My two-year-old son stood behind me at the top of the steps to the basement, waving his ever-present plastic toy sword as I descended into the basement of my home on Orange Street. I had told Chris to stay upstairs, since I was going to be brief at a task. He contented himself by swinging his sword in exaggerated movements, slashing at imagined foes. It was not long before I heard rumbling and tumbling, and as I raced to the foot of the steps, my son finished his roll into the basement and landed at my feet, his collarbone broken for the first of what would be five times.
When Chris was a toddler, his mother and I would tease him, saying that he would “fall down, go boom.” He took a long time to grow an interest in bipedal movement, choosing to crawl until he was almost 15 months old. His sister, 13 months older, climbed to her feet at 9 months, and when Chris decided to “go upright,” he tried to catch Lauren. His mother and I spent a lot of time saying, “Aw! Did you fall down, go ‘boom?’” When the two kids got bikes and skates, Chris chafed at the parental direction that pads and helmets must be worn to ride and glide. Years go by, and the kids shed their little bikes and inline skates, and the adult Chris has embraced bike riding both as a sport and for exercise. He ordered special bike parts online and put together his own version and took to the streets of Mooresville.
His jaunts were never casual pedals of the kind I would enjoy. He rode like the wind, but he had internalized one parental lesson: always wear a helmet. One day, when he was powering down the street at a mighty pace, he saw a car pull up to the stop sign at the cross street. “I’m sure the guy saw me,” Chris told me. “I guess he didn’t believe that I was traveling as fast as I was. He pulled out right in front of me.” Chris boomed into the car, popped off the bike, flew across the car and bounced onto the street. The man stopped briefly, got out and looked at his car, climbed back in and drove away. “He didn’t even ask me how I was,” Chris told me. “I guess it was because I was up and walking toward my mangled bike.”
Chris’ bruises from the bike accident were long healed on the evening he was traveling North on Kentucky Avenue in Mooresville, headed toward practice with the band he plays in. He was in the middle lane of a three-lane road; the car slightly ahead of him, and to his right, turned off the highway, revealing a car that had pulled onto the road. “I could see the guy’s eyes, just before I hit him,” Chris said. “I thought I’d killed him.” The man climbed out of the passenger window of his T-boned car, asking Chris if he was all right. Both men escaped serious injury, and Chris walked away from another violent meeting with a car.
A case could be made that a lack of vigilance on my part contributed to my toddling son’s fall down into that 80-year-old basement, but his helmet was strapped on his head when he sailed across the hood of a car, and his seatbelt firm across his chest when his car met another. Some lessons were learned, and though he did “go boom,” he stood once more, able to firmly step into his future.