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Three Questions
By Pamela Ribon

The last time I was on a bicycle I was twelve years old. I rode a pink and gray Schwinn ten-speed, one I had earned from a combination of babysitting money and incessant pleading. Until that day, seventeen years ago, the biggest accident I'd had on my bike was when I thought it'd be cool to take both of my feet off of the pedals at the same time. Not knowing where else to put them, I figured I'd BMX it by touching my toes together in front of me.

A constant problem I have is that I only think things through to two. I ask myself two questions, and if both answers suit me fine, I go ahead with whatever it is. Often in retrospect I wish I'd asked myself a third question. My father once told me that the reflective bumps on the road were in order to assist the blind when they drive their cars. I asked myself, "Is it like Braille?" Yes. "Do the bumps become more prevalent when closer to stop lights or the middle lane?" Yes. Therefore, the conclusion: Dad must be speaking the truth. If I'd only asked one of the many third questions that leap to mind when pondering this alleged piece of trivia for more than six seconds. "How do they know when the light is red?" "How does it work in reverse?" Or maybe the most pressing question raised by this factoid: "How do they know when they've gotten to where they're going?"

Back to me wanting to look cool on my Schwinn. First I asked myself, "Would my feet touching in front of me be cool?" Yep. Then: "Wouldn't it be awesome if my feet were touching between the spokes?" Oh, yeah. I touched my toes together before asking that all-important third question, "How will the wheels keep spinning if my feet are jammed between the spokes?"

The bike stopped short with a lurch and a loud popping sound. I fell sideways to the street. My right hip was pretty banged up, my pinky toes were bruised to an alarming purple-black hue, and I lost three spokes from my front wheel.

A series of clever lies, and an obstinate claim of short-term amnesia, kept me from getting into any serious trouble with my mother. Once my bike was fixed, I was immediately back on it, filled with an eleven-year-old's enviable sense of immortality. This was a time before moms loaded their children in over-protective gear. I was a kid on a bike -- no helmet, no pads, no SPF 60. It was just me and the gravelly road.

It was a hot summer afternoon in Jackson, Mississippi, less than one year later, the last time I ever got on that Schwinn, or any other bike, for that matter. I was dicking around on the street in front of my house breaking at least three rules, if I remember correctly. I was supposed to be inside cleaning my room. I wasn't supposed to be wearing my newest outfit (a super-clean white tank-top and a pair of Dirty Dancing denim shorts). But most importantly I wasn't supposed to ride my bike in flip-flops. Mom often declared seemingly arbitrary rules, like how I wasn't allowed to write on myself with marker or pen because that was the gateway to getting a tattoo. I couldn't get my ears pierced, wear make-up or even nail polish until I was at least thirteen because those accessories were an announcement to boys that I was the kind of girl who wears earrings, make-up and nail polish. Guns of any kind were also forbidden in our home, including water guns or a threateningly-held banana, because even pretending to shoot your sister is just as bad as pulling an actual trigger. So when Mom warned me not to ride my bike in flip-flops, I figured this was more of a fashion rule than a safety issue.

I asked myself: "Is it more of a hassle to go change shoes since I'm only going to ride my bike for a second?" Yes. Then: "Am I about to get off my bike and go clean my room anyway?" Yes.

I'm not exactly sure how this happened, but my left flip-flop got caught somewhere between my bike chain and the underside of the pedal. Panicked and confused, I hit both brakes at the same time. I then flipped over the handlebars and slid across the gravel. On my face. The left side of my body felt like it was on fire as I stood up, pieces of road falling from my cheek. Through my hot tears I could see my left knee was bleeding. I limped into the house, where I found out just how bad my injuries were by the decibel level of my mother's scream. She asked me a breathless question that held all of the words she needed to ask me at once: "What-did-how-why-you-okay?" She led me into the bathroom, randomly spitting out those words. I saw my face in the mirror, blurry from my wailing. My skin was a mixture of dark reds, purple streaks, black dots from gravel still sunken into my cheek. It was not pretty.

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