Commute: Jonathan Diener
03. MUSIC INSPIRATION
Tommy walked out of school with a smile on his face. Surprisingly it wasn’t because Derek gave him half of his chocolate chip cookie at lunch or because Brittany smiled at him in the hallway. Today Tommy was going for a bike ride into town all on his own.
After jumping down the steps of the school bus, he rushed into the house, hung his backpack on the hook in the laundry room, filled his water bottle using the new filter in the kitchen sink and ran to the garage. The rush of humidity from opening the door gave him memories of the indoor swimming pool he frequented as a little kid, but he wasn’t a kid anymore. Not today at least.
A blue Schwinn bike was leaning against some boxes his mom never unpacked from years ago. She was visiting her sister a few towns over and gave Tommy permission to go on his own adventure. He’s had adult supervision for years and today was the big test. He could finally prove he was mature enough to explore on his own. If things went well this would become the new normal.
Tommy connected his water bottle to the frame of the bike using a handy clip that came with it. He put on his favorite helmet—the one with the skull on the top—and reached for his goggles. His friends said he didn’t need the goggles and he looked like a goofy wannabe fighter pilot, but that didn’t matter. He hesitated and looked at his own reflection in the lenses and let out another massive smile. They couldn’t be more wrong. He looked awesome.
Now, fully equipped with goggles, helmet and an ice cold water for the trip, it was time to head out. If he was lucky there could be some straggler school buses making their rounds in town full of his peers ready to witness his awesomeness. They’d stare with jaws dropped as Tommy would fly down the roads as a solo rider. While imagining this he began to hum the song he heard on the radio that day. He felt cool.
Riding through the subdivision was easy. The guy who lived a few houses down with the annoying dog was checking his mail and waved. His dog barked like she always does. Tommy waved back and hoped they noticed he learned how to stay balanced with only one hand on the handlebars. They must have been impressed.
Construction on the new subdivision across the street was in the early stages, but the roads were paved and the workers had the day off. Not only was it a shortcut into town, but it was the perfect place to learn new tricks just like the guys he saw on TV. After pedaling and taking a water break, Tommy made it to the big hill at the back of the lot. He stared for a few minutes, gulped and tried to muster up the courage to finally conquer it. He wasn’t sure if he’d make it down the hill without any problems, fall down the hill and die, or gain so much speed that he’d set on fire. They were all real possibilities, but he didn’t want to talk himself out of it this time.
The hill was too steep and the air too humid, so Tommy walked his bike up slowly while replaying any and every scenario in his head. Finally, at the top, he looked down at the winding streets and houses that ants could live in. He was terrified. This was the real deal. He closed his eyes and imagined he was on a motorcycle with bad guys on his tail. The only way to get away was cruise down the hill and he’d be in the clear. While adjusting his goggles, his terrified frown turned into a determined grin. It was go time.
Tommy took a deep breath and used his right foot to push himself forward. Within seconds he felt the decline increase, the wheels pick up speed and the wind start to blow at his face. The loose stones on the newly paved streets started to crunch under his tires. He started to shake as he continued down the hill, but he flexed his arms and knew his shocks could withstand any bump that got in his way.
Halfway down the hill the wind was blowing at Tommy’s ears so hard it sounded like static on his TV. He made the mistake of leaving his mouth open and swallowed a mosquito, which was gross. This was the fastest he’d ever been on a bike, or maybe ever, and it was almost over. The hill began to level out and the smirk turned into a full blown celebratory smile. He was cruising with the wind rushed at his face right until he forgot to turn with the street and rode straight into the curb.
Tommy felt his stomach sink when the bike came to a halt. It was like the end of a cheap ride at the carnival. His head jolted down and he lost control of the blue Schwinn bike that he once felt was part of him. After doing a front flip off of the bike, he fell into the sand and dirt of the unfinished yard.
He looked around and screamed for help before assessing the damage. He was all alone and he started crying. Not sure if he was in pain or just in shock, he looked at his knees and elbows that were now covered in cuts and gravel. It stung like a sunburn and felt so bad. Scared of trying to get back on the bike, Tommy started walking it home, using it as some sort of an alternative crutch even though he didn’t have a limp from the crash.
The sight of a crying, bleeding boy alarmed some of the neighbors who tried calling out to aid him, but it was too embarrassing to respond. Tommy made it all the way home, laid his bike against the boxes in his garage and jumped in the shower. The water stung, which made him cry more, but at least he was getting the small stones and gravel out of his cuts.
Tommy found the first-aid kit in his bathroom and frantically put Band-Aids on every visible cut. There were only really four or five of them total. While looking in the mirror with his bloodshot eyes and tears going down his cheeks, he decided to wear his pajama pants and a sweater to cover his wounds. He came back to the mirror, washed his face in the sink, wiped his face and tears with a towel and forced a big smile. He nodded to himself with approval.
He got to the couch and started playing a video game right as his mom walked in. She was still glowing from a great day with her family and hummed to herself as she closed the door and put her purse on the kitchen table.
“So, how was your big solo adventure?” she asked with excited and interrogative eyes.
Tommy hesitated and tried to decide if he should come up with a story or just pretend nothing happened. He finally looked up and tried talking, but his voice cracked.
“It was fun, but I—,” he couldn’t finish the sentence and started crying again.
Tommy’s mother rushed to the couch and gave him a big hug. While she was holding his head, her warm breathing into his hair was comforting and relaxed him. He sniffed a few times and was finally able to muster up the courage to tell his mom the big reveal.
Before he could talk, she rolled up his sleeve to see the Band-Aids on his elbows. It was like some kind of maternal mind-reading power that he didn’t understand. He looked at her, terrified, assuming the worst was about to spill from the same lips that were just breathing into his hair.
She returned his watery-eyed stare with an apologetic and comforting look. In some unspoken bond, it made Tommy smile again.
“I don’t want you to be afraid of telling me the truth,” she said as she held his shoulders, looking right into his eyes. “We can all make mistakes as long as we learn from them. Did you learn from yours?”
Tommy looked up, wiped his eyes again and nodded with a cute, little smirk. He knew he wouldn’t be grounded and that his life wouldn’t be over. This was only the first hill he’d have to conquer.