Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The bike that failed

When I was a kid, my father bought me a used bicycle, from some people in the neighborhood. I already had a bicycle. but it was smaller. The new bicycle was large and heavy, and had a small chrome coil spring on the front, almost horizontal, and narrowing sharply at both ends. The new bike was a blue-green color, while my previous bicycle was red. It was a Schwinn, and like the previous bike was a single speed, and braked by pushing the pedals backward. It was much harder to ride than my old bike, though. It took a lot of effort. I think my father wanted it for me because I was tall for my age, and overweight, and he wanted something that fit my size better. I rode it for several years after that, and it was, in fact, the last bicycle I ever owned.

I put rectangular metal baskets on the back, on either side, so I could carry things in them when I bought something at a store. I also put a headlight on it, battery operated, with a white exterior that was a rounded square at the front and widened slightly as it went back, before tapering to a cone shape. Beside it on the right I put a horn that looked like a much smaller version of it, except that it was chrome and tapered more at the sides than the top and bottom, and had a grill in the front instead of a lens. I used the bicycle quite a bit, even going at least once to the Woolco store in a town that bordered ours.

Years passed, and I learned how to drive a car. I drove the car sometimes, but also made an effort to sometimes ride the bicycle. I could see the time would come when I would not ride the bicycle at all, but I wanted to put it off as long as I reasonably could.

Sometime when I was 17, I think, and probably in September 1970, or near there, I decided to go to the local drugstore on my bicycle, to see if they had gotten any interesting books or magazines in. It was probably on a Saturday or Sunday, and it feels more like it was Sunday, though I can't be sure now. I had intended to go earlier in the afternoon, but I kept putting it off, reading probably and maybe watching some TV. Finally, as it was getting close to sundown, I told my mother what I was going to do. She objected, saying it was too late, but I insisted on going.

I got on the bicycle and went down the driveway into the street. The street is slanted slightly downhill, so that helped, though it would make it more difficult when I returned. I started standing up on the pedals and pushing hard, to build up a lot of speed, because it would still be a fair amount of effort to pedal it, even going slightly downhill. I intended to sit down and glide for a while, after the bicycle was going fast.

Suddenly, though, after I had gone past a few houses, I found myself lying in the street, halfway over the handlebars. I was still holding on to them, with the end of one of the handlebars, probably the right one, jabbing hard against my ribs near my side. I didn't know what had happened. I think one of the wheels, it had to be the back one I guess, was still slowly turning. I had a faint impression of just coming to a stop, sliding there, just the last few feet.

After a few tries I managed to get off the handlebar that was sticking into me. It was awkward, because I had to let go with one hand to find a better place to push at, and without the support of both hands my weight fell much more on the handlebar that was jabbing into me. I finally did it though, and got to my feet. I felt kind of banged up, but seemed to be alright. I was wearing a light jacket, blue in color, and I found that one of the sleeves, the left one, had a small triangular tear, about an inch long, in the upper part of it. That was a little odd, since I had been laying in the street on my right side.

I felt totally betrayed. To be going down the street and everything seeming to be alright, pleasant even, and then to end up laying in the street on my side with no transition. It didn't seem right.

I looked up and down the street, but didn't see any cars driving on it, just the ones that were parked by the sidewalk and in the driveways.

I put the bicycle back on its wheels. The shaft the handlebars was on had gotten twisted around, and the handlebars were no longer aligned with the front wheel. I think I had noticed that while it was still laying in the street. I put the front wheel between my legs and twisted the handlebars around until they aligned again with the front wheel, then started walking the bicycle back home.

I was significantly farther down the street than my last memory before the accident. There are two slight bends in the street, one going one way and the other the opposite way. My last memory was before the first bend, and I was quite a ways past it now, perhaps five or six houses. The street was in a light shadow, too, meaning the sun had either gone completely down, or far enough that it was hidden behind the houses, maybe because of the bend in the street causing this section of street to not be pointed directly west, and putting more houses in the way of the low sunlight. Or perhaps some unknown period of time had elapsed while I was laying in the street. I had no way of knowing, though it couldn't have been long, as it wasn't really dark yet. And there was that wheel that had still been turning, even if just a little.

I still didn't know what had happened, and felt betrayed, just betrayed, that the universe could allow something like this to happen, with no explanation for it. I walked on with the bicycle, feeling very bitter.

As I walked, I eventually noticed something laying in the street, a few houses back from where I had fallen. It was something small and dark and flat. As I got closer to it, I saw that it was a bicycle pedal in the street. I looked at my bicycle and noticed that the right pedal was gone. I realized then that it had fallen off the bicycle while I had been standing on it, and that that was what had caused the accident. I had no memory of it happening, or of the struggle I must have gone through, fighting to keep from falling over while I went that distance down the street to where I finally fell. I pictured then that I had fallen back on the bicycle seat, and pushed out with my right leg over and over trying to keep the bicycle from falling, and ended up halfway over the handlebars when the bicycle fell over.

I think now that, since I was leaning forward, I probably fell forward when the pedal came off, and may have missed the seat entirely. My foot would have hit the street and instantly been dragged back, the impact and extra drag trying to tilt the bicycle, along with me leaning to that side. I would have been partly sticking out past the handlebars, low over them and maybe even with my upper body actually resting on them, with my leg well to the back, with my foot, probably mainly the toe, jabbing against the ground trying to keep the bicycle from falling over. I had apparently gone past three houses like that, before finally losing the battle. Since I had been going fairly fast, it would have just taken a few seconds, though. The impact had been great enough that it wiped out my memory of it, along with a little more, to account for the missing memory of going around the slight bend in the street and what happened after that.

I picked up the pedal and continued home.

After I got home, I told my mother, who was there in the living room, what had happened. As I told her, I noticed one time a sharp pain in my side, when I turned my body a particular way, but I straightened my body and continued talking. My mother, who was sitting at the opposite corner of the room from the front door, was mad at me for tearing my jacket, and said that I couldn't wear it to school now, and we didn't have the money to buy a new one, and probably said something like "I told you not to go." She also said, "I hope you're not hurt, we don't have any money." I assured her I wasn't, just banged up and bruised a bit.

I sat down by the front door, and started working on a jigsaw puzzle I had been doing. I did a lot of jigsaw puzzles in those days. After a while she said, more conciliatory, "You're not really hurt, are you?" Again I assured her I wasn't, just beat up some.

I wondered though, to myself, about the pain I had felt. It wasn't like anything I had felt before. When I finally stood up again, I tried twisting my body again, and the pain was enough to take my breath away. It was a very bad pain somewhere internally, low in my chest toward the side, sometimes it seemed more toward the back. It was hard to be sure exactly where it was, and I didn't know what was actually injured. I realized that I had to keep my body fairly straight from now on until it was healed. If it healed. If I made it for a week without it getting worse, or maybe killing me, I thought it might heal on its own.

From then on I was careful to keep my body straight. When I had to talk to someone who was off to the side, I turned my whole body to face them. When I got into bed, I started at the foot and went in on hands and knees, keeping my back straight, before carefully laying down and then carefully turning my body to the position I wanted to sleep in. After a week or so I checked to see if the pain was still there. It was, perhaps just slightly diminished, just slightly duller. A few weeks later I checked again. It was quite a bit less but still there. I forgot about it for a while, and then after several more weeks remembered and checked again, and it was gone.

Several years later, I had lost quite a bit of weight, and was laying on my left side in my bed, leaning on my left elbow, reading. I had been noticing, from time to time, that the ribs on my left side seemed to bulge out at the bottom when I did that, but I assumed that it was because my left side was stretched out in a curve, emphasizing the lower part of my ribs there. It bothered me though, that it should look like that, and now I finally decided to check it out further, to test it, to see if the explanation was correct. I laid on my back, and found that my ribs on that side still stuck out too far, and the ribs in general on that side stuck out in a rounded shape, sticking out farthest at the lower edge. On the other side, the right, the ribs actually had a section in the lower half that was depressed some. I turned onto my right side and right elbow, to see how the ribs looked when stretched like the left ones, but the right ones hardly stuck out at all, just a little bit.

This upset me quite a bit, to think that something was wrong with me like that. I eventually told my mother, and talked about it with her. I knew I hadn't been that way back when I had lost some weight back in the early to late 1960s, and I hadn't been that way when I was much younger and also a more normal weight. It must have been hidden by a weight gain that had occurred during high school, and for a couple of years afterward, before I started losing it again. I finally figured out it must be the bicycle accident that had caused it, having no other possible explanation for it.

It bothered me to have to be like this, to be deformed in this manner, though it was not noticeable to others unless I pointed it out. I also noticed, later, on rare occasions, that when laying on my left side reading, when I shifted position some it felt like one rib grated against another, and shifted to a new position slightly on top of the other one. It was another annoyance, but it didn't usually happen, and after a few more years it didn't seem to happen at all.

My mother worried about it a lot, and still sometimes does, even saying that I should have an operation to fix it. I keep turning her down though, saying that it's not causing any problems, and they probably wouldn't have done anything for it if we saw a doctor at the time, other than maybe putting tape on it. And although my mother worries about it, it long ago stopped being a worry to me, becoming just a curiosity, and a bit of a mystery over exactly what damage was done.

I never did see a doctor for it, but one time, maybe 15 years or so after the accident, I mentioned the ribs to a doctor while being checked for something else. He said that injuries to the breastbone could cause the cartilage to scar when it healed, twisting the ribs. I accepted that as a possible partial explanation, but not a total one. I still felt that it didn't explain everything, though I didn't say so to the doctor. To me, the ribs seemed to have too much deformity to be totally explained by something like that.

Sometime after the accident occurred, perhaps weeks, I'm not sure now, I went to a bicycle store and looked over the pedals on the revolving rack they had of them. I found some that looked like the ones on my bicycle, but I may have gone home and checked to be sure before I bought one. I don't remember now. In any case, I did buy one, and put it on my bicycle, still feeling somewhat bitter about it.

I rode the bicycle several times after that. I never quite felt confident when I was standing up on the pedals, pushing at them, and I tended to do that less than before, and not as vigorously. There was always the thought that, though unlikely, it could happen again. As time went on, though, I drove a car more and more, and I eventually just drove a car to where I wanted to go, wherever that might be, as I had known would happen, and never rode the bicycle again.

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