You Never Really Forget

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[The following blog contains discussion of child abuse.]

I got a new bicycle for my tenth birthday. I wish I could say that was a happy memory for me, but as I was in my father’s wood shop later while he was assembling it, he handed his pocket knife to me (I think he’d just used it to open some kind of packaging) and told me to close it. Never having used a pocket knife before, I asked him how to do that, and he told me to just figure it out on my own. I misjudged which side of the blade was the sharp one, of course, and sliced one of my fingers wide open.

That would have been bad enough, but then my father made me stand there, blood dripping onto the concrete below (and in a lot of pain), and wouldn’t even let me wash the cut. I had to wait there until he finished assembling my new bicycle, and only then was I allowed to go wash and bandage the massive cut on my finger. I’m not sure what lesson my father wanted me to glean from that, but the episode only helped me learn even more what an absolute monster and asshole he was. There’s a reason I treat being the black sheep of his side of the family as a badge of honour.

I kind of liked riding bicycles, but I started having less and less time for that in the years that followed (thanks largely to my father, but that’s a story for another time). I’m pretty sure that I got one more bicycle after that one, because I remember taking occasional bike rides into my early twenties, but it’s been close to twenty years since I even had a bicycle. I want to say that my last bicycle went missing after the house fire we had in 2001, but let’s just say I have my suspicions of who really got their hands on it, and save the details for some other time. (I swear that this isn’t a prolonged advertisement for my future memoirs, although I will take this opportunity to remind you that I have a novel you can buy, and it’s pretty darn good, so go order a couple of dozen copies for you and your friends and loved ones.)

The thing about the part of suburban Toledo where I grew up is that even though there’s a lot of beauty nearby — a couple of pristine parks and an excellent trail — I always preferred to walk through those places, so I could take my time soaking everything in. More to the point, there were a lot of good stores that I could walk to, but I never felt like there were any that were in good biking distance. Especially after I finally got my driver’s licence, bicycling just didn’t appeal to me any longer, and since I started back at college around the time that my last bicycle disappeared, biking just totally fell off my radar for a long time.

Here in small-town Wisconsin, though, that’s no longer the case. The more of this place I get to know, the more I realize that having a bicycle again would be more than a little useful, at least if we don’t get a scorching summer here to make up for the deep freezes we had a few months ago. A few international students bought bicycles to get around campus as soon as they got here, and I’ve looked up bike paths on Google Maps, and I feel like I could really get to a lot of useful places here with a bicycle. That doesn’t even take into account the exercise I need to get (my recent moves have forced me to shelve my dance games, but I’m working on that), or the environmental impact of cutting down on my driving (although I’ll still have to make regular trips to Madison because try as I may, I still can’t live without some of the big-city stuff I got addicted to before I came here).

When I’ve been shopping for bikes online these past few weeks, though, I always start second-guessing myself. I start thinking about the places where I want to go, and it feels like I can divide them up, just like I did in Toledo, between “walking distance” places and “driving distance” places, and what’s left in the middle seems to get smaller and smaller the more and more I think about them. I’d like to think that I’m being smart about making the financial investment in a new bicycle, but honestly, I’m probably just being lazy. A lot of places here in town probably are in good biking distance for me, and I just don’t want to bother with the physical effort of bicycling, even though I could use the exercise. Toledo was a little different, just because the major roads near my house were not bicycle-friendly, but I don’t have that excuse here. That just makes me feel even more like I’m forcing myself to come up with excuses not to get a bicycle.

I’d been thinking about ordering a bicycle right after I get my next paycheque, but I’m already seeing myself put that off, for no other reason than because I don’t want to bother with the hassle. I did just wrap up a semester this past Friday, which means I have good reason to be tired right now, so maybe I need to think about this some more after I’ve had an opportunity to recharge my batteries. The potential for big and painful mistakes is still there — I’m not sure if I totally believe in that old saying about how no one ever forgets how to ride a bicycle — but at least any cuts I suffer this time around will be from falling down.

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