This morning as I drove bleary-eyed to the gym, something on the side of the road caught my eye. And then my breath caught.
It was a little boy’s BMX bike spray painted gold laying on the sidewalk in the rain. Solid gold, but dull, the whole bike. Two words flashed in my mind: Gold Fever.
And then another: Scott.
We all have those friends, those of us who grew up in the non-helicopter parenting of the 80’s. The ones to whom we were introduced before we could walk and then with whom we grew up side by side. The ones with whom you roamed the neighborhood until the sun went down, or mom rang the backdoor bell. The ones who, on Christmas morning, met you in the street to show you the presents Santa brought them and see what Santa brought you. Scott was one of those friends.
We had a whole crew, actually. Scott and Nicole. Jimmy, Brucie and Jill. Jennifer. Scotty and Sean. Lorraine and Angela. And us, the Clarks who lived on Clark Avenue. But we were all the Clark Avenue kids.
I think it was Christmas of 1986 when we met in the intersection of Clark and San Carlos to ooh and ahh over Gold Fever. Gold Fever was the coolest bike we had ever seen. She belonged to Scott. Gold Fever wasn’t spray painted. Gold Fever was MADE to sparkle and shine. Her gold flecked paint reminded me of a 50’s diner stool, so shiny and glittery. She had black and white bold block letters that read GOLD FEVER on the cross bar. He rode her with a boyish arrogance that made us all jealous. He was so lucky.
Scott, too, was made to shine. He was the coolest. I can still smell his musky sweaty smell after a summer afternoon climbing in his backyard grapefruit tree. I can still hear his fingers playing Ebony and Ivory on his family room piano. I can still see the framed picture of The Edge he kept on his dresser. I smile when I think of the lengthy games of “mermaids and mermaid catchers” we played in his pool.
One day, not long after that Christmas of 1986, Gold Fever disappeared. The whole neighborhood felt her loss. We were so angry that someone had the audacity to take Gold Fever from Scott.
He had her for such a short time. So cruel.
We grew into teenagers. We didn’t ride bikes as much anymore. But we still played night games out in the neighborhood, and celebrated all the fire works holidays together. It takes my breath away to think of the day Scott received his Eagle Scout award. Afterwards, in his backyard where we spent hours and hours as children, he laughed at me for crying during the ceremony. These memories are some of my most special.
And then one day, Scott was no longer with us. Gone the way of Gold Fever. Stolen from his loving family, his friends and his loyal crew, the Clark Avenue kids. Taken too soon by a cancer that ravaged his 16 year old brain. When I came home from school that afternoon in late January of 1992, my mother told me he had left us. With a loud sob, I crumbled to my knees in my ivory Benetton pants in another neighbor’s driveway.
Many others felt his loss more acutely than I. His parents and little sister Nicole, to be sure. But also, my brother who, at 13 years old, gently placed his Scapular around Scott’s neck and bravely sat with him as he took his final breaths.
We had him for such a short time. So cruel.
Even now, at 41 years old, 26 years after he left us, I still feel his loss at both the expected and the most unexpected times.
And today, when I saw that gold bike on the side of the road was one of those times I felt that devastating loss deep in my chest. With the right trigger, even very old grief has a way of swallowing you up for a moment. But the thing about old grief is that it comes with perspective. That jolt of sadness was quickly followed up with a stream of happy memories.
I can’t help but think that somewhere a little boy is desperately missing that gold bike I saw discarded on the sidewalk this morning. I hope he finds it. And if not, I hope he never forgets how lucky he was to have it, even if it was for a short time.