I was The New Girl.
I was a different religion.
I was taller, quieter, complicated.
Despite all this, I did an okay job of blending in – until it was time for the neighborhood kids to gather for an adventure.
They’d all grab their Huffy or BMX, some in Dusty Rose with streamers dangling, others with flashy reflectors woven into the spokes.
Voices would pick up as they kicked off to pedal, dust lifting in the chaos of kids scampering towards a new idea.
Their backs would turn on me. I’d keep up at first, but then they’d pull away.
I’d push myself as we’d come to the curve, everyone else slowing, but then the hill would drop.
I’d quickly fall behind, because my two legs could never keep up with the kids riding their bikes.
Some days I’d let myself get left behind, forgotten. Otherwise occupy myself and pretend it didn’t hurt.
Other days I’d keep on running, eventually finding the pile-up of discarded bikes, panting and sweaty but insistent on not making a big deal of their ditching me.
My inability to ride a bike was the card in their back pockets. If someone got bored or the group was feeling mean, they’d pull it out without warning and taunt me for being the only kid any of them have ever known who couldn’t ride a bike. How stupid I looked chasing after them in the street. How lame I was for not even having a bike to learn on.
I blushed and stammered and fought back tears.
I was mortified at how different I was because of this one skill I didn’t possess, hated how it separated me from the norm, how it made my other differences stand out. How it made me stand out.
The summer I was 11 years old, our lovely elderly neighbor noticed I was wasting away a perfect day. I shyly explained my bike situation, pretending I was okay being alone.
Her earthen eyes saddened as I saw her understanding of my Big Picture. All she knew, all she witnessed without acknowledgement, this was the straw that broke her back.
That weekend, she and her husband walked over a 1960s Huffy Silver Jet for me.
I was overwhelmed and speechless.
For them, I finally learned to ride.
For the rest of the summer I chanted, “I’m rubber you’re glue…” in my head when I rode that bike around town getting mocked for the rusty old jalopy that I relished.
Soon I didn’t need to chant it, I simply didn’t hear them.
During college my bike collected dust in my parents’ basement.
That dust built up as I made decisions that kept me moving, kept me The New Girl, kept me different.
I pressed on, let judgments roll off, let being left behind not hurt as much, felt comfortable being alone, comfortable being me.
Years passed and I eventually had my own kids.
I taught them to ride bikes, fondly wondering whether my old bike was still around.
In 2009, 22 years after the summer I stopped being The One 11-Year-Old Kid On Earth Who Can’t Ride A Bike, my eldest brother arrived for Christmas at my new home. He had me wait inside as he collected my gift, and shocked me by rolling in my old Huffy. He had refurbished it, scrubbed off years of rust and dust.
He even added streamers to the grips for me.
Overwhelmed and speechless again, I sat on that bike and wheeled around my house, surrounded by my family who loves me for being so different from anybody else.
This post was written for a The Red Dress Club Memoir writing prompt. The prompt went like this:
This week we want you to recall something in your life that seemed terrible at the time, but looking back, brought you something wonderful. A positive from a negative experience.
It was a struggle being so different as a kid. We moved the summer I was 7 years old to a town where we were one of 3 families who didn’t attend the many Catholic churches in town. No one else’s parents had been divorced or remarried, had mixed families, dealt with custodial visits. I looked different than my siblings, thought different than my schoolmates. I felt different and longed to blend in, but the inability to ride the bike was a slap in the face whenever I tried to be a true part of The Group.
Being thrown to the wolves so young helped me develop thick skin, get to know myself better in that alone time. It also helped me deeply appreciate what that neighbor did for me, and believe that there were others out there who saw the real Me and would step up to the plate when I needed it.
The part of the story I left out was that my eldest brother was (unwillingly) estranged from me for about 15 years. He knew the story of the bike, and was furious that once I left the town I grew up in no one considered it mine anymore. It is, in fact, vintage and likely worth a little money to sell. That it was a gift to me alone and I never actually relinquished it to anyone didn’t matter.
When he came into my home with that bike that Christmas, I felt every one of those estranged years being filled with my brother’s desire to be in my life. I felt a love and understanding and thoughtfulness that I haven’t been shown many times in my life. I felt all the things that made me different be totally accepted and appreciated.
I felt that it was my differences that drew the people I love to me, and knew I no longer wished to change any of it.