When a child dies

Classroom teachers expect a range of routines and a set order to their day. Teaching follows a sort of rhythm, sometimes raucous and sometimes sweet. It changes the tenor and variation of school days when a child dies. We see this after police murders of youth like Trayvon Martin and in mass school shootings that now pocket the landscape of American dreams.

But it is different when working with children in and out of hospital and home, and rarely in school a full term.

A child dying in this way is somehow less expected, even though it is more frequent than many of us know.

In reading The 57 Bus, by Dashka Slater,  a student close to teenager Richard had a nick name and description that matched a kid I knew. It made me cry out to think about Skeet’s unsolved murder by multiple gunshots in 2013. It set part of the background of Richard falling in with “the wrong people.” The story explains how Skeet’s death set Richard on a path that leads to a brutal burning assault on Sasha, non-binary agender biological  male who wore skirts to school. The crime changed both of them, but in profoundly different ways.

The story triggered recollection of other kids who had died at the large urban high school where I taught. It reminded me of the death of David, a high school senior, who laughed easily, played football exceptionally well and was a fun big brother. He died of cancer after struggling with great will and grace. His death came only a few months after his hospital graduation ceremony. Another student, battling leukemia, passed away without finishing 6th grade only a few months earlier.

How we deal with the loss of a child, treatment of children who are chronically ill or those who are disabled due to illness, is a largely defines the door-to-door teaching I do with my colleagues. Even though it hovers in the background of the usual teaching routines of giving out papers, sharing information and checking for understanding, we see the traumas children and families endure.

There are no words to capture the dilemma of knowing our teaching is sometimes largely palliative and commitment to it requires a sense of out-sized optimism.

 

 

 

 

Days adrift

It has been several months since this blog featured a post. Perhaps it has to do with getting caught up in the future of the U.S. presidency, and the great fear that not all change is a good idea.

In a short period of months, I very much wondered if the racist vitriol and anti-immigrant hysteria featured in speeches and rallies would unseat that sane, reflective, fact-based world I believe most of us live in. Two years have passed with an escalating output of hatred, bigotry and intolerance. Turns out, the world keeps spinning even when the outcomes and paradigms we have been accustomed to knowing become mostly unknown.

Parents and students asked me about whether I thought big changes were coming in education with the election of Republican candidate Donald Trump and his appeals to base ignorance. My response: He can muster support in broad quarters due to decades of erosion and neglect of the right of all students to a free, quality education and the absence of broad mobilization to fight for our rights and our children’s rights.

It’s a fierce hope now that many people recognize we have to hold our freedoms high, that resistance will and must grow.

Teaching and testing

It’s been a month or more since I last found the inspiration required to keep a blog going. Yes, I had started out the year, plotting a frequency of every ten days, as a kind of personal writing test. It has not worked to plan. In fact, I have hardly been able to read enough to write. During March, even my regular writing group could not meet.

The reasons for falling down on plans and intentions are many. Some of them were a reflection of my health, where I felt like I needed to pace myself to get through the year without falling ill. I ran a 5K race to help increase my fitness level and to join in the Oakland Running Festival. If I finished it in a reasonable enough time, I could check whether the uptick in physical activity it required could counteract my sense of aging in a former athlete’s body, fading cartilage, muscle strains and the like. How much it hurt, how much it didn’t, you know, a kind of measuring stick. Mostly, it didn’t hurt.

My birthday came a few days later. Even though I have celebrated quite a few, it made me hit the pause button and reflect on what I am doing, why I am doing it and whether to continue.  Yet time slipped by me as new students came my way.

One of them was precisely the kind of student I loved to have in the classroom–bright, an eager reader, well-spoken and calm.  Just out of treatment for various mental and emotional maladies, she  wanted to finish the last months of school and get on with recovery and life. It was not going to be easy juggling unfinished first semester courses and earning remaining credits in time for graduation after missing school for months.

In spite of all the challenges posed, her school held onto grades from first semester when she became terribly ill, and in March kept insisting she take a final exam for material she was never well enough to learn in the first place. Such moments make testing a barrier to learning. In any case, the final was delivered, she took it and I scored it.

The exam supposedly tested knowledge of a novel by a well-known German author, Hermann Hesse. I am not a big Hesse fan, but like anyone who teaches English, I looked for the book on our shelf and tried to become familiar again, so as to assess whether the student knew the book and understood what happened in it. I expected to have to look at some essay questions and assess knowlege of themes, character flaws, plot twists and epiphanies.

In the process, I perused the typical websites students use for cheating. Like the Cliff Notes of yesteryear, there are a range of online resources to prepare to write, analyze story line, literary devices and so forth. These are supplemental learning tools that often get abused and misused.

When I got the test from the office where the student took it, I was surprised to see that it was actually a direct download from one of the student sites, Spark Notes. In fact, to score the test, I just went to the online multiple choice questions and entered the student’s answers.

While this certainly saved me time, it also made me think about the teaching purpose of a final test anyone can find online, especially if it’s to count as a criteria for granting credit toward graduation. I have used online tests of this sort to get students used to preparing for College Board tests, but could not imagine them encompassing a full novel for a final.

On the one hand, this experience made me sympathetic to the “opt out” movement that is reacting to over-testing in classrooms at younger ages, but in other ways rejects the rigors and implications of testing altogether.

On the other hand, after reading the student’s essay on a “relevant theme,” I felt obliged to tell her to try to take the practice quizzes if tested on almost every concept directly from Spark Notes. You never know when facts from a novel will come in handy.

On the whole, it reminded me of a story my brother told me about our fifth grade teacher. I really liked her class,  because when I had her, her lively approach showed she was fairly well invested in teaching early colonial America. Only two years later, she grew weary and dull in the job. That was the teacher he got.

Coincidentally, the school administration sent an evaluation team to assess her teaching. In preparation for her model lesson, she told students to raise their right hand if they knew the answer to the questions she was asking during the class, or the left hand if they did not. She planned to only call on students raising their right hands to demonstrate how everyone was learning.

My brother raised his right hand for every question, which made it hard for her to guess whether she should call on him or not, because she assumed he didn’t know. He rarely turned in assignments. Also, he was the only black boy in the class. He was heavily chastised afterward for not going along with the plan, because she’d been questioned about not calling on him. He explained to her that he knew the answers, so he raised his right hand, like she said. Full of disbelief, she asked him the questions and he answered them all in quick succession. She really didn’t know him like that, since she never gave oral or written tests. If she’d given tests, she would have known how he could always pass whatever test he ever took, but hardly ever did a lick of homework and cruised to a B/B-. That was his learning profile.

Testing plays an important role for assessing student work, even though its greatest use value is for the teachers to check on whether the best intentions and plans bear fruit.

 

 

 

 

Poetry and black history

For this year’s black history month celebrations, I joined with other parents in giving a “pop up” presentation. In order to prepare, I had to really think about what poems or writers or essays would emote 15 minutes of black pride. Initially, I chose two favorite poems by Maya Angelou, whose writing first drew my attention when I worked in our high school library. While dusting and shelving books, I had found a collection including “Still I Rise” and “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”

I tried to read them both a couple of times before I was scheduled to present, but each time, I could not help stumbling over the last lines of “Still I Rise” because they somehow made me cry.

“Out of the huts of history’s shame

I rise

Up from a past that’s rooted in pain

I rise

I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,

Welling and swelling I bear the tide

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear

I rise

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave

I am the dream and hope of the slave.

I rise

I rise

I rise”

In fear of blubbering through the poem and embarrassing the poet, I stuck with “Caged Bird” and then went looking for other poems that I have relied upon or taught or appreciated lately. Suddenly, I was swept up by poetry and favorite poets.

Eventually, I settled on two other poems from Amiri Baraka, “Ka’Ba” and “Monday in B-Flat” as well as one more, by Pulitzer Prize winner Vijay Seshadri,”Survivor”… click here to read the poems.

If you asked why they suited a black history-themed event, I can just say that they spoke to me on the issues of the day and my experiences over time. And I hoped they would paint a picture of black and colonial oppression through some of our best poetic voices. I would probably have considered more poets from the Black Arts Movement, such as Sonia Sanchez or Nikki Giovanni. With Baraka, a.k.a. LeRoi Jones, they made an impact in unfolding conceptions how to confront white power structures and assert a distinctly black identity.

Afterward, I was asked to contribute by reading a poem on the eve of the school’s annual Read-A-Thon. There is usually a short bit of theater, or a short story to kids preparing for a day-long annual event, where reading on pillows and blankets and sometimes still in pajamas is a prized experience. One time, when my child was in first grade, I volunteered with a reading of Abiyoyo,  just after Pete Seeger’s death.

When thinking of reading to kids, I couldn’t help but draw from poems my mother read to me. Langston Hughes was one of her favorite poets. Somewhat optimistically, I read one of them out loud to my son. “The Negro Mother” appears in an anthology called Dark Symphony: Negro Literature in America (1968, The Free Press), a copy of which I inherited from my father. Opening the book, I see where he made me write his name after “Property of my father” when he loaned it to me. It’s funny to look at it now, because also in the cover of the book are the words, “DeAnna Townsend” and “Mrs. Thompson,” and “Rhonda Patten” under “Property of the Board of Education, City of Chicago.” Did my dad buy or steal this book?

As I turn the pages to the section on “The New Negro,” by Alain Locke, I am drawn back into the world of the Harlem Renaissance, the cultural, social, and artistic explosion that took place in Harlem, New York, throughout the 1920s. There on the page, I consider reading, “Youth” by Langston Hughes.

Langston_Hughes_by_Carl_Van_Vechten_1936We have tomorrow

Bright before us

Like a flame

Yesterday, a night-gone thing

A sun-down name

And dawn today

Broad arch above the road we came

We march!

After listening to both Langston Hughes poems, my nine year old speaks boldly, “Mom, these are supposed to be for mostly kindergarten to second graders. The first one’s too long and the last one sounds like it’s from a long time ago.”

Out of the mouths of babes.

Feeling like my childhood poems were pretty much declared ancient, I began investing more time than a five-minute reading probably merited, but I wondered where today’s black poets are headed and what they are writing about.

My search lead me to Southern California’s Claudia Rankine and Fred Moten and a few other prize winners. By Valentine’s Day, I think I’d stayed up reading poets two nights in a row, sending off a poem to a friend and finally just signing on up for Poem-A-Day at Poets.org. Few of these would match my son’s injunction.  So I went back to Gwendolyn Brook’s work, “Primer for Blacks,” which I really found inspiring as a kid, and then tried to see if anything like that was currently around.

In the end, I started to see this one young man’s writings as worth sharing with my sons. His poem was called “Alameda Street” and the writer, Douglas Kearney, is also a California poet. When I read it, the older boy said, “cool” while the younger one said, “yes, that could work.” It was the rhythm of the poem that caught their attention, where it goes,

“We brown boys–

smack

talking

slap

boxing–

stay bragging and bagging,

drinking summer from hoses

and water bomb barrages.

Reflecting further, I wondered if the voices of young brown girls might feel left out, that I might find a young poet that writes with the flare of the Maya Angelou’s poems and I thought maybe I should just read “Caged Bird” again.

Finally, paging through Brown Girl Dreaming, a memoir by children’s author Jacqueline Woodson,  it occurred to me that one piece, called “Hair Night” would be great to read aloud for the Read-A-Thon, where it goes:

“Read to me, I say, my eyes and scalp already stinging

from the tug of the brush in my hair

And while my grandmother sets the hot comb

on the flame, heats it just enough to pull

my tight curls straighter, my sister’s voice

wafts over the kitchen.”

It reminded me of how I learned to read and how poetry runs through it.

“Hair Night” takes up two and half pages of Woodson’s story and probably would take me longer than the time allotted. Could I just read a little bit? My son suggests. My husband, overhearing our talk as he’s driving, says maybe I should just find a short poem.

So I rummage in my “save” folder of writing magazines, pull out my reproduction copy of Survey Graphic (March, 1925) and return to Langston Hughes again. I read out “Dream Variations”:

To fling my arms wide

In some place of the sun,

To whirl and to dance

Till the white day is done.

Then rest at cool evening

Beneath a tall tree

While night comes on gently,

Dark like me— That is my dream!

To fling my arms wide

In the face of the sun,

Dance! Whirl! Whirl!

Till the quick day is done.

Rest at pale evening . . .

A tall, slim tree . . .

Night coming tenderly

Black like me.

 

We all agree that even for an old poem, it is a good one for young readers to know and understand.

 

Think of the child

Classroom teaching made me hate January. A week before it ends, it’s final exam time. Grades are due, requiring a series of data entry moments crammed into lunch, after school and weekends. In addition, new students invariably arrive, unannounced, unplanned for, and generally fighting to fit in.

calendar_icon3Getting a new crop of kids half way through the year seemed to me like closing the barn door after the cow got out. I could not imagine how the newcomers would catch onto the culture and climate of the school without tremendous adaptation skills. I would pair them with a strong partner for a few weeks. From there, things could go either up or down, with me trying to be accommodating, while still slightly resentful of disrupted plans made back in summer.

New beginners pose a raft of new challenges, including possibly losing the thread altogether for kids already learning. The first few weeks of school seemed to repeat in a loop.

When I explained how this felt to my first public high school principal, she nodded, then said abruptly, “think of the child.”

When you meet a child, you don’t know how smart they are, but you have to expect trouble anytime you have a parent starting their kid halfway through the year, she explained. We brainstormed what those troubles might look like. Based on the data we had, the obvious ones included illness or job loss in the family.

In the course of that first year, I soon learned of other reasons, though. Mental collapse, addictions,  post-Hurricane Katrina resettlement, homelessness, house fires, accidents, parole violations, military deployment, trauma and sexual abuse, foster care transfers, pregnancy and migrant labor.

I was pregnant most of that first semester. Perhaps reflecting on my condition, the kids cut a wide berth for my newcomer impatience and occasional over-their-heads analogies. One student offered to be my tour guide to Oakland, because when he told me he lived in “the shady eighties” I thought that meant tree-lined streets. Another one volunteered to take an extra lunch for me when she realized I sometimes felt too tired to walk to the cafeteria.

One of the senior girls in my class went missing from my government and economics class for a about two weeks. After days of calling and locating a translator, I learned from her parents that their daughter was experiencing morning sickness from her pregnancy and expected to marry when senior year ended.

She had limited access to medical care, so I began sharing prenatal tips and suggested vitamins from my doctor, bringing extra fruit and sitting with her for lunch, sometimes excusing her from my physical education class so that she could rest.

Just before winter break, my baby boy was born healthy, weighing in at seven pounds. Our young senior girl miscarried that spring. After she returned a pall of depression took over, and finally she left school without graduating that year. 

I have met other new moms and babies in Oakland’s home and hospital program. When I do, I recall that first senior girl’s reasons for leaving school although it’s almost 10 years ago. The kids we teach sometimes come to us with odd medical conditions as well as a few other troubles we don’t know much about. Working in different households, a few facts present immediately, sometimes sharper details emerge, and otherwise chaos and confusion reign supreme. When the doctor says it’s clear to go, the student leaves us.

We share great excitement with our kids starting back to “real school” in January, or whenever.

We hope wherever they land, someone will “think of the child.”

_____________________________________________________
Since starting to blog again during a Bay Area Writing Project workshop with Michelle Hackel titled “Blog to Learn,” I decided to share this space as a venue for considering how material circumstances shape teaching and learning at home and in our schools, since my work takes me to both. Follow me if you like.

Footsteps

6a01b8d0bfd714970c01b8d0d8d315970cI saw the X-rays and photos. I saw underneath his cast, where the skin erupted in rashes. Even though he was cleared to return to school, I expected that walking would not feel the same, with a pin, or maybe two screws and a pin, holding a foot together.

The next day I went to another home. For the first time, the boot and bandaging was completely removed. I could see that the skin grafts over the foot, where the burning happened, would never look the same at poolside, in flip flops. Somehow I felt I could predict that slight pains, here and there, would prevent the girl of 14 from walking as quickly, or running as fast.

Before seeing the feet of two home-bound young people, I had looked at just one other in my classroom. First period the girl came, starting late each day, limping into class, somewhat dizzy on painkillers or reefer. She had explained how the bullet entered the crowd and so easily cut through her heel. She showed me the scar, then told me, “Lay off me, I have enough to deal with. Stop bothering me about your work.” She survived the year by fighting everyone around her, before changing schools and finding her feet again.

Two years ago, there was a different child, also shot, maybe it was her left foot. By the time we met, she was hopping on one leg and dragging the other in a cast boot. The bullet that hit her foot had just missed the younger brother she had been babysitting. When the kickback around the way started, she could smell the barbecue and went to take a look. She never explained what made her go to a party where gang members spray the attendees with gunfire. But she did her work, for French and English, maybe the first time that year, eager to rise out of her neighborhood and get to college.

Falling off the climbing wall, or landing a foot in the spokes of a motorcycle wheel, or finally making it up the waiting list for a surgery to repair a congenital deformity seem like modest stories compared to gunfire. Yet the pain and suffering, emotional toil and family upset come up the same way. What seems like a non-life-threatening injury interrupts the usual paths, the routines, the mundane transactions. What initially presents as “a few weeks out of school” almost never turns out that way.

Over the months we see a lot of kids: surviving cancer, depression, concussions, auto accidents of a non-trivial nature, sickle cell and kidney disease. In the scheme of things, a foot injury or a dog bite seem like small potatoes. Teaching in the classroom, there was no way of knowing what happened to keep a child out of school. Even when the student came back, the story of what it was like to be stuck at home stayed there.

Kids, like most of us, can manage changes in fits and starts, if they occur with familiar routines in place and the changes are somewhat expected. Unexpected changes from accidents and injuries produce instability all around and a lot of times people do not warm to talking about their recent setbacks.

When I saw the feet, I could not help but wonder whether their injuries, once healed, might prevent them from moving into the world as they hope. 

For a few days it hit me. Walking in the rain, I took my time and measured my steps.

 

 

Bicycling

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The young boy came to me for classes after an accident where his foot was run over and he flew over the handlebars of his bicycle after the car came fast from behind, hitting him. His face is bright and smiling as he greets me, limping slowly and straining to look straight ahead with his back and neck brace.

Through the small locked patio gate, the dog, part Alaskan husky, part German Shepard, glares with sharp blue eyes circled in yellow highlights. His short barks remind me of when a friend once told me how her mother, working in homes like me, got jumped on by a dog, even though she tried to run. After that, she never walked the same, spending her final teaching days with a rowdy middle school crew in post-Katrina New Orleans.

This dog greets me with the mirth of a puppy, leaping to sniff my cat-haired coat before following his boy, who warns me not to worry about a puppy. In deep East Oakland, everyone with a place to keep relies on dogs, he says.

We spend the first day talking about books and how he survived the accident that happened on the half mile bike ride to school. My own accident comes to mind, although it’s years ago and my injuries are long-healed.

On that Saturday, the bookmobile that came round regularly did not show up. Momma called and found out that the city had to stop the mobile and limited the route due to budget cuts for the smaller library branches. A few years more and the bookmobile would make a circuit of school visits and then disappear altogether.

Our branch sat two blocks down and eight blocks over across Stony Island Avenue, the big four lanes feeding the interstate toward Indiana and Missouri. We usually walked the eight blocks every school day and crossed Stony with our schoolmates and domestic workers catching the 28 bus.

With books soon to be overdue, we would have to pay fines, unless we made a trip to the library. While momma went to the store, my sister, nearly two years my elder, and already reading books without pictures, decided we should bicycle there. Ten blocks seemed too far to walk and we’d be back before momma.

So we rode, my brother and I trailing behind her firm legs, me tooting the bell to make her slow down, her carrying the books in the basket of her bike and my brother, bringing up the rear on his training wheels.

The ice had melted just after April and a spring breeze picked up the first bloom of wisteria. We glided past familiar routes, staying close to the curb, with my brother rolling on the sidewalk. I kept in between, so as to see my sister’s back braid and still look over my shoulder to yell at my brother to keep up.

That summer, before he turned six, my sister and I would remove his training wheels, borrowing a wrench from our neighbor who passed as Mr. Fix-It on the block. As we let go of his seat, my brother could pedal fast to the end of the block, crashing into the Watsons hedges to stop, before finally riding on without us. But on that day, he struggled to keep parallel to me on my brand new bike, my eighth birthday gift.

We reached the boulevard without a care in what seemed like fewer than 10 minutes. I have driven the same route since then, and imagine it likely took us longer, over concrete roads still bumpy from the onslaught of ice and rock salt.

The boulevard traffic lights did not reach that intersection across from the branch, roughly half a block from where we met the stop sign to cross. My sister waited for us to catch up with her at the corner, then explained how she would go, and we would follow.

“Wait for the flow to slow down,” she said. “I’ll go first, then you two stick together and come right behind after.”
We nodded, certain of our mission, though neither of us had crossed Stony on bikes but her.

In a second or two, she took off. I moved to follow, but my brother, who raced small Hot Wheel cars, calculated how quickly his bike could go, then became fearful of the bigger cars zipping faster than they normally looked from the backseat of mom’s Rambler.

When he did not come after me, I looked back at him, stuttering on the pedals with heavy feet, just long enough to pause before the grassy median. Turning my head, I saw my sister reach the library walkway and started to pump my legs when a car smashed down the brakes and skidded into me.

Crashing under the car, my shiny pink bike, with its banana seat, dipped handlebars and purple plastic basket, twisted into a metal heap, my legs somehow wrapped up in it. From the ground, I lifted my head to watch cars moving round me and the old brown Chevy whose front grille fell off upon hitting me.

The Chevy’s owner, a tall black man, about the frame of my uncle Marcus, picked up my bike and asked, “You can walk, can’t you?”

Brushing gravel from my hands, I removed a few small stones from my front braids, then pushed up from the ground and sat in the swirl of traffic. When the blood drops from my chin dripped to the road, tears ran to meet them.

I cried, “Didn’t you see me crossing?” then stood up, reaching the height of the car’s hood.

“No, gal,” the man said, quietly bending over me. “You think I woulda hit you if I’d seen you?”

I kept crying, snot running out of my nose and blood leaking from a cut on my shaking chin while my sister cruised onto the scene and took over.

“What happened?” she asked me, then turned to the driver, and said, “We were riding to the library.”

“Where are your parents?” he asked. My sister shrugged, not wanting to say.

His eyes scanned the road, as looky-loos slowed around the damage and honked to say we were blocking the lane. He glanced past the next four lanes toward the library, scanning over my sister’s four eyes and looking toward my brother, safe on the opposite curb.

“Y’all live nearby?” He asked both of us. We nodded, but did not give our address, as we now remembered how we were never to talk to strangers, and also, how we were never to cross the big street away from traffic lights, and how these two rules had been broken.

The man who hit me held my hand and I stopped crying. He lifted me, carrying me into the front seat, then handed me his handkerchief, saying, “Your bike is going in the trunk. It don’t look like neither one of y’all is ready to ride. I’m gonna follow that big girl on back to home and speak to y’alls folks.”

He drove slowly, pausing at the corner to nod and wave at my brother, occasionally checking his rear mirror to keep a short distance ahead of him.

We reached home safely. My parents, back from the Jewel store, took it all in: my brother, on his bike with the fringed handles and the training wheels, panting from the ride, the stranger who brought me back and my gnarled bicycle on the porch, gleaming blood on my left leg and the handkerchief at my chin.

Stifling horrified looks, they kept silent as the driver apologized, explaining how he hadn’t seen me until almost too late and since I could walk fine, he figured the only loss was my bicycle. He told my father he did not have anything to replace a kid’s bike and couldn’t do more.

My father nodded quietly, thanking him for bringing me home and exchanging phone numbers.

When the front door closed, momma took me to our bathroom, patched scratches up and down my leg, and wrapped my knee with a large bandage after swabbing on the iodine for all the cuts, then sent me to the room where my sister waited for me on the lower bunk of our bed.

Daddy came in. For leading us to danger, and negotiating our road back, my sister received a sharp warning. But a butt whipping awaited me–two lashes with the belt–one, he said, “for being dumb enough to listen to a fool who reads so much she will break the rules of this house,” and then secondly, “for busting up your best means of transportation.”

I secretly vowed never to ride a bike again. Most certainly not with my sister.

In revenge, I hounded her mercilessly into sharing her bike, so that whenever she took it out, I got a turn.

A couple of years later, she turned eleven and got a big girl’s bike, riding it to the store for milk and eggs, or drifting no-hands down the hills up the way. I inherited her old banana seat and hopped back on a bicycle because of what happened to our neighbor, Ron.

Ron was riding up to the White Hen on an errand when two bigger boys jumped him and stole his bike. He came running home to his momma, who said, “Boy, we don’t let people jump us. Get in the car and we gonna go find them boys.” He knocked on our door, and Skipper’s and Duwayne and them’s house. We all got our bikes, following his mother’s yellow Ford, with us fanning out down the alleys.

We rode around until we saw Ron’s new red Schwinn, tied with rope to a fence in an alley six blocks over and two up. We snatched it back, Ron riding behind his mother and the rest of us following in a chain of victory over the big boys on the dirtier streets we almost never rode.

Sometime later we left that neighborhood. Too many thefts and breaking ins, my mother said. Even so, in summer, we rode back to see our old friends, down Stony, for a couple more years.

Memories fade away as I recognize how different this young man’s injuries are from mine.

I ask the boy if the driver who hit him stopped to help him, and he laughs, for the first time since we’ve met.

“No,” he says. “Are you kidding me? They drove off fast as lightning.”

The woman who drove into him pumped her breaks only a moment on the road before carrying on. As he lay bleeding and moaning with pain, his father, headed out to work, recognized the child as his own, stopped the car and took him to the emergency room.

I ask if he misses his bike. He nods yes. And I realize I miss mine. That first bike and everything with it, now in 2015, some four decades later.

My current bike resembles past ones only slightly. For one thing, the gears exist for different terrains; the brakes start with my hands instead of pedal power. It yearns for open trails I’ve yet to use. It rests against the wall next to a dusty treadmill and a file cabinet stuffed with papers of dubious origin and boxes of books longing for readers not yet born.

Sometimes, driving around Oakland, I see my old bike, tricked out with a double banana seat and foot bars at the back tires. Grown-ass men and big boys cruise past popping wheelies, with no particular place to go, on my 8-year-old girl’s bike. Where do they go? I wonder. And, where can I find a bike like that one?