by Kelly Butler
I walked to school every day until I was ten years old. In the late summer, when school was just beginning, the air was warm even in the early hours of the morning. My friends would ride their bikes to school and I remember seeing them fly past me. The wind blew at their faces, and the sticky summer air turned into a cool blanket. It swirled around them as they arrived at their destination. I would run alongside them, trying to move my tiny legs fast enough to keep up with their ten-speed bicycles, but to no avail. Their bikes would carry them effortlessly along the pavement, while mine stomped along the sidewalk trying to maintain pace. I remember my first bike—a bright pink Huffy that had swirls along the frame, it was the perfect vehicle to carry me to school. There was only one problem; I didn’t know how to ride it. Every day before I went to school I would sit on it, hoping to learn through osmosis, but with little success. Finally, the day came where I had had enough. I asked my mom a question that had plagued me for a while “Can you teach me how to ride my bike?”
Her words hung in the air “Sure, I’ll teach you this weekend.” Even such a simple response sent oceans of nerves to my head. The anticipation made the next few days unbearable. Each hour crawled by at an agonizingly slow pace that made snails look fast. Finally Friday came and I ran home from school in pursuit of my bright pink bicycle. I imagined myself gliding down the street just like my friends had, with my feet peddling me along. I arrived home and waited impatiently for my mother to return from work. I paced in front of the door like a dog, and even stood at the window once I heard her car come up the driveway. I told myself to give my mother enough time to settle in before I asked her to teach me how to ride a bike, which to my ten year-old brain meant enough time for her to walk through the front door. She just gave me a gentle “In a minute” but I could not wait another second. My melodramatic brain threw a fit and caused my mother to banish me to my room and revoke my biking lessons for an entire day. My tiny feet stomped up the stairs in protest as I made my way to my bedroom. This is where I remained until dinner, wishing with all my heart that I knew how to ride a bike. That night, I dozed off to visions of roads and sidewalks painted by my pink bike. The wind blew my hair back and my long, auburn strands melted into a sunset of roses and reds.
The sound of my brothers running in the hallway woke me up. My clock read 7:00AM, a modest time for my rambunctious five year-old brothers to cluck everyone in the house awake. I got up and dressed for the day rushing downstairs to assemble my arsenal of safety. I adorned an oversized helmet, courtesy of my older brother, as well as knee, elbow, and shin pads. My mother came downstairs and saw my apparel, and knew that it was time for me to learn how to conquer my pink beast on wheels.
Arriving outside, I stared the pink fiend down behind the visor of my brother’s helmet. Not only did it seem to have grown three sizes since the day before, but the handlebars were suddenly sharp and capable of the deadliest offenses. My mother held the bike up and told me to get on it. I stood on my highest tiptoes to mount the monstrosity. Looking back on it now, it only stood barely two feet high and I could have easily made the feat. My mother giggled as my lanky arms twisted around the handlebars and my legs wrapped the frame in order to support myself. Slowly but surely, I had affixed myself onto the bike. Now was the hard part; staying there.
I don’t remember exactly how many times I hit the ground that day. To say that it was a few would be an understatement. My palms were raw from hitting the pavement and I swear that I lost a kneepad that day. My mother saw how meek her efforts were at keeping the gangly ten year-old atop a vehicle, so she took solace in my father, who had just arrived home from work. I looked up from my bike at my dad, casting a tall shadow over my worn face. He told me to “Make a game of it. Time yourself and see how many seconds you can ride before you fall.” A game? I liked games. I accepted his challenge and walked my bike to the farthest edge of my driveway.
My mother positioned herself behind me, holding me up, and I began counting. One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three—and then I would lose it. My father encouraged me to pedal faster. One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi, four miss—and I would fall again. This time, however, I stayed down. My hands were raw and my knees were bloody from hitting the ground. I began to cry. Why was it that everyone else could ride a bike and I couldn’t? Was I stupid?
My dad saw me crying and picked me up. He told me not to give up, and that if I got it the next time I tried that he would take me to the store and get me my own helmet and pads. I accepted his offer and climbed the bike once more. I had to get it this time. I had to be able to do it. I closed my eyes and remembered my dream. I imagined myself floating down the street with the wind at my face. I opened my eyes. My mother was right behind me and I started to pedal. I counted in my head one Mississippi, pink tassels, two Mississippi, my feet were gliding alongside the bike, three Mississippi, the bike tilted to the side, and I was afraid that I was going to fall, but recovered, four Mississippi, I feel the wind at my face, five Mississippi, I tell my mom to let go, six Mississippi, she already had.
The next morning, I saw my friends on their bikes riding to school. They waved for me to run alongside them, but instead I shook my head and went back towards my garage. I looked at my pink vehicle. It was no longer a symbol of what I could be, nor was it a device laced with fear and pain. Suddenly, standing there ready to go to school, it was a symbol of freedom. I would no longer have to run beside my friends. Today, my feet would pedal alongside the pink frame instead of stomp the hard pavement. Mounted upon my bicycle, I cycled myself outside towards my friends. Once they saw me upon my rose masterpiece, they pedaled around me, birds flocking to a new member of their group. My heart soared with excitement as we made our way to school, because today, with my bike, I could fly.
Kelly Butler is an undergraduate student at Columbia College in Chicago. Being a native of Chicago, she is often inspired by the music, childhood memories, and the vast landscape of the city.