One of the most romantic moments of my life came to me by bike. My bike, actually, and I was in love with it. It was a bright green Schwinn Fair Lady Stingray with yellow and green daisies covering the banana seat. No streamers. No basket…nothing that might’ve increased my aerodynamic drag. I was 9 years old, and at that point it was important that I clocked less than 8 minutes to get to the Dairy Queen.
It was June of ’76 and I was experiencing my first summer of independence. It was the first time I can remember taking real pleasure in solitude, tooling around the neighborhood with only dusk and cul-de-sacs as my enemies. We lived in a subdivision called “The Dam West” in Aurora, Colorado…as in West of Cherry CreekDam. Whoever thought this would be a great name clearly didn’t grasp the concept that one cannot hear spelling. Although we had it easy. The people I felt really sorry for were our neighbors in our sister subdivision, The Goddamn Fucking East.
Our house sat at the top of a block-long incline with a sharp left turn at the end of it. My brother Scott loved it – he and his friends would use the speed of the incline to their advantage. They built huge, architecturally unsound skateboard ramps that they would then use to jump over long lines of…each other. This was really convenient for the parents on our block as it was much cheaper for the ambulance to take three boys to the hospital than one at a time. I’d love to regale you with tales of Scott’s successful jumps, including one over my father’s 1968 Chevette, but I’m a bad witness. I only saw them through tiny slits between my fingers.
Unlike Scott and his lucky-to-be-ambulatory friends, I had respect for the incline. I had to navigate it a few times a week to get to my piano lessons with T.J. Scranton. He was a scruffy, bespectacled, real-live stoned hippy who, much to my chagrin, still believed in the Protestant work ethic even though he’d rejected organized religion. So every Tuesday and Thursday I would plop my sullen ass— which hadn’t seen a piano bench since the week before—on my banana seat, and pull out of our driveway.
To control my speed, I’d keep my feet either on the ground or holding steady on the pedals for most of the incline. This didn’t gain me any respect from my brother and his skate punk friends, but my mother was pleased that she had at least one child for whom it didn’t really matter which laundry detergent worked best on blood stains.
One Tuesday, as I was loading the sheet music for “Mandy” by Mr. Barry Manilow into my backpack, my brother’s friend Greg Guffey strolled up. Greg, like Scott, was two years older than me, and you could clearly see those additional years of wisdom in the deep, dark, wells of his blue eyes.
He and Scott were busy that summer making a stop-motion animated film wherein a huge bird flies over a village and terrorizes it by pooping an entire jar of mayonnaise on it. He was brilliant.
“Where you goin’?,” he said, casually tucking his curly blonde hair behind one ear. God. He looked just like Robert Plant. If Robert Plant was eleven.
“Stupid piano lesson,” I said.
“Cool,” he said. “Later.”
“Yeah. Later,” I replied, and started to take off.
Discombobulated by being in the presence of genius, I had failed to take off in my usual, careful way. In fact, I’d just…taken off. Just jumped on the seat and started pedaling furiously down the hill.
In seconds, I knew I was in trouble. I was going way too fast and the turn at the bottom of the hill was speeding towards me like it had its own bike.
Almost immediately, I had a decision to make. Either try to take the turn at a speed I knew I couldn’t handle, or fly into the Miller’s rose bushes and hope for the best.
I was taking the turn.
Yes, I’d probably fall and pain would undoubtedly ensue. But if I’d hit the Miller’s bushes, Lorna and Bob would rush out to help me and want me to come inside. Eventually the topic of conversation would turn to the M&M’s I sold them for choir but never delivered because I ate all four boxes. The Millers were just one of five families I’d managed to avoid for most of the summer. I was taking the turn.
I knew immediately that I was going down. I was a bike pussy—I’d never gone this fast on a straightaway, let alone a turn. So I just braced myself for what was to come. In my attempt to make the turn as wide as possible, I steered the bike toward the curb. That’s where I hit a nasty patch of gravel and my front tire slid sideways, taking the rest of the bike, and me, with it.
Ow. Ow. OW. I was pretty sure I’d scraped everything. I did an immediate body check. Ow, my hand hurts, ow, my elbow hurts, but mostly, OW my knee hurts. I was taking a shaky inventory of the new six-inch long scrape on my left knee, filled with gravel, blood and pride when I heard the footsteps. Please, dear God, don’t let it be a Miller. Then I realized it wasn’t coming from the Miller’s house, it was coming from the top of the hill.
I turned to see Greg rushing down the hill toward me. He was wearing those running shorts with the white stripe up the side – you know, the ones no one ever really ran in? But there he was, running.
“Jeez. Are you okay?” he asked.
“I’m not sure,” I said. “It’s my…” and before I could say, “knee,” I started sobbing uncontrollably. “I was…taking the….turn …and …..IthoughtIcouldtakeitbutIcouldnttakeitandtheM&MsaregoneandIlovedyourmovie
He nodded and shook his head at the same time for a minute, looking at me with a combination of concern, confusion and severe unease. Sure, he’d seen his sister Monica cry thousands of times, in fact, most of the time he caused it. He was, after all, the one who’d dubbed her Monica Mental.
But this was different. Suddenly he was the boy and I was the girl and it was his job to protect me. And do whatever it took to make me, for the love of God, stop crying.
“Okay,” he said. “Let’s go.”
And then Greg Guffey, genius, filmmaker, skateboard hero, put one arm underneath my back, used the other to cradle my knees, and he picked me up. And even with as much pain as I was in, it registered. Greg Guffey is carrying me home. I’ll probably lose my leg at the knee and go to school every day in a little cart, but Greg Guffey is carrying me home. Melanie Masino is going to pee her pants. I might’ve already peed my pants. But GREG GUFFY IS CARRYING ME HOME.
When we got to the house, he plopped me down on our front steps, rang the doorbell and turned to go, leaving my mother a blubbering, bloody gift.
“You gonna be okay?” he asked.
“Yeah. I think so. Thanks,” I said.
“You really wiped out.”
“I know,” I said, pulling tiny pieces of gravel from my elbow and trying not to wince.
“That was pretty cool,” he said, smiling this time.
“I know,” I replied.
As Greg walked away, my mother came out and tended to my wounds, all the while expressing her shock at which of her children showed up bloodied on her doorstep. And even as the Bactine sting hit over and over again, I began to imagine all the possible ways I might endeavor to injure myself that summer.