It's officially the last day of school, in my household at least. Although the weather hasn't cooperated, I'm looking forward to slowing down. To long walks and time to think. To watching little girls ride bicycles…
First published June, 2008
It was the best part of a summer day: When the long, cool twilight winds us down; when light plays with shadows and night moves up, painting the edges of the horizon. When the moon chases the sun across the sky.
When stars appear and the air is heavy with the perfume of red roses and green grass and hamburgers cooked on the grill. When cats pounce on imaginary prey and dogs bark, passing the word that the day is done.
I walked my own silly dogs, walking off a long day at work, walking off my dinner and shaking off the weight of everything that had settled on me since I opened my eyes that morning. They strained at their leashes, pulling me forward. I pulled back, dawdling, distracted by the scenes in the windows of the houses I passed. Golden windows that gave me glimpses of other lives. Other interiors.
I heard voices and looked up to see her coming toward me, riding under the branches of the tall shade trees that line the boulevard.
She was astride a shiny new bicycle. A helmet was strapped under her chin, her hands gripped the handlebars and her skinny legs pumped the pedals. Her face was tight with concentration.
Her father, home from work, still dressed in his crisp white shirt and dark trousers, trotted behind her. His arms were outstretched, ready to catch her if she lost control and crashed.
She raced down the sidewalk, passing me as I stopped on the pavement to watch, and was gone. Her father tossed a smile as he ran past.
Maybe it was the time of day, the shadowy, magical part of the day when time is fluid and plays tricks on us; when what was and what is stop for an instant and exchange glances. Perhaps it was my mood, tinged with violet like the evening sky.
But for a heartbeat, I was that little girl. For an instant I was 6 years old. I could feel the handlebars in my hands, and the pedals against the soles of my shoes.
The world rushed by me as I flew down the streets of my neighborhood, leaning into the curves as the wind tangled in my hair. I had wings. I had wheels. I was free to push myself as far as I dared to go, yet I was still safe. If I fell, there was someone there to save me.
The man and the child rounded the corner and were gone, heading home. My dogs, impatient with the delay, tugged at their leads, anxious to travel. They had things to see before calling it a day.
I walked on, but my mind was light years away. I was a girl on a bike. I was a mother, my heart in my throat, watching a child, wobbling and weaving, navigate the world without training wheels.
I could see who I had been. What escaped me, is who I have become.
And then, just as night settled around me, it was clear: I’m still a bit of both. I still have my wings. I still have my wheels.
And if I fall? I pick myself up.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org