Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was going to be on the television that night. I was nine years old.
I wish I could remember if Todd Troop had moved away by then. He was a year younger than me and lived across the street. At school, we were not allowed to acknowledge our friendship. His rule. We were not allowed to do this at home, either, but it didn’t stop us from playing together every day, until that day, when he came by my front door to tell me they were moving back to Kansas for reals.
One time, like ten years ago, when my dad and I were in the airport in Kansas City, Missouri, after the autocross nationals, I found Todd Troop’s phone number in the phone book. I called him when I got home and his wife answered. I almost said, “Hi, is Todd here?”
“Is Todd there,” my mom used to correct me.
“Er, ahem, can Todd play?”
“Excuse me, this is his wife.”
Right, right. He was busy, she said, but he’d call me back. And he did. And he could barely remember me, he said.
“Oh, wait! You’re the girl who never brushed her teeth!”
It was a short conversation. That Christmas, he sent me his family newsletter that reminded me of our own comic books and projects we’d make on his kitchen table, where he’d tell me I was a terrible artist and that I was going to hell because I never went to church.
All of this was better than bicycle days, because I couldn’t ride a bicycle and he could. He and his older sisters tried to teach me out in front of our houses, but it was always emotionally traumatic for me because I failed every single time. It meant that something was wrong with me.
My own attempts to learn with my dad left me in tears. He’d push me down the street holding the back of the seat, running at full tilt, yelling at me to pedal! Pedal! And all I could do was grip the handle bars and cry.
I just needed some kind of reassurance, something tangeable, something real, something more logical than, “It’ll stay up if you pedal, don’t worry.”
He must have moved away by then, because I was all alone on Virgin Islands Court. His house was empty. They must have just moved away.
I remember him standing at the door now. He knocked during the Saturday morning cartoons.
“Hi,” he said. “Well, we’re going now.”
“Oh, okay,” I said.
I never said good-bye to a friend before.
I was finally big enough so that my feet could touch the ground. I could scooter down the street that way. That was enough for me. Without the stress of Todd and his sisters telling me what I was supposed to be doing, scootering was enough. Just me and my Buster Browns pushing me down the road.
I scootered so fast, I started to coast. That the bike stayed upright, without teetering, was a pleasant accident, but mirrored what I had heard before by the experts I didn’t believe, that that’s what happens. I scootered and coasted some more. I scootered and coasted, scootered and coasted and when I felt safe, I pedaled, balancing myself all the way down to the end of Virgin Islands Court.
I had to stop somehow. That was one long skid on my Buster Browns.
“Mom, I can ride my bike!” I screamed through the front door.
My mom pulled my grease covered dad from the garage, they both followed me back outside, my dad with the Poloroid. He took one million pictures.
I tried to sit through Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, but I ran back outside during the commercials just to ride my bike, and ended up missing more than half of the show.
Somewhere I have those pictures. I had a Dorothy Hammill hair cut, and a purple sparkly bike with a flowered seat and a flowered basket. I was flyin’. Forget Todd Troop. I was free.