I want to achieve flight.
So many have gone before me, effortlessly attaining what I have struggled to reach for so long – days that feel like weeks, weeks that feel like a lifetime. I have watched with envy, pausing at the windows just to see them glide with ease. My breath fogs the glass, reminding me that there is a solid barrier separating me from my dream. Yet, I have also been awed and encouraged by their success, and I would not take from them the joy I will soon possess for myself.
My parents have been encouraging, pushing me when I am defeated, holding me back when I become obsessed. They watch me with a painful sort of longing in their eyes – what I now understand to be a parent's desire to give their child what he so passionately wants. Yet they cannot: this is my battle, my bull to tame.
My knees and elbows are raw and scabbed, but I no longer notice these injuries. I am not certain they will ever fully vanish. I have fallen repeatedly from such great heights. I pass from discouragement to determination like an oscillating fan, with the same clockwork regularity. I become frustrated that no one shares my dream; I grow angry with myself that no one else struggles the way I do.
Today is the day, I tell myself. Unfortunately, I have told myself that every day, more and more fervently as I draw no nearer to success than I did the day before. Yet, I cannot give up. It is a drug, a challenge. A child cannot understand utter defeat.
So I strap on my wings again. I pray to Jesus for success, because that is who we worship. There is a sense of calm in my guts, something that is cool and soothing as the magnificent August sun beats down on my neck, casting long, sprawling shadows on the grass in the backyard as the day rolls towards its death. I walk with confidence. No, not confidence. Not quite determination either, because I am past the point of mere desire. Hope, perhaps? Maybe this is desperation.
My steed awaits in the garage, canting against one cinderblock wall, draped in a ray of sun from the broken window across the grimy pingpong table. There is nothing truly noteworthy about her other than her mute, unquestionable loyalty and her sturdy dependence, qualities any boy my age would value in his bike. She is not a Schwinn or a Whyte or a Derosa – nothing like what the boys out on the streets are riding. In fact, expansive stains of magenta rust on the handlebars and the body have effectively erased any brand name my eyes could have recognized. But what truly is in a name? She is a misfit, a castaway, and yet to me she is invaluable: a trash–picked treasure, unquestionably mine.
And today, it is our day to finally fly.
If she senses my nervousness through my touch, she does not react. She is impassive as ever, yet I can tell that she is as eager to soar as I am. I walk her out into the glorious sunset and onto the rocky drive, gripping the cold steel handlebars. Rocks crunch fatefully beneath my Converse in the summer stillness. The world is holding its breath for me – for us.
I swing my leg over the seat and plant my foot on the pedal. Without hesitation, I push off with my other foot, and suddenly we are moving forward, gliding on freshly pumped tires. I find the other pedal and pump, propelling us down the gravel towards the distant end of the drive and the street beyond. I am moving, but I can already feel my center of balance shifting unevenly. I glare down at my dirty white toes, willing myself to stay upright.
To no avail. Before I topple, I plant one foot in the dust, managing to keep myself upright. The bike beneath me remains silently determined, unphased by the sudden halt. Her resolution is what drives me on.
Again we start down the runway, and again we barely make it halfway before I have to extend the landing gear prematurely. This time I am closer to falling and have to hop on one foot several times, digging my heel into the dust firmly to bring myself safely to a halt. I snort a frustrated breath out my nostrils.
I will not go inside until I have achieved flight.
Shadows stretch further on the ground. The sun is kissing the roofs of the houses down the drive, lining the street. The evening is cooling gradually but the humidity remains high as lightning bugs begin their soundless symphony beneath the trees. My right elbow is bleeding again, and so is my hand. I have fallen at least four times, started down the drive again and again, and yet I am still no closer to my goal. In the blossoming twilight, I inhale deeply, adjusting the helmet on my head, thankful in retrospect that I have been wearing it through the worst of my falls, regardless of how silly it looks. Moms know best, after all.
I push off once more onto the drive, knowing that it will be the last attempt of the evening. Dad has turned on the porch light and soon the call will come from behind the screen door for me to come inside. My heart is heavy at the prospect of nursing my new injuries beneath the bathroom faucet with no profit to show for them and no true glimmer of hope for the morning. I am resigned to never learning, never riding without training wheels, never flying. Boys all over the world never learn to ride a bike, right? I can't possibly be the only one. And how bad would it really be to never ride down the street? Is that really an experience of life that one should never miss?
Beneath me, my bicycle remains firm and wordlessly resolute. Her spokes tick as I pump the pedals. I can barely make out the once–white laces of my Chucks in the darkness. The dirt is a moving carpet beneath my tires.
The breeze picks up as I wobble towards the end of the drive, concentrating hard on pedaling, gripping the handlebars in desperation. And then, as the voice of my mother calls through the darkness and I lift my eyes to the porch to respond –
I have stepped from the boat onto land. The rocking ceases. Instability vanishes. For a moment, I am too confused to realize what has happened. Everything feels so natural as I cruise effortlessly down the drive, as though I have been riding for years instead of seconds. And suddenly, I realize there was nothing to learn, no concept to grasp. All I had to do was look up. All I had to do was see.
The crickets celebrate. The sun has gone, but the moon is a silver spotlight for me. My bike offers silent praise. The crunch of gravel beneath our wheels is glorious fanfare. The wind carries us on.
I am flying.