Monday, December 01, 2008

The Bike

I was twelve years old when I learned to ride a bicycle. I taught myself, it was my only option. Riding any bike other than a tricycle was something I had been forbidden to do, but it was something I wanted to do so I did it. What exactly was the point of raising a kid in the suburbs if not that they had room to ‘run around in’ and possibly, just possibly now: ride a bike. But logic and my parents were never very good friends.

On a visit to my aunt’s house in New Jersey I found a wobbly, messed up, very nearly unridable, red bike. It belonged to the previous owners of the house my aunt and uncle had recently moved into and they either hadn’t noticed it or just hadn’t yet had the opportunity to put it out with the trash. The house was enormous. It was on at least an acre of land. The house itself took up a quarter acre, at least. Keeping out of sight wasn't too difficult. While the adults were inside getting loaded, the typical family gathering, I spent hours falling off a bike going up and down the insanely long driveway - praying nobody would see me. Because of the enormity of the house, surrounded as it was by giant trees, I was able to practice my novice two-wheeler skills safely out of traffic. And the flowing liquor going on inside the house kept me safe from the prying eyes of my ever-encouraging family. I wasn't concerned about being seen because of the embarrassment of my clumsiness, though of course that was part of it, but rather because my parents were masters at mocking me. I did not want to hand them the ammunition.

I don’t think I had felt any greater high up until that time than that first non-stop, non-falling ride down that driveway. I felt like an Olympic champion. I felt completely free. More than that: I felt like a normal kid. It was like a miracle.

When I had the mechanics of balance down pat, I went inside and casually mentioned that I had learned to ride a bike. My parents, still in the cheerful stages of drunk, actually came outside to watch me do it - and no one was more shocked than I that they did not attempt to tear my little accomplishment down. And when I say little accomplishment, to me it was huge. All the kids I knew learned to ride a bike somewhere in the first grade or thereabouts. And someone, a parent, an older sibling, someone had taught them. Someone held the bike until they found their balance, someone encouraged the process. I was twelve and did it alone.

I had wanted a bicycle for so long. Of course because I was not allowed to ride one it was foolish to even think about it. But once I had proven I could in fact ride (as if it were brain surgery) it seemed like a dream that might have some possibility of coming true.

After much begging, not hinting, but outright begging, for a bike for Christmas (which did not happen - shocking) for my 13th birthday my parents actually took me to a bike store and let me pick out a bike. I spotted what I thought was the single most beautiful thing I’d ever seen, a dark green three speed boy’s bike. Nobody, but NOBODY rode a girl’s bike back then. It was the height of uncool. So this $39 treasure was my 13th birthday present and I was quite literally over the moon. Until we got it home.

You see despite the fact that my parents had not mocked my bike-riding skills, had in fact finally gotten me my first bike, they would not allow me to ride it. Yeah, it’s true. I was allowed to ride it - and I could not make this up: in the house or in the back yard on the grass. Considering my birthday is in January and the snowfall back then was always at a minimum of 6 inches, bike riding was not the big wintertime activity. One might think they meant ‘for now’. For now you can ride it in the house - which is a riot given that the biggest room in the house was at most about 3 bike lengths long. Essentially I was allowed to 'sit' on the bike. Wheee! But then thaw came and the green of spring had beaten back the white of winter, and guess what? I was still not allowed to ride the bike any where but in the back yard or in the house. Until I was 14.

Of course I found a nice passive aggressive way to even that score (in my head any way). When I got my driver’s license a few years later, on those occasions that my father would let me borrow the car (miracle!) I would drag race with my friends. I always won. 120 mph in a purple Duster. Try doing that in the house.


Salty Miss Jill said...

You're the coolest kid I know. :)

Joy Keaton said...

Oh honey you need to get out more! ;)