I realized what an emotional anniversary was the summer I turned 12. I lived in Forest Lake, Minnesota and my sister and I would often bike the short 1.3 miles to the Tom Thumb gas station in Lino Lakes. The town of Lino was so small, it only had that one 4 corner stop and then additional stop signs at the end of of each road that met up with the main drag called Lake Drive. One beautiful summer day, my sister and I neared the four corner stop intersection. I felt strange, a little light headed and filled with fear. The four corner stop was approximately 200 feet away. I was almost there. There. The four corner stop. I quickly braked, came to an abrupt stop and put my feet on the gravel. I burst into tears. I gulped for air. I felt like I had been punched in the chest. I saw my sister stopped at the four corner stop and turn to look at me. I stepped off my bike, pulled it into the weeds by the side of the road and was able to realize what all of this sudden fear was about.Two summers prior, my sister and I had been gifted amazing 10 speed bikes from our parents. I loved my bright yellow banana seat bike, but was thrilled to have a new shiny bright red 10 speed. My father loved riding and we knew he had lofty ideas of my sister and I eventually joining him on his summer Tri-State 300 mile ride. I was still getting used to the bike that summer and struggled getting used to the hand brake rather than the step back brake on my old yellow bike. I approached the 4 corner stop on the way to the Circle Pines Library (quite a trek for a 10 year old) and knew I would need to brake and be careful as there would be many cars and large trucks also approaching the intersection.
I panicked the closer I came to the sign. Squeezing, squeezing the brakes as hard as I could to stop and my bike kept proceeding forward. I wasn’t squeezing the hand brake, I was squeezing the handle bars. I slammed full force into the stop sign and fell to the ground. My dad catapulted himself towards me to assess how hurt I really was. Gravel embedded in my shins, knees, and in the palms of my hands, blood poured down both legs. Nothing was broken. My tears fell and I couldn’t catch my breath. I was in so much pain. I swiped tears with my dirty blood stained hands and wiped blood into my right eye. I was overwhelmed with pain and disbelief. My dad cleaned me up with handkerchief and water from his drinking bottle. He pulled as much of the loose gravel from my bloodied body as he could and tried to reason with me about why this even happened.
My dad explained that I had been squeezing the handle bars and not the hand brakes. He showed me how to do it again, but I could barely see what he was doing from my dirt smudged eyes. I waited a bit and worked on controlling my breathing. He handed me another handkerchief to clean my face. I was still dealing with dripping blood from my legs and my hands were on fire. Once I caught my breath, I told him I was heading home. He asked me to continue with him and my sister to the library. I just couldn’t do it. I explained that I was going home. I could see the disappointment in his face, but at the point it didn’t matter to me.
When I got home, my mom came out to the front yard to meet me. My dad must have called her from the gas station to tell her what happened. (This was way before the days of cell phones.)
My mom brought me a nice tall glass of water and we went over to the garden hose and she washed me up as good as she could. My mom was so calm and caring. But said something that surprised me. She told me the best thing that I could do was to get right back on that bike again. What? She had to be crazy. Ride a bike again?! I was never getting on a bike again. So much blood and so many bandages gave me every right in the world to never mount that shiny new red ten speed again. She hugged me and loved on me, and told me to think about it.
I didn’t sleep well that night. All I could think about was that both my mom and dad were right. I needed to get back on that bike again and soon. I also couldn’t sleep because even the light sheet hurt my wounded body. In the morning, I moved slow, I moved at a snails pace. I needed to take my time. I showered again and continued to remove more loose gravel from my knees. I ate breakfast and got dressed. And then it was time. I told my sister I wanted to ride to the gas station and asked if she wanted to come with me. She looked at me dumbfounded, but quickly replied yes.
The ride to the gas station and through the 4 corner stop was uneventful and life giving. It was the most restorative experience that I may have ever had so far in my very young life of 10 years. I may have given up the day before. But not the next. I got back on the bike and proved to myself that I could do it.
The summer I was 12, these memories came flooding back to me. Not in bits and pieces, but as fast as I crashed into that stop sign. All that emotion, all the pain, and all the self doubt bombarded me. But then so did the feelings of strength, of self determination and of perseverance. I was literally knocked down and got up again.
I calmed myself, wiped my tears and regulated my breathing. These memories were empowering. They showed me where I had been and where I was now. I was strong. I was able and I can keep going.
This emotional anniversary happened to be the first of many. Some so amazing, some completely heart breaking. Each serving a purpose, each making me into who I am today. When a memory seeps into my mind, when a date on the calendar brings tears to my eyes, when a heart to heart hug floods my skin and bones with fond remembrance, I no longer ignore or hide them. I now embrace, experience, savor and often enjoy those Emotional Anniversaries. Because each one will always serve a purpose.