The middle of May is always a time of great debate – a time when one of life’s great questions requires a definitive answer. As the sun battles intermittent cloud cover and temperatures fluctuate, residents of the valley look towards the mountains for clarity but ultimately the answer must come from within: is it finally time to switch back from winter tires to all-seasons?
As I haul out bikes and lawn chairs from under the outdoor stairs, I also haul out the tires and stack them one on top of the other. Wondering if I should load them into the car or wait a couple weeks, I think back to the time I almost killed my younger brother with a car tire. And I laugh.
I wonder if my brother thinks about all the little adventures and misadventures – the things we got away with and some of the things we didn’t – as we grew up in Victoria, BC. I wonder if he occasionally smiles at the memories, marveling at how we both survived. I wonder if he remembers games of extreme bike tag around the neighbourhood and the time he lost control after I thumped him and sent him into a parked car, busting off the driver side mirror. I wonder if he remembers being talked into roller-skating through the shopping mall and being chased by mall security. I wonder if he remembers when I ninja-kicked him off a friend’s trampoline. He landed on the root of a tree and needed several chiropractic treatments. I’m not sure if Ben remembers the incident with the car tire, or if he remembers it as vividly as I do, but for me it was a defining moment for both of us.
We grew up across the street from a large forested park in a quiet neighbourhood of Victoria. We spent countless hours walking the dog, having water balloon fights, and playing night-tag with flashlights. The house was below street level and this meant, on the rare occasion it snowed, that the driveway could be transformed into a dangerous sled run that abruptly ended at the garage door. It also meant that all groceries, camping gear, decorative rocks, and everything else our parents made us haul had to be heaved up and down the steep front lawn since the car was always parked on the road.
We lived in that house for seven years and, over time, a familiar rhythm developed. We went to school, played outside until dark, explored the park for hours without checking in and, like all children of the 1980s, we spent Saturday mornings watching cartoons and enjoying our small allotment of sugary cereal. At some point before lunch, my mother often grew frustrated at having to constantly remind us to turn off the television. She would eventually walk over, yell at us, and then turn it off herself.
On one particular morning, we were sent out to ‘help’ our father change a car tire. We weren’t expected to actually do anything but merely stand around, looking a little goofy with our hands in our pockets. This was more about keeping us busy and away from the television than actually making any real contribution. Somehow the experience of being there, as our father got his hands dirty and swore under his breath, was touted as male bonding and we reluctantly headed up the front lawn.
Neither my brother nor I had any experience with car tires, but my father eventually bestowed the responsibility to us of wheeling the old tire down the driveway and into the garage. It was an easy enough task, my dad assumed, even though the tire had some heft to it. My father went inside for a snack, or to catch the hourly news on CBC, and it was up to me (being the eldest) to oversee this project.
I wanted to at least appear as if I were in charge. So, before embarking on what should have been an easy task of carefully inching the old tire (rim and all) down the driveway, I decided to reassess the situation. As I stood there, facing the house as a soft breeze picked up, it occurred to me that there might be a more efficient way to get the job done. The faster we finished, the sooner we could talk our mother into watching more television. An episode of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe was starting soon and I didn’t want to miss it. It didn’t take long, as the sun warmed my ten-year old shoulders, before I had my little eureka moment.
My plan would not involve putting my body at risk, of course, but rather that of my brother. My plan was that Ben would walk down the driveway to the open garage. Then I would simply push the heavy tire and he would catch it. Naturally, I didn’t take physics or human biology into consideration. I was just thinking about myself. And He-Man.
Begrudgingly, Ben headed down the driveway. As he stood facing me, I had him shuffle a little to the left and then a bit to the right, so that he was dead centre in the middle of the open garage. I made sure I was exactly in line with Ben, closing one eye to aim, and then I pushed the tire down the driveway.
It didn’t occur to me that this was, in any way, a bad idea. I was quite proud of myself, actually. As the tire picked up speed, I nodded in a self-congratulatory way. Well done, I thought.
Only when the tire neared the halfway mark, did I suddenly realize that I might have been wrong. Maybe this wasn’t a good idea. As the tire rushed faster and faster on its trajectory of death, I knew Ben was in trouble. As he stood there, his arms outstretched like some sacrificial offering – the tire heading directly for him – I imagined the rest of my life as an only child.
Then something I can’t quite explain happened. Perhaps it was some force from beyond. Perhaps it was the work of angels or fairies or little green men from another planet. Or perhaps it was just luck.
As the tire neared the end of the driveway it wobbled ever so slightly, causing a change in trajectory. Rather than hitting Ben and possibly killing him, it hit the door next to the garage. Actually, it didn’t just hit the door; it blew the door off its hinges.
I was relieved that the tire had not crushed my brother but I knew, as the door hit the back of the garage, that my parents would soon be storming out of the house and demanding to know what was going on. My brother, being eight, wasn’t yet smart enough to lie. The truth was soon revealed. I was grounded. No He-Man, or any other television for a month. I didn’t argue.
Years have passed. Neither of us lives in Victoria. Ben is now an engineer in Vancouver and I bury myself in words as a writer in Creston. I’m not sure if it was necessarily because of the tire incident but my brother chose to focus his life in the world of physics, and I chose to focus my life in the arts where I can conveniently avoid physics. We haven’t looked back since.