was flying. Legs pumping, hair a wild whipping nimbus, going faster than I ever had. A moment earlier, when I’d finally reached the top of the hill, a bit out of breath, I’d barely paused before I took a deep breath, pointed the front wheel of my beloved gold Schwinn in a downward direction, leaned forward and let gravity do the rest.
Like I said: flying. I kept up with, and then passed, the cars alongside me. My teeth clattered together with every bump in the road; my feet were a cartoonish blur as they pedaled, faster, ever faster. I was flying and wild and free and my grin might well have split my face in two, right up until the moment I realized there was no way I was going to be able to stop in time to avoid the tall wooden fence at the bottom. Uh oh.
I must have made a sound of some sort, but all I remember is my mouth in a perfect “o” and my handlebars refusing to head in any direction except straight down.
It was very quiet there in the leaves. I could see my bike’s glittery gold banana seat about 10 feet away, I could hear that the wheels were still spinning. Then, somewhere, way off in the distance, running footsteps, getting closer. I closed my eyes for just a minute and listened to my wildly pounding heart begin to slow.
“Are you all right?”
Good question. This being the olden days, of course I wasn’t wearing a helmet. My head had miraculously escaped slamming into anything solid, instead bouncing harmlessly off of a pile of leaves that the wind had eddied next to the fence. The rest of me hadn’t gotten off so lucky.
“I’m not sure,” I answered. My brand new jeans were ripped, my elbows were embedded with pebbles and dirt, and my left knee felt like it was swelling up as big as a Halloween pumpkin.
“I saw the whole thing,” the lady said. “I was stopped right over there at that stop sign and I saw you come flying down that sidewalk as fast as could be. I thought you were going awful fast, too fast really. I guess you hit a rock or something, because then you were flying through the air, right before you would’ve gone full-force into that fence. I pulled my car over and came over here to see if you were all right.”
Something about her voice, or maybe hearing exactly what the whole thing had looked like from the outside, made it more real. All of a sudden I realized I really wasn’t all right. In fact, my knee was looking pretty gosh-darned gory. There was blood, sure, but I didn’t want to look too much closer to see what else might be going on to make it feel like it was scraped as raw and clean as a hollowed out seashell.
I still have that scar; from certain angles, it sort of looks like Portugal. My bike, though, was a total loss, which was a bitter blow since I never had another one that I loved quite as much. My mom, of course, wanted to know what I’d been thinking, and my dad, of course, pointed out the value of a dollar and that bikes don’t grow on trees. Me, I’d lie awake after lights-out, reliving the moment when I’d been flying, wishing that I could go back in time, just once, and adjust my front wheel enough so that I’d stay on the sidewalk long enough to keep control, apply the brakes, come to a stop all on my own.
But of course, it was too late for all that.
This issue is filled with people who’ve found their true calling. Some have always known which way to go, others have taken a more circuitous route. And no doubt, more than one of them has wished, at least once, for a do-over. But in the end, we usually realize that even our most bone-headed moves have a purpose, even if that purpose turns out to be to teach us not to be such a knucklehead next time around.
But you know what? Even all these years later, flying dreams are still my favorite.