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memoir: all the colours

Image: Mike Lynch via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Image: Mike Lynch via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

CW: Abuse, child abuse


As a kid, it meant zooming down our street, which ran from one edge of our flat dusty country town to the other, on my beloved yellow bike.

Letting go of the handlebars, tipping my head back and taking in the cotton-candy coloured sky right on dusk.

I was forever racing home from some adventure, to beat the street lights coming on; smelling the ochre graveled road under my wheels as I would speed past the blur of faded, cream weatherboards.

I spent a lot of my time on my own as a kid so afternoons on my bike were important to my little head.

Once my sisters had left home, it was my bike and my daydreaming that kept me busy.

Riding bravely past the line of old green gums, on the outskirts of town. Pretending I was on my way to some far off place like Dorothy and Oz.

Pushing myself down the country road, running out of our town. Yellow sunflowers, yellow wheat crops and yellow hay stacks blurring either side of my yellow bike and me.

Semi-trailers roaring past, carrying black and white cows that eyed me unimpressively, mooing as I peddled behind them. Little did I know, they were on their way to much bigger problems than to worry about the small girl flying behind them on her little yellow bike.

Every day, all I wanted was my yellow bike and freedom.

Sprinting home from the bus stop, to get back on it. It, waiting for me patiently, on its kick stand in the dark shed beside our house.

As I would stomp through the field near the butchers on my way home, pink squawking galahs would always swoop above me, to the very tops of giant, creamy butter silos; the same colour as the wheat they are filled with.

To my young eyes, these foreboding towers were the hugest things I had ever laid eyes on and could easily take my breath away if I ever parked my bike close enough and craned my neck back enough to look up.

Shoulders aching from the bright blue backpack attached to my torso like a parachute. I can still close my eyes and remember how excited I would be to get home and drop my bag and ditch my worn brown school uniform. I think I actually would jump from a plane to get me there faster.

Fighting my way out of mum’s grip while she tried to change my clothes, but never fast enough for me, I was off and peddling hearing her voice follow me down the street, reminding me to be home before dark; before the light was gone.

She would not see me again until I could smell the richness of the earth and feel the scratchy grass under my aching limbs, when I fell in exhaustion onto our front lawn, legs burning from peddling so fast to beat the night. Giddy and filled up on smiles and safety and the blanket of stars slowly appearing.

My favourite chore as a kid was to ride the 10 blocks to the golf course at the end of our street every Sunday afternoon to tell Dad is was time to come home. I always heard his voice in the clubhouse before I saw him. Booming some exaggerated story, like wrestling a snake with one hand on par 5. Men sitting around playing cards, chain smoking and sipping on golden ale in tall pint glasses, hanging on to his every word. He was larger than life and seemed like a giant to me, as tall as the silos. I sometimes craned my neck to look up at him too.

He would sometimes let me have a bag of salt and vinegar chips, depending on how many pints he had enjoyed, and would send me on my way again to tell mum he would be home soon.

I would get back on my bike and head back down our street. Everything whizzing past me again, as I felt like I could almost hold out my arms and fly.

Such freedom on that bike.

Freedom that I don’t get to feel as an adult enough anymore.

I spend more of my time at the moment feeling helpless and trapped. Suffocated. Stifled and unable to have any say or control in the things I really want.

Thin skin becoming thicker and thicker over the years, elastic bands snapping constantly.

I have spent the last few months sitting in the deep, plush, brown leather chair at my psychologist’s office. With lavender walls, and the pretty green and blue in the seaside prints, hanging above her.

I have told her all about my yellow bike.

I have also recently told her about the day I stopped riding it.

When I realised there was no point in trying to outrun the darkness. If it wanted to envelop you, it would – no matter how fast you peddled.

I have told her all about the blackness of being touched. Used. Manipulated. A little girl and her yellow bike.

Groomed. The loss of freedom from that word, feeling like I was trapped in it for years but perhaps only months.

The conductor, someone trusted – despite his dirty white singlet and purple sallow skin.

Black and white spotted dogs. A green lawn. A blue mailbox.

I didn’t ride my bike again after the day he decided it was time to steal my freedom from me. To take it all away and leave me with no light inside.

I have been telling her about the last moments on my yellow bike; a complete race for my life. To pedal and pedal from the house at the end of our street, the very opposite end from the golf course. Where my Dad stood like a giant, a protector. A silo.

Despite the tears wetting my face and my legs burning and my stomach churning, I pedalled as hard as I could back home again. Afterwards.

My bike that day was my escape. I couldn’t deny what a lifeline it had been, but I still dumped it down hard in the dark, dusty shed beside our house, the space suddenly feeling like a morgue to me, my bike the corpse, before flinging myself like an elastic band into the open arms of my parents and my house and the closed front door, locked.

My insides that day, feeling like I imagine a morgue would. Cold and dead. Numb.

I tell her I am glad I had my bright yellow bike to flee so fast.

So we talk and we work through things I never thought I could. Feeling freer with every visit and calmer every time I sit in her plush, brown leather chair.

I also tell her I wish I had a yellow bike now.

To be able to tip my head back more, letting go of the handle bars and breathe in the air, right on dusk.

To pedal and pedal hard around everyone that shits me, the memories that have shaped me, affected me. Everything that has been taken from me. The goddamn annoying trajectory that my life has been on and I have had no real control over.

To pedal and circle around it all like a town, never letting any of it catch me ever again.

Knowing everything would be fine.

Just me and my bike… and all of the colours.

Emma Brooker is a writer based in Newcastle, NSW. You can read more of her work here.

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