Training Wheels

When I was a little girl, I got a purple Huffy for my ninth birthday – shiny with long, violet tassels hanging off each handlebar. On the back, there were training wheels. At 9 years old, two wheels didn’t seem like enough to me, and wouldn’t until well after my 12th birthday. One afternoon, my brother Shawn convinced me it was time to remove them with the compelling argument, “You’re 12 and almost as tall as I am. It’s weird.”  After a few days under his tutelage, I was sure he had been right and wondered what had taken me so long; I got brave. My childhood home was built on top of a steep, grassy hill which overlooked a one-lane paved road that eventually turned into gravel. The gravel abruptly turned into lake. We were literally “the last house on the left” and if you went further, you and your vehicle would end up underwater. One evening, the brave evening, I decided the best thing to do would be to get on my bike which had no handbrake and ride down the steep one-lane road. I walked the bike from my front porch to the gravel driveway and mounted it, wondering even then why bike seats were designed to encourage hemorrhoids. I skidded and slid down the bumpy driveway as the gravel shifted under my tires, re-gaining control just in time to jerk the handlebars to the left, steering out of my driveway onto the pavement. Within seconds, I was cruising. I could feel the wind whipping across my face, and it just kept picking up, now so fast that when I tried to breathe, I gasped, unable to exhale. I’d never gone this fast before! I didn’t realize that bicycles could go this fast! Too fast, I realized suddenly as I registered the sight of pavement turning into gravel in front of me. I’d never survive the bumpy transition at this speed – I was going to wipe out. Either that or keep right on going and drown – I didn’t know how to swim either. I could almost feel the bits of rock hitting my face, my front tooth getting knocked out by a stray piece of gravel, the water rushing in to fill my lungs so that they burned, begged for air. I started shrieking, so loud it echoed across the holler and probably woke up all manner of nocturnal wildlife. I tried to use the foot brake, pedaling backwards, but the bike had too much momentum – each time I slowed the bike, I’d take my foot off the brake to jump off and find that the bike would have already begun to pick up speed again. Away I went, hurtling toward the gravel. In my periphery, I saw a flash of a person – a black hoodie. Then I heard Shawn’s voice yelling from behind me, “Turn your handlebars into the ditch! Steer into the ditch!” I wouldn’t realize until afterward that my brother had leapt off the steep hill in front of our house, rolling to the bottom in hopes of intercepting me, only to have me fly by, feet outstretched, screaming and crying, “EEEE!!!!” Back in the moment, I followed his instruction, jerking the handlebars sharply to the right so that I steered into a ditch full of brush and mud. My palms ran red with blood, scraped and burned raw from being outstretched during a head-first landing, but at least I still had all my teeth.

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