The Concrete Broke My Fall

It was a beautiful morning. The air was cool and damp, brushed by fog. 

We set out for school together: Maggie and Abbi holding hands, Elsie, me and my bicycle lagging just behind. It was the second week of in-person classes, masked goodbyes, fingers crossed. 

We hugged and waved. I stepped onto my bike, turned up Spotify, and shot off towards PT.

“I saw you on Kennett Pike,” my friend Christopher reporter later. “You were all business.”

That business, if memory serves, constituted crossing a double yellow, pre-empting a left on red, and shooting a gap through oncoming traffic. In noise cancelling headphones. Blaring Dawes (“Things happen; that’s all they ever do”).

I was ahead of schedule, so detoured home to strap on my biking shoes; the climb out of the river valley just below our house is steep, I figured. I wanted an edge. I clipped in thinking, “This detour will be why I … nah.” And sped off towards the Brandywine.

The trail was empty for miles.Nothing broke my line. I stood in my cleats through the heights of Alapocas Woods, and tucked through the rolling valley turns. Fog clung to the creek. A thicket of deer stirred. And I shot out of the woods straight intro traffic.

Rush hour was cresting on Faulk Road, just a few blocks north of I-95, I-202 and I-141. I nodded, waved and wove my way through stray BMW, Lexus, Tahoe. (Is she texting!?!)

“I want to see how long we can go without a second car,” I told Patrick, my new therapist, a few days prior. “So I’m biking everywhere.”

Together, we’d made progress on ten years of marathon-induced, chronic injuries to my left hamstring. I wasn’t pain free, but I could imagine it. Heck, I’d casually banged out a 10k the morning prior.

Faulk Road was busy, narrow and fast. I popped up onto the sidewalk to play safe. It was a ragged, overgrown strip of rubble. I bounced about, pedaling furiously.

A song shuffled into my AirBuds: descending progression, loose two and four, part French Quarter, part Asbury Park. I was smiling, flying, invincible.

Only the lonely know the way I’m feelin’
Only the living go to the graveyard grieving
We’re alive and you’re astounding
Feel the pulse of the world pounding

The kick drum goes 4/4 here, a steady, throbbing heartbeat in your ears. Each beat is met with lyric as our protagonist builds. This is a Minister at the height of his sermon. This is the moment in the story where the hair stands up on your arms.

Feel the pull of the American darkness
The mountains rivers and fields at harvest
It’s all we have and that’s a lot
Come on honey let’s get lost

I spot an object splayed across the sidewalk ahead, and run some quick calculus: Friday, Trash Day …

Calculus and geometry bow to velocity. I miscalculate my handlebars with, and understeer. My left grip clips the four-by-three, 95 gallon EnviroGuard Roll-Out Cart. I spin, and slam onto my right side.

OOF!

Silence.

I groan three times, and look around. Traffic is moving. No one pokes from a doorway. It’s just the trash can and me, fifteen feet apart, both toppled on the ground.

My palm is shredded, grayish, bloody. My hip throbs. My elbow.

I stand, hobble down the sidewalk and settle my bike on a pine tree. The derailleur is snapped. I call Abbi.

The sun peaks over Wawa as I wait. A DART driver parks nearby for a cigarette break. We watch the sun rise together, talking quietly. “What I REALLY want,” he confesses as I bleed quietly to myself. “Is to be an actor.”

“Are you sure you don’t need an ER?” Abbi asks as I wave to my own, private Clarence Odbody.

“I think I’m ok,” I say, pressing a wad of paper towel to my elbow. “Or… maybe let me get this shirt off and see…”

Moments later, I gingerly peel the blood-soaked sleeve from my arm, and look at my elbow in the bathroom mirror. I spot a gaping shock of pink, and shout “ER!” 

Two hours later, my right hand is wrapped in gauze, my purple hip is on ice, and my elbow is held together by a dozen stitches.

It’s been a week since the accident. And I am still shaken.

The accident took me back to previous traumas: hospitals, tears, tossing, turning. It slammed me headfirst into my mortality. It reminded me how painful pain can be. And it brought me closer to the walking wounded around the world dealing with far, far worse injuries, traumas and tragedies.

Above all, the accident stopped me in place. No more zipping from daylong Zoom calls to pedaling, full-tilt, towards the state line, Rage Against The Machine cranked in my AirPods.

No running.

No biking.

No hiding.

A few days in my sedentary recovery, I heard a voice clear as a bell whisper in my ear, “Be still.”

Be still.

Be still.

Be still.

Rob called from the bike shop yesterday. My Cannondale is ready. I’ll pick it up. Maybe tomorrow. 

Come on in it’s so good to see ya
It’s been so long I know, I know
Let’s see where the night takes us
Let’s see where the night goes