Wednesday, June 10, 2009

bruises & scrapes

in a small town in france i learned how to ride a bicycle that looked very much like this bike. it was a town in the middle of nowhere— surrounded by forest, it was a place of thin roads, vegetable gardens, and quaint cottages. we lived there for about four months. my mother's boyfriend grew up in this town. we lived with his parents— always in an apron, his mother cooked rabbit stews and his father spent all day with his back bent in the garden. i was 7 years old, or maybe 8. it was summertime and my brother quickly made friends with the other children that lived on that same road, and together they wildly roamed through the forest— picking blackberries, lighting firecrackers, chasing after deer and foxes and squirrels. they would come back with berry-juice stained lips and tired limbs and secret smiles. we didn't speak french and they knew very little english, but somehow that didn't matter with my brother and his friends. and because i hadn't made my own friends, sometimes i would follow them, and they would let me. the only girl, and younger— they let me struggle to keep up and laughed when i stumbled and took turns jumping out from behind trees and bushes to scare me. if i wasn't panting after them, i walked the quiet roads with my mother or followed my almost-grandfather around his garden, helping him pick snails off his lettuce. and then one day i found that bicycle in the shed in the back of the garden. it belonged to my almost-grandmother, it was much too big, a bit battered and rusty. but i thought it was magnificent. i didn't ask anyone, i didn't tell anyone. i just took it out of the garden and wheeled it to the road. our road wasn't flat, there was a slight incline and so once i figured out how to balance and pedal (without sitting on the seat), i would just let the bike coast down the little hill (now sitting down on the seat) and stick my legs out and up to avoid the spinning pedals. then i would walk the bicycle up the hill and do it over and over again. i spent days and days like this. nobody asked me to stop or be careful. but when my mother saw the bruises and scrapes up and down my shins and knees from the banging pedals that were somtimes just too fast, she ran her hands down my legs and laughed and said—"i hope they don't leave scars, because some day that will matter. some day, you will care about that."

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