On a fall walk around my university alma mater a few years ago, I absorbed the crunching of red and orange leaves in sizes large and small, the air rushing past my cheeks in thunderous swooshes and the warmth of the sun streaming across the white sidewalk like a welcome mat. The white sidewalk. That’s what I found when I stopped in front of one of my oldest haunts. All I could do was stop. Right there. In the same spot I’d found myself some 20 years earlier. I’m sure people — mostly giddy youngsters — have walked, skipped, hopped, maybe even bounced across that cement. Generation after generation. And yet, I couldn’t help but question: It wasn’t that cement anymore. What happened to the holes, those open pockets that gathered rain in the spring and heaps of snow in the winter? Where were the cracks that allowed blades of grass to peek through during the hot summer months? Where was my childhood?
I outfitted myself with an oversize cap and gown even before I could walk, immersing myself in the university experience by the age of 3. Well, it wasn’t really my choice, more like my mother’s, but I didn’t protest. While she went to class, I played, laughed and ate milk and cookies in the hallowed halls of own classroom. It was the ultimate pre-preschool, if you will, and my young self felt “cool” to be in the presence of those wise college students who took care of us. My 3-year-old self, in large post-disco blue bell bottoms and a colorful stripped shirt, reveled in being a member of that exclusive club. Apparently, though, I was the only one in the club.
You see, before long, I’d forsaken endless hours of recess fun with my pint-sized peers in favor of a secret rendezvous with another sort of pint-sized object of the non-human variety. A shiny (at the time) tricycle. He was a real beauty. We fell in love from the moment I gripped those silver handle bars and set my tush on the tiny seat. We were soul mates. Friends. Compadres. He understood me, and I understood him. Maybe I was just too young to realize the cosmic connection, but everything just seemed to fit. Now remember, the bike was small and so was I, and seeing as I couldn’t bend my feet to peddle, I had to manually push myself around. We’re talking shoes scrapping against the pavement here. I don’t think my mother appreciated the abuse to my shoes.
And when we (yes, Mr. Bike and I) skipped outside and found “our” triangle, no one could have saved us. We were too far gone at that point; our metaphorical triangle was completed by, well, an actual patch of cement in the shape of a triangle, a huge wad of grass as the centerpiece. Day after day, I hopped on Mr. Bike and went around in circles — literally. Lap after lap around that geometrical land of goodness. I didn’t seem to notice the girls laughing on the swings or the boys monkeying around on the monkey bars. That was pure child’s play to me. I’d found the jackpot, and I certainly wasn’t in any hurry to give it up. So I continued to make my rounds, perhaps out of comfort or because you know I’m a pro routine girl, but that triangle kept calling me.
The bike is long gone now, I’m sure, and thanks to those friendly hard-hat-wearing construction workers, so is the original cement. In its place is a fresh coat of new cement, a layer to fill the cracks and holes, smooth out those rough and lopsided edges and even cover the shoe marks and tire tracks that I chose to leave as my tiny mark on the world. We all need a makeover sometimes, a fresh coat of paint or a new layer of cement. We spruce ourselves up, make our lopsides unloppy and even out our rough edges. Surprisingly, we even outgrow our tricycle and move on to a “big person” bike. But me? I’m going to embrace my lopsidedness. It’s a part of my past. It’s a part of me. My mom may even still have a picture of me and Mr. Bike. There I am, hunched over with a beaming smile on my face. Even then, I knew it was a good day.