It was the balmy summer of 1987. Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet was still being overplayed on the radio stations, everyone had seen Pretty in Pink at least forty times, and I needed a new bike. The one I had, I got when I was seven and, embarrassingly, had Strawberry Shortcake emblazoned across its bright pink body. I wanted to trade in my old, little kid model, for a black mountain bike. I’d also take a skateboard if anyone was offering.
The beginning of July saw me spending full days on my bike with my friends. We would ride to the public pool and swim, or ride into Steveston Village and buy pop and ice cream. We’d ride to the school and peer into the eerily abandoned building, unable to think of a better sight. We were on our bikes nearly every waking hour, and each of those, I wished desperately that I had a new bike. I would ride alongside my friends who all had much more mature bikes than I had. I was about to turn ten, and here I was, riding the vehicle of a toddler.
Every night, as my folks said goodnight and pecked me on the forehead, I would remind them.
“So… Mom? You know my birthday is coming up, right?”
“I do, Lulu.” She called (and still calls) me Lulu all the time. “What was it you wanted again? Ballet slippers?”
“Mom! I want a black mountain bike!”
“I see. Okay, well, I’ll tell your father…” She’d trail off as she left the room.
“And a skateboard, Mom!” I’d wait for her, “Mmmhmmm” and yell, “Love you, Mom!”
Wide-eyed, I’d stare at my ceiling and hope and wish that it would come true. That I would be free of my little kid bike finally, in just a few days, and I could ride alongside my friends with pride.
What if I don’t get a black mountain bike? I would sometimes wonder. I’d still have to ride around in this gaudy, baby girl abomination of a bike. I’d have to endure the embarrassment even longer. I’d hatch plans to leave my bike unlocked close to the street in front of our house, in hopes it would get stolen, or to buy up all the crepe paper at the corner store there was and wrap my bike in it, head-to-toe. I was bound and determined not to have to endure the horror of riding a Strawberry Shortcake bike one moment longer than I had to. I would do anything not to have to ride that damned bike anymore.
One hot July afternoon, I rode to the pool with a group of my friends. We spread our towels out on the pool deck, and popped on our neon sunglasses and absorbed the sun’s rays while picking out which boys were the cutest. We dove in the pool, backflipped off the edge and got in splash fights with boys. We stayed most of the day, but finally threw our towels in our bike baskets or backpacks and rode home.
Giggling with my friends, I approached my driveway and saw my four-year-old brother waving me in.
“Court! Court! Mom and Dad got you an early birthday present!”“What?”
“It’s in the backyard! Come quick!” His excitement was bubbling over.
I peered over at the fence and gate to the backyard and saw the glint of something shiny between the fence boards. I grinned.
Finally, this personal hell of mine was over. Finally, I would never have to ride this monster-mobile again. I imagined what I would do to this dreadful bike as I threw it to the ground with no concern for its wellbeing. I was finally going to have a mature bike, to reflect the mature person I had clearly become. I squinted to catch a glimpse of the glint again, but to no avail, so I just ran to the gate.
As I reached up to pull the gate lever, the gate seemed to open on its own. There were my parents, grinning as though I’d just graduated high school or something. I tried to see past them at my new bike, as they explained they had gotten me something for my birthday, early because reasons I wasn’t listening to. Where was my bike? I couldn’t see a bike anywhere. I scanned the yard and then scanned it again, and my confused, strained look must have been noticeable because my parents said,
“Behind you. Look down.”
What? I thought. I’d just come from there. There was no bike back there.
I turned, slowly, completely confused at this point. I started to lower my gaze as I said, “I don’t understand. I just-”
And that’s when I saw him. That’s when my face crumpled into a sob and I fell to my knees. I picked up the most beautiful, tiny, baby basset hound I had ever seen. His giant, glassy eyes looked up at me with immediate love and his tail was going so fast you couldn’t see it. He bounced and wriggled in my embrace and reached to lick my face, where tears were now streaming in a full on flow. How did my parents manage to find the one dog of all the dogs in the world that I suddenly realized I loved with all my heart? How had they found my soulmate?
“He’s mine? Are you serious? He’s mine?” I couldn’t stop exclaiming.
Both my mom and my dad were choking back tears now, too, as they looked on. My baby dog was all paws and all ears and was about the size of a football that first day I met him. We spent the rest of the day, my friends and family and I, throwing balls for my new best friend and watching him bound around the backyard with endless energy.
Later that day, as my new puppy slept in my pajama’d lap, my mom asked,
“So, are you disappointed you didn’t get the bike you wanted?”
I pet my puppy’s velveteen ears, looked up at my mom and said,
“Bike? What bike?”
Image: Copyright, Courtney Heard.