“A beautiful day for a bicycle ride. Don’t you think?” my cousin, Leslie, said.
Indeed the sky hadn’t a cloud in sight. A refreshing spring breeze lightly touched the new budding foliage on the trees and kept the bugs at bay.
Leslie had come to spend a two-week vacation with us on our farm just after the school year ended. The reason why was unknown to me and my sister, Debbie, but we had our suspicions that it had something to do with boys. We were all headed into our teens and boys had become a subject of great interest.
Now we didn’t have extra bicycles lying around the farm. Debbie had hers, I had mine and my older sister by nine years, Luzon, still had hers, despite hardly ever using it. We hoped she would lend it to us.
“No,” Luzon said, “but one of you can ride with me.”
Why on earth Luzon would want to go on a bicycle ride with us kids was beyond me. Did Mom think we needed chaperoning or something?
As usual, she took over the outing and started dictating orders. I, being the youngest, ended up with little to say in the business and found myself trying to balance on the handlebar of Luzon’s bike. We headed down the dirt road that ran parallel to the Salt Lake canal with Debbie leading, Leslie following on my bike, and Luzon and I straggling behind. Debbie carried a small picnic lunch in her basket on her bike for all of us.
I could immediately tell this balancing on a small bar with no place to stabilize my feet would prove highly difficult. My left tennis shoe hit the spokes on the wheel.
“I don’t think this is going to work,” I said, acid already building in my stomach.
“Of course it will,” Luzon said. “Keep your feet out of the spokes.” She continued to pedal over the rocky, potholed road.
“That’s what I’m trying to say, Luzon. I can’t do this. Let me off.” My shoe hit the spokes again to prove my point.
“Just do it.”
I was trying my hardest to stay balanced while we bounced over the rough road. Luzon tried to steer clear of as many potholes as possible, which meant she kept turning the handlebar. My feet didn’t exactly get the signal from my butt that we were turning a particular direction. My feet instinctively looked to balance on something and they both hit the spokes.
“Please let me off,” I said. “I…I…I’ll walk. I don’t mind. I’ll run and try to keep up. Or, I’ll walk home. Just please let me off.”
“No,” she said. “Keep your feet out of the spokes.”
I couldn’t do it. My hands trembled and weakened. My butt ached and had turned numb. My legs wouldn’t cooperate. I desperately, and I mean desperately, wanted off. I pleaded with Luzon again. She refused. Could I jump clear of the bike? I doubted it. What could I say or do to convince her to let me off? I felt like a trapped fly in a web.
My dry mouth gave me a clue. “I’m thirsty,” I said. “Stop, please. I need a drink.”
“Just shut up and hold on.”
I felt outraged…trapped…controlled…not listened to…ignored…scared as hell. I should know whether or not I could continue to ride like this. Why wouldn’t she listen to me? I hated feeling helpless and desperate.
We had just about reached the main, paved road. I’d jump off when she had to stop for traffic. Instead, she hit the pavement and continued right on up the street. Debbie and Leslie were quite a distance ahead of us at this point. Luzon struggled to pedal us both up the hill.
My shoe hit the spokes and the bike jerked.
“I’m telling you, I can’t do this,” I said angrily.
The bike jerked again.
“Stop hitting the—”
The front tire stopped turning as my shoe lodged into the spokes. I felt the weight of Luzon hit my back as she sailed over the top of me, landing on the asphalt face first. The bike kept me grounded, but I skidded down the road on my chin, my foot still intertwined with the wheel. Dazed, I looked up to see Luzon covering her mouth with her hands, blood dripping. She took off running for home. I was trapped by the bicycle. Debbie had spotted us and she and Leslie made their way back to me. We managed to release my foot. Surprisingly, it wasn’t broken.
I couldn’t take my mind off why Luzon had been determined to force me to do something I knew I couldn’t. Anger, turmoil, and desperation filled me as we sadly made our way home, the picnic ruined.
Luzon had seriously broken off her front teeth, requiring numerous trips to the dentist. I ended up with a scab the size of a tea candle on my chin that lasted for months. I’d like to think both Luzon and I had learned a lesson that day, but unfortunately it was a pattern we repeated a number of times over the years.
Today I am still traumatized when someone tries to force me to do something with which I’m uncertain as to my skill level. I think that should be my choice, and that’s why I like this quote:
“I was not designed to be forced. I will breathe after my own fashion. Let us see who is the strongest.”
― Henry David Thoreau
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