Lucky birthdays and promises not kept

Permit me a moment of nostalgia, please.

THIS is the gift I got on my “golden” birthday, when I turned eight on the eighth (except I didn’t call it a golden birthday – I only heard that term later. For me, it was going to be my LUCKY birthday).

THIS gorgeous creature. The Sears Free Spirit with the rainbow banana seat. I had never before, and have never since, received a birthday gift that was so perfectly calibrated to the exact me of that exact moment. I had already built this birthday up to massive expectations. The only thing I can compare to the overwhelming anticipation of that day as an adult was awaiting the birth of a child, but even that’s not quite right because I had some idea (or thought I did) of what a baby might entail, and I had no idea what would happen on that birthday but I knew it would be amazing, tremendous, maybe even stupendous, but overall so lucky. Like a thousand rabbits feet. And I woke up that morning to the rainbow bike in the living room and the expectation seemed to check out.

Then I rode her. I jumped on (what is a helmet? like for a motorcycle or something? no, I don’t have that) and raced off down our street. I noticed briefly that our neighbors were having some kind of gathering in their front yard. These were not the nice neighbors that we knew – the Wolfs on the one side and Mrs. Kolodney on the other, these were New People who had only moved in recently. No kids, so basically invisible to us. Maybe I briefly glanced over and that is what caused what happened next. I’d love to blame them, but it was probably just my trademark clumsiness that caused me to very suddenly pull the handle bars to the side, bring the bike to a sudden and unexpected stop which caused me to launch over the handle bars and fall face first, mouth first, on the concrete curb. See that nice open space in the handle bars that I could easily fly through? 70s design at its finest.

I don’t remember much. I remember a flash that happened a beat before the pain. It was sense of the impact. And then there was the pain. And a lot of blood apparently though I didn’t notice at the time. I remember feeling really confused. What happened? What was I doing again? Why was my bike on the ground. My first worry wasn’t injury, partly because I don’t know that I apprehended yet I was actually injured, but my worry was leaving my bike. My main concern was that if I left it, it might be stolen (stolen bikes were concern number one at that time in my life even though I never seemed to know anyone who actually had their bike stolen). So I got myself to my feet, picked up my bike, and walked three houses to home. In my mind it took a long time, like I inched past the neighbors having their front yard party while they just gaped at me, and then somehow was in my mom’s arms being swept away from the scene and into the safety of home. In actuality, I’m sure it all happened very fast. The neighbors probably didn’t have time to rush over to help me because before I could get halfway home my mom was running to my side.

It was a pretty ugly scene. It looked like I had knocked my front teeth out but instead they had been pushed back up into the upper gums. There was a lot of blood the way there is with mouth injuries. But beyond the concussion and dental injury, I was ok. No serious lasting injury. My mom took me down the street to our dentist for an emergency house call (old time dentist who had his practice attached to his house). He was just back from a fishing trip and still stunk like fish but there was really nothing to do, he looked around a bit and said we would just have to wait and see on the teeth, and sent my mom home with instructions to watch for concussion signs. I felt and looked absolutely awful for a while. But over time, the teeth did come back into place (one chipped but both functional) and life went on. I even rode the bike again and fell in love with her all over again, because, look at her, how could I not?

This was…..43 years ago now. But it will always be one of those larger than life memories both for what happened that day (the bike, the accident) and what didn’t happen (the luckiest day of my life, aka the letdown of the century). I think about it at some point almost every single year. Usually out of gratitude of the quiet gifts of a quiet life. Sometimes out of respect for the hard lessons this life can teach us, the things we can survive. This year my quiet gifts are the fact that Margaret came home last night so now I have all three girls under my roof for my birthday. Another quiet gift is writing this while sitting in the backyard, early evening, John reading nearby, dinner made, flowers all around me, feeling simply “well” despite the fact that I had a bit of a grueling work day. That feeling of abundance when your needs are met and your wants are few. I told the girls that all I really wanted to my birthday was to wake up to a perfectly clean kitchen. There is a beautiful strawberry tart with my name on it that Lily made me. I am tired as hell (see below), but I’ll sleep tonight. The world continues to offer marvels and outrages and tragedies outside this small space and this small moment, but here and now, life is ok and that is more than enough today.

3 thoughts on “Lucky birthdays and promises not kept

  1. Ah, the tale of The Bike & The Teeth. No
    one and I mean no one does a dramatic retelling better than a woman in your family. I always remember this story when bikes are involved. Happy birthday!


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