Where are the brakes? Gender Identity, Childhood and Thorns

Many people police children’s behavior and needs based on their own experience in society. This is A Christmas Story, but I didn’t “shoot [my] eye out”, I lost control.

The only gifts I recall from this particularly sunny Christmas season were the two bikes we received. He got one in blue and black. Mine was hot pink and purple. I hated the colors.

Over the weekend, I rode the bikes. I asked my brother permission to ride his bike. My family couldn’t understand why I’d want to use his bicycle instead of mine, weren’t they the same? Nope.

The biggest difference, aside from the colors, was the placement of the brakes. My bike had brakes on the pedals. His bike had brakes on the handle bars. Being a child of the 80s, the cycles I rode included a Smurf Big Wheels and an adult bicycle from the 70s. I was also an athlete since the age of 4 1/2, so I was ready for the big time.

We had a steep driveway that ended with an iron gate. I rode that black and blue bike all Saturday afternoon. Come Sunday, I couldn’t anymore. “Ride your own!” So I did. Right into my mother’s rose bushes. It was either that or slam into the iron gate.

The problem was, I forgot where the brakes were. I made the run a couple times, but that final take-off down the drive-way was a doozy. In the middle of the ride, within micro seconds, my brain couldn’t react to forgetting where the brakes were and making a decision to cause the least damage. I swerved onto the lawn, just missing the iron gate, and flew over the handle bars landing on the top of several rose bushes.

As I lay (not dying) I stared up at the sky. What had I done? Where did I go wrong? I haven’t reached puberty yet, but I take the minutes to have an existential crisis. Then I realized that I had placed myself in a bed of thorns.

I’m pretty sure my brother was watching tv and saw what happened from the front windows. He ran out and, as I lay petrified, I told him to get our mother. I was literally in no position to help myself without causing more damage. But to me, or the roses?

I somehow rolled, stretched and pulled myself from the briars with my mother’s help. Her silent help. Her anger. I spent the next hour in the bathtub with my mother pulling out thorns with her tweezers.

Head to toe, I was covered in small points of pain. I felt like I deserved it. I was being punished for using the wrong bike. I wasn’t smart enough to think fast. I wasn’t strong enough to avoid myself.

A moment indelibly impressed upon my soul. I wasn’t a girl. I wasn’t a boy. I was a child trying to feel free.

They don’t know it, but I still stare at the location of those rose bushes whenever I visit. Time took them away and my parents replaced what could no longer thrive. Adjacent to the base of the driveway where I sat on my bag, years later, after “coming out”. A place where I am apparently confused. The boundary between who I am and what others want me to be.

(Oh me and Ralphie couldn’t catch a break! Even when something FRaGileee (fragile) was brought into the house.)

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