Strange Girl on a Bike

Wayne Robb, Triumph motorcycle

Wayne Robb, Triumph motorcycle

First, before beginning these little stories, I will say that I doubt anyone ever grew up in a “normal” family, whatever that is. Still, I frequently find myself far outside the common experiences of friends and acquaintances. As a child, and since, I never thought of Disney’s parks as places I’d ever wish to visit. My mother wasn’t a “Mom.” When I turned 60 last year, I had a birthday party, the kind with cake and presents, for the first time in my life. Having turned out to be an oddball who’s truthfully happy with who I am, I’m insulted whenever anyone dares to pity my childhood, and yet, despite that risk, I keep telling these stories, seeking kindred understanding. I’m my own odd self, just like you.

Picture the little pre-school girl, the bicycle with training wheels, a parent reluctantly and proudly letting go. Now, erase that cultural meme as thoroughly as you can. By the time I was eight, I was desperately eager to try the two-wheeled graduation from my little sisters’ trikes. My parents had reasons for stalling. Safety perhaps, a busy steep road out front. Budgeting. But, next door, a houseful of sisters. Five girls! More bikes than they knew what to do with; one old red one leaned, neglected, against the side of their carport, just feet away from our yard. So, when no one was around, I hopped on and practiced pedaling, using the carport wall for balance, teaching myself to start and stop on my grassy thirty-foot-long track.

The neighbor girls reclaimed their bike when they saw it was ride-able. Mean girls. Soon after that we visited some friends of my parents; this was a big family, with lots of bikes. Excited to use my new skills, I mounted one of the smaller bikes and took off, flying, thrilled. However, that little bike had no brakes and I tried to ride up a hill. This resulted in a fall and a concussion, and my mother staying up all night to keep me from falling too soundly asleep. A few days later, they bought me a bike. I remember school friends being confused; why did my parents give me something new when it wasn’t even my birthday?  I don’t remember the fall, or the pain in my head. I remember the speed, the balance, the freedom.

Recently, talking to someone about migraines, I realized I often say “I’ve had bad headaches since I was about eight.” Maybe there’s a connection, but my dad had migraines, so I’ve always assumed my headaches were genetic, rather than caused by that accident. From Wayne, I also got my love of the wheel, in all its mechanical guises. I was thirteen, weighing eighty pounds, when he put me on a 200cc Triumph Cub that weighed twice that. Many falls, more thrills. The thrum of a running motorcycle trumps all headaches. Ride hard and fast, my strange fellow-biker pals! But, remember this: always test the brakes first.

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