My 4th of July Bike Accident

It was the 4th of July weekend in 1994. My boyfriend Richard and I had taken the ferry from San Francisco to Larkspur, then ridden our bikes up to my friend Annie’s place in Forest Knolls.

Annie and I had worked together at Baobab Safari company down on Post St. I’d only met her about six months before, when I moved to San Francisco from a summer spent in Yellowstone, after a few years in San Diego. At the time we met, Annie had just found out that her husband had been having an affair with her friend. She had three kids, all in their teens at the time. I’m pretty sure she was also going through her second (or third?) bout of cancer. That woman has nine lives, honestly. Anyhow, she’d invited us up for the weekend to BBQ, hang out with her and the kids, and be outside in beautiful Marin county. San Francisco was always foggy in the summer and as we’d moved from Southern California, we were happy for the warm break.

After two relaxing days, we packed up our bikes to head home. Richard was a strong cyclist. He was a bike messenger at the time and always in better shape than me. I could carry my own, though, and I loved being out on those windy roads. About twenty minutes out from Annie’s house, Richard was quite a bit ahead of me. I lost sight of him at the curve, before the Loma Alta preserve, so I started going faster. It was a gorgeous day and I felt carefree and happy, pedaling like a child racing to catch up with friends. As I turned the bend, hoping to see him ahead of me, I caught the edge of the pavement and ended up off the shoulder, out of control.

The next thing I remember is staring up at the sky, watching the trees sway, the clouds pass, slowly, peacefully, and then the echo of someone saying, “Are you ok? Can you hear me?” Apparently, I’d ridden right into the side of the hill, and was thrown from my bike. My entire right side was scraped up and my helmet had a solid two inch crack in it. The man who was helping me had a cooler in his car (it was the 4th of July, after all,) and an enormous brick car phone. He was just getting on the phone when a volunteer fire engine came upon us. All of this memory is hazy – I vaguely remember the EMT talking to me and I thought he was the cutest thing. Then an ambulance came. And I remember trying to explain that I wasn’t alone but because I was, in fact, alone, they didn’t believe me.

Richard had apparently barreled down the hill (probably also enjoying the feeling of wind in his hair and not a care in the world,) and it took him a while before he realized I was no longer with him. By the time he rode back up the hill to find me, they were putting me in the ambulance. I believe he used that man’s car phone to call Annie and she came to get him and the bikes. I ended up at Marin General where I had a CT scan (and consequently spent the next year begging them to forgive my hospital bill because I was a college student with no insurance.) I was told how lucky I was that I’d been wearing a helmet. I don’t remember much until being rolled back into the room after the tests, then I really came to. Apparently, while in my post-traumatic haze, I had asked the EMT to marry me. He came by to check on me and make sure my offer still stood. It was embarrassing but also adorable.

After a night of being woken up every two hours (to be sure my minor concussion wasn’t more serious,) I woke up the next morning covered in hives. It turned out that I had fallen off my bike into a patch of poison oak. I ended up back at the ER, as I have a terrible allergy and I was a mess. First, they gave me a shot of Benadryl and then a shot of epinephrine. The poison oak symptoms started to subside soon after but my heart felt like it was stopping and starting. Turns out I have benign heart arrhythmias called PVC’s. I’d always suspected something was a little funky but it took a bike accident and some poison oak to figure it out. 

My run-in with the SF Police

I was scared. I’d never had the police at my door before. Ten seconds earlier, I couldn’t have predicted that I’d be standing in my towel, hair dripping wet on the floor, defending myself to a couple of police officers.

Jackson had been having a tough time falling asleep and was up late that night. We hadn’t lived in our apartment long, maybe a couple of months, so he was about three years old. He was generally a great sleeper and I put him down without incident. That night he was sobbing, while I was exhausted and desperately in need of a shower, so I told him he could sleep in my bed. I finally calmed him down and told him I was going to take a shower, and that he needed to go to sleep, pronto. I normally showered while he was sleeping but it was a damp November night, I’d had another crappy day at work, and I couldn’t wait any longer. I gave him a kiss on his tangled head of curly blond hair and said goodnight.

I had just turned off the water, when the doorbell rang. I popped my head out the bathroom door and said “Just a minute!” while I put a towel around me. I was about to pull on some sweatpants when he doorbell rang again, along with a knocking. I peered through the peep hole to see two policemen, so I opened the door. There’s nothing quite like seeing San Francisco Police Department’s finest on your doorstep. How quickly my brain worked, thinking of all the terrible news they could be delivering. My stomach started churning before a word was spoken.

“We’re here to check on a disturbance that was reported anonymously.”

I told them I had no idea what they were talking about, that I’d just gotten out of the shower.

“Do you have any children in the house?”

“Yes, my son. But he’s sleeping.”

My bedroom was right off the front entrance and the door was open. Jackson was sitting up in bed, staring at the men with guns holstered to their hips. One of the policemen turned on his flashlight and shone it into the dark room, onto Jackson’s red, tear stained face.

“Are you alright in there?”

I told them he was fine, that he’d just had a hard time going to sleep. They told me that a neighbor was concerned for his safety, as he’d been “screaming and crying for 20 minutes.” Twenty minutes? I hadn’t taken a twenty minute shower for at least three years, so that was bullshit. Maybe I’d lost track of time in the shower, daydreaming. Although I was impressed at how quickly the police could show up, if needed.

“Has there been any hitting going on tonight?” He asked in a conversational, almost friendly tone. It was as if he wanted to appear as someone I’d be at ease with, and admit to hitting my son. I hadn’t, and was suddenly terrified at the notion they thought I had. Once he laid out the allegations, the pit in my stomach grew to encompass my intestines and I immediately needed to use the bathroom. They were looking at me as if I’d abused my child. Jackson was too little to say anything convincing without also crying because at that point, I believe he was more afraid of the two policemen at our door.

I realized that my breath had quickened and I could feel my heart pounding in my throat. I held my towel’s knot tighter to appear that I had my composure about me, while inside my tightening stomach and twisting bowels were doing battle. I’d watched too many crime shows on television and knew that real panic in this moment wouldn’t serve me. I calmly and quietly asked, “Is there anything else?” They said something about “better to be safe than sorry” and started walking to their car.

I closed the door, barely making it to the bathroom in time. I sat on the toilet longer than I needed to, crying quietly, while Jackson stood on the other side of the door doing the same.