Getting Back on the Bike
I was eight years old when my mom got her first bike. My father bought her a beach cruiser as a present, and my brothers and sister and I and a couple neighbors watched her try to ride it for the first time.
It was the neighborhood I lived until I was eight, the kind of neighborhood where we knew everyone. There was Julie across the street and Fawn next door to the right. Ray and Daniel in other houses. The old guy on the bike who always gave us candy. The bully kid down the street who called me a show off when I rode my bike without holding the handlebars. We would all get together and play Kick the Can and make up obstacle courses in our yards that often involved dodging pine cones and scaling the 6×6 orange-painted brick wall that was attached to my house.
The house next door on the left was where Nice Family lived. Nice Family kept their Christmas tree up one year until July. I thought it was funny, and only found out years later that the reason they did that was because their son went into the hospital for cancer at the beginning of December and they promised to keep the tree up until he came home. Their son did come home to that Christmas in July, but eventually died from said cancer. I don’t remember his exact age at death, but I believe it was before he even reached 20. It’s hard to make sense of ages when you’re a kid. I just knew he was much older than me and that it was sad.
But what’s really sad is what else happened to Nice Family.
They had a daughter who was close to my sister’s age. She used to play with us, participating in the aforementioned pine cone dodging. She often rescued me from too much teasing at the mouths of my older siblings, and she joined us for trick or treating on Halloween. When I was thirteen, my mom woke me up and told me that Nice Family’s daughter had died. She was 17. She did not die from cancer, like her brother, but at the hands of a serial killer who has since been executed by lethal injection for hers and four others’ deaths and mutilations. It was huge news at the time.
I don’t talk to Nice Family anymore. I don’t know if Mr. Nice Family remembers teasing me about my pink T-shirt that said, “Why Yes I Am A Beauty Queen” or if Mrs. Nice Family remembers the time my brothers and I watched in awe as their cat took on major battle with a locust and won (you would think this would have been a quick battle, but that was one feisty locust).
I do wonder, though, if Nice Family remembers watching me watch my mom learn how to ride a bike. They chided me for laughing when she fell. They didn’t chide me in a mean way, but with the same gentleness with which they always spoke to me. “Don’t laugh at your mom. She doesn’t know how to ride a bike.”
What they don’t know is that I didn’t know that. I just thought my mom kept losing balance. I didn’t know that she’d never actually learned how to ride a bike. Whatever, I was eight. The thought of someone not having learned how to ride a bike was foreign to me. And that was when – watching my mom fall off her bike, and keep getting back on – that I realized that she didn’t know how to do everything.
A couple years later, with the news of Nice Family’s daughter, I thought of that lesson they’d taught me, that my mom didn’t know everything.
And now, years and years later, I think of the two lessons I’ve since learned from Nice Family – that moms don’t know everything and bad things can happen to good people.
And no matter how often I fall at the fate of those two lessons, I keep getting back on the bike.
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