Wednesday, February 10, 2010

#20 - Alone Again, Naturally - Part II

Continued from Previous Post:

So anyway, I managed to survive my first attempt at emancipation relatively unscathed. I’m sure there was punishment of some kind, since there was always an intricate system of checks and balances in my childhood, especially when Dad was around. Any time you stepped out of line, regardless of the severity of the actual violation or the degree of covert stealth, you wuz gonna get your ass whupped, at the very least.

But I don’t recall the specific retribution for my aborted freedom flight. It had to have been something, but it must not have been very creative or interesting and the memory is long gone. What DOES stick in my mind, however, was the shocking realization that I did not, in fact, know everything there was to know, such as how to successfully flee the county when you are only six years old.

This was devastating to my previous perception of my place in society, as well as my overall world view of how things worked. I clearly had missed a memo or two somewhere. It was time for me to hit the books and revisit my exit strategy before formalizing my next field operation.

This took a couple of years. Granted, there were other things of great interest that kept me distracted at the time, so I wasn’t completely focused on my intention to realign Western civilization. After all, I had to learn how to ride that stupid bike that almost killed me later in life. There was the intriguing discovery that one could give dimes to a man driving a noisy truck and you would be rewarded with fancy popsicles.

And there was the little girl who lived across the street. She was also on a learning curve about the world, developing her budding personality by engaging in activities she found pleasing in some way. One of these hobbies involved her running up and down the sidewalk in front of her house, wearing nothing but panties and a smile.

I found this quite fascinating. She seemed to be having so much fun doing it, laughing and skipping, that I was slightly jealous as well. But not jealous enough to actually join her, I don’t think. I vaguely recall an underwear incident of my own around the time, but the details are sketchy and I’m not sure if Little Miss Frilly Panties was involved or not. (This is the type of research topic you only surface with your parents after everyone has had a nice shot of tequila, because the whole thing could backfire in a ricochet of shame.)

Anyway, the liberated lass across the street is one of my first memories of a true “free spirit”. She was certainly very much ahead of her time. This was years before the act of streaking became something of a national pastime, with people baring all during social gatherings, usually in support of murky but progressive political agendas. I just thought she was really neat. I had no idea if the sudden disposal of her clothing meant she had joined the National Organization for Women, or if she had no intention of giving up her last name when she married.

At some point, I was no longer allowed to play with her anymore, so the assumption is that something untoward took place, something that changed the adult commentary from “Isn’t she cute!” to “Do NOT go across the street or I will bust your ass!” Perhaps Frilly just fell into the wrong crowd, maybe some older girls who would skateboard topless and did not intend to shave their armpits when they reached puberty.

I don’t know. And then another something transpired which rendered the fate of Frilly, as well as that whole neighborhood (the scene of my first attempt to appear on the back of a milk carton), a moot point.

We moved. Packed everything up in the house and headed from urban Tulsa to beyond-suburban Broken Arrow. Way out in the country where paved roads were considered somewhat uppity. There were certainly no sidewalks for hippies-in-training to cavort upon while wearing nothing but a bandana made out of hemp.

And it was at this second house where things transpired to remind me that I apparently dreamed of a life on the road. Me and you and a dog named Boo, travelin and livin off the land. All that mess. (Funny how I can remember the lyrics to 40-year-old songs yet I have no idea where the key is for the shed in the backyard.)

But just like my first burst of anarchy, wherein something motivated me to run past vicious poodles while clutching a tiny suitcase, I really don’t remember what prompted me to flee. I’m sure I had my reasons. Children don’t spurn the family nest without some irksome motivator. Why trade a life of relative security and free food for a transient existence living in boxes under a freeway overpass? Something was in my craw, I just don’t know what it was.

But I do remember the day of my departure. I was either 8 or 9 at the time. Keep that in mind as you continue with this tawdry tale.

I came home from school, filled to the brim with whatever angst was driving my decisions, fully intent on my mission. My little sister was off doing some boring thing that little sisters do. In fact, she may have even been in daycare.

All I know is that she wasn’t there at the moment, which was fine by me. She’d always been a little shifty since she tried to steal my place as next in line for the throne, back when I made my first break on Sixth Street. It didn’t matter that she was only three years old at the time. Her tender age did not excuse her actions, and I don’t forget things.

Anyway, alone in the house, I marched into my parents’ bedroom in search of a pen and paper. (See, right there is probably one of my points of dissatisfaction at the time. I apparently didn’t have implements of communication in my own room. Who knows what OTHER madness was going on in that house. Clearly, I was justified in my rebellion.)

So I approach the desk on one wall of my parents’ private chambers. It’s a very nice desk, solid wood and all that, very tasteful. (Even then I was a budding gay boy who appreciated the finer things in life. It’s just in the blood, know what I’m sayin?) I whip out a sheet of paper, grab a ball-point pen, and proceed to scratch out my Declaration of Intolerance.

Who knows what I scribbled. I’m sure I listed all of my grievances, with annotations and footnotes, and possibly even attached a full appendix with multiple references to precedent-setting court cases of yore. (Did I mention that I was an absurdly over-achieving child, intently focused on the cryptic bylaws of proper English? Sadly, there’s been a lot of alcohol consumption since those heightened days of scholastic glory, and I can no longer identify a dangling participle when I see one. The luster is gone.)

Anyway, at the tail end of my diatribe against the inhumanity of it all, I remember signing my name with extremely-anguished force, cutting through the thin sheet of paper and actually etching my name into the surface of the exquisite desk. Sort of like those romantic scratches you see on trees, where “Bill hearts Debi”, but without any devotional love and certainly without any intention of sanctifying a relationship.

But I did pause when I peeled the paper off the desk, and realized that I had somehow managed a memorial to my displeasure with current circumstances. Hmm. Oh well, no need to worry, I was headed out on the midnight train to Georgia, and none of this mattered.

I then raced back to my own room, gathered up the necessary possessions for my hopefully extended and final trip abroad, threw them in a satchel of some kind, and prepared to Exit Left. I proceeded to the back of the house, choosing to depart via the sliding glass doors onto our patio, waving a final farewell to all that I knew.

Once outside, I glanced around me for a bit, sighing, somewhat wistful but trying to strengthen my resolve, marched about ten paces to the left, then squatted down and hurled myself into the overly-large doghouse that was the legal residence of the current family pet, a basset hound.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I had made my great escape by not even leaving the actual homestead property, and choosing instead to share rent and utilities with a salivating mutt that was dumber than a rock.

It was not one of my finer decision-making moments.

In any case, there I was, crouched in a canine domicile , already losing sensation in my legs, but still fully convinced that my actions would somehow inspire my parents to dispense with what I perceived to be heinous acts of utter outrage. Surely, in their anguish, they would toss aside the shackles and promise me complete and total freedom for years to come.

Well. Do you know what it’s like to be curled up in a doghouse, waiting for your parents to come home and un-enslave you? It’s not pretty. And it’s certainly boring. I was most assuredly over it when Dudley, the simple but sweet basset hound, unleashed his fifteenth cascade of slobber directly into my contorted face.

Yet I persevered. My sanity was in question, but then again, that has always been the case.

Eventually, Mom arrived home from work. I heard the car pull in the driveway, and I jerked awake. As Mom exited the car, I could tell that she was talking to my little sister, so she had apparently picked her up from daycare, or wherever it is that they keep younger siblings who covet the title of next-in-line with blatant ambition.) I patiently waited, giving Mom time to mosey through the house, become concerned that I wasn’t responding to her calls, and then discover my letter of angst and displeasure.

Next thing I knew, Mom and sister were back out in the driveway, piling into the car and heading off for parts unknown. What was this? Where could they be going?

I shoved Dudley the dog to the side, which was a bit of a challenge since we had the same body weight. (Basset hounds are some heavy-ass dogs, just thought I’d mention that.) I cautiously eased myself out of the doghouse, checking in all directions in case there were some type of renegade-child law enforcement officers hanging about.

The coast was clear.

So then I scoured the surrounding neighborhood. As noted, we were out in the country, where the homes had some seriously-large lots. It was still a subdivision, but everybody had at least an acre to claim. Which meant that I could easily track the progress of Mom in her search mobile.

She was going from house to house, inquiring if anyone had seen me.

Oh no. It’s one thing to send up a red flag that you’re really not happy. It’s quite another thing to realize that the sending might be causing somebody pain. Especially your mother. I was a very bad child. No wonder they didn’t allow me to have my own pen and paper.

I crawled back into the doghouse. Dudley crawled back in with me. Since he was my only friend at that specific point in time, I asked him if I was doing the right thing. And he just looked at me with the unquestioning love that dogs have. Well, his slobbery expression said, I don‘t even have indoor plumbing and I‘M happy. Why aren’t YOU?

And I couldn’t answer that. I didn’t even know HOW to answer that. I just….wasn’t.

A bit later, I heard Mom pull back into the drive. She and little sister clamored out of the car, preparing to do nothing more than head back in the house. Then just before they entered the garage and the subsequent inner door, I heard Mom ask my sister to go check the doghouse.

I bristled. Holy cow. She’d figured it out, even though she didn’t even quite realize it. But this is what Mom’s do, yes?

My sister, not really impressed with her current assignment, took her slow-ass time wandering toward my hiding place. She eventually got there, with me having nowhere to run, peered in, and then squealed at Mom, hoping that she would win some type of prize.

Mom made a sound that stayed with me for a very long time.

I looked at faithful Dudley, with his confused but devoted face. “I’ve got to go, boy. I’ll bring you a treat. Thanks for the coffee.”

Then I crawled out of, and back in to, the doghouse.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

#19 - Alone Again, Naturally - Part I

Two time periods, very early 70’s, perhaps 1971, and then a few years later.

Two separate attempts to make my break for freedom, forceful acts of will in honor of that long-standing tradition: The child who runs away from home to escape what he perceives as the unbearable daily torture of parents who just don’t understand.

Sadly, both of these renegade moments occurred when I was less than 10 years old, automatically dooming my efforts at independence and emancipation. I was always doing things much earlier than I should. This was my fate as a freakishly intelligent child who at the same time had no common sense whatsoever.

The first little adventure went something like this…

We were still living at the house on Sixth Street, in Tulsa, so I was of first-grade age or less. (We moved before second grade.) This means that my parents were still together, so the troubling “divorce experience” had not yet begun. Therefore, I’m not really sure what my problem was, but I did indeed have some type of issue with my treatment in that household.

Now, if you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you’re aware that my father and I did not get along in any way, at all. There are innumerable incidents I can point to and say “right there, THAT’S what I’m talking about, he mad me crazy when he did that”. But in my mind, as I write this, I’m not making a connection between any of those particular moments and my first decision to run for the border.

I don’t know what it was.

The only tenuous memory that is slightly attached to this same time-frame is that my mother had recently experienced a very severe sunburn. She spent several days lying on a leather couch in the den, moaning quietly, her only solace being the pain-easing sensation of the chilled cowhide courtesy of the air-conditioning unit in the window directly above her.

I’m sure her skin condition was not the source of my agitated need to flee for parts unknown. (After all, even though I was a moody child with validation issues, I could understand acts of nature.) It’s just one of those hybrid memories still clicking around in my head: the first time I ran away, the house on Sixth Street, Mommy looking like a boiled lobster and none of us allowed to touch her without serious consequences.

In any case, somewhere around that time, I came to a decision about my legal connection with this family. It was time for me to seek opportunities over the horizon, make my own way, fend for myself. I remember marching into the kitchen, where Mom and Dad were both in the same room, (indicating that they were on speaking terms at the time, something that was already unusual), and announcing that I had every intention of running away and that the train would be leaving the station tonight.

They both looked at me, Dad with his typical expression that the thorn in his side would simply NOT go away, and Mom with her expression that “here is another challenge to overcome with love.” Completely different parenting skills. Guess who I liked better?

To my startled astonishment, they both looked at each other, their eyes carrying on a brief but mystifying conversation, and then turned to me and said: “Great. We’ll help you pack.”

What the hell?

I’m not really sure WHAT reaction I was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t THAT. After all, my itinerary was already murky, as I hadn’t planned much beyond “I want to run away”.

I’m sure part of me was hoping that my announcement would cause a momentous change in parenting techniques, with both of them vowing to do whatever it took to keep me in the fold. Perhaps happy birds would start chirping and sunlight would break through the sad clouds. (Of course, this would mean we had to keep Mom away from the windows, but I digress.)

This did not happen. Instead, they were encouraging my quest for freedom by offering to help me with my travel preparations, ensuring that I had an adequate supply of underwear and whatnot. In fact, Daddy raced off and returned with a cute little blue suitcase wherein I could tote my worldly possessions.

This was SO not what I pictured in my head. Where was the ticker tape parade begging my to stay with a suddenly-loving family? Why was I not being proffered a renegotiated contract that I could review with my lawyers?

Instead, we packed my little suitcase, with Mom ensuring that I had a toothbrush and toothpaste, and Dad ensuring that I took all the annoying toys that he hated stepping on during his march to the garage where he would do Man Things for hours and avoid the rest of the family.

Then they led me to the backdoor of the house, with Daddy throwing open said portal and then stepping out of the way. Both of them were beaming with encouraging smiles as they gently pushed me forward. “Have fun!”

I traipsed down the three concrete steps into the yard, turning back to confirm that I was fully understanding how this was developing. They really wanted me to go?

They both waved happily. Bon voyage!

Great. I really had to go through with this.

So I turned back around and raced across the grass to the back gate. (I had barely taken two cautious steps when I heard the back door slam and the lock being turned with a little bit more jubilation than was required in this situation.) The deal was done.

I unhitched the gate, and stepped into the alley. Now, alleys can be great and wonderful things, especially when it’s daylight and you’re a 6-year-old. Lots of things to discover and explore. But at night? Not so much. And especially when it’s a night where your parents appear to be quite enthusiastic about your decision to relocate.

I stood in the middle of the alley for some time, glancing left and right. I really didn’t know which way to go. Neither option held much appeal, as my surveillance revealed that it was incredibly dark and murky in both directions. I could be instantly killed in any number of ways, regardless of my decision.

Something told me to head to the left, towards the east. There were no logical theorems behind this decision, other than the realization that I can’t actually be running away if I don’t, in fact, run. So I headed east.

Slowly, at first. My pace picked up a bit as the neighboring dogs realized that there was a potential intruder. These beasts came racing to their respective back fences, baying like Satan himself had just ascended from the bowels of the earth. I really did not care for this part. I increased my speed to escape the hounds of hell.

Miraculously, I made it to the end of the block without being ripped to shreds. (Let’s not discuss the fact that some of these evil canines were probably poodles that couldn’t effectively damage a falling leaf. I was six years old with a tendency for slight exaggeration. Sue me.)

I paused before actually crossing the street. Not sure why. Maybe it was the fact that the alleyways, at least at the point where they intersected actual streets, had light poles illuminating the area. Suddenly, everybody could see exactly what I was doing.

This was disconcerting. Part of it was the fact that my actions were now visible to the viewing public, or at least bored citizens tromping around the area for no apparent reason. But mostly, my hesitation was due to the fact that, when you have the freedom to run anywhere that you want, where, exactly, do you run TO?

I really hadn’t done enough research on this particular aspect of my joining the Underground Railroad. Poor planning. This always causes complications.

So I decided to keep running in a straight line. Keep following this same alley until I eventually ran across a family that just happened to be looking for a dissatisfied youngster seeking better opportunities. Sounded good to me.

I dashed across the street and entered the next segment of the alley. This was really foreign territory for me. I knew most of the intricacies of my own alley, but this was a new world. On top of that, once you got away from the cross street, there were no handy lights to guide you on your mission. So I decided to just run like the wind until I got to the distant light at the next cross street.

This was a very serious error in judgment.

So I’m racing along, breathing quite heavily, unable to see a single thing that might appear in the dim path before me, and just trusting that my forward momentum is all I need to survive the ordeal.

Suddenly, one foot comes down at a slightly odd angle, with my toes mashed upward at a very unpromising degree. Before I can fully decipher this change in terrain, my other foot slams hard against an apparent boulder in the middle of the alley. Due to whatever physical laws, my tiny body is now airborne, roughly parallel to the ground.

I crash to the earth with bone-rattling surprise, all of the air forced out of my lungs with a frightening oomph, my cute little suitcase clipping me on the head as it sails forward to parts unknown.

I finally skid to a halt, my face mashed in unfamiliar dirt. It feels like the entire front of my body has been scraped clean of any flesh.

And I burst into tears.

A few minutes later, I realize that my waterworks are not solving anything. I wipe my face with my shirt sleeve and struggle to a sitting position, sniffling. I look around, and can barely make out my suitcase just ahead. It has popped open, and my man panties are peppering the alley way, absurd little flowers in the darkness.


I struggle to my feet and start shoving my personal items back in the suitcase, my tears dotting the contents as I do so. Once everything is secure, I hoist my traveling companion and look back west, toward home. Pondering.

My run for freedom has lasted exactly 17 minutes. And now I’m done. My parents knew exactly what they were doing in helping me out the door, realizing I wouldn’t get far. In fact, it wouldn’t have surprised me if THEY were the ones responsible for the strategically-placed boulder. Parents will do anything to win the battle. They might have even paid the poodles to be especially snarly tonight.

Time for Plan B. Perhaps another round at the bargaining table? Not sure. For all I knew, my parents may have already replaced me with a more complacent child that didn’t have such grandiose expectations of the world. A na├»ve little Stepford son that would clean his room and not question authority.

In any case, I’m sure my sister had been doing a dance of royal ascension from the first second of my departure, thrilled at her rise in status. She would probably just turn the TV up when my pitiful knock came at the back door. I would now be facing two unimpressed monarchs and a potential conniving usurper to the throne.

I sighed and headed back down the alley.

Click Here to Read the Next Entry in This Series:

Thursday, February 4, 2010

#18 - George of the Jungle

Mid 1970’s. Same relative time-frame as the previous Memory Remix post, wherein I bared my budding manhood to the world and was immediately punished with a vindictive and impromptu gymnastics routine. Mom and Sharon were still dragging us to the evil skating rink on a fairly regular basis, but I think the tromps to the bowling alley had died off.

(At least for now. Mom would soon meet the man who would eventually become our step dad, and he loved to bowl, among other things. There’s at least 150 blog posts with that whole mess. Every day was a surprise with him. You never knew.)

Anyway, it’s definitely summer, because we were spending tons of time outside, running the neighborhood and not necessarily LOOKING for trouble, but we certainly answered the door if trouble should knock. You know how it was with boys that age, 10 or 11 years old, back in a time when we didn’t have all the electronic babysitters that kids have these days. You made your own fun. You took dirt and nothingness, applied a little bit of creativity, and you made it interesting.

The neighborhood we lived in was still very much under construction. Houses were constantly springing up all around us. But we were still out in the country, away from city life, long before anyone had to really worry about people taking things that were lying around and didn’t belong to them. So the home-building crews would just leave their stuff at the jobsites at the end of the work day.

Three seconds after the crews disappeared down the dusty road, us boys would invade the jobsites looking for treasure.

Not that we were ever going to take anything. (Okay, there was one wild boy in the gang that would have stolen anything that wasn’t nailed down, but he knew that the rest of us weren’t keen on the thievery concept, so he refrained. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, there was a time when even criminals were decent. Progress isn’t always a good thing, right?)

So there we’d be, running through the shells of houses, picking up interesting power tools and pretending like we knew exactly how to use them. Or trying to figure out what each of the rooms would actually be once they had real walls. Sounds simple, but it was much more interesting than playing in your own yard where you already knew how everything worked and there was that constant threat of your embarrassing sister wandering up and trying to join in.

Eventually, we would grow tired of running and screaming through the 2x4 studs and calling each other douche-bags. (We had no idea what that really was, but it sounded deliciously dirty and therefore fully qualified as an insult.)

Usually, our decision to vacate the house would be exacerbated by someone tripping over something and skidding across the rough concrete of the newborn slab foundation, leaving behind a trail of skin. You couldn’t cry when this happened, of course, because that’s what babies did. But the non-skinned boys would always discreetly agree that it was time to exit so that any shame for the victim was avoided. Concrete hurt, and we all knew that. Time to go, and don’t look at the one boy barely holding back tears. The oath of random brothers in play.

Once outside, we would then head for the holy grail of the construction site: the huge pile of gravel that was somewhere on the property. This sounds mundane, but great things could be done with this innocent pile of rock. We had no idea why mounds of gravel were necessary (we didn’t build the damn houses, we just played there) but we were quite appreciative when the gravel would appear.

Because then we could play King of the Hill.

And actually, this is a rather vicious and wearying game. One boy stands on top of the hill, and everybody else tries to run up the hill and knock the first guy off the hill so that he tumbles down in defeat. The knocker then becomes the new King. Rinse and repeat until it was dinner time.

And really, this game was kind of a drag if you weren’t the current king. The guy on top could see you coming, while the guys on the bottom had to race up a very unstable slope and swat at you. The Top Guy could very easily step out of the way and send you hurtling down the other side. If he was a particularly vicious and unkind ruler, he could trip you at the summit so that your Plummet of Defeat also involved some painful acrobatic tumbling.

Somewhat primitive, yes, but this is just what boys do. They try to one-up each other through physical tests of strength, or at least physical efforts of tripping. It was just the rule. You had to constantly strive to show that you were better, even if you weren’t really interested in showing that. Everything was a contest. Which leads to the focal point of this story.

It all started with a bicycle.

Bicycles were cool. You simply had to have one if you wanted any kind of street rep. There was no discussion on the matter. If you did not have a bicycle, your rank in society was in question, at the very least, and you might even be subject to merciless torment, depending on the budding testosterone levels and the heat of the day.

I did happen to have a bicycle, which gave me a leg up, but it was a very questionable example of a bicycle. I’m not even sure how I came into possession of this thing, but it had been clearly modified over the years. Things were just not right about it. You couldn’t put your finger on it, but some critical wow factor was simply amiss with that contraption.

And it had a banana seat.

Now, I wasn’t schooled in the mechanical history of bicycles, but I knew enough to realize that they didn’t always have banana seats. I’m not sure if they ever SHOULD have had banana seats, those elongated, slightly-phallic things that could probably seat three separate individuals if everyone positioned themselves just right. I’m sure they were a fad at one point, but that era had faded into the dust by the time I assumed ownership of this vehicle.

So I was cool, but only on a conditional basis. To seal the deal, I had to prove that I could also ride the thing, and ride it in a macho manner that would completely dispel any inclinations to brand me a sissy. I must prove my worth.

Bit of background: My training in the proper operation of a bicycle was notably minimal. This critical schooling took place when Mom was still married to Dad, and we still lived in Tulsa, so, at most, I was 6 years old. Dad plunked me on a bicycle, (screw the training wheels), got behind me, and started running and pushing the bike when my own pedaling efforts proved unsatisfactory.

Dad ran faster and faster, my tiny feet flying off the pedals that were whipping around in a blur, and then with a tremendous grunt Dad shoved me forward with Herculean strength. I shot down the quaint little urban street with amazing velocity, left to my own devices. Dad did not believe in expending any wasted time on things like nurturing, carefully-controlled learning environments, or my unknown capacity to save my own ass.

So basically, I had just a very few seconds to either learn how to control a speeding vehicle, or die. After several jarring pedal-whacks that tore hunks of flesh out of my legs, I managed to get my feet properly positioned and was actually somewhat responsible for the speed of the bicycle, although I had to pump my legs with incredible rapidity, looking like a hamster on diet pills.

The body can do amazing things in times of stress, and somehow I gained mastership of the bicycle. And the wobbling stopped. I could actually steer the thing. I did a few lazy arcs back and forth across the street, my heart racing but now in a good way. I was riding a bike, on my own and not dying. I eventually did a full turn and headed back up the street toward home, grinning and happy.

Dad was already walking back in the house. I hadn’t been killed, so he was done. No congratulations, no kudos. My smile and the speed of the bike tapered off. I was six years old, and already knew this routine, knew this wall. There was something missing in him, something he couldn’t give, or didn’t know HOW to give. I slowly pulled up to the curb in front of the house, dismounted, thought a bit about things that six-year-olds shouldn’t have to think about, then went to put my bike away.

Flash forward to the boys in the hood at the new house in Broken Arrow, after the divorce, with the neighborhood gang assessing my ride. One of the older boys had a question: “Can you ride that thing down The Hill?”

The Hill. This was located on the next street over, to the east. The area around our house and the accompanying street was flat as a board. As was most of the county. But here and there in the burg were these odd hills that rose dramatically out of the landscape. Probably had something to do with the pressure of massive glaciers back in the day, but who knows, I’m not a geologist. We just had these random hills, that’s all we knew.

And The Hill in question was a real humdinger. The street where it was situated started out flat as hell like most of the streets, but then you suddenly encountered this mind-boggling, very steep incline that shot up at an amazing angle. If you were in a car, you had to shift into the lowest gear just to get up the thing, since the road was gravel and traction was always in question.

So this menacing hill became a proving ground for the entertainment-starved boys in the neighborhood. If you could ride your bike DOWN the hill and survive, what with the astonishing speeds you couldn’t help but attain, then you were pretty hip and worthy of admiration.

I gulped and carefully considered my response to the inquiring older boy. “Well, I haven’t tried it on this bike.” (I hadn’t tried it on ANY bike, but I was hoping to save my ass here.) “This thing’s pretty old. Maybe I better wait until I get a better bike…”

Luckily, the gang took another glance at my modified ride and decided I was probably right, maybe not a good idea to take the Mt. Everest plunge on something as questionable as what was currently between my legs. But the big boys wanted to make a run anyway, so all of us made our way to the next street over.

Once at the base of the mountain, us younger guys took up a watching position down below, while the older guys made the long trek to the top, pushing and shoving their bikes ahead of them since there was no possible way to ride UP the hill. Then, one by one, the big boys plunged over the crest of the hill and raced downward, shooting past the peanut gallery at the base with amazing speed, the wind pressure flattening their cheeks into ghoulish masks as they zoomed to the right or the left of the ancient tree in the middle of the road.

Yes, dear reader, there was a tree right smack in the center of the gravel road at the point where the street leveled off. I guess somebody thought this was a really cute idea, leaving the tree standing and making drivers swerve around it. It was Oklahoma in the 70’s, need I say more?

Eventually, all of the older boys made their run, and then raced home for dinner. The rest of the younger boys tagged along after them. Until it was just me at the base of the hill, staring up at the precipice above me as the lowering sun cast odd shadows across the landscape. And then madness seized me with its seductive hands.

I decided I was going to try it, hybrid bike be damned.

So there I went, trudging up the hill, shoving my piece of crap bike ahead of me. To say it took a while is an understatement. It took forever. Loads of sweat and strain later, I reached the summit. Wiping my brow, I turned to survey the perilous descent before me.

I could barely see the massive tree in the middle of the road, way down yonder. Oh boy. But something egged me on, and I was going to do this. I straddled my bike, took a deep breath, and rolled forward.

The first several seconds were deceptively easy. I really wasn’t moving that fast. I actually thought I might enjoy this little mission. But then gravity and physics muscled their way in, and before I knew it I was hurtling downward in a jaw-dropping rush of utter panic.

I lost all sense of time and space. I was beyond anything that I understood. I slightly lost my mind. Things were happening so fast that my quivering brain could not process the input.

Then the handlebars started to shimmy. I was cognizant enough to realize that this was not a good development, but I didn’t know what was expected of me to correct the situation. The front wheel was wobbling at an alarming rate as I approached the final third of the descent. Oh, this was SO not good.

Then the front wheel took on a life of its own, jerking dramatically to the left and completely locking up the bike. It stopped moving, but I didn’t. Suddenly, I was airborne over the handlebars. Stupidly, I didn’t let GO of the handlebars, clinging to them with some short-circuited fervor.

I slammed into the gravel roadway with a brain-rattling crunch. The demon bike landed on top of me, and both of us slid the rest of the way down the hill, completely out of control and subject to some law of nature that I hadn’t studied yet. As we tumbled head over heels, my bouncing body pivoted in a crucial way and I could see where we were headed.

Directly toward that freakin tree in the middle of the road.

Three seconds later, we hit the stupid tree. It stopped my descent with an alarming noise that didn’t sound healthy at all. The bike was wrenched from my grasp and landed somewhere else. Gravel dust was billowing all around as I tried to figure out if I would ever be able to walk again. It was too late to scream and I was too shocked to cry, so I just laid there as chalky grit covered my body.

Then I heard a car coming.

Some instinct that I didn’t even know I had kicked in. I scrambled to my feet (okay, great, I wasn’t paralyzed) and I searched for the bike. (Why I even cared about the bike at that point, I don’t know.) I spied the twisted metal a few feet away. I staggered over to it, grabbed one of the handlebars that had failed me, and half-crawled to the side of the road, falling into the ditch just seconds before the car thundered past.

I laid there for quite a while.

Eventually, I stirred and stood up, and then assessed the damage. I was bleeding in several places, but nothing seemed life-threatening. The bike, however, was a complete mess. The front wheel frame was so jacked that the tire wouldn’t even turn. And the banana seat, interestingly enough, was split.

So I took a deep breath, sucked it up, and started dragging the bike home. It took some time, because I wasn’t in the best of spirits, and everything hurt. What seemed like hours later, I made it to our yard, still dragging the hated, non-functioning bike.

Mom came racing out of the house, and it wasn’t until that exact point that I started crying. This is where I need love, people. Everybody act accordingly.

Mom determined that I would live, patched me up, and said all the right things. I felt much better, even though I vowed that I would never ride a bike again. (This conviction lasted approximately three days.)

Then Mom startled me with another question. “Well, are you ready to head to the skating rink? Kerry and Kristy will be there. Won’t that be fun?”

I almost died a tragic and dusty death, and now you want me to put up with the Hellion twins? You have GOT to be kidding me.

But she wasn’t.

I sighed and hobbled to the car.