I thought it couldn’t happen to me. As far as I was concerned, after almost four years of riding my bicycle all over Isla Vista, I was positive that I was immune from the kind of serious cycling accidents commonly associated with overwrought freshman in their first quarter at UCSB. After all, I had mastered merging, learned how to let people pass me and even perfected pedaling my beach cruiser in high heels and a short skirt. I’ve figured out which side of the road to ride on, become comfortable balancing my bag, myself and my after-class takeout and gotten very good at getting my iPod to the right song while pedaling.
So, when my cranium collided with the cold, hard dirt the other day, I was – to say the least – kind of surprised to stand up and discover I had fallen off my bike. Apparently, taking that particular turn too quickly proved to be the beach cruiser’s final straw, and she buckled under the pressure, throwing me to the dusty ground in the process. As I shakily took my first few steps after the accident, I was overwhelmed by a series of sensations. My leg was throbbing, my elbow was pounding, my hand was burning and my eyes were watering. I was embarrassed, ashamed and thoroughly afraid of having to face the ride home with ripped pants, bloodied limbs and a very bent-out-of-shape bike.
Now, as I sit here reliving the whole sordid story over again, I’m maneuvering around the piece of skin that tore off my right hand, ignoring the constant throb of pain in my elbow and trying not to move my leg for fear that the band-aids on my bloodied knee will pop off. I’m sore and scraped and still self-conscious about telling people that my beat-up right side is the result of ‘falling off my bike.’ Somehow, I can’t get over feeling like – at the age of 21 – I should have outgrown the whole scraping my knees falling off my bicycle thing.
Granted, as my boyfriend kept wondrously pointing out as I writhed in pain last night, this was the first time I had ever hurt myself so badly. He could not believe that I asked him when the wounds would stop “weeping” – his term for the oh-so-sexy oozing of plasma onto the bandages on my knee and elbow. Of course, a childhood spent playing dress-up and make-believe does not necessarily lend itself to the kinds of situations that result in scrapes. In fact, my worst youthful injury happened when I ran into a door and fractured my toe. I was definitely an indoor child.
Still, there was something that especially smarted about my bike accident. And it wasn’t just the scrapes and dirt burns. It wasn’t even the fact that my bike basket is now more of an abstract art piece than anything remotely functional. As best as I can tell, I think my issue with the whole incident comes down to simple cockiness.
As a college senior, it’s really easy to get cocky about the whole college experience. From crashing classes to crashing parties, by the time you’re a senior, you’ve pretty much done it all at least once. Whereas, fall quarter of my freshman year, I was terrified of not getting the right add codes, worried about walking around alone, afraid to attend parties with people I didn’t know and pretty much forced to talk myself into facing most situations, by the time June rolled around, my inhibitions had been replaced by the kind of indomitable sense of invincibility that can only come from experience.
I knew my way around campus, knew my best strategies for coping with unfamiliar situations and was confident that I could handle whatever college threw at me. My fear had fled, and in its place, cockiness grew in spades.
Three years later, and it’s hard not to be complacent about collegiate life. I’ve been there, I’ve done that and I’ve survived with my body, mind and soul as intact as anyone at the University of Casual Sex and Beer could hope for. But then, just as I was finishing up yet another fall quarter, I had to go and fall off my bike.
And, while the physical pain ensued, it was the reminder that I’m not as invincible as I thought that hurt more. In the end, my bruised ego far outweighs any of the bruises on my knee and elbow, because being reminded of my own fallibility is even worse than having to deal with my wounds weeping all over my favorite pants.
I could take the mature route. I could see this as a reminder that a little fear is not always a bad thing – it’s what generally keeps people from taking turns too fast and falling off their bikes as a result. It’s that little voice in your head that says that, although you’re completely capable of doing so, walking through the park alone at night may not be the best idea. And, it’s what ensures that most people do make it out of college with their body, minds and souls mostly intact.
Or, I could just embrace my juvenile accident and milk it for all its worth. Make my boyfriend take care of me, my boss take pity on me and my roommates do my chores for me. After all, I apparently missed out on the vital youthful experience of seriously injuring oneself in a silly and entirely avoidable manner. Of course, after almost four years in college, playing the helpless hurt girl isn’t really my thing.
I guess all that competence and, dare I say it, cockiness is kind of addicting. There is something to be said for knowing that you can handle any situation that college, or life in general, throws at you. But, I think from here on out, I’m going to try and integrate at least a little bit of healthy fear back into my decision-making processes. After all, it definitely would have been nice if I’d remembered that, when life throws a big block of cold, hard dirt at you, catching yourself with your elbows and knees might not be the best response