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Handlebars and Scars

Act One

Too fast! Too fast! Afraid to lift my gaze, I watch orange parking stripes fly by beneath the bicycle’s spinning tires. The Methodist church parking lot is a vast ocean of black asphalt that threatens to devour me. “Don’t let go, Daddy.” The ground’s surface that once seemed so benign now tilts at a grotesque angle. The training wheels no comfort. The brakes no remedy for the terrifying speed. My father’s hand, holding onto the seat beneath me, the only thing to keep me from flying off into that awful open space. Willful, stubborn child. She will not learn to ride the bike. And yet I did not fall.

Act Two

Time to try again. A lovely, sunny day. A quiet path beside the still lake. “That’s it. You can do it.” Again, my father’s hand beneath the seat, running fast, steadying the bicycle as I tentatively pedal forward, training wheels leaving the ground as I gain speed. Over the bridge, loud sound of bicycle tires on wooden slats. I see the water below. Sickening tilt before the training wheels reach the ground. Too far! Too fast! Awful feeling of imbalance, my body floating in space above the firm, hard ground. Stubborn, willful child. Sell the bicycle. It is no use. She will not learn. And yet I did not fall. 

Act Three

Evening falling fast. Cool, crisp fall air. Time to ride the bicycle – fast! Speeding down the steep driveway and into the street. Push hard. Pedal fast. Punish the body, willful, stubborn thing. A girl trapped in a woman’s body, rounded hips, soft, curving thighs. Pedal harder. Burn, burn, burn the flesh away. Bend the will. Sudden flight, flying fast over the handlebars. Sudden meeting with the firm, hard ground. Blackness. How long lying on the street in the fog of evening? Who knows? Walking now on unsteady feet, leaning on the handlebars, eyes on the pavement. Feeling with my tongue where teeth used to be. Put away the bike. Walk into the house. “Hey, hey, what happened there?” Kent, the family friend, staying calm, cheerful, trained as a paramedic not to show panic. “Everything’s going to be OK. Just be calm. Stay with me.” Walk past him, into my bedroom — no, wait, the bathroom. Look into the mirror. Funhouse mirror, reality suddenly tilts at a grotesque angle. My mom beside me, upset, panicked: “What happened!” The bicycle forgotten, the brain reboots. “I don’t know. I was just lying in bed, and when I got up …” 

Dad’s calm hands on the steering wheel, controlling the speed as we rush to the hospital. The world outside the windows now dark. The world inside my head gray as twilight, synapses switching on and off like a light bulb on the fritz. Emergency room, CAT scan, six shots of Novocain in the tender skin around the mouth, and then the doctor’s slow, careful needle, slight tug as he closes the ragged flesh. Weeks later, scabs gone, porcelain in place of teeth, I am ready to ride the bike again, but it is gone.

Trust will not tolerate training wheels, and yet the scars remain.

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