Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead. -- Gene Fowler

Monday, June 21, 2010

Biker Versus Pavement

I went for a bike ride Saturday morning. It takes a while for my brain to fully wake up in the morning. Remember that; that's important. I got up and decided to go out early, before even having breakfast. I wanted to take advantage of the cooler temperatures and lighter traffic. It was a beautiful warm sunny summer day as I put on my helmet and riding gloves. A ride down to the bird sanctuary was in order. I love the quiet that's in place on that back road. Just the occasional car passes by, the hiss of its tires on the road momentarily disturbing the peace. Near the water the calls of red-winged blackbirds are a welcome sound. Though I live less than a mile from the reservoir, those birds don't come out toward my house very often. The only time I get to hear them is when I go to their habitat.

Still not quite awake, I got on my bike, and not twenty feet from my driveway, a bee or other large buzzing insect flew into my path and startled me. Instinctively I attempted to stop, or at least to slow down, and quicker than thought I squeezed the front brake instead of the rear one. I wasn't travelling very fast, but fast enough for the sudden stop of the front wheel to throw me off-balance and send me plummeting to the pavement.

A strange thing happens when I'm in an accident; there's that moment -- in reality only a second or two long -- that stretches into forever, where each frame of the inevitably disastrous film ticks by in agonizing slowness. I knew I was going to hit the pavement. I knew it was going to hurt. At the moment I lost my balance and the crash became inevitable, I felt as if I were made of lead, as if some huge invisible hand were pushing me, hard, toward the ground. I knew that nothing I did would enable me to change the direction of the fall. The immediate future was suddenly written in stone, though its specific details were still unknowable to me. It felt almost as if I were allowing myself to fall, going limp in a way and letting events take their course without struggle, even though the end result was going to be painful.

I took the brunt of the fall on my right shoulder, thinking disconnectedly as my skin was stripped away by the sidewalk, "I'm going to go shoulder-first. I'm wearing a sleeveless shirt. It'll be skin on concrete. The concrete is going to win." My shoulder scraped along with impossible slowness, each frame clicking by one by one. Scrape, pause, scrape, pause, scrape. Meanwhile my lower rib cage slammed into the curb, reaching over the womens' bike's frame, though the bike itself shielded me from having a worse impact.

A seeming never-ending moment later, I popped up, heaving my bike off the ground, turned around and headed back home. With trembling hands I leaned my bike against the bush at the edge of my walk and staggered inside, not looking at the blood welling up in the injured patch of skin on my shoulder.

It's been a long time since I've had an injury like this. I felt as if I were a kid again, helpless and scared, trying to calm down and recover from the startling and painful fall. The last time I scraped up an appendage this badly, I was eight or so and had been roller skating in the basement when I'd had an untimely collision with a yellow LEGO block and gone crashing to the concrete. It had taken, in my memory, many weeks for the skin on my knee to scab over. Probably it was only a week or so. While it did I treated the area very gingerly, lamenting the fact I couldn't go running in the yard like I wanted to. I had the childlike urge to go tearing off up the hill with no destination in mind, just running for the sake of running, for the feel of my body in motion, the sensation of my legs pumping, carrying me over the grass. But the scab restricted my movement, and it hurt when I tried to bend my leg, so I tried very hard not to. My mother had scolded me for being a wimp about it. She'd been right, I suppose.

There's a part of me that feels like a wimp now over this fall. I'm still avoiding moving my arm too much, since virtually any sort of motion bends the skin on my shoulder and therefore the building scab there. But doesn't everyone get shaken up when they have an accident, or narrowly avoid one? There's a universal human reaction of "Wow, I could really have hurt myself there," or "Oh, man, this hurts!" It's the unexpectedness of it, the sudden shift from "Things are okay" to "Things are not okay". And it causes stress, even shock. I've relived the accident many times since Saturday morning, about half of them involuntary memories of the half a second it took for my shoulder to skin itself, sending shudders through me. Worse than the pain, worse than the fact I have to baby that arm for a few days, is the memory of that shift. One moment I'm cruising along, looking forward to riding to the bird sanctuary and hearing the red-winged blackbirds, pondering what I'll do for the rest of the day, and the next I'm dragging myself, trembly and hurt, back to the house to seek first aid. From in control to out of control, from independent actor to helpless victim, in a matter of moments. It's humbling.

Today's the Summer Solstice: the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. Take advantage of the long day if you can. Enjoy the outdoors if your weather's appropriate. And watch out for errant bees.

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