Do you remember the first time you rode a bike? I can't forget.

During the summer of my 11th year, I got an invitation to sleep over at a friend’s house during the week. I was thrilled. Anything to get to stay in a house with air conditioning. [Yes, we lived without air conditioning in Florida - for seven. long. years.] I was excited to hang out with my friend, too. Didi, her little brother and I played games that night and stayed up late goofing off. We got up a bit late in the morning and they decided to go to a park. Didi’s family lived on another dangerous four lane road, but it didn’t hold a candle to the highway I lived on. But she had a huge neighborhood behind her house that we could go exploring in.

Didi’s little brother brought his bike with us and I was drawn to it. My friend had helped me learn how to ride his bike in our neighborhood a little, but I wanted to try some more. I finally worked up the courage to ask, and I got a yes. You see, my dad didn’t like bikes. Or, rather, he didn’t trust us kids with them. [Ahem, he um, did actually have good reason - but not because of me!] So, the rule for us was no bikes. I was breaking the rules even riding my friends’ bikes. Didi and her brother wanted to go to the park, but I was only interested in riding. I told them to go on without me and I took advantage of the empty streets to ride around.

The only problem was that I didn’t know how to brake on this little 10-speed. Yeah, now I know - backpedal. But I didn’t know that then! I was having a grand time, though. Flying through the streets at top speed. I found a hill that was slightly intimidating, but the day was hot and I was anxious to feel the wind in my hair. I pedaled down the hill for all I was worth.

Until I realized that where the hill ended so did the street. 

I had my first and worst bicycle crash that day. I plowed into a hedge and flipped off the bike and over the bushes. It’s a miracle I didn’t break anything more than my 11-year-old pride. I got up, gingerly checked to see that all my various bits and pieces were still working before I slowly walked over to the bike. No damage. (I think.) Whew.

I trudged up the hill, where I found that Didi and her brother were, somewhat impatiently, waiting for me. I immediately handed off the bike and told them rather shakily that I’d just had a bit of a fall. I don’t know if I intentionally downplayed the severity or if I didn’t realize it myself yet. I was starting to get that out-of-body-experience feeling as I talked to Didi and told them I needed to sit for a while. I landed in a ditch in front of a house and it was there that Didi and her brother left me. I didn’t see them again that day.

Why not, you say?

[Don’t worry, this isn’t some horrible story that ends with them getting snatched.]

I knew after a few minutes that something was really wrong. My head felt like it was spinning, I was sweating and cold. Someone was home in the house I was sitting in front of, so I ventured to the front door, where I asked if they would mind giving me a drink. 

[Let’s take a quick step back here for a moment, okay? At 11 years of age, I was still one of the shyest kids alive. I hated talking to strangers and I was horribly uncomfortable going by myself into any new situation, particularly if I didn’t know anyone. With that in mind, I’ll continue.]

The woman inside the house brought me a lemonade and I did exactly what I shouldn’t have done and started gulping it down as fast as possible, which induced a baptism of sorts for her flower bed. [If there is any justice in this world, then it turned into the world’s best fertilizer.] The woman, who was clearly a compassionate and caring soul, helped me calm down and then called my father for me. She made arrangements to take me to meet him - all the way across town from her house. Did I mention she had two little kids, too? Of all the houses, in all the world, I picked the best one to get sick in front of and to this day, I don’t know her name.

I hope I have the chance to help out someone else’s child this way; it would be a pleasure.

Have you ever received help from a stranger that was unexpected? Did you pay it forward?