hurling ourselves at the ground, rolling, getting up and racing on. Then there was the time we climbed over a seven-foot chain-link fence—carrying my bicycle—after leaving a party, still tipsy, at 3 a.m. and taking the wrong shortcut through an abandoned lot.

    We hitchhiked to Switzerland and skied through fresh, untouched snow, wearing borrowed equipment from rich boarding school kids. In Malta, we swam a ridiculous distance through choppy ocean waters to reach a giant cave most people rented boats to see.

    Keeping up with J. helped me conceal my fear of becoming vulnerable to him.

    The night before I left him in that strange country, where he’d taken a job building sets at an old theater, J. broke up with me. I felt too much like a sister, he said. That’s when I started having bike accidents again, now in slow motion. They no longer fazed me. I tucked and rolled.

    Months later, after my final accident, J. returned to Berlin. He showed up at my apartment at 5 a.m. one morning, saying I had to come watch the sunrise from the roof of a nearby abandoned building. We bought coffee and oranges and climbed up. The roof was steep. I laid down on top of J. on a walkway just narrow enough for one body. I closed my eyes and focused on him breathing beneath me. Feeling an orange slip from my pocket, I opened them just in time to watch it roll down the shingles and plummet to a sure splat six stories down. That’s when I developed a fear of heights.

    It took a while longer before I let myself fall in love.
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