It wasn’t until I was nine years old that my dad finally let go of the handlebars. One second, his fingers were clasped so tight around mine they were turning white, and then the next they were gone––and I thought, then, that this was flight, all fast and light and airy: A feeling that wound up in your chest like thread, and slowly unraveled the farther out you got. The faster. The older.
I had checked behind me then, grinned at the man a couple yards down the pavement; “Look, Dad! I’m moving all on my own! Look, Dad! Do you see me? Do you see?” Turning back and checking, I was looking at him with my eyes open wide, feeling the wind bite into my scalp, my weak little wings outstretched. He gave me two thumbs up, nodded back to the road. I turned, still smiling, and ran right into the car parked up ahead, my hands held out to block the fall.
That was the first time I saw pain: It was in the raw skin on my knees and hands, in the stars that swam into my eyes, in the throb of my shoulder where my body had met gravel. And my father was right behind me, holding out a hand and getting me to my feet. Be careful, he told me. Keep your head up or you’ll fall back. Stay in your momentum.
And so a sore ten-year-old me climbed back onto that bike, with her shoulder bruised up and her knees skinned raw, the girl who wiped away a tear on the back of her hand and pumped her legs harder against the wind. A little of the flight had gone out of me, my hesitant wings drawn back. But there was my dad right behind me––farther out this time, still in sight.
I pedaled down the street, an eleven-year-old and her brand-new bike, and I rounded a corner and suddenly he was gone; stuck somewhere down in the middle of the road, trying to keep up with me. But he was getting old now, older than he was just a minute ago, and I could tell by the gray in his hair that he wasn’t going to catch up any time soon. So I turned my head, and I kept on pedaling. Everything counted on it. Stay in your momentum.
I was getting too far and going too fast. That worried me a little, because at twelve I used to worry a lot, that maybe my wheels would freeze up, or I’d hit a branch in the road; I’d already fallen once today, and once was plenty enough for me. But I kept on pedaling anyway––what else was there for a girl on a bike to do? ––and pretty soon, the house was gone too, and somewhere a couple miles away Dad was heading back inside now, leaving my training wheels out for the garbage truck. Training wheels that had been screwed so tight to my bike before, it had seemed almost impossible my dad could undo them. But he worked magic with a screwdriver, my dad.
I decided then that I wanted to go to Rome, on my beat-up bike and everything. I loved the coast and I loved stories, stories my father sang to me about gods and soldiers and Renaissance, stories he kept bottled up inside himself, stories he swore he never had time to write, and––wait. Where had he gone again? Hadn’t he just been right there? I shrugged off the uncertainty because I was thirteen, after all, and I was big enough to go on my own. You could see it in my voice, in my walk, in the newfound angles of my face: Maturity, fast-approaching.
Fourteen, and I had forgotten how my street looked. Fourteen, and my earbud wires got tangled up in the spokes of one wheel, but I got up after the fall, because the whole world was in reach. It blew out one tire, scraped up my knees, flecked a little blood into my teeth. None of it mattered as much as the coast. Not a single second. Fifteen, and the hum of another biker’s wheels sounded behind me on the pavement. I held my earbuds in my hands and looked at him, and suddenly I was sixteen and I was in love, and I was certain that the world had it out for me, clutching my earbuds and clutching onto the back of his shirt as he sped away. Nothing personal, he told me as I wept. We’re just on two different routes, you and me. You’ve got your eyes on Rome and I’ve got my hands in my pockets. Seventeen and I was mending from heartbreak, but the ocean was something that could be crossed in seconds. It didn’t even matter anymore, now that I was eighteen and my bike had gotten so bruised up it couldn’t stand itself upright on its two aired-out wheels, and so I kicked it aside and shrunk into the gulf, and there it was waiting for me: Rome, in my sights. A little piece of the world, a little piece of Renaissance, in my hands. Someday, I would find my way back, I knew it––but it would not be on the beat-up bike I had once ridden, seven years ago, with my father clutching the handlebars. I realized, then, wading through the cypress trees, that I had left everything behind me some couple continents away.
And now I stood, five-foot-six at eighty-one, on the coast of it all. I touched the dead space between waves, saw my own face reflected back at me, and thought: Sometimes I wish that I had fallen down more often, if only to make the trip just a little bit longer.
Karma’s literary journey began in the second grade with a twenty-page My Little Pony fanfiction. Throughout the years, her passion for ponies has declined considerably, but her love and exploration of writing has never ceased. She’s now a high school freshman in Cleveland, Ohio, and has been penning short stories, poems, and novellas for nearly seven years––though this will be her first publication. When she isn’t writing, she loves to cook, listen to music, and discuss Victorian literature.