Growing Pains and Grit
The garage door clamped down, cinching like too-snug denim. A familiar echo signaled along with this thump of finality, obscuring the now-vacated space, recently rid of the slick-tired, red-wine bicycle trimmed yellowed white.
The brick home receded with every pedal forward, advancing the heavy-headed Jonah, who leaned left into the leveled dirt. Weaving through the forest’s tapestry, the tires sunk into the leveled path.
He remembered the pristine condition of the peace-offering, the response to the transition of “a break,” as sugar-coated by his father—the understatement of the year.
In response, Jonah went mute; the thinly veiled band-aid a skilled assumption. He loved it.
Scrambling downhill melted his dense bones into feathers that allowed him to soar against gravity. His insides became wisps of clouds with every sharp turn.
He could almost touch the baby blue tricycle, a bribe after witnessing that colossal fight.
The next day, the engine came to a halt at the edge of their property.
Starting with gravel trickled into place, the sediment declined downward into the humanmade trail. It was built by his Great Grandfather, something that could only be reached by foot beforehand.
Overlooked by trees contorted to their liking, the branches jutted out to wrap around one another and created a circular shape, through which the orb of heat peered, the background canvassed by an amethyst sky intermingled with the waning day.
Silence acted as a weighted blanket of comfort, interrupted only by delightful songs rippling from faceless birds. High-pitched bell-like sounds erupted that invited a sense of tranquility.
The gusts of wind picked up that day, steering the fragile tree limbs everywhere until one snapped.
Disrupting the now visible origin of melody, a ruffled red-winged blackbird, once snug atop her paper-colored eggs, shot upward like a firework in response. As his father continued, obscured by the bending wood, he stood watching the stream of nature. The startled creature descended like a yanked thread back onto her charge.
Ready to oppose the threat, broken branch, or the impending claws locked on their neck, the mother remained stagnant in her life-long duty, ingrained with needs above herself.
“C’mon daylight’s losing,” his father beckoned, snapping him out of his trance.
His stubby trunk-like legs worked overtime to catch up. The three-wheels lagged, clanking against the rocky surface in response. The child prevailed almost heaving over, maneuvering the steep incline that led to the slanted drop-off, his father waiting at the top. Both bikes dangled over the abysmal plunge.
Jonah began backing away with knuckles the color of chrysanthemums, only stalling from the lack of protest. He expected resistance, yet all that greeted him was the smile spread on his father’s face, reaching the other ear with his hand curved, outreached toward the boy. A monument that created a giant shadow and filtered the battering heat.
Jonah’s eyes sparkled, turning into pools of honey, drowning out the chestnut. His father’s sleek onyx melted into the jarring stripes of auric, chariot-like under the beating sun.
“Follow me, you’ll be okay,” his father spoke in a voice no longer distinguishable. No longer his.
Replaced by a stew of overheard conversations extracted, the colliding voices mixed with his muddied recollection. With that declaration, the decline took him. And he was okay. He didn’t say so, but he uttered a silent thanks.
Escaping through the trail’s lip and leaning sharply into the semi-circle, his father waved and mouthed, facetiously, “Catch me if you can,” before nose-diving behind a line of oak. The boy softened into a fit of laughter, part amused and half-led by the nervousness rising inside.
He took a deep breath.
Lured down the steep by the multitude of encouragements showering over him, his father closed in on the roundabout.
Now, the world held much more. He wasn’t a boy anymore. Yet, the early morning sun led his way, and the world opened in response as a cavern of opportunity.
Although never vocal, he loved watching his father’s races that didn’t quite reach Olympic standards, but they were enough. The hitch in his throat, as he chanted, bobbing around in euphoria. His mother’s molding into a unison of reassurances, the three smiles curved simultaneously, blending into each other.
The smiles. The cries from the crowd. The look that befell both his parents. For once, not doused in animosity. The hush that fell over.
Pure, unadulterated freedom.
Experience, imprinted by the rubber, dragged across, bent by the soles. His hands, steadier, and now he stops on a dime or hops off if need be.
The lessons of the soil roadways and strains of the contracted effort rewarded by whatever goalpost he set: heaving of breath, the euphoric gulp of cold water easing the burn, hues of apricot skies in the peripheral before being sandwiched in between loved ones.
The flutter of joy in his chest each time attached itself like a hitchhiker on his shoes.
Number 219 floundered behind the man pedaling opposite nature’s intention, alongside a dozen others combatting the whistling wind.
Now, his own family cheered. The precious cranberry bows knotted around the pigtails bounced alongside the tiny bending legs.
His wife roared, revealing a widening set of pearled teeth, scooping up the little girl swinging her to the shoulder.
And he thanked his father once more.
Bucking against the lapping waves of exhaustion, and the subsequent pools of sweat, were hardly deterrents. Spiraling, barely registering the stone rooted into the ground, linear to the journey.
The loss of control, amplified by the panic-stricken response, deafened by his heart-thumping at a hummingbird pace.
His stomach dropped at the sudden stop, thrown headfirst from his bicycle. Dust exploded from the impact, which burst like fireworks on impact into the air. The helmet thumped, rebounding, his side kneaded into the dirt. A sting pulsed faintly on his knee as he pushed to his feet. His head churned from the impact.
A quietness took over, and he curled up with cannon-balled lungs. A ringing thumped in and out, with a collective gasp that dissolved as quickly as form into gradual applause, simultaneous with the multitude of arms wrapping underneath his underarms.
His breath began to restore itself, and the smile returned from the enclosing group of contestants; the race seemingly abandoned to the concerned.
Aided up, the still-beaming man sprouted from the ground like clover between lines of concrete. Unconvinced by the mishap, he strode across the landscape, ferrying the now less-than-polished transport.
Various hands cupped his shoulder, nudging him further and forward past the line. The ray of light reflected from his sparkling eyes, gradually regaining footing, steadied from the chaos. He discharged a series of gratitudes to the sacrifices of the win; vision promptly fixated on the other side.
Any lingering regret was carried with the wind after a flock of arms flew around his neck and ankles. He dived into his most cherished portion of the race, entirely oblivious to the outcome.
As the snort of laughter subsided, he hoisted the little one above the saddle in response to the pleas of a “ride.” She swung around at first, unsure, clinging to him despite the kickstand. She was soon situated halfway on the side of the bench-like seat, imitating an offbeat engine with a combination of “vrooms” and “vrooshes.”
Donning a smile like the Cheshire.
As the sparkling sun filtered through the loop of outstretched hands, and a bout of laughter roared again, he sang silent praise to his father for those training wheels all those years before. And for the push forward.