My seven year old son Baker was one of those magnetic souls that attracts people. Last summer we moved into a town with
a population of just over 450. By the end of June, everyone knew my child. When on walks or trips to the store, I was constantly
amazed as people of all ages, who I did not know, would address my son by his first name. In the summer his skin turned dark
mocha brown from hours at the public pool. He was the only one in the town at his age allowed to go by himself. He was a
great swimmer, a fish. He could hold his breath from one end of the pool to the other. I remember the day of his first solo
trip to the pool, I went to pick him up and could not find him. I did the panicked scan of the bottom before I went to the
basket house to see if any of the lifeguards had seen him. He was sitting on the lap of the pool manager playing cards.
His SpongeBob Squarepants towel was wrapped around his shoulders. He looked over at me, grinning, "Hey, Dad."
If I hadn't seen the birth certificate I would swear my son was a twenty- five year old. He was infatuated with girls, women
actually. If they only knew what was going on in his miniature mind they would not have been so quick to put him so close
to their bikini clad breast. As the summer progressed, I quickly learned right where to find Baker. His laughter was infectious.
Like I said, he was just special. Everyone felt it. I would always ask him,"Hey buddy, you ready to go?" He would
look up at the whatever young lady happened to be holding him that day and give a quick smile and a double eyebrow raise as
if to say Yowza, Yowza and then would leap to the concrete floor with a slapping of bare feet. July 14th was the same as
all those days up to point where I picked him up. We walked outside and hopped into the car for the six block drive home.
As we were pulling into the driveway Baker suggested we go for a ride when he noticed the bikes leaning up against the side
of the garage. I didn't want to go and tried to convince him he was too tired from being at the pool all day. He was having
none of that. Baker was at an awkward age where he was between bike sizes. I kept wanting him to jump up to his brother's
old bike so he could keep up. I was tired of always having to circle around to wait for him. Or of getting off to walk our
bikes up hills. Baker had a true fear of the bigger bike but I was intent on making him grow up. His simple suggestion of
a bike ride with his dad quickly turned into a argument about him needing to quit being a baby. After our micro five minute
verbal war where I said I would not go on the ride unless he rode the big bike he gave in. I helped him up and gave him a
push and he was on his way. We rounded the front of the house where my wife was sitting on the porch swing. Baker's beautiful
little face beamed as he yelled, "Look at me mom!"
I pulled my bike up next to my wife as I watched Baker go up and down the road. He was a bit shaky, turns made in
series of quick jerks, but he was getting better with each pass. My wife was not impressed , with me that is; but rather
angry. "What are you doing? He isn't ready for that bike yet. What, did you do make him ride it?"
I lied, " No, he wanted to."
"Well, at least get a helmet on him. I want you to know I think this is a stupid idea." With that, she went
into the house. I called Baker over to the porch. He slowed to a stop and then fell over onto his side. He was ok. My
older son's helmet was in the grass next to us. So, I picked it up and told Baker that his mom said he had to put it on.
He came over and I helped him snap it. A quick push later and we were on our way. Baker and I both noticed right away how
much quicker we were able ride with the bigger bike. He was really starting to enjoy the speed he could achieve. At the
edge of town we climbed a large hill that led down to the town cemetery. I was in front but heard the high pitched whine
of tires closing in behind me. Like a flash Baker went screaming by . He must have been going around 25 miles per hour.
I thought to myself to tell him to slow down, but I said nothing. About a 100 yards ahead of me was a sharp left turn into
the graveyard. What happened next I have played over and over in my head for the past three years. Each time seeming less
and less real. Baker was going too fast to make the turn as he pushed on the breaks the helmet came down over his eyes and
the gravel slid under the tires. His bike slammed into the six inch steel pole that held the gate. The front forks on the
bike snapped like dry twigs and Baker was on the ground, flat on his back, confused, legs kicking trying to get free from
the entangled break cables. It felt like an eternity before I reached my son. He was conscious. I couldn't see his eyes
through his brother's helmet. He was covered with blood, crimson bubbles boiling from his mouth and nose. Something was terribly
wrong with his face. It was distorted, swollen, WRONG. I undid the helmet so I could see his eyes. He was staring up at
me dazed and scared." Are you all right little buddy? I tried to sound calm; I did not. He tried to talk, I saw that
his teeth were shattered glass. I sat him up, holding him tight in my arms. "Your ok, your going to be ok." I
gently lifted him and started to walked the half mile back up the road to the nearest house. I walk so softly, so swiftly
trying to float. Baker's eyes were lock on mine. He continued to cough up blood, my shirt and face were now sprayed red.
I looked as though I too was in the wreck. I held his head up so that he wouldn't choke. My lower back was burning as I
marched up the hill trying not to move my son in anyway. I looked up at the houses, they seemed to pull away from me with
every step. When I looked back down at Baker he spoke, without moving his jaw, deep in the back of his throat the nearly
inarticulate words, "I won't let you down dad." He closed his eyes.