This is the story of three days punctuating four years. I sometimes think that the absolutely worst judgement calls I’ve made in my life were between the ages of 18 and 23. My husband Steve says it’s a wonder teenage boys make it to adulthood after so many reckless close calls. I think maybe my adolescence extended into young adulthood.
In the summer of 1971 I was a student at the University of Idaho in Moscow, between my freshman and junior years. I had decided to leave that place for a number of reasons, but was hanging on long enough to get in one more semester of credits in the field of education. With my dad’s counsel, I chose a brand-new college that everyone was very excited to see open the following fall. I was plenty excited at the prospect of a school that promised so much individual attention and creativity along with the learning process. But I had some time to kill before fall. So there I was that hot summer, staying with a friend in a tiny apartment with no air-conditioning, working part-time as a nanny and taking summer school classes. The location of that campus is in the heart of the Palouse Hills, which are stubby, short, very steep things that are impossible to avoid between any two points of travel. I used to escape the heat several days a week by bicycling to the pool for a swim. So one hot Sunday I decided to bike home via a detour down a deserted alley so I could let’r rip down the middle of the street on a short, secluded hill. I came to the tee-junction at full-speed, and (now I’ll use a phrase I learned from police reports in newspapers), I failed to negotiate the curve. My bike wheels climbed the red brick wall of the Student Union Building, rolled onto a big plate glass window, and then all hell broke loose as we meaning the shattered window, the bike, and I, came crashing down in a heap on the pavement. I lay there amid the broken shards and thought: no one heard or saw this. It’s beyond stupid. I do have a gash under my armpit, but nobody needs to know about it. If my parents hear about this, they’ll probably be liable for the cost of replacing this window. If the police hear about this, I could be cited for vandalism. So I slowly got up, examined myself and the slightly dented bike, and walked home with no one in sight. Then like many stupid criminals who return to the scene of the crime, I couldn’t resist; I made up some excuse to nonchalantly stroll past the alley. Sure enough there were a couple of cop cars examining the evidence, no doubt collecting any clues as to who or why the building had been broken into with nothing at all missing inside.
Cut now to 1972, my junior year in the Evergreen State College, so new it was still wet behind the ears. By that time Steve, my husband-to-be, and I were romancing, and were having the time of our lives. Evergreen was paradise to me and many others who were having too much stimulation to really want to graduate. I had two roommates in that campus apartment, who decided one fine spring day to bicycle with me to Black Lake, about 5 miles away near Black Mountain. We pedaled past the lovely lake and noticed a barking dog. We climbed the shallow slope up the mountain, and turned around when we couldn’t take any more of pushing our way up that hill. Then we enjoyed the bliss of coasting down that long, straight road, the breeze blowing our long hair behind us. Along came the dog. It barked ferociously at me, and I paid no mind to it. I was confident in the notion someone had convinced me that dogs aren’t stupid enough to run in front of a bike. WRONG. Now, please don’t ask me how the dog came out. It can be fairly said that I was full of foolhardy hubris, but the dog was, too, and I don’t know anyone else to this day who has run over a dog on a bicycle. So I find that question a bit irritating. The cowardly dog ran away from the scene. I didn’t. I made a swan dive over the bike and landed squarely on my head, which fortunately is a very hard bone. I figure if I’d landed on any other bone it would have broken. I made my way slowly home feeling a bit dizzy. Don’t ask why I don’t go to doctors after incidents like these. I think it’s because my parents taught me not to cry wolf even when there are wolves. I did have a headache for about a month afterward.
Now cut to 1974, and graduate I did. Steve and I married the spring before that year and he had one more year left to graduate. So we lived on the GI Bill and my salary working for a business directory. They had me going door-to-door collecting information on every household regarding names and occupations of every resident. I somehow convinced myself that I’d be more likely to get them to open up if I seemed genuinely interested, so I spent a lot of time listening to the life stories of retirees. I really loved that, but I was a total, abject failure. I was paid by the number of households visited per day and was making less than minimum wage, which at the time was around $1.80 per hour. But it enabled me to see my own future, in the field of services to the elderly. That did work out for me for the next five years.
So now it’s quitting time and it’s raining hard in Olympia at around 5 pm on 4th Avenue, heading east down the hill toward the intersection of 5th Avenue. This is the four-lane artery running through the downtown across the lake and then up to the business district of the west side of the city. Needless to say it’s filled with traffic now, and I’m on a long very steep incline on my bike, squeezing the hand-brakes on my handlebars to press the rubber pads to the wheels of the bike. SURPRISE. This principle doesn’t work in heavy rain. The pads just slip in the rain and don’t have any friction. Ultimately somebody had the good sense to get rid of those brakes so they’re currently obsolete. But right now I’m headed for that intersection, picking up speed with no brakes, and with the prospect of: A) colliding with one or more fast-moving cars, or B) going through the oncoming street to the railing of the bridge and flying over it into Capitol Lake. I figured the choice was simple; turn my wheel into the curb. So I stopped there. Suddenly, from 20 miles an hour to a dead stop, this time managing to stay on the bicycle. Then I faced the difficulty of walking for about a week. I won’t elaborate on the details of my injuries.
*Kristi Nebel has resided in Tacoma for 18 years in the Hilltop neighborhood, making her living primarily as a musician. She has contributed her volunteer efforts to United for Peace of Pierce County as well as Veterans for Peace for the past eleven years.