I am sitting in my driveway, on the stoop next to my two and half year old son, wearing a bicycle helmet like his. Our bikes, his primary-colored tricycle and my red, ten-speed bike are standing in front of us, side by side. We just finished riding in our driveway, up and back, in circles, weaving this way and that, feeling the breeze and giggling at the fullness and happiness, that riding offers. Our senses, filled with the thrill, the excitement, and the energy that builds as we climbed the slight hill and bombarded down towards the garage, are active, even during our current restful state.
As I get lost in the image of that red bike, my memory brings me to a day when I was twelve, riding as I had today. Only thirty years ago, this ten-speed was new, with so much possibility. My visit to the bicycle store with my aunt, who purchased this coming of age item for me, was the greatness of all presents. I recall the salesperson asking if I wanted the popular, white, “Columbia”, American-made model, or the red, foreign-made, “Camel.” The Camel sounded particularly exotic, coming from a far-away land, and the name of an animal that would take me to desert adventures, or so my imagination had mused. My aunt said that it was okay to get the more expensive, American model. However, I insisted that the red, Camel, ten-speed was the one I wanted.
Only now, do I look upon that moment, wondering if she knew what a vital memory was shaped, how grand a bike it has always been. I babied this bike for years, shining it, dusting it, and applying WD-40 into the chain to keep it running smoothly. My aunt died eight years ago, unexpectedly from heart disease. Unable now to communicate how special that moment was for me, purchasing the brand new ten-speed is a lesson in speaking your thoughts when they come to mind, not waiting until it is too late. If I could tell her the gift she gave me that day offered me the fondest memories of my childhood, I would. That bike gave me confidence, taught me lessons of life, and granted me freedom when I needed and wanted it.
Sitting here with my son, remembering the experiences of over thirty years of riding that ten-speed bicycle, makes me wonder which memories are becoming fused in his brain. Two souls sitting on the steps of our house, matching blue, bike helmets atop our heads, taking the autumn air in, is a glorious smidgeon of time. Riding just moments before, I can still feel the same pleasure of riding as a teenager, exhilarated by the air moving through my hair, and the delight of fear illuminated as the speed of peddling increases.
It took me back also to a sunny, late afternoon, riding that bike, full speed down the hill of my street, in my hometown. I was moving faster than usual, aiming to break all speed records of previous rides. As I approached the driveway to my house, I misjudged my stopping ability. Slamming on the breaks, I flipped over the handlebars, landing with the sound of scraping skin from my arms, knee, and chin with tar. Shocked by stopping abruptly, but stunned by the pain that immediately ensued afterwards, I lay motionless, as tears gathered, and cries illuminated the air. Slowly I arose to limp my way inside, pride hurt by the disastrous crash landing, and physically bleeding from chin and limbs. The baby-sitter called the neighbor, the neighbor drove me to the emergency room, my parent’s night out was interrupted, and stitches put me back together.
I think of it now, wondering what that accident taught me about limits. Though my parents were often silent in teaching life’s little lessons, the reality is that life is limitless, falls teach you to rise again and learn from your mistakes. Knowing what I know now, I become the teacher of such lessons for my son.
He sits next to me with the sounds and echoes of the wind and rustling leaves, with the sun gleaming downward with warmth in its reflection. We sit motionless watching our parked bicycles, one two feet taller than the other, a vision of youth vs. elder, new vs. old, and a site of unity that tie the two together. He peers towards me with a look of what next, mom. I look back at him and say, ”Did you know that I crashed my bike when I was younger, but another day got back on it and continued to ride? Life is still safe, even if you fall down sometimes. More importantly, I wanted to say that I love you and life is good.” He looked at me bewildered from the lack of understanding of the first part of my message, but then smiled and said, “I love you, too, mommy.” If that is the portion of text he heard and understood, then job well done.
It is days like these, you consider why certain memories are important to remember, that seem to shape how you live your life. Telling people what you are feeling when you feel something is imperative; you never know where life will lead you or how or when it will end. Falling down is just part of life. It is getting up that matters and knowing that limits are the ones we set, ourselves.
If a red bike could speak, what would it say? This thirty-year-old, red, “Camel” bike would speak of adventures it had taken, to softball practices, to the local pizza parlors, to convenience stores and meeting friends. It would retell about the days of summer, hanging out with friends at their houses, and the days when its rider would cycle as fast as she could, letting go of the handlebars, with her arms raised as if reaching some imaginary finish line. The experiences of that red bike would continue in other states and far off lands, where the rider’s life had taken her, down roads less travelled and lanes rarely seen.
More importantly, it would speak of a fall day in a bicycle store when an aunt had taken her niece to buy a special present, a moment in time that changed one child’s life. It would talk of the impact it had had on this woman, thirty years later, to speak her truth of emotions to others when she felt them, not waiting until it was too late. The bicycle would mention an accident that taught its rider to get back up after falls, learning that limits are the ones we set for ourselves. It would tell of a fall day, when a mother sat with her son, imagining the tales that a red bike could tell, that enabled her to speak greater truths and emotions to her offspring.