Okay, so you remember when you got your first bicycle, right? Probably Christmas or your birthday and everything already felt tingly with excitement and you couldn’t wait to see what happened next and then. There.Was.The.Bike. Shiny and BIG, and instantly freedom stretched out in front of you and you could see yourself flying down the road or the street and all options were open to you. Wow. I remember mine — Santa brought it the Christmas I was five and left it in front of the tree just like he was supposed to. I don’t even remember longing for it, but there it was. Emerald green, with training wheels. And BIG. Christmas afternoon was warm. My dad helped me hop on the bike and ran along beside me, touching the handlebar every once in a while. A few trial runs and without a word he wasn’t there anymore and I was flying free!
That bicycle and I were nearly inseparable for years. I rode it a hundred miles an hour on gravel roads, did wheelies, hauled my little sibs on the handlebars, slid into home with it, and have no memory of road rash. When I went to college and then got married I left the bike in the round-top shed … and the truth is, it had been forgotten long before. When my folks cleaned out the shed for their farm sale years later, there it was. Rusty. Battered and bent. And so small! Oh memory, you are such a lying mistress.
Fast-forward. When Kim and I decided to move to Lawrence we knew we wanted bicycles. His is graphite-colored and sleek. Mine is lime green and cute. I dreamed about it — buying it, choosing accessories for it, riding it around the neighborhood and on the trails. The day we picked them up at the bicycle shop a block away, Kim zipped back to our parking lot on his, maddeningly confident. I rode mine a few feet but felt shaky so got off and walked it the rest of the way. He suggested a few trial runs in the lot, just to refresh our muscle memories, and that was going great until it wasn’t. DISCLAIMER: My sisters and John should probably stop reading right about …. HERE.
Without warning Judy and her cute lime green bicycle were on the pavement and there was definite road rash. I’ll spare you the details.
Fast-forward some more. After babying my normal list of aches and pains, plus the wear and tear of moving, and the humbling effects of falling on my face and other body parts, we decided that this was THE MORNING. Time to get back on that horse and ride. I wore the right clothes and shoes, strapped on my fierce-looking lime-green & black helmet and prepared for battle. I was doing fine right up until the part where I got killed. We rode for a half-hour or so, from one end of the parking garage to the other. No traffic to watch for, just stationary objects like vehicles and cement pillars and such. I was getting smooth on the straightaways … still shaky on the turns … but hopeful. And then I was down. Road rash. Anger. Total humiliation. Instant discouragement.
Kim brought me upstairs and plunked me in the spa tub to soak the hurts out, and we talked. And I remembered something — my equilibrium hasn’t been kosher since a little incident with a ruptured cranial aneurysm, three bleeds, and major repairs. Or is it just in my DNA? My grandma and my dad had some horrendous falls … and so have I. But … only since that head thing, so yeah, maybe so. Damn. I’m still young. This is not fair.
Okay, so first you cry.
And then you pick yourself up, dry yourself off, and get on with it. I’m really not up for any more scrapes and bruises — my knuckles look like I’ve been in a bar fight, or so said the man in the bathtub with me — and I have other health realities to consider, so …
I’ve been online today checking out snarky-looking three-wheel bikes. Oh lord, the lowering of expectations. But never let it be said that I give up easily! I want that freedom. The sun. The air. The exercise. It’s easy to give up riding a hundred miles an hour, or sliding like a little banshee in the driveway gravel, or God forbid, popping wheelies. Not so easy to give up the sense of being a person who does everything, handles everything, lives life unafraid.
I was a caregiver for about sixteen years altogether for older people in my family whom I loved very much. It made my heart ache to watch them give up, one by one, the things that brought sparkle to their days. If I could take today’s wiser self back there now, I’d be oh so much more gentle … patient … so much more careful with their dignity. They could still see themselves doing all the things they ever did, and it was a real thing. Their occasional belligerance in the face of reality was inevitable. I get it.
I’ll still live my life unafraid, no matter what — fear is a killer, it stops you in your tracks, so I’ll still find a way to do the things I really want to do … and I hope you will, too. Right now there’s a slick Candy Red 3-wheeler with a Shimano six-speed that has my name written all over it.
Life is so sweet. As I wrote what I thought would be the final sentence, I looked out my fourth-floor window and saw a little girl and her daddy rounding the corner at the intersection. He’s on a big-guy bicycle, riding beside her unbelievably tiny purple bike, her matching purple helmet shining in the sun. She’s the picture of confidence, standing on the pedals, legs pumping away. Bless you, little blond sweetheart — life is GOOD!!