When you are nothing but a wee lad, eight years of age, so much of the world is a little slice of magic sitting on an invisible plate. The big people seem so perfect and so skilled in everything they do. Even when Daddy slips with the hammer and smashes his thumb, you figure he meant to do that. After all, Daddy is on top of these things. Isn't he?

In the kitchen is Mommy and she's the most beautiful lady in the whole world. Someday you're going to grow up big and strong and marry someone just like her. Someone just as perfect. Someone just as wonderful.

She's baking muffins again...

Once about every two months or so, Uncle Carl comes to town. He lives in some mythological city you've found on the globe at school, but that doesn't make it a real place. The only real place is what you see every morning when you wake up and walk across the damp grass on the front lawn. This is your neighborhood. These are the only kids. Those are the only cars. This is the only place that matters. Some of that will stay with you, but eventually your horizon starts to widen.

Uncle Carl might have been three months late, but he brought you a birthday present. You never realized that Mommy and Daddy had to remind him the last time he came to your house. There wasn't anything Uncle Carl could do that was wrong, especially this time. Out of the back of his supersonic station wagon he pulled a green and white bicycle with a red ribbon wrapped around the handlebars. You looked in amazement, thinking it must be a present for you, but it was so big. Surely Uncle Carl knew you were too little to ride such a big boy bicycle.

"Before you were born we were never sure..."

Days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months. Before long the leaves were turning and the chill was returning to the edges of the wind. The bicycle sat in the garage because Daddy said you weren't old enough. You weren't old enough yet. That didn't stop you from going down to the garage every chance you had so you could look at the bicycle and touch the bicycle the way you one day would look at and touch women who would never be as beautiful and perfect as Mommy was in those days.

"Go ahead, ride her..."

The edge of the wind soon started slicing with a more icy flavor. Coats and hats would be your suit of armor as you went into battle each day with invisible dragons and the monsters that lurked in every corner of your imagination. The year's first snowfall was plentiful, and with run after run down the great hill you could barely catch your breath, but that didn't stop you from climbing the hill to take the trip again and again. Your face was red and the frost stung the tips of your nose and your ears. When Uncle Carl appeared at the top of the hill, you breathlessly told him that this was "the best time ever." You asked if he wanted to take a run down the hill, and he eagerly licked his lips while looking up and down the smooth grooved path the kids had made in the snow. He took your sled and yelled out like a banshee before hitting the run. You laughed with your friends. They thought Uncle Carl was crazy, but they loved the fact he wasn't above doing these kinds of things. He was better than perfect to you. Most big people stayed in the house and watched the news, which didn't mean anything to you, but you knew it meant something to them.

The end of winter and the start of spring came with a violent rain storm that washed away the snow that had collected on the ground the last four months. That was okay, because you hated the snow when it became hard and covered with dirt and marked by car exhaust. This spring would be something special. Daddy said you were big enough to take the bicycle out for a ride.

"Be careful."

You understood the seriousness of Daddy's warning, but it did not mean much to you in the greater context of getting on that bicycle and believing it could take you anywhere. It could take you to places you always wanted to go before and it would get you to the places you knew faster and on your own power. Mommy wouldn't have to give you a ride anymore. Of course, the first few attempts to ride Uncle Carl's magic bicycle weren't all that successful. This was a real bicycle and it was very different from the little kid bicycles and Big Wheels and assorted plastic vehicles you had piloted in the past. This was your first connection with the kind of reality you imagined big people must feel when they go out into the world. You felt like you were daddy behind the wheel of his Buick leaving for work in the morning. You were big people now.

"Don't go too far."

There were too many places to go, and how far could far be, anyhow? Legs pushing those pedals moved you forward, faster and faster, until you were at the end of your road. This put you at a crossroads. At the intersection of your road, the world you knew, and the main road were a coffer full of choices. To the left a few blocks was your school. To the right a few blocks was the little collection of stores where you got your hair cut, pizza every other Friday, and ice cream on special occasions. You had a pocket full of coins and figured this was a special occasion. You would buy your own ice cream this time. On your own. By yourself. Nothing could be as sweet as that.

"Be careful."

It was the day you started to understand those words. No matter how many times you fell off the jungle gym and skinned your knee, the words meant nothing. Today, not long after you enjoyed the success of going to get your very own ice cream, you would begin to understand. You savored the ice cream while sitting at the counter and smiling at Mr. Gordon, the owner of the shop. When you walked out of the ice cream parlor, the bicycle was gone.

It was a long walk, but you walked all the way home. There were tears in your eyes and the sadness seemed an infinite abyss from which you would never recover. When you got home you told Daddy what happened, but all he had were questions you either couldn't answer or did not want to answer. Mommy gave you a big hug, but told you that you needed to be more careful. It meant nothing, because Uncle Carl's magic bicycle was gone now and everything felt so empty. None of your toys or other possessions meant anything in the shadow of this newfound gloom. You stayed in your room, trying to forget the little piece of nirvana you had enjoyed for a fleeting moment. Then your heart fell again the day you saw Uncle Carl's station wagon pull up in front of the house. You didn't know what you would tell him. You were afraid to even look at him. You felt ashamed because you had lost Uncle Carl's most special gift.

"I've got a present for you."

It was the last thing you expected Uncle Carl to say, but it shouldn't have been. You forgot how perfect Uncle Carl was and how much it meant to you when he came to visit. He took you out to the car and opened the back of the station wagon. There it was, the same bicycle, or at least it looked like the same bicycle to you. There was no red ribbon this time. Instead there was a chain with a combination lock. Uncle Carl taught you how to work the numbers so the lock would open only for you. You hugged him and thanked him, over and over again, telling him he was the greatest human being in the world.

You're old and tired now and your eyes are beginning to close on the world. Still you find yourself looking back and remembering how Uncle Carl's magic bicycle carried you further than Mommy and Daddy ever imagined. It carried you from the world of childhood into a world that was so much harder and so much more real than you ever wanted it to be. Closing your eyes, you imagined you were battling dragons and monsters behind the bushes in the old neighborhood again. It was so much easier then, but it all feels like a watercolor painting now and the brushes dried up long ago.

"Don't go too far."

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