When we moved into our beige apartment on the border of Boston and Dedham five years ago, I remember missing the green of our old home. I didn’t like being cooped up inside and didn’t like the thought that our bikes were sitting in the basement. I just kept thinking about those bikes, how they were feeling about as hopeless as a figure skater with legs that didn’t work and yet all I could do was sit around and dream about using them once again. I wished that there was somewhere I could ride around.
That somewhere was the empty parking lot of lonely Dr. Brown’s pediatric office next door. I sound certain but I think I’m remembering wrong because maybe lonely Dr. Brown isn’t all that lonely and Dr. Brown isn’t even Dr. Brown and I know he isn’t even a pediatric doctor, he’s--
I was wearing jeans that day.
It was a smart idea looking back because somewhere in my dream-poisoned mind I think I knew something bad was going to happen and even though I didn’t have knee pads or elbow pads, I was pathetically paranoid enough to wish for something small to make me feel safe.
I was riding my dad’s mountain bike. Blue, nothing special about it--except, it was special because it wasn’t my dad’s, it was someone else’s and--
I hit a curve.
My sister was behind me, squealing in excitement because she was outside and she felt free and apparently that’s what people sound like when they’re free, finally.
I was your typical pretentious older sister. I desired nothing more in that moment than to show her what I’d learned in my biking class the previous year: How to signal a turn.
Step 1: Take your left hand off the handle.
Step 2: Don’t fall and plunge to your untimely death.
Step 3: Bend your arm upwards to signal a right turn, hold it out straight to signal a left.
Step 4: Repeat Step 2.
I would like to note to you now, dear reader, that concept of actually teaching her these steps was merely for the sake of fulfilling my role as the Smarter and More Epic Sister. It was nothing that she could ever use, since our mother had a livid fear of us riding amidst traffic.
At this point in my life, or as I like to call it, A Series of Bad Choices, I’d somehow decided to take my left hand off the handlebar, holding it out proudly in a left signal.
If the slipping of my grip was any indication to go by, the signal was blaring in neon red font dusted in bold and italics that everything was about to take not just a left turn, but a downward one.
Time slowed down just like in the movies when there’s a couple crossing the street right after their first date and there’s a car coming and the girl isn’t paying attention and the guy has his heart pounding in his ears and he’s running and jumping and tackling her out of the way as the driver slams on his brakes. Suddenly I wasn’t sure exactly who I was playing, the girl or the boy, but I found myself on the concrete, breathing hard. My leg was twisted awkwardly beneath the still spinning wheels of my dad’s bike, the sensitive skin of my palms sliced by jagged concrete where I’d planted them to stop the momentum from pulling my face straight into the ground.
(It’s still funny to me that in that split second moment when I was flying off the bike like some angelic monkey, my first instinct was still to save my face.)
The world keeps turning, that’s what I kept thinking to myself as I lay there for a second, watching the wheels turn. I closed my eyes as the dizziness hit, waiting for the inevitable end as the world spun sporadically about me.
When my mom came rushing over, I tried to push myself up, wincing when my arm throbbed.
This wasn’t nearly as romantic as the movies made it seem.
My mom quickly untangled the bike from my limbs and clutched my face in her palms.
We were both breathing hard, but I was crying because my leg hurt so badly and I was certain I’d never walk again and how could I be a figure skater if I couldn’t use my legs?
It was funny how desperate I became in that situation. I didn’t think about the hard life my mom would live if she had to help me out of bed every morning, assist me when I had to use the restroom, hold me tightly as we trudged up two flights of stairs to get into our apartment. I was just thinking about that figure skating career of mine.
I was crying.
My mom was yelling.
There were a whole lot of arms wrapped around me, hauling me up.
We were trudging back to our apartment and I was wiping my eyes.
It wasn’t okay.
Except it was.
Okay, I mean.
I suppose sooner rather than later I should come clean with my story the same way the past me was coming clean, wiping her tears as she peeled off her jeans and stared at the dark bruises marring her skin and the cuts stinging her palms.
I didn’t miss the green of our old home. Sure, we had a backyard and it was nice, but I’ve always had terrible allergies. Truly, I wouldn’t mind spending the rest of my life indoors if I could.
The parking lot wasn’t that of a pediatric doctor. It was a dermatologist's, I remember because we went there once a few years down the road when my skin was acting up and extremely unamicable. The office was rather drab. A pediatric doctor makes the story more interesting because then you’re thinking about pastels and adorable baby animal stickers plastered on the walls and it’s cute. You don’t think of what I think of, brown walls, peeling wallpaper, and of course, the legendary before and after treatment pictures of his clients’ skin problems.
My dad’s mountain bike was not blue, it was pink. It was pink because it used to be mine, but of course, I didn’t want you to know that because I wanted you to think that it was the unfamiliarity of the bike that made me lose my grip and fall. Surely you understand that I was trying to make a dignified impression. That said, I do understand that in the process of writing all of this to you, much of my dignity has already been lost and whatever remains will most likely be thrown down the drain no matter how hard I try to salvage it.
This last truth is not one I would like to share as it further proves my previous theory of a drained dignity, but for you to truly understand exactly what was going on in my brain, it is something you must know.
After my fall, I was not crying because the fall hurt me or shocked me I had seen it coming. The fear as soon as my grip slipped from the bar, the light brush of air as the wheel jerked sideways, the freezing of the moment in time, all crashing and colliding...The adrenaline was what kept me numb. My heart was beating fast, that much I remember, but I did not cry because of the pain. I was crying because of the stricken look on my mother’s face. I was crying because her harsh words scared me. I don’t even remember exactly what she was saying, but it was rapid-fire and I remember clearly the shake of her voice, the way her eyes widened as soon as I made contact with the concrete.
It was her fear that made me cry.
Surely you understand why.
I was selfish.