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A Prodigal Summer

It was 2010. Avatar had become the highest-grossing film of all time, the Burj Khalifa had just been opened, and Kobe Bryant had just won his fifth (and final) ring.

I, on the other hand, was seven-and-three-quarters, refused to write in anything other than slanted cursive, and had just received a green and black Huffy bike as an early birthday gift. The brakes had malfunctioned on its ride back from Walmart, and I had been given strict orders not to ride it until it was fixed. It sat invitingly in the corner of the garage, sending fractals of light when the sun materialized in the window. How could I resist? The Virginia air was thick with adventure and humidity, the likes of which Tom and Huckleberry excitedly recounted. I marched outside valiantly, twin brother in tow (so that I wasn't the only one who'd face consequences) and a weird feeling in my stomach, not butterflies or those terrifying Dumbledore-looking moths. It was adrenaline.

My fist-pumping, peace-sign flashing, thrill-seeking second-grade self had waited her whole life for this moment. The two of us walked out with the naive brazenness of rookie investment bankers entering Wall Street: wholly unprepared for the tempest ahead.

Looking back, I wish I could say that I didn't know what prompted my action, but in all honesty, I know exactly why I did it. I was fed on a robust diet of adventure, mystery, and science fiction novels, ones that trained me to see every lock as a key, every tree as Jack's beanstalk, and every day as an opportunity -- one I seized on that June afternoon.

We rolled our bikes to the continental shelf of the yard, which was the part before the earth steepened, flattened out at the very bottom, and then immediately backed off to trees, boulders, and briar. I had a plan -- one that would stop the very principles of physics and gravity mid-orbit; in that, it disregarded them all. A plan that conveniently left off any modicum of depth perception, momentum, or even an accurate appraisal of my bike-riding skills.

Here was the plan: I’d ride my brakeless bike down the hill, make a sharp right turn before I hit the trees, and cycle along the flattened land. Upon narrating this to my brother, I received a shrug in return, one I took as an emphatic sign of approval.

The calculations (or lack thereof) were done. The figurative big, red button was pressed. I mounted the bike, repeating the plan in my head, and kicked off the hill, careening towards the trees.

In that second, I realized my helmet wasn't the only thing I forgot.

My epiphany had arrived egregiously late. I braced for impact.

That day, a part of me was lost to the trees. And by a part of me, I mean some of my blood, skin cells, and dignity.

Since then, my boldness has been funneled into more sensible endeavors (ones that obey the laws of physics), but it’s a trait that almost wholly defines me. I had no hesitation in going down that hill, and although I should’ve definitely evaluated the consequences, I have learned to live life as fearlessly and unapologetically as my fist-pumping, peace-sign flashing, thrill-seeking second-grade self would have. Obviously, I now assess the repercussions and risks before I take action (common sense that just came with time on earth), but it’s that same 2010 gall I know I’ll take on the world with.

Life is about pressing the big red button. It’s about being lionhearted and confident and audacious -- even in the face of boulders and briar.

I guess when it comes to epiphanies, they’re better late than never.

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