Thursday, July 5, 2012

training wheels

Living in a state of psychic unrest, in a Borderland, is what makes poets write and artists create.*

I taught myself to ride a bike when I was around seven or eight years old. For some, that's a bit late for a young kid. Now, almost 23 years later, my current bike's front tire is slightly crooked and in need of some attention. Recently, I realized that I have taught myself most of the things that I know and have come to rely on. And that's not usually my first instinct.

When I first began to learn, my dad would run along side of me, with one hand clasped over my tiny brown fingers. The other hand held onto the back of the bicycle seat, guiding it along. I would pretend like I was riding alone, despite the fact that someone was holding onto me. He knew it, too. I could tell. Still in his slacks and tie from working all day and a Kool Mild tucked under his top lip, he would hide an exhausted smile. And, I would look up at him instead of the path ahead, enjoying the ride. My driveway was this long slab of cement that extended the span of my house, past our yard with the grapevine and maple tree, ending at the storage unit. The cement of the driveway was cracked and uneven, certainly not ideal for bicycle lessons. Although, most folks saw our home as the "neighborhood house". It's where all the young kids that lived on my block would come and play. My parents and other neighborhood parents would trade off on who kept an eye on the youngins that were riding around in our Big Wheels and terrorizing weeds with garbage pots and kitchen utensils. Therefore, I often found an audience for my consistently failed sessions on my big girl bike.

There was also a tiny ditch. It ran along the grass in the yard of the duplex next door. It was a wide dip in the soil that was combination of broken cement and consistent mud, regardless of the weather. A mud puddle, essentially, but it appeared enormous to my rebellious, doe eyes. I could feel it preparing for my young fate. And there was evidence. The little boy next door had cracked his head on it one day while playing wildly without his helmet. Since then, my pals and I were scared of that ditch.

Picture language precedes thinking in words; the metaphorical mind precedes analytical consciousness.*

When I began to realize that I was quickly becoming the oldest person with training wheels in my neighborhood, my dad removed them from my bicycle. I don't remember the specific day that I rode forward freely, but I do remember this day. Several months passed, and I had resigned to not riding at all since that meant that I would have to learn. I could identify a clear desire to ride independently, but I also wasn't quite ready. I began to hide indoors in the AC when I noticed more of my friends whizzing past me on two wheels. It was time for me to get out there.

One summer afternoon, I decided that I was finally ready to learn. And I knew that it needed to happen on my own. I ate dinner and stared out of the window at my opponent--the cement driveway. I asked my mom if I could go outside. My dad was away for the weekend on Reserve duty, so I knew that this was opportunistic Peter Pan time. The yard was empty and my mother kept the back door open and sat by the window, either reading or watching evening television. "Be careful!", she hollered out the window as I ran out of the house, missing the last porch step. This was a great start. Undiscouraged, I stood up and threw myself onto my bike, believing that I would expertly ride off into the sunset, because at that age, my fresh inner faith was my superpower. I believed that it was all that I needed. And it was. Not just yet, though. I needed to fall a couple of times, get up, and fall all over again. I needed practice.

So there I was in a tangled heap of pink bicycle and brown body, lying on the concrete with cuts on my elbows and ankles. My arms had been flung above my head and immediately, I jumped up wondering if anyone saw me. No one was around. Except my dear mother, shouting out the window, "to get my ass inside". That summer, she would occasionally stand with me as I tried "walking" my bike with one leg, letting the other leg dangle over the seat. But my mother wasn't too fond of the heat. She preferred her indoor AC serenade in her nightgown, with her latest Danielle Steele close by. I couldn't blame her. As an elementary school teacher, summer was her time to chill.

I brushed myself off, lifted my tiny bike upright, and prepared to jump right back on. Again, I haphazardly threw my leg over the seat, extending my foot towards the pedal, pushing off, hoping that my other foot would make it to the other pedal. This second fall hurt more. I landed hard and the handlebars whipped around and smacked me in the face. The wind flew out of me which was challenging because I hadn't quite caught my breath after the previous fall. It was becoming clear that I had no idea what I was doing. I lay there for a moment, scanning the grass, suddenly wishing that I wasn't alone.

And then I saw it. The ditch. At that moment, my bicycle had been replaced. Now, overcoming this ditch became my new priority. All of my self determination had escaped me and I became fixated on avoidance rather than completion. Eyeing the ditch, I stood up, very carefully. Determined that if I saw it, watched it, and kept it in sight, it couldn't hurt me. I fell several more times after that, ripping my baby skin and engraving my checkbones and knee caps with gravel. I began to feel, less and less--pain and fear. My determination to ride had become a bit blind. Invisible, even. This fleeting destiny that I believed in my young heart would be fatal, couldn't happen to me. However, I wasn't aware that it already had. The abstract fear of falling into that "ditch" had been a successful distraction from actually learning how to ride. Instead, I was continuing to repeat my flailing series of falling and catching myself--creating new scars. Marks that discolored my skin and not my memories. However, my skin's disappearing marks represented the "forgetfulness" that was beginning to inform my personhood.

And, eventually, I fell in the ditch.

I survived.

I did manage to ride for a brief moment. My pedals rotated around my bike chain, at least 3 times that day. Immediately after, I leaned a bit too far to the left and landed in the soft grass. My equilibrium tactics were a tad off and I kept trying to push forward a bit crooked and off balance. I could never do anything in a straight line. But fortunately, I finally learned how to land.

She learns to transform the small "I" into the total self.*

(excerpt from Letting Go)
*Borderlands/La Frontera, Gloria Anzaldua