reading through my old papers from a creative writing class i took in college, i found this. enjoy!
I used to be a slow learner. It used to take me forever to figure out how to do things. I tried to hide behind it in little ways, never acknowledging the kids who asked me why I still wore Velcro shoes, or why I had to place a finger after every word I wrote to ensure I would leave the proper amount of space. Mom used to tell me I was just more dedicated to my education, so I took my time. It didn’t bother me; I never noticed it. I eventually learned how to tie my shoes and correctly space my words, it just took me a little longer than everybody else. I even eventually got faster at learning things in general. But, like I said, I used to be a slow learner.
I remember the day my parents bought me my first bike. I was turning eight and all I wanted was a bike. All the boys in my neighborhood rode bikes and I wasn’t about to go against the Day Street norm. So, a bike I received. It was army green and just my size – once Dad adjusted the seat. It was from the second-hand store because Mom said we were “on a budget” but it didn’t matter to me. The reflectors shone bright as beams of light and the handlebar even had a horn. I was ecstatic, to say the least. I felt like I was on cloud nine as I began to mount my very own bike for the first time. It fit me perfectly and it felt natural to be seated on it. My hands gripped the rubber handles and I saw the reflection of my glasses in the metal handlebars. I gripped so tight that the rubber ridges left ridges on my palms.
I gave it a little bounce. I liked the way the tires sprang me back up. I was lost in the moment, bouncing and gripping. It was sensational.
“Now Rach,” Dad began. “You haven’t quite learned how to ride a bike yet, so for now we’re going to have to attach…”
Don’t say it, I thought. I know you’re not going to make me use…
My cloud quickly evaporated. As I left my position of excitement, I could already hear Michael Spencer and little Steven Ebelheir laughing.
“We also bought you a helmet and matching wrist guards. We don’t want you having any accidents!”
This was getting worse and worse by the minute. What’s next? I wondered. A leash-harness so that I don’t wander too far on my four wheeled bike?
Though my disappointment sank heavy at first, I bounced back with resilience and regained my original enthusiasm for my new hobby. I began riding my bike every second I had. My street had an excellent hill and once you reached the tip top there was a huge flat part – perfect for a beginner like myself. All my free time went to riding my bike. I even remember getting my hair cut and all I could talk about was my bike.
“What kinds of dolls do you like to play with these days, Rachel?” Coleen asked me.
“I don’t play with dolls, I ride my bike!”
“She doesn’t play with dolls? Not even Barbies?” She seemed shocked.
“No, she loves riding her bike. If you had asked me what I thought my little girl would love, I would have said Barbies, too. Turns out you just need to give her two wheels and she’s a happy camper!” Mom replied.
My younger brother almost never spoke. He was either too busy sucking his bottom lip or sleeping. But every once in awhile, he decided to contribute to the verbal dialogue that surrounded him. Usually when he piped up, it was like ice cream on a hot day, and you wanted to be sure to listen.
“Four wheels,” he corrected. This was not one of those ice cream times.
I trained on my bike like a runner for a marathon. It was all I could think about, and every day I rode just a little bit longer. I would race home after school and practice riding before my friends came home from their after-school activities. I didn’t want anyone to see me in my training wheels. Unfortunately, my friends would catch me every once in awhile and as they raced past me on their perfectly-balanced two-wheeled bikes, I would grimace and pretend that maybe they didn’t see my secret little helpers. Months passed of this charade. Slow learner or not, this was getting ridiculous. I was going to have to get rid of these soon or say goodbye to my social status in the neighborhood.
The day I rode without my training wheels was monumental. I felt like I had crossed a bridge that I would never even get to; a memory that will be filed right next to my wedding day and the day I hear the first cry of my newborn baby. With the wind in my hair and the sun on my back, I rode like a pro. No longer was there the annoying sound of the extra wheels on the ground. No longer was all my dependence on those little wheels; I was all on my own balancing like a pro. As I heard Papa in the distance screaming “Way to go, Rach!” I knew that I had accomplished a major feat, and I could not wait to show off to my friends.
The next event I remember quite vividly. In fact, it is probably one of the most traumatizing experiences I have ever had. A new boy had moved onto Day Street. He was eight years old and had no siblings; a perfect addition to our cohort. I journeyed down my driveway and into the street where Michael, Steven, and a few others were gathered in a semi-circle.
“What are we doing?” I asked.
“We need to meet this new kid, doy!” bellowed Steven.
The new kid – Jonathan – slowly left his driveway. His overwhelming precaution made his feet move so slowly, I thought he forgot how to make his legs push the pedals. He slowly rode over and I heard a sound that triggered my gag-reflex. What is that? I wondered. I couldn’t place the familiar noise. Then I saw what made me both incredibly happy and unequivocally scared all at the same time.
Training wheels. His bike had training wheels. I wasn’t the last eight year old to use training wheels! It relieved a part of me that still thought I was the slowest learner of all. It was both refreshing and nerve-wracking, all at the same time.
We began to interrogate Jonathan. We shot several questions at him and found out he watched the same cartoons as us, but had never cut a worm in half. Tim told him about the vitamins in ants and Steven began to tell a joke. It was the only joke he ever told because it had a bad word in it. Steven’s mom told him he couldn’t use that word, but he did anyway. I never told on him though because Steven was bigger than me and one time he sat on me when I wouldn’t give him my Dilly Bar.
Jonathan did his best to only give one-word answers and I was about to write him off as the “shy-and-quiet type” that Mom always said my brother was. But then he took in a deep breath and looked around at all of our bikes. He checked them out like he was taking inventory and everyone fell silent. He then seemed amazed as he realized the one similarity between all of us.
“Wow, you guys ride your bikes without training wheels?” he asked.
My face got hot. What I wanted to say was it’s okay, Jonathan! I wanted to say that not everyone knows how to and it’s hard, it’s so hard. It took me like months and months longer than any of these boys and that has nothing to do with me being a slow learner – it’s hard stuff to ride a bike without training wheels. I wanted to scream reassurance at him so that he knew he wasn’t the only one in the world who hadn’t learned by now. I wanted to say all of that. Instead, I said something entirely different.
“Yeah, we’ve been riding without training wheels for like a year!”
You know those moments in movies where someone says something really stupid and everyone who is watching the movie is screaming at that person to “take it back!” and “tell the truth!” but the person in the movie can’t hear them because they aren’t paying attention to the most obvious things in the world? That’s kind of how I felt.
For a good 35 seconds, everyone was eerily quiet. Then Michael Spencer looked at me. I have failed to mention thus far that Michael Spencer was two things to me; my neighborhood friend, and the boy of my dreams. I secretly believed we were going to be in love and I doodled his name on my Lisa Frank binder in places no one could see.
He stared at me long and hard and before I knew what to do, he spoke.
“Whatever, Rachel! You just got your training wheels off last week!”
It took approximately .3 seconds for everyone to erupt in laughter, and even less time for my face to turn bright red. My heart dropped into my stomach and felt like it was going to fall out. I probably shouldn’t have said that, I thought.
As they all rode off, New Kid included, I sank slowly into my army green bike seat. Mortified and completely demoralized, I headed home. The scene could only have been more pathetic if it had started raining.
I hung my head low as I took off my wrist guards. I didn’t know why I had lied and I didn’t know when I would regain respect from my peers. In later years, I would learn that it didn’t really matter what they thought. I learned that it’s okay if I take a little bit longer to learn things. But, like I said. I used to be a slow learner.