“Don’t Let Go”
I learned how to ride a bicycle in Alaska.
It was a warm summer day when I got my first bike. Turquoise and pink. And a hot denim outfit to go with it.
“Where are my training wheels?” I asked Grandpa. My younger sister had training wheels on her new bike.
“Yumi is still a baby. You’re all grown up.” I was six. I’d never ridden a bike before then.
“I’ll teach you. It’s easy. Get on.”
I get seated and try to balance myself but lean too far to the left or to the right.
“See you have to be in motion. You have to pedal to keep your balance. That’s the key. If you stop pedaling, you’ll fall.”
I started to pedal, Grandpa held my left handle and the base of my seat. He power-stepped beside me. We slowly gained speed and I got nervous cos he’s the one pushing.
“Don’t let go Grandpa.”
“Just keep pedaling. Don’t stop.”
“Promise you won’t let go!”
“Ok. Just keep pedaling.”
Then suddenly he pushed me down the sloped sidewalk onto the empty residential street. Broke his promise. Broke his word. My trust. I told myself I would never believe him again, even after he said he wouldn’t pull the string that he tied around my tooth, even when he said the rubbing alcohol wouldn’t hurt, and even when he said he wouldn’t cut my nails too short, I found myself trusting him one more time. I kept pedaling, farther and farther away from him. I’m alone. I’m doing it all on my own.
A few blocks from our cul-de-sac, there’s a busy intersection. I didn’t know how to turn. I only went straight. I stopped pedaling hoping it would slow down, but it maintained its speed down the hill. I could faintly hear Grandpa yelling from behind but his voice is muffled by engines ahead. I instinctively back pedal hard into a sliding, drifting, screeching stop as an ice cream truck turned into my street.
Luckily, I’m on the right side. I turn to look behind me and Grandpa is standing in the middle of the street. The sun behind him. Both hands on his hips. My fear quickly evaporates into anger as I turn my bike around and walk it back home. As I near him, he’s got a great grin on his face.
“Now you know how to ride a bike!”
“You promised you wouldn’t let go. I almost died!”
“If I always keep my promise, you’ll never learn. Now get on your bike. I’m going to push you again.” And I let him until I could push off on my own. Then he gave me a dollar for a fudge-cicle and went inside.
This memory came to me as my husband and I were in the process of looking to purchase second-hand bicycles. We found one that I liked on Craigslist. I contacted the owner and scheduled for pickup.
Today is the twenty second of August. The middle of an extremely hot summer. The Saturday I go to pick up my bike, I get alerts on my phone from my cousins on Kakao group chat, but I’m about to drive so I put it on silent until I get back home. When I arrive, I take my new bike out for a spin down the street. Then back at home, I park my bike, make a sandwich and only then remember the messages waiting for me. My cousin tells us that Grandpa had passed away this morning. The morning I go to purchase my bike.
Twenty nine years ago, Grandpa lied to me and pushed me away on a bike. He let me go. Was he trying to teach me independence? Or was he trying to teach me not to trust old men. I will never know. But today we learned to let go of Grandpa. Thank you for all your hard ways. We’ll miss you.