No one told me I couldn’t do it.
At thirty-four pounds, it weighs as much as I do. Yet, I reach above my head to the handlebars and tighten the fingers of my left hand around the rubber, ribbed grip. Slippery with summer sweat, my right hand grasps at the metal frame and slides unsuccessfully down its slope. I let my ride fall to the ground and rub my hands in the dirt. Right foot on the frame, I pull the handlebars until it stands upright. Now, my grip holds. Dirt provides excellent friction.
I wheel the bike across the front yard and lean it against the humongous rock. Almost as tall as me, this boulder mocks and scoffs at young climbers and promises not only defeat, but skinned and scarred knees. For me, it is a breeze. I conquer it in seconds and carefully straddle this two-wheeled horse. My left foot dangles as my right foot keeps me and my metal companion standing erect.
Ready, set, go!
No hesitation. I push off with my right foot and I roll, my feet kicking the pedals as they rotate. I imagine how fast I could go if only my legs were long enough to pedal properly. Luckily, our front yard slopes downward into the neighbor’s property and the bike quickly picks up speed. The rubber, knobby tires bounce over the uneven terrain, almost catapulting me over the handlebars. I laugh hysterically and right myself on the seat.
Kicking harder and faster, I clumsily ride past the parked Honda in Bobby’s driveway, barely missing the front fender. My front tires lunge off the gravel driveway and I plummet down the hill parallel with the road. To my right a car creeps down our gravel road. “I’m winning! I’m winning!” I shout triumphantly. Giggling, I extend my legs and coast with my face to the sky, “I’m free!” I scream.
The car’s motor hums from farther away indicating a change in direction. The road turned to the right and yet I race on across the grass. With no time to stop, I brace for the end of my ride. How deep is the creek anyway? One more dip in the earth beneath my wheels and, like a sling shot, my too-tall bike hurls me into the air.
Suspended in the air for a single moment, I bask briefly in the warmth of the sun, the weightlessness spins my equilibrium. Lightheaded, I still feel no fear. This is what the astronauts must experience in space! This is my moment.
Momentary ecstasy before the fall.
Then my back slaps the surface and I wonder if somehow I missed the creek. But earthy water swallows me, assuring me that I am in a safe, familiar place. I never touch bottom. Instead, I kick and splash like a frog until I bubble to the surface. Laughter explodes from my chest and I float for a few moments feeling like Evel Knievel.
I wade out of the water and hoist my bike out of the mud. It takes fifteen minutes to drag the bike up the embankment, across four lawns, back to the monstrous rock by the driveway. My mom cooks dinner inside while my dad burns trash in the backyard. My brother plays Hotwheels downstairs with Bobby. Casper, my best feline friend, raises his head in approval from the porch.
I conquer the rock for one more ride.
Nine years old,
Beady brown eyes beneath barely-there brows.
He has my ears, my mouth, my forehead.
That fair hair and quick-to-blush skin
Shout out our relation.
But he did not inherit my courage.
Positioning the bike precisely where the driveway threatens descent,
he struggles to mount.
He tries again,
with pedals and medal.
Balanced on training wheels,
The bike dances back and forth,
He did, however, inherit my tenacity.
mold themselves onto the rubber grips
becoming an extension of the handlebars.
He will not let go.
I watch from the lanai as he grits his teeth.
He pushes the pedal propelling
the bike forward.
It rolls and stops.
Soon he is in motion again.
He’s got it this time.
Anxiety rises in my throat.
He’s going way too fast.
The training wheels aren’t enough.
I rise from my seat,
desperate to rescue my boy,
to spare him hurt,
to vanquish embarrassment,
to shelter him from disappointment.
I ease back down
onto the warm iron bench,
bracing for impact.
I sit, swallow hard, and wait.
The bump at the end of the drive taunts.
Bike and boy tip to the left.
Metal and plastic clatter against pavement.
All is still.
as he lifts his pant leg
to inspect his wounds.
He looks back at me.
I smile and wave.
As I still my heart,
my boy climbs back on,
grits his teeth,
and moves forward
through the world.
Stephanie De los Santos