My mother always told me… wait, too cliché, let me start again. When it comes to bicycles my mother had two rules: wear your shoes, and don’t complain when you get hurt when you don’t wear your shoes (bike safety hadn’t been invented yet so there was no such thing as a “bike helmet” and therefore more concern for feet than head.) I’m sure as I took off on my new red, hand-me-down 10 speed bike my mother hollered at me to wear my shoes…. but it was the summer of 82, my 10 speed was fast, and the day was warm and inviting. The freedom I felt on that fast 10 speed indicated that nothing bad could ever happen, shoes or no. I do know I heard her voice fading behind me exclaim, “Fine do what you want but don’t come running to me when you break your leg.”
One of the worst/best things a parent can ever say to a kid is “do what you want,” it sometimes is offered in response to “you can’t tell me what to do anymore!’ It never turns out well, but sometimes it turns into a lesson.
None of this was on my mind as I raced through the gears of that 10 speed (it had 10 speeds! that’s 9 more than my previous bike…) and sped off to “The Street.” I knew I should have had my shoes on, but the speed of the bike and the feeling of the wind blowing through the hair on my toes was intoxicating and liberating to the point of distraction. I sped on and was nearing “The Street” in mere minutes (rather than long minutes) I had traveled the distance and was preparing to lean into the corner to see my friends. “The Street” was where the houses were of a few of my friends since grade school, and since there was a concentration there and the rest of us were spread out, we usually gathered there to plan our days. On most days about 10 or 11 boys and girls would gather and have various adventures. Through the years the games changed from chutes and ladders to Atari, to kick the can, and on to drinking games. I’m sure many “coming of age” stories were played out on “The Street,” and for me it was also a refuge, a place to escape something that I was trying to block out, something I had no control over.
In 82, developmentally we were closer to monopoly than strip poker so our games were still pretty tame. As I rounded the corner on my 10 speed, leaning in heavily to keep my speed up I saw that everyone was near J’s house (names will be changed, to protect anonymity, if not innocence…. we were in our teens or almost there and innocence was fading already) and there was a crowd in the grass. As I raced closer I saw that the crowd was gathered around a game that J invented to get a break from the humid Houston heat.
J was in his yard on one side of the sidewalk. He had a bucket of water balloons at his feet. Our older friend (only by about 2 years) A was in the street on the other side of the sidewalk and he was sporting a large, plastic Frisbee and preparing to throw. The intended target, our other friend D, was on his bike up the sidewalk a little ways, but speeding closer to what J named, “The Gauntlet.” D rode as fast as he could up to the danger area between J and A. J readied a balloon, A pulled the Frisbee back to his opposite under arm as D picked up even more speed and passed between. D caught J’s balloon on the face where it exploded up into his eyes just as A’s flung Frisbee crashed into his ribs…. He wobbled and swerved but remained upright, no doubt thanks to the cheers from the neighborhood girls and other ‘Street’ kids.
“O.k.,” J announced, “ I scored a hit and A scored a hit so that’s one point each for us, but D stayed on his bike so he gets a point also.”
*I should point out that this is a different J than the one from the story “Stuck” and if you haven’t read that one yet we can’t wait for you, you’ll just have to go back and catch up on your own.
J’s games were always simple in construction and scoring, but didn’t always make sense. After watching a few rounds I saw that the thrower got 1 point for scoring a hit and 2 more if the hit caused a crash. The rider scored a point by staying on his/her bike through the “Gauntlet” and another point for each throw that missed. 5 points earned the right to choose a new position. Because we loved a challenge and didn’t have fully developed brains, our favorite position was rider.
My first turn throwing the Frisbee I gained a strike on the back of A’s head for a point. On the next turn I bounced the Frisbee off his knee and up into his chin, he wobbled and fell into the grass as he tried to look away from the impact of the Frisbee.
“That’s four points!” I stated and began to walk to my bright red 10 speed.
A immediately argued back, “No dufus it’s 3, a hit for 1 point and then a fall for 2. Three points Einstein!”
I presented my retort to J with my most convincing and mature argument, “Well, I hit fart face on the knee and then right on his fart face so that’s 2 points, then he fell like a bag of wet dog poop so that’s 2 more…”
My case was presented and a thoughtful look crept onto J’s face, it looked unaccustomed to being there and left quickly as J passed judgment, “He’s right, a double hit and a knockdown, four points!”
Now possessing 5 points, it was in my power to choose a new position…. All faces were on me and bright with anticipation as I proclaimed, “I will go through the Gauntlet!” (as if you all didn’t see that coming)
I walked with somber determination (I didn’t know what that was yet but I still walked with it) over to my gallant 10 speed steed. I picked it up and resolutely (I probably knew what resolute was because I had been breaking New Year’s resolutions for a few years now) moved toward the starting position.
The crowd spoke up to honor the chosen, “Hurry up princess, we don’t have all day!”
Of course we did have all day because it was summer and we were 12, but I hurried anyway. I estimated the distance available and decided that by the time I got to the danger area I could be in speed 3 or 4 out of my available 10. (have I mentioned this bike had 10 speeds? 10!)
I straddled by trusty red 10 speed and began to pedal toward destiny, greatness, and a big puddle with bits of broken balloon floating in it. I decided in my head that I would get through ‘The Gauntlet’ by leaning the 10 speed heavily to the right as I balanced low to the left to provide the lowest profile target to J and D.
J readied his balloon, tossing it to himself a couple times to estimate the weight and heft of his weapon, D took a couple practice coils and flings with the Frisbee. I speed closer and closer to the large puddle that was the danger zone and as J and D started to throw I executed my lean. Hands tight on the elegantly curved handlebars, knees bending at riotous angles to keep my torso low, bare feet quickly slipping off the wet pedals… wait, slipping?
Birds bolted from their perches as the neighborhood was pierced with a terrifying screeching that I realized was coming from me. When I stopped tumbling (and screeching) my friends rushed over to check on me, some were so overcome with concern they hardly laughed.
After untangling pre-teen from ten speed I did a quick assessment for damaged parts, luckily my gleaming red 10 speed was fine. My left leg on the other hand had about six neat little gashes on the inside where my leg slipped between the frame and scraped the large chain-ring (the big sprockety thing the pedals attach to.) The gashes were long but really superficial and weren’t even bleeding so I was surprised at the sudden silence and white faces of my friends. I was just about to call them a bunch of wussies when I saw that they weren’t looking at my leg, but instead at my right foot.
(*If you have a week stomach and don’t like blood in your stories you should skip on to the part where I get home to my mom. Us morbid folks will catch up.)
I looked down at my heal, it must have gotten caught in the spokes or the chain. The skin and flesh was surgically sliced from top down but was still attached at the bottom of my foot. A flap of flesh about the size of a tennis ball (if you cut the tennis ball in half) was hanging off my foot…. I couldn’t tell if bone was exposed because the whole mess was oozing blood. I felt the color drain out of my face (and into the grass.)
I looked to my friends but most were looking away in horror (they’re the same one’s who are skipping ahead while we read this.) and those who weren’t looking away were looking pretty sick so I knew I was on my own to get home….
I picked up my bike and swung my leg over being careful not to bleed on it (the bike, my leg was already covered in blood.) Gingerly I placed just the very toe of my rebellious bare foot on the pedal. The ride home was much slower and much less exciting as shock was wearing off and pain was settling in. I could feel that the flap of skin was a tiny Ahab on Moby’s back, waving every time my pedal raised and fell (please tell me you all have read your Melville, we don’t have time to wait for you and I’m really proud of that metaphorical reference.)
Only in this metaphor Ahab is splattering my leg with blood with each wave. (and splattering the street a little bit too)
I fought off the pain and most of the tears as I rode home slowly, caution was no longer to the wind and had settled firmly in my mind. I rounded the corner to my street and saw my house through wet eyes.
**O.k. you who are faint of heart can start reading again but you missed a really cool reference to Moby Dick.
I got home and walked in the front door and stood in the hall so I wouldn’t get blood on the rug. I was afraid to tell my mother, not just because I had a huge bloody “I told you so” all on the back of my foot, but also because she hated the sight of blood. My pain took over my fear to tell my mom and I opened my mouth to calmly call to her, but when my lips parted I found myself screaming, “MOM! HELP!”
My mom can running, looked down and immediately started dry heaving and ran away…. Crap…
She wasn’t gone for long and came back, still dry heaving, but with a towel (not one of the good ones obvioulsy) “Ulp, here, ulp,” she handed me the towel, “Put, ulp, this on it. Uhggh ulp.)”
I grabbed the flap with the towel and pushed it off the floor and back into place, then put pressure on the whole mess with the towel. “O.k. now what mom?”
*Oh, if you have a weak stomach don’t read that last part either.
My mom was looking away and trying not to puke (which was good because my stomach is week for vomit and I would have been standing in a pool of blood and barf otherwise.)
Mom swallowed down a gag, “Ulp, just hold it to see if the blood stops.”
She came up to me, eyes glistening with unshed tears and it was the perfect time for an “I told you so,” but it never came. Instead I got a firm hug and she said, “Honey I was so scared when you came in screaming and crying.” (I was absolutely not crying…) I decided to fill the empty space that was left by the absent “I told you so.”
She was hugging me close and I felt tears streaming down my cheek (hers not mine I swear.) I pulled back and looked at her, “I should have been wearing my shoes mom, I’m sorry”
“I know honey it’s ok,” and a tighter hug was her only reply.
We all stray from instruction and we all stray from His will. God lets us “do it our way” and lets us make mistakes. When we do there is often pain and always a lesson. But there is also something else, there is grace. When I find myself rebelling against Our Father and I feel the pain, I humble myself and cry out his name (sometimes in sobs) and He is always there for me with a lesson but never an “I told you so.”
When I face diversity whether from doing my own thing or from outside pressures I pray Deuteronomy 33:27 and know where my real refuge is and Who it is that brings the towels when I’m hurt (the good towels even….)
“The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.”