When I was seven or eight years old, I got my first real bike. It was a blue Mongoose and it soon became an extension of me. Wherever I went, I was on that bike, no matter how short the distance.
One time, I remember someone actually came onto the estate and stole it. I saw them riding the bike down the driveway and yelled to my Dad. He ran outside and drove down the street, where a few guys were loading it into a van. Later he told me that he said to the guy, “That’s my son’s bicycle” and the lead guy just smiled and said “I’m sorry, sir, that’s my mistake” and gave it back to him. I’m sure he didn’t want the police called on him, especially in Georgetown where they would come very fast, but I was always amazed that my Dad was that brave to do that. Honestly it was the one time I felt like he stood up for me, and I don’t know what I would have done if the bike was gone at that period of my life, because my parents really didn’t have the money to just buy me another one.
When you walked out of the door of our house, there was a large driveway that led down to the main area of gardens. It was just steep enough to provide a thrill to a 7-9 year old while not being unnecessarily dangerous. The hill did have a wall that dropped precipitously down to the cemetery that bordered our property, the view of which could be quite dizzying while flying down on my bike, which only added to the fun of going down and then walking up, and going down again. I did this all the time, most days after school and the weekends whenever possible. It was muscle memory going down the hill, skidding to a stop at the bottom where a couple of cars would be parked, and the asphalt turned into stone and a large greenhouse sat where my father did a lot of his work.
One day, I was headed down the hill and started to apply my brake when suddenly, I froze for some strange reason. My feet couldn’t figure out how to engage the brake, even though I had done it hundreds of times before. I was headed straight for the greenhouse and I didn’t know what to do. For some reason, my idea to stop myself was simply to put my knees down and stop myself by skidding my knees on the asphalt. It worked, but I was immediately in horrible, horrible pain. I somehow walked back up the hill to my house and walked inside, crying.
My parents were in the kitchen, which was just inside the doorway, talking quietly but I could tell intensely. “What did you do?” My dad asked, looking me up and down.
“I hurt myself” I said and sat down on the small step between the dining room and kitchen. My mother sighed loudly and rolled up my ripped jeans to reveal extremely bloody and raw knees, bits of gravel and dirt stuck to the wound. “Jesus,” my mother said, which I knew meant she was very angry because she never said that unless she was really mad. She went into the kitchen and grabbed alcohol and paper towels. “I have to clean it, Adam,” She said in a way that made me realize this was going to hurt even worse, and I was going to get no mercy from her.
I somehow kept the screams down, biting the back of my hand as she cleaned the wound. As she worked, she kept talking to my Dad, “They said it’s cancer, but I know it’s not. It’s AIDS, you know it is, you can just look at him. He’s got all the signs. I knew from the first time I shook his hand, that marriage is a sham, he shook my hand like Tony.”
I knew Uncle Tony was her brother that lived in Seattle, across the country. He owned a hobby shop which I thought was awesome, and he lived with another man and that was why he moved so far away from the rest of the family in Tennessee.
“You don’t know that,” my father said, not very convincingly. “And it doesn’t matter, anyway.”
“Oh it matters, because they’re lying about it. Why are they lying? They don’t want anyone to know.”
“Well, they wouldn’t want anyone to know, that makes sense. If people thought it was that, that would embarrass all of them you know that.”
“I don’t think it’s right.”
“Now don’t go telling anybody.”
“I won’t, but it’s not right. You know it’s not right.”
“You’re not going to tell anyone are you?”
“I said I wouldn’t.”
I could tell my father wasn’t convinced. He just looked at her.
“I said I wouldn’t.” It was his turn to sigh. My mother turned back to my knee. I felt forgotten, did they realize this was the worst pain I had ever felt in my whole life. My mother picked out a large piece of rock and pressed the alcohol in. I couldn’t hold back that scream. “Oh hush, I’m almost finished.”
“Who has AIDS” I asked.
“None of your business,” My mother snapped. Even then I thought, then why are you talking about it around me, but I was smart enough to shut my mouth. I knew soon enough anyway when the person passed away. It’s interesting to be on the ancillary of wealth and power, and to be privy in some small way to the inner workings of that realm. Whenever someone talked about that person after that, I felt a small pain in my knee, sympathy pains to the agony that they must have gone through, no matter what the true cause of death may have been.
That was about the time that I realized what gossip was, how gross it was, and how I never wanted to be a part of it. Unfortunately, that is something I have not been as successful at that as I would have liked or thought I would have been earlier in life, but I still feel queasy when someone starts to do it, and I try my best to not be a part of those conversations, or to shut them down before they can start. To see that my mother was willing to do it about a dying man, just struck me as wrong even in third or fourth grade, and to neglect a hurting child to do it, even more so.
I gingerly walked up the stairs to my room after my mother but a plethora of Band-Aids on both knees. Not two days later, I was back on that bike zooming down that hill, just to show myself that I could do it again.