My cousin was jogging alongside me. I had to pedal slower to keep pace with him. He was ten years old, I was eleven. We hadn’t been friends very long. I’d known him when I was three, so I hadn’t really known him. Then my family moved to Illinois, a little town outside Chicago. Time passed. We saw each other again when we were old enough to remember the visit.
Every year for the first five years after we moved to Illinois my father took the family back east to visit relatives. We always visited my mom’s family and someone from my dad’s family: one of his aunt’s one year, his mother another, another aunt, then when I was eight after a few days in New York he took us to Massachusettes to visit his sister and I got to see my Johnson cousins again. Not that I’d ever missed seeing them, but until then I hardly knew they existed.
I don’t remember what we did. My uncle had a target behind his house and he invited me to shoot an arrow at it. I have no idea where the thing went, but it didn’t hit the target. He helped me pull the string back, told me to look down the arrow at the target and when I could see a straight line from my eye, down the arrow, and to the target, I should let it go. My cousins told me I was really lucky because he never let them touch his bow and arrows, much less shoot them.
We all slept in a room on the second floor overlooking the street. I loved watching the cars go by in the street below. All I could see from my bedroom window at home was the mobile home across the way.
Less than two years later my cousins and I were roommates again. By then my family had moved into a house. My brother and I had an upstairs room overlooking the street, but the house was at the end of a dead-end street, so there wasn’t much to see. Four of us shared one small room. We were small, though, and it was fun, so the room didn’t feel crowded.
So my cousin, Kenny, and I were becoming friends. I don’t remember what we were talking about, but without warning, he ran faster. In an instant, he was ten steps ahead of me. I was pushing hard on the pedals to catch up. He looked back at me, stumbled and fell. I pushed back hard on the pedals to stop. I couldn’t swerve because there was a ditch on the left and a busy street on the right. I think he’d run ahead because there was a bridge where the road crossed a creek. The space at the edge of the road narrowed to about two feet. Normally, I would have been able to stop in time, but this time my foot slipped off the pedal and as I fought to gain control the bike rolled over my cousin!
Somehow I managed to keep from falling over. Somehow he wasn’t hurt, at least not much from the bicycle. He was a little scraped up from falling on the gravel, but he jumped up and started screaming at me as if I’d run him over on purpose. Before I could say anything he stomped home, taking the shortcut I couldn’t take, through the yards.
It was two days before he talked to me again. We were watching TV and he started laughing. Then he said, “You should have seen the look on your face after you ran me over. You looked so scared, I thought you were afraid your bike was broke. I got so mad at you, ’cause I was the one who was hurt, not your stupid bike.”
“I did think you were hurt!”
“I know, but I think I was in shock or something and I was mad at you for running me over and not even falling down. Next time you run me over you better fall down, even if you don’t have to.”
“My cousins moved out a few weeks after that. The trips out east stopped about that time and were replaced by trips to visit the Johnson’s. Ken and I stayed friends until we were in our twenties. Then we both moved further away and grew apart. Still, whenever I see two kids, one on a bicycle, the other running alongside or on a skateboard I remember the feeling of bouncing on my bicycle over my cousin.