On my left hand I have three scars, just above my knuckles. On my right hand two. I love them. I think they are beautiful. My flawed hands remind me, not of the time I fell off of my bike, but of the time when my brother saw me.
We lived on VanDyke road. It was gravel…all gravel. I learned to ride my bike on that gravel road.
When I met my brother, he had already achieved super-hero status. Being seven years my senior, he had already learned everything. I never saw him struggling to ride a bike, climb a rope, or win a race. From my earliest memories, he could outrun, outthrow, outsmart and outdo any of the the neighbor kids, the Norton girls, the Shultz boys, the Mullens, the Weiss’s, any of them. He was strong and fast and brave and I would have done anything to travel in the wave of his cape.
So when he came to me and told me it was time to take off my training wheels, I agreed. I gave no thought to the gravel, the hill, or my five year old lack of balance… I could only hear his voice, and something about running along beside me, and flying down the hill and ohhhhh, it was glorious… He took the wheels off with a red screwdriver he found in the shed. I breathed in time with each turn of the bolt. Youth and innocence were my best friends and they told me to believe when my brother tossed each training wheel aside. Excitement rang over all of them, but I heard things like, “there’s not going to be anything holding you up, so you’ll have to balance, but you’ll be fine, just ride faster, the faster you go, the easier it will be, in fact, I’ll help you, by pushing you down the hill, and I’ll run along beside…you’ll be fine…you’ll be riding before Mom gets home from work.” Thank God we don’t age backwards – we’d never do anything….only a five year old can hear the words, “take away the only thing holding you up…gravel…hill…push…you’ll be fine,” and joyfully, hands in the air, whole-heartedly agree to it all.
Agree I did, and mounted my white and silver, newly grown-up bike. He held the back of my seat, and I was perched, like Robin next to Batman, at the top of the hill…the gravel hill that began at the end of our driveway, and ended at Norton’s. It didn’t really end at Norton’s, but beyond Norton’s was the North End…. The North End – the Bermuda Triangle of VanDyke Road. I wasn’t allowed past Norton’s, but I hadn’t really yet had the need or the means to travel that far.
He dug in with his black and white Converse, and counted to what I thought would be three, but we took off on two. I could hear his shoes hit the gravel, wheels spinning, and my feet not actually pedalling, but just trying to catch up with the pedals. He tried to keep pace with me…I really believe he did…I could never imagine that he just let go… and for a moment, I could feel the wind, and the whisp of his cape, and then I heard him yell….”Pedaaaaaaaaaaaaaalll!!!!!!!” I was trying, really tring, the wheels had a life of their own, and suddenly I could see how fast the trees were going by, and I looked back to find my super hero, and in looking back, turned the handlebars as well – rookie mistake – hit a rock, flew over the bell, and landed knuckle first at the bottom of the hill.
I heard what I assumed to be words of comfort running down the hill…but as he got closer, they became more clear…. “Don’t tell Mom, you did great, don’t tell Mom…” Stunned by the fall, lack of wind in my lungs, the blood shooting out of both hands, and the fact that my brother thought I did great… I didn’t even cry, well not out loud, tears of course flowed, but I didn’t make the usual gasping noises…we take our victories where we can. He ripped off his shirt, like a cowboy or something, (ok, I know he was my super hero, but I was five, and cowboys and superheros and some cartoon figures all blended together), and he wrapped the strips around my hands.
My hands hurt like crazy, but I felt good for some reason…a little prideful, but most of all, noticed. I knew how the boy felt in the book, “All the Pretty Horses,” – learning to ride a horse for the first time, falling off over and over, and the others exlaimed, don’t you know how to ride – and he boldly stated, “I was ridin’ when I fell off wasn’t I?”…
He picked me up by the shoulders, stood me straight, wiped the tears and snot and dirt off my face, grabbed me by the shirt and started walking, pushing my two-wheeler with his free hand. “That was so cool,” he said, leading me back up the hill.
“Yeah,” I said. It is cool when your super-hero sees you.
“But don’t tell Mom.”
I loved my brother. Of course I wouldn’t tell. Of course she found out anyway.
Gravel does create a sense of urgency, and I learned to ride pretty quickly after that.
Fully bandaged, more and longer and than necessary, I learned to ride before Kathy Norton, who was a year younger than me, and even better, so my brother said, before Kathy’s sister Renee, who was a year older,…that’s what you need to do” he explained, “always be faster than the neighbors…” I wasn’t really sure what the big deal was, but he was happy, so I was happy. He was full of tips like that… “it’s better to go down swinging,” “don’t cry on the bus, even if the Schulz boys are mean”, and of course, “don’t tell Mom.”
I followed him around as much as he would allow. If he got ribbons at school, I got ribbons at school. I tried to match him trophy for trophy, step for step…but with each year, the seven year gap seemed to just get wider. He no longer wanted to dazzle me with the dead finger in the box trick, or use me for circus practice. He seemed to get older so much faster. He had seen the North End and beyond, and I couldn’t keep up.
Everyone started to leave VanDyke Rd. My brother left. Even more surprising, so did my father. The only one left to tell things to was Mom…all the rules were changing, and soon we would leave too.
Life happens as it always does. I never saw my father. My brother got busier, different hills to climb, to run down, and away from…and slowly, I think I started to disappear. And it wasn’t just him…I started to chase different things, down different roads.
Time flies, and we struggle to keep up with the pedalling. But what a ride. I feel it my heart, and see it in my hands.
I see my hands and I see my brother.
I see my hands and I see that he once saw me.
And I forget about the gravel and the hill, and the blood, and all the years in between.
I see my hands and I see a struggle survived, and it is glorious.
I see my hands and I see hope.
I see my hands and know, in this relationship, “we were riding when we fell off weren’t we…”
I learned to ride my bike on a gravel road. My brother saw to that. And now with the memories of crashes survived holding me up, and with my love-scarred hands raised joyfully in the air, I welcome it all, agree to it, live it, fall down it, and get back up again, knowing, nobody enjoys the ride more than I do…and every so often, I feel the whisp of his cape.