He was quiet for a moment. Then he said, ‘Auden, I love Thisbe. I’d do anything in the world for her, or for you. You have to know that.’
This was what my mother had said, too, only moments earlier, and I’d chosen to believe her. So why was this so much harder? Because my mom had come to me. Traveled all this way, taken that risk, retraced some, if not all, of her steps to get us back to a place where we could, hopefully, forge a new path together. My dad was still in the same spot, and as always, he wanted me to come to him. Like I’d done at the beginning of the summer, in this house, and at home as well. Always crossing that distance, crossing town, accommodating, making excuses.
‘If that’s true,’ I said to him, ‘then prove it.’
He was quiet for a moment. Then he said, ‘How am I supposed to do that?’
Sometimes, you get things right the first time. Others, the second. But the third time, they say, is the charm. Standing there, a quitter myself, I figured I’d never know if I didn’t get back on that bike, one last time. So instead of replying, I pulled the black beaded dress from the closet, draping it across the bed. ‘You figure it out,’ I told him. ‘There’s something I have to do.’
I’d planned to drive. In fact, I’d had my keys in hand as I ran out the door, the black dress swishing around my knees. But then, I saw the bike, sitting right against the steps where I left it, and the next thing I knew, I was climbing on. I raised up on the pedals, tried to remember everything Maggie had taught me over the last few weeks, and then pushed off before I could change my mind.
It was weird, but as I started down the front walk – wobbling slightly, but upright at least so far – all I could think of was my mom. When I’d hung up the phone moments earlier, I’d pulled on the dress and found my flip-flops and bag, figuring I’d put Isby in the stroller and take her with me. But as I started to strap her in, hurriedly explaining myself to my mom, the baby started to fuss. Then cry. Then scream.
‘Oh, no,’ I said as her face flooded with color. I knew the signs of a full-out fit when I saw one. ‘This is not good.’
‘She doesn’t like the stroller?’ asked my mom, who was standing behind me.
‘Usually she loves it. I don’t know what the problem is.’ I bent down, adjusting the straps, but Isby just yelled louder, now kicking her feet for emphasis. I glanced up at my mom. ‘I better just stay here. She’s really unhappy.’
‘Nonsense.’ She gestured for me to move aside, then leaned over, undoing the straps and lifting Isby up. ‘I’ll watch her. You go have fun.’
I did not mean for my expression to be so doubtful. Or shocked. But apparently it was, because she said, ‘Auden. I raised two children. I can be trusted with a newborn for an hour.’
‘Of course you can,’ I said quickly. ‘I just… I hate to leave you with her when she’s like this.’
‘She’s not like anything,’ my mom said, pulling the baby closer to her and patting her back. Weirdly enough, before, when Isby had been googly and cheerful, it was clear she was uncomfortable, but now, amid the screaming, she looked completely at ease. ‘She’s just giving me a piece of her mind.’
‘Are you sure you want to do this?’ I said, raising my voice to be heard above the din.
‘Absolutely. Go.’ She put the baby over her shoulder, still patting. ‘That’s right, that’s right,’ she said, over the shrieking. ‘Tell me everything you have to say.’
I just stood there, watching as she started to pace the kitchen floor, rocking Isby in her arms. As she walked, she fell into a rhythm: step, pat, step, pat. The baby, over her shoulder, looked at me, her face still red, mouth open. But as the space increased between us, she began to quiet down. And down. And down, until all I could hear was my mother’s footsteps. And then something else.
‘Shh, shh,’ she was saying. ‘Everything’s all right.’
Her voice was low. Soft. And with these last words, suddenly familiar in a way it had not been ever before. That voice I thought I’d imagined or conjured: it was her, all along. Not a dream, or a mantra, but a memory. A real one.
Everything’s all right, I thought now, as I bumped over the curb and onto the street. There was no traffic in the neighborhood, and I thought of all those mornings with Maggie, feeling her hand on the back of my seat, her footsteps slapping the pavement as she raced to keep up before giving me one last push – Go! – and I was on my own.
I just kept riding, shooting under streetlights and past mailboxes, the tires whizzing against the pavement. As I turned out of the neighborhood, I had the road to myself, all the way to the single stoplight where it ended at the beach.
It was the light I focused on, solid green, up ahead of me, as I pedaled faster, the fastest yet, my hair blowing back, the spokes of the tires humming. I’d never gone so fast before, and it occurred to me that I should probably be scared, but I wasn’t. On the other side of the light I could see the ocean, big and dark and vast, and I pictured myself hitting the sand and just keeping going, over the dunes and into the waves, the current the only thing strong enough to stop me. I was so immersed in this image, which was amazingly clear in my head, that I didn’t see two things until I was right up on them: the banged-up Toyota truck sitting at the stoplight, and the curb right across from it.
I saw the truck first. Suddenly, it was just there, although I was positive there had been no traffic when I’d looked only seconds earlier. And maybe it was a good thing that I hardly had time to process that it was, in fact, Eli’s truck. Because the next second, the curb presented itself, and it needed my full attention.
I was already zooming past Eli when I realized I had to make a decision: try to brake and turn and hope my crash was a small one, or keep going and try to jump the curb. If anyone else had been in that truck, I probably would have taken the first option. But it wasn’t anyone else, and I knew – even in those dwindling seconds, when I could feel every bit of my blood rushing through my ears – that this was probably the best way to explain to him what I’d tried to that morning at the shop. So I jumped.
It wasn’t like what I’d seen Maggie do that night at the park. Or the tons of bike videos I’d watched over the last few weeks. But it didn’t matter. For me, the feeling of rising up suddenly, suddenly being airborne – the tires spinning into nothing – was amazing. It was like a dream. Or maybe, like waking up from one.