My husband led the pack, and I followed. My younger brother was sandwiched between us and our parents. We hugged the bike path that ran parallel with traffic. The ocean flowed on the left; closed ice-cream shops and bakeries with candy-colored, shake-shingled roofs were on our right.
We passed jogging teenage girls with bouncing ponytails and tight Lycra pants that shimmered like the asphalt undulating beneath our tires. I tilted my face to the bronze sun and felt freckles coalesce on my cheeks. Seagulls culled the air with their white and gray wings. The waves’ crashing rhythm relaxed me, even as I pulled on the handlebars, pushed on the pedals, and rose high on the bicycle seat.
Though off-season, traffic was heavy. Maintenance trucks with pool nets suspended on poles swooshed past us. My one-year-old daughter—in a chair attached to the back of my husband’s bike—tore off her helmet. My husband and I braked, and I grabbed the yellow foam piece that resembled an upside down turtle shell splayed on the sidewalk. My brother and parents stopped behind us. I secured the helmet’s strap beneath my daughter’s sweet chin and kicked up my stand. I was preparing to pedal when I heard my mother cry out.
I turned just in time to see her bike topple. She was parked on an incline and couldn’t get her hands out fast enough to break her fall. Her face broke it instead. Her shoulder-length blond hair swept forward, shielding her features and pain. But I could imagine everything.
I threw my bike at the same time I jumped off of it. I ran and tried to untangle my mother from the bike: the handlebars reflecting silver, her sneaker strings hanging limp. The layers of my mother’s hair swept back, and I could see her top lip was peeled and dripping.
“Do I have teeth?” she asked, licking blood. Somehow her sunglasses were still in place, and I wondered if the lenses hid tears. My mother had a C-section at forty-one, but I have never seen her cry from physical pain.
I nodded, my mouth too dry to speak.
“There’s grit in there,” she said.
My father—green eyes aglow with worry—passed her his water bottle. She took a swig, swished it like mouth wash, and spat.
When we got back to the beach house, I told everyone I was going for a walk. I followed the road to the end of the nautical-themed neighborhood. I trespassed what I hoped was a deserted rental property and slid down its slight dune to the edge of the sand. Three private docks jutted out over the choppy water. The boards composing them were weathered: a pewter a shade paler than the sea.
I stared out over that great, unfathomable expanse and felt both anchored and weightless. My parents are growing older. I am growing older; though as a firsttime parent, I am the same age they were when they became parents themselves.
I had trembled from the seismic understanding of our own mortality as I leaned over the toppled bicycle and helped my mother to her feet. It was a simple action that mirrored what she had done for me and my brothers countless times: bandaging our bloodied wounds by reassuring us that everything was all right.
Did her fall portend that the maternal wheel would soon turn? That the comforter would soon need comforted? Would it happen before my children are able to support themselves?
My throat blocked, my eyes stinging with the same salt that continually changes the sea’s water to brine. I may be a mother, but I need a mother, too.
I turned and saw the woman who birthed me—dimpled smile shining beneath her dark sunglasses, her top lip strawberry-scuffed.
“I can leave you alone if you want,” she said.
“No—” I swallowed. “Stay.”
She nodded and moved closer. Together, we stood on the sandy rim that overlooked the hourglass world.
“You almost killed yourself.” My laughter choked.
“I’m fine,” my mother soothed. “I promise, I’m fine.”
I took off my sunglasses. Seeing my face, she extended her arms. I then held my mother and knew I was her child still.
When was the first time you realized your parents were growing older? How did you feel?