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It wasn’t fair. I, at the ripe old age of seven, couldn’t ride a bike. At the time, everything in my world was divided by rank of age, from intelligence to height to ability to do just about anything. So, why could my six-year-old brother ride a bike? In fact, there were kids I could remember from preschool who could ride without training wheels. Where did that leave me? The oldest girl in the entire world who couldn’t. This couldn’t go on.
I was determined, and this determination carried me through hours of tentative coasts across our driveway, afraid to pedal or use the breaks. I’d veer off onto the grass and leap off the bike as soon as it began to waver, watching as it fell to its side with the wheels still spinning uselessly in the air.
The sun turned from the white of afternoon to the gold of evening, and I stood next to the garage, staring down the stretch of asphalt that dared to contest my will. I straddled my bicycle and, placed one foot on the pedal, steeling myself for the trial ahead. This would be the time. It had better be.
The other foot left the ground, and I pushed the pedals and chain abruptly into gear, feeling myself shoot forwards in a straight line, and seeing my long shadow roll across next to me. Ecstatic, I pedaled again, turning the l-shape of the driveway. I pedaled backwards, feeling my movement go thick and slow as the brakes kicked in. The front wheel ground to a halt six inches from the edge of the road. Breathless after the approximately eight seconds on the move, I put my feet down and stepped carefully over the seat to stand beside it. I let out a slow breath, putting the kickstand reverently down before I dared take my hands from the handlebars.
After all that fuss, it wasn’t really that hard. For goodness sake, what was there to be that excited about?
Everything. I jumped up and down, shaking with joy I couldn’t quite contain.
“YES!” I screamed, putting on the most animated show of achievement I could manage for the empty sunlit street, forced to bear witness to what was, at that particular moment, the peak of my existence so far. I turned and ran into the house, pounding the walk deliberately hard, enjoying the slap of my sneakers on the stones and the way the front garden streaked by, my legs in their flowered print the only movement in the evening air, turning it all into a blur.
I stormed triumphantly in to the house, announcing my victory to the assembled family members. They watched me ride until it got to dark to see, applauding appreciatively the first few times, before giving way to patient waiting for my to wear out my pride. I didn’t need their applause to egg me on. The balloon in my stomach inflated each time I thought through it. I could do it! I did it! On my own! I’m riding. Right now! Right! Now! Now! I can ride under my own power forever and ever, and nobody can stop me or change that fact.
I felt like there was a ceremony missing at dinner, where nobody seemed to care overly much that I was now about fifteen times cooler then I was when I got up this morning. I ate my chicken with relish. I glowed through the whole ordeal of getting ready for bed, radiating a level of self-congratulation that was probably sickening to the rest of the household. I blame that for the comment so thoughtfully provided by my little brother, Harrison, as we raced each other into our pajamas.
“You know, everyone can ride a bike.”
“Not everyone.” He struggled to look disdainful while shoving both arms into the same sleeve, nearly toppling over.
“Julia, even I can ride a bike.”
“Alden can’t ride a bike.” There was a pause as he groped for a comeback.
“Yeah, well… Alden’s two!”
“Hm,” I allowed, getting into bed, having won the race, as I had every night in living memory. I pulled the covers up to my chin, feeling as if someone had taken my balloon of pride and sucked out the helium to make their voice squeaky. Harrison was right. Anyone could ride a bike. Why was the fact that I was now a part of the general, cycling population call for such thrill? What made me any different from every other seven year old, Caucasian female in the country who could pedal her own two wheels? I thought about it, and after a few moments, my figurative balloon inflated, to its previous size if not bigger.
If that was really the case, then there would be no sense of accomplishment. Every time m Mom said I was special would be a lie. I would be a clone amongst clones, knowing that I could only catch up to the pack, never able to overtake anyone. The best I could be would be average.
But I had learned myself. How many people could say that? I stuck my tongue out in the general direction of Harrison, lying in bed through two walls and a hallway. I was once again a superior human being. The world was back in order of age. My work here was done, and I could go back to reading Harry Potter under my covers, content with my lot in life. And tomorrow, I could ride my bike.