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Scraped knees

There is a person out there who reads the daily deliverance of drivel that I decadently dwell in. That my friends is alliteration and it shows a total lack of good taste, just in case you’re wondering. Yup, it sure does.

Anyway, this person wrote something in their journal and they are intelligent enough to note that the following is addressed to them. I’m just covering it up in lots and lots of metaphoric phrasing because I can. Also because this way everyone can think I’m talking about them instead of someone else. This sort of works for everyone anyway, really. It gets longish, but if you stay with me it goes somewhere.

Now when I was a kid I played a lot and I played pretty hard. I wasn’t involved in sports, because I could never see the point in them. I rode my bike a whole bunch and I ran around with my buddies. We climbed trees, chased frogs, engaged in industrial espionage… you know, normal kid stuff. We also fell down and scraped our knees. Now for a kid like the one I was getting scrapes was no big deal. I always had a scab somewhere on my body between 1979 and 1992. I got so used to falling and scrapping bits of skin off I often wouldn’t notice the little cuts and bumps until someone pointed out the thin line of dried blood that was attached to my leg.

Got pretty used to the sight of my own blood I did. Of course you might expect that from the kid who rode down the big hill towards the ad hoc ramp that we’d made out of sand and a piece of particle board we had found. Mostly I hit nice and square, flying in the air, landing on my wheels and kept going. Sometimes I did not do that. There were times when the word wipe out hardly manages to describe the magnificent crash into oblivion that I yet managed to walk away from. That’s an interesting point by the way, I have never broken a bone in my life. That’s not to say the whole trip was without injury, but we never had to go to the emergency rooms because of my adventures. No, we went to the emergency room because I was trying to sit down on the couch and slipped and cracked my head on the table. Ya know what? Ignore that last bit.

Now there was another kid who lived near us, which sort of made him my friend. You know how this goes, or at least it used to. If the kids in your neighborhood weren’t your mortal enemy they were your friends. Even then you might cycle between fight and friend, but anyway. We’ll call this guy Steve, his name was Mike but we’re gonna call him Steve to protect his anonymity.

So Steve fell off his bike one day and scrapped his knee, and it was pretty bad. Blood, and a pretty good deal of it too. Now it’s not like Steve had been doing anything particularly ostentatious, just happened not to be as observant as your semi-humble hero. I had noticed that the ground was a little sandy in a particular spot and tapped my brakes while I made a pretty sharp turn. It looked cool, I often did in those days. Steve had seen me pull off a pretty cool turn that would impress a seven year old. As Steve and I were seven at the time, he was impressed. He tried it himself he fell down. He had to run home and get a huge band-aid put on his knee and disinfectant so his leg wouldn’t turn gangrenous and fall off. Steve would later show off the band-aid and peel it back to show the wound in its stages of healing. This impressed most people (did I mention the age of seven?) but a few of us were not impressed. For one, we didn’t believe in bandages. Your arm would have to be falling off before you’d even think about a band-aid in those days. We were a pretty hard bunch, but the huge wad of gauze wasn’t what bothered us. We knew that Steve had lost it. We could see it in his eyes, he’d given up. Steve never tired to pull a quick turn again. I tired to show him how the trick was done, how you had to lean into the turn, but he wanted none of it. Soon Steve was lost to us, staying in to watch TV instead of riding with the gruesome pack of soldiers.

We forgot about Steve after a while, leaving him behind as we went on to scrape our knees, bloody our noses and see if we couldn’t break into Fort Knox and steal all the gold. Never did get the nerve gas mixture right, shame.

As the years passed there were more injuries, and a rift began to form between the group. One side of the group laughed off the injury and would be back the next day, and the other side went inside to watch cartoons. You could see them turn off, one by one, as the injuries got to them. They retreated to a place where they could see someone else get the scrapes and remember the old days.

The thing that got to those of us that were left was that the injuries that would send another brother to the spectators bench never seemed like it was that bad. Hell, I once skinned my knee so bad we could see the bone of the kneecap. It might not have been true, but we were convinced that the white we saw was bone. It hurt, I cried, I got a bandage. Yeah, it was that bad. Thing is, I was back out there the next day. I wanted to show off the fact that I hadn’t been beat by the wound, and that I had lived through a cut so bad that I needed to have a bandage put on. One cannot ignore how tough you are if you can still play after a wound that needed a bandage.

These were minor injuries through, and we knew that they didn’t impair your ability to get out there and keep playing. I knew what it was though, even if some of my compatriots didn’t get it. I could see the change in Steve’s eyes when he had to get the bandage. I saw it in the eyes of each of our fallen brothers when they would trade barely touching the seat of our bikes for barely leaving their seat on the couch. They got scared. They got hurt once and they were terrified of going out there again. What if they fell down again? What if they scrapped their knee again? Could they take that kind of pain a second time?

Of course those of us who fell down a lot managed to learn how not to land on our knees (knee pads were and are still for pussies), to tuck in our heads (helmets doubly so), and to take the eventual meeting with Mr. Pavement like a man. If you got back up and thought about what you did wrong, you probably could avoid the fall next time. That was the key, learning from what you did last time and trying not to screw up like that the next time.

Sure it meant you had to sit on the ground with a scraped knee now and then, but if you can fly through the air with nothing but a bit of metal under you, then it was worth it. If you know what flying on your own feels like, you know what I’m talking about. Few things can compete with the feeling of being airborne and knowing that you’re going to be okay when you have to stop flying. When you can land and look good while doing it, that’s extra gravy.

In order to get that flight though you have to accept that sometimes you’re going to screw it up. You might screw up spectacularly and hit something that causes you and bike to flip through the air, but when you know how to jump from a bike you can do even that safely. You might only screw up a little and end up sliding along a gravel bed and getting your knees and elbows scraped. The point is in order to reach heaven, you’ve got to accept a couple of spills.

The best part about spills was that when you spilled everyone would come running to see if you were okay. If you screwed up trying to do something particularly spectacular they would congratulate you for coming so damn close. The attempt itself was enough if it was something no one else had tried. You never made the jump for people to see anyway, you did it because you wanted to fly. It helped to have someone there to tell you that you nearly had it when you screwed up though.

Of course after a while the physical daredevil days had to end. Too many bikes had been destroyed, too many skateboards had been smashed, too many pairs of shoes had fallen apart around our feet. We moved into other territories though, and we kept daring.

When we got to those older places we noticed something. Steve, our old buddy Steve, still didn’t dare. He had withdrawn so far from those days that he wouldn’t try anything that involved risk. He would slink back away from the scraped knees that our teen years offered. Those few (too few) of us who were left looked around at all those blank faces and saw the world that was coming for us.

They were all scared, all of them. Each of them had scraped one knee too many somewhere along the line. They had become terrified of further scraped knees, and were wrapping themselves up in the kneepads and helmets of adulthood. Most of those who still engaged in the physical bravery had long ago hidden away into the kneepads of the mind. Now they looked at the few fearless left and held us in a sort of envious contempt.

Many of them had convinced themselves that we had never fallen down, never scraped our knees, and we would learn one day. They got this idea because we had never been the sort to wear the bandages, or to show off our scabs in public. We weren’t about to engage in the showing off and comparing of scars, trying to top the story told by the last person. People who did that had long ago stopped trying to ride and now were re-living the glory days before that one injury that put them off the ride forever. They might try to ride again, but it would take someone taunting them, or possibly a great deal of a controlled substance.

Those of us who kept the idea of flight in their minds though, we didn’t need that. We knew that if we aimed the bike towards the center of the ramp we would get the jump. If we stayed fearless we would be able to make whatever ramp we wanted, and if we stayed smart we would live to tell the tale. It was of course important to take certain precautions and not just jump whatever ramp one came to, that was a good way to get dead. Hurt is one thing, dead is another.

After a while though, we could see real hate in their eyes. They didn’t want to be like us, they wanted us to be like them. The fact that we still jumped let them know that it could be done, just not by them. If they had the guts they could have made the jumps we made, but they had sat on the couch too long. Come to discover some of them really despised us and would cheer whenever one of us would crash. It’s hard to make the fearless feel bad though, and the laughter would stop when we stood back up to make the jump again. Then it was we who were laughing when we made the jump on the second attempt. We would laugh them off because we knew that we could still jump and they couldn’t. We could still touch the sky, and they were rooted to the ground. The contempt went back and forth, but we fearless always felt like we'd won, because we had.

When I got older though, after high school, I discovered an even more interesting thing. By this time of course the jumps were no longer on a bike, but the courage and skill was greatly the same. It became an interesting thing to notice that the assembled groups with their kneepads and bandages often weren’t jeering. For every one person who wanted to see us fall, three wanted us to make it. They wanted us to make it oh so badly, they would actually root for us and tell us what the ground looked like to help us with our jump in some small way. For some of these people it became a sense of personal pride to see us complete a jump. To see that we had noticed a particularly difficult stunt and we going to go pull it off made many people around us start to feel like they had also reached the sky with us. After seeing the cheers that we got, some of them began to try to jump again.

People we hadn’t seen jump in years were suddenly careening down the big hill towards that flat board of particle wood that had been set up on the big pile of sand. The first few attempts were pretty nasty, people got hurt pretty bad. I however knew what to do as did the rest of the fearless who never stopped. We ran up to the person who had just wiped out something awful and helped them up declaring with great pride how they had almost made it. If they kept themselves nearer the center next time they would do it for sure. Not everyone tried a second time, but some did.

Were there more scraped knees? Yeah, lots. You can’t do this sort of thing if you’re not prepared to scrape a knee or two. Does it still hurt? You bet, it stings like a mother fucker. Is it worth it? Oh yes, more than words could convey.

If you always worry about getting a scraped knee, you’re never going to do anything. If you play it safe your whole life you’ll end up like Steve did. Steve ended up sitting on a couch, wearing kneepads, drinking beer, watching a game and wondering what the hell went wrong. Worse yet, Steve had his name changed in order to protect his anonymity, and who the hell wants that?

I took my scrapes and I got the best rewards for going for the extra jump.

You want to get the good prize, you’ve got to take the scraped knee that goes with it.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 24th, 2005 09:42 am (UTC)
Apr. 24th, 2005 04:22 pm (UTC)
Huh. A long, yet insightful, piece. Whomever that mysterious person is, I'm sure tse's quite well-informed about the need to take risks.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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