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A Quiet Bike Ride

jhunter's picture

I am fourteen and riding my bike back from the grocery store with a pack of colored sharpies and paperclips that I need for a science project.  It’s light out, sunset at least an hour away, as I pedal down my neighborhood’s sidewalks.  I pass neatly trimmed lawns that look identical, making the ride feel like an endless outdoor hall of mirrors, reflecting the same brick, two-story, white-trimmed house over and over.  Despite my initial anger that my parents wouldn’t be able to give me a ride to the store because of their presence at my older brother’s awards ceremony, I’m enjoying riding my bike, the translucent grocery bag on my left handlebar shuddering and flapping in the wind, my pale skin exposed to the waning sunlight of this May afternoon.  The grocery store is only a mile from my house, and I am nearing the end of my ride. 

I am only three blocks away from home, coming up the steep hill that becomes level beside the house with the enormous tree in the center of its lawn.  This house has near-constant holiday decorations, but they seem to have forgotten Cinco de Mayo.  While pedaling uphill to this last stretch, I feel some pain in my abdomen that I ignore.   But I can’t ignore what feels like a knife stabbing into and shredding my organs, and I collapse.  Falling off my bike, I land on the lawn across from the house with the huge tree and a patch of flattened grass where a glowing nativity scene usually rests.  I open my mouth to scream for help but find I cannot. 

Between throwing up and gasping for air, I don’t have the energy to vibrate my vocal chords, to emit anything but the most garbled, incomprehensible of sounds. In an attempt to convey my agony, my hands rip and tear at the neighborhood’s well-kept lawn—a crime for which I pray the homeowner’s association will not prosecute me.  I barely have the energy to watch as cars pass me; the static of their radios and clicking of turn signals serve as a constant reminder that I have not just unfortunately found myself in a silent movie.  I alternate between watching cars and looking up at the sky.  The trees blur into a green mass at the periphery of my vision, and I try to communicate desperate prayers into the blue abyss overhead, “Please God, just let me pass the fuck out.”

A lot of cars drive by me, apparently assuming that the girl collapsed beside a green bike with its wheels still slowly spinning is merely taking a meditative moment to enjoy the lovely afternoon.  I am not enjoying the lovely afternoon.  I want to scream for help and try to reach for my cell phone before I realize I couldn’t even speak if I managed to dial my parents; texting would require mental acuity that I do not possess. After what feels like hours but is probably closer to five minutes, a car, a shiny, silver Mercedes, slows to a stop by my useless, gasping body.  A man slowly ambles toward me, pausing about a foot away to ask me a series of questions that I can’t answer due to the fact that…DUH…I can barely breathe.  His face hovers over me, the glare from his glasses momentarily blinding me, robbing me of yet another sense, as he says, as if to reassure me, “Don’t worry. I’m a doctor.”  My worry doesn’t dissipate as the pain continues. The malicious vampire baby that has taken up residence in my abdomen and who is currently gnawing on my internal organs seems to have confused its allusive role; I’m fairly certain that the half-demon fetus in Twilight never joined forces with Ursula from The Little Mermaid.  After several minutes, when a police car instead of an ambulance pulls up, I am still worried.

From my spot on the grass, I am half-dragged/half-carried to the back of the police car where my body sinks into the sticky blue pleather as soon as I’m put down.  I’m in so much pain that I don’t even appreciate this first time in a police car, and I can’t move enough to look around.  I hear my false savior using his commanding, ‘trust me—I’m a doctor’ voice to tell the officers my home address, which he found in my wallet.  He calmly explains that I had fallen off my bike and scratched my knee—my currently unblemished knee.  In his professional medical opinion, I am a little scared.

 Because I can’t form a complete sentence and am stuck on the sweaty backseat of the police car, I have no ability to contradict him.  His word is law, and I am alone, feel like I’m dying, and can’t speak.  At least my knee isn’t scratched!  All I can do is sink further into the fake leather typically reserved for offenders and listen to the radio the officers have kindly left on for me.  A woman named Delilah speaks soothingly, in a voice better suited for phone sex than DJing, promising that she’ll play the perfect song for an inmate who has found Jesus and wants his estranged wife to know.  When the music starts, I am faced with a new challenge—if I regain my voice, will I first ask to be taken to a hospital or beg the officers to change the radio station?  They deposit me at home before I can resolve the debate.

It takes only a glance for my mother to realize I need to go to the Emergency Room.  I might not be able to articulate what I’m feeling, but my lack of color, shallow breath, and intermittent shaking aren’t the most difficult signs to interpret. An oxygen mask helps me breathe, and morphine, wonderful morphine, allows me to finally escape the pain, the noise all around me, and the helplessness I feel not being able to answer the avalanche of questions coming at me full force from every medical professional who walks by my gurney. 

When I wake up in the morning, I have my own team of doctors, a private room, self-controlled morphine pump, and I can breathe.  A doctor asks how I feel, and I confidently open my mouth and answer, “Okay.”  I wait for more questions, but apparently my speaking part is over.  He continues, “Well, that’s just the morphine.  You’re going to be here for a while.  See, your spleen…” Just having regained my voice, it will be quite a while before I have the opportunity to use it again.



Anne Dalke's picture

"Finding myself in a silent movie"

you'll have seen by now, I expect, that several of your classmates found your original "bouquet of eyes" very powerful; you should be sure to look-and-mull over the rich range of reflections you provoked in Hummingbird, Sarah and HSBurke.

You choose, yourself, this time 'round, a very different image than that one, which "positions the self as object, giving time for self-reflection." The photograph, provided by Sarah, seems to be your representation (yes?) of how the sky looked when you were laid out, speechless, when your spleen (burst?) and you "found yourself in a silent movie" (great image to describe the sense of despair at being unable to communicate...), without even the "mental actuity" to text a message of "help"! This is a state far indeed from self-reflection...

Your story is a vivid one--and the experience sounds just dreadful. What does it tell us "about" silence, and about the varieties of ways in which we can experience it? You describe what it feels like, viscerally, to be silenced by your body (and also by the "doctor" who wasn't really attending to your symptoms...). In the context of all your classmates' stories about the silencing effects of oppression, and about choosing silence, and about self-silencing, what does this very different angle on the experience of being silenced by the malfunctioning of your spleen add to the spectrum of possibilities we're exploring?