Monday, November 8, 2010

suicide hill

The sentinels stood in a row, facing out over the city. The last one wheeled into place, gravel dust puffs spinning into the air. The tiny rocks scattered loudly and then settled. We stood there, silently, as an eternity passed. One of us might have been thinking about the girl he’d left behind. Another, silently contemplating his dog and the chores that needed doing at home. Elbow to elbow, we stared off into the distance. Leaning forward I rested my chin on my hand.

“It’s time,” I told my faithful sentries.

“No…”replied one of them. “It’s just too dangerous. We’ll never make it.”

The others were nodding. Shying away from destiny. Ducking responsibility. Embarrassed to look me in the eye.

“Look,” I patiently explained. “We have to do this. If we don’t…we’ll always regret it. We have to try, at least.”

They looked at me, waiting. Knowing that no one would go unless I went first, I took a deep breath and dug my toe into the ground.

“Wait!” yelled a member of my patrol. “I don’t know. I just…don’t think we should do it today. We can do it tomorrow.” The group smiled, relieved, and as one, started to turn.

I stood there, mourning the loss. Of the hot, dry afternoon and of the risk I thought we’d never take. Resigning myself to the inevitable, I flipped back the pedal on my bike and started to turn too, taking one last look over my shoulder.

Suddenly, I stopped. “No,” I said, my voice strangely loud in my ears. “It has to be done today.” Of an accord, the patrol nodded. Looking around, we took a collective deep breath and turned back around. 

Suicide Hill. Of all the most dangerous stunts and hills we tore down on our fifth grade bicycles, Suicide Hill was by far the scariest. By far the most dangerous. The road was so steep, cars weren’t allowed to drive down it. The top of the road was closed off by guardrail. On the other side of the guardrail, the top of the hill was bisected by a narrow path, not wide enough to park a bike. The street shot straight down from the path.

Even as an adult, I’ve driven by Suicide Hill and it still looked scary.

And there were so many other, little, deaths happening that summer, too. As a group, we were changing. Growing up. Moving away from each other. Moving on. In another year, we’d be in junior high. Some of us would be in other junior highs across town. Even the upcoming year, the last year of elementary school, loomed large on the horizon. We didn’t know it yet, but by the end of sixth grade…Very few of us would still be friends.

And none of us would ever be the same, after that year.

But for this last summer, these final days of girls and boys, we were still the gang. And I was still the leader. And Suicide Hill, well, it was just one more set of monkey bars, a big climbing tree or a homemade raft to conquer. One more in my string of conquests, and the one that would be the jewel in my daredevil crown. 

We had other hills we favored for bicycling. Big Jump Hill, Cherry Drop Hill and Lemon Drop Hill all gave us a taste of what we needed. But none of them quenched the thirst we had for Suicide.

And on that day, that day of days, we’d finally talked it to death. The only way I wasn’t going to ride my bike down Suicide Hill on that day was if someone committed suicide- or murder.

It was do or die time.

We were glorious that day. After so many stops at the top of the hill, it was no wonder that the final release, that final letting go- felt wonderful. There were moments in that high-speed seconds-long ride where we came close to tumbling, head over handlebars, in what would have surely been ugly, bloody, horrific accidents.

But not on that day. On that day, we flew, on battered bicycle wings, from the top of Suicide Hill to the bottom and beyond. On that day, we were beautiful.