The Truth About Falling, by Katy

I'm not sure what this is, whether it's a story, a poem, or simply a long extended metaphor. Maybe it's all three, or something that can't be defined. Whatever it's categorized as, my heart is fully in this. Because, although I have never fallen off my bike on the side of a country road, this experience has happened to me. The experience of totally wiping out, having someone offer a helping hand, and eventually letting go of the hand that saved you. This is the truth about falling.

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I fell. Fell so damn hard racing down the rough gravel sides of the neighborhood hill. I thought I was invincible, a little kid on a three-speed bike. No helmet, no kneepads, nothing but adrenaline as the wind whipped in my hair and pushed my tires faster, faster. Until I fell. Toppled, tumbled, landed bruised on the side of the country road.

Truth is, I never knew how to ride that bike. Never knew how to stop by pedaling backwards, never knew how to steer by moving the handlebars to one side. I knew how to get on, and I knew how to pedal. Good enough, I figured. I had seen the big kids riding their bikes, just pushing pedals and gliding as I turned green with envy watching from my front porch. Until I tried. And until I fell, hitting the gravel with the same speed I had been enjoying the minute before.

I had never fallen like this before. Never gotten any injury worse than a scraped knee, a stubbed toe. Couldn't move, couldn't breathe. That prized three-speed lay dented next to me and tears of pain rolled down my six-year-old face.

And this is where our story begins.

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I remember how I looked up at you as I laid there, wiping the tears from my flooding eyes, and told you quite smugly, that of course I knew what I was doing. I wanted to be like the big kids, cruising down the street effortlessly coasting. I didn't want to admit that I had pretty much collapsed - in spite of the fact that I could barely manage to pull myself up from the roadside. You wanted me to stand, to ride again. You wanted to teach me. Teach me how to ride this bike, in all its chipped-paint, dented-metal glory.

I struggled to my feet, refusing your hand. Guess that fall had taken more of a toll on me than I first thought. Arms bruised, ankle twisted, knees scraped... I was bleeding without knowing it. Laying on the gravel had numbed my hands. Again I told you I was fine. Swung my knocked-up leg over the seat of my battered three-speed, put my feet on the pedals again, and proceeded to show you just how fine I was.

I took off, with all the zest and zeal an injured six-year-old could muster. And I fell. Fell so damn hard. Again.

And as I lay there, crying harder than ever, you offered your hand. I took it and pulled myself up. Slowly, so slowly, but I pulled myself up.

I got back on that bike. Granted, it had some dents, but you told me it was fixable. I liked that word, fixable. I rolled it around in my mind for a while, picturing my silver bike restored to its original shine. Fixable.

You guided me down the road, steadying my wheels, my handlebars. I couldn't go too fast - I had fallen and was afraid to fall again. You told me I would be okay. I focused intensely, keeping my balance, my speed. Sometimes I toppled, sometimes I teetered, but you stayed, guiding me. And even when I'd fall, it was never too hard of a landing.

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In time, I learned how to ride that bike. You went with me to get training wheels and a helmet; I decorated my bike with stickers and a handlebar basket. You showed me how to wedge a playing card between the spokes of my wheel. And you were right - the scratches and dents that marred my bike were, in fact, quite fixable.

With you I learned how to stop by pedaling backwards. It took what seemed forever and a half to become used to it, but I mastered it eventually. I learned how to steer, how to coast... even how to go fast without falling. Sure, I fell sometimes... but I'd be back up soon.

And as I got better at riding, you guided me less and less. I could balance on my own, I could steer my bike where I wanted to go. I still took comfort from your guiding hand, the promise of help if I fell.

There came a day when I wanted to ride faster, ride more. I was confident enough to know I could ride down a hill, ride on that same gravelly country road, and stay upright. There came a day when I didn't need training wheels, didn't need your help balancing, steering. And when that day came along, you walked me to the top of that hill, and watched me fly. Watched me fly down that road with the wind in my hair and my silver bike shining, watched me round the bend with the grace that you taught me.

I've fallen a lot - I have the bruises and skinned knees to prove it. But I've risen a lot too, and if success is getting up once oftener than you fall, then I believe I have been successful. And even if you're no longer helping me steer that shiny three-speed bike, every time I hear that card clicking in the tires I'll remember how you taught me the truth about falling. And as I'm flying down that gravelly hill, I'll be smiling.