The Ride of Her Life
Have you ever done something you were sure you’d never do? For 2011 Life Lessons Essay Contest winner Dorothy Fortenberry, that moment came when she faced down her worst childhood fears and, at long last, started pedaling.
I kept at it. Yes, I was still awkward. Yes, I was still afraid of failure. But ultimately I became more frightened of not learning how to ride—and thus permanently damaging my knees. So every day after class I stuffed my books in my backpack and
dragged out my heavy, rusty, gearless borrowed monster.
I fell, I bled—still, I didn’t give up. I kept riding, and falling, and riding again. And, after ripping several pairs of pants and becoming a regular at the pharmacy, I managed to get the hang of it. I completed my first turn. I hit a rock and stayed upright. I sped up. I slowed down. I was riding a bicycle.
I started riding it to school, past whizzing cars. I took it into the country. I rode alone every day for hours—not speaking French, not speaking English, just riding. Biking was supposed to function as physical therapy, but it turned into much more. My cycling inability had been my proof that life was unfair and that no amount of kindness could fix it. If my dad hadn’t died, I thought, I would know how to ride. It seemed perfectly logical to me, but it wasn’t true.
Because my dad died, a great many things were different: where my mother and I lived, what we talked about, how we functioned as a family. There were and are real losses and absences, and I mourn them, but there wasn’t actually any good reason I couldn’t ride a bike.