For three months now, I've been dealing with a bad case of plantar fasciitis. One of many daily annoyances to cope with, on top of the ever-present grief.
It has been pretty bad, to the point that I have trouble getting around and executing basic daily tasks. The steps I take each day must now be carefully planned and monitored. If I will be on my feet to make dinner, I cannot also do laundry or run errands. If C.T. plays outside with a friend a few houses away, I call by walkie talkie or by texting his friend's mother instead of "using up" my steps by checking on him every so often.
The one activity I'm still able to do with C.T., without pain because it's not weight bearing, is ride my bike. And, at seven years old, even without gears on his bike, C.T.'s little legs are now able to conquer a 10-12 mile trail ride easily. He loves going fast and being out in nature, pedaling hard to summit a slope, calling out on your left to alert trail walkers we are passing by. Despite not having Zachary in a kiddie seat attached to my bike, which hurts every single time, it's been a decent activity for us this summer. We are both getting (some) exercise and fresh air. I am not in physical pain. The stroller mommies, with their talk of sippy cups and naptime, can be largely ignored as we zip by them at high speed.
One day last week, we invited C.T.'s friend E to come along on one of our morning bike excursions. We planned to ride a trail C.T. and I knew well, but it was the first time I was taking someone else's child with us. I wanted to be certain we were taking reasonable precautions to avoid confusion, a fall or accident. The plan was that C.T. would lead, followed by E and finally me, so that I could have my eyes on them at all times. At all significant crossings, we would carefully stop our bikes and walk them across. There was to be no sudden stopping (unless absolutely necessary) to avoid collisions from behind.
We talked about the plan at length and then we were off, C.T. proudly leading the way.
Things were going well. C.T. seemed happy to have a friend with us and E was having no problems keeping up. We went further on the trail than I had expected, further than C.T. and I had pedaled on our previous trips. At our second water stop, probably six to seven (maybe more) miles from our starting point, I suggested we turn around and stop at the park on the way home. None of us were tired yet, but I reminded them we had to pedal back the same distance we'd come, and that the temperature would be creeping up. C.T. and E, neither prone to taking risks, agreed, and we began our bike ride home.
About a mile into the final leg of our trip, just before a winding, forest-dense part of the trail, E suddenly could not pedal his bike. He came to a stop as carefully as he could. I hopped off of my bike and yelled Wait up, C.T., as I set my kickstand down. My hands grasped E's handlebars and I sat down on his seat, tried to pedal. Sure enough, they were completely jammed.
I looked up and didn't see C.T. I thought to myself, He's probably just turning around up ahead, standing up on his pedals like he does. He'll be here in a few seconds. My focus back to E's bike, I knelt down to inspect his bike chains, assured him we'd figure it out.
Ten or twenty seconds later, still no sign of C.T.
I dropped E's bike and began running ahead on the trail, up around the first winding part, assuming I'd see C.T. goofing around or examining a squashed bug just 100 or so unseen yards ahead of us. E became anxious that I had left him but also sensed something was seriously wrong. I yelled over my shoulder, reminding him I'd be back in just a few seconds. I yelled C.T.'s name, then screamed his name several times. No answer. C.T. was gone.
There was a moment when I could no longer see E behind me, and with no clue where C.T. was ahead of me, the reality of the situation began to sink in, sending waves of panic through my body.
I ran back to E and quickly explained that we needed to focus on finding C.T. We'd find and fix his bike later. Abandoning E's bike trailside, I dialed his mother while mounting my own bike and explained our suddenly scary predicament in a few seconds. She said she'd come and see how she could help. Not really knowing if he could manage, but with no other choice, I told E he would have to run alongside my bike as we looked for C.T.
We took off, me darting ahead on my bike, but then slowed by the knowledge that E was on foot. I lunged forward from my bike, screaming and wailing C.T.'s name over and over again, as I pedaled frantically and E tried to keep up.
Where are you?
Please come back.
I imagined C.T. struck by a car, his body laying in the street, at the first intersection he'd have to cross alone. I imagined someone grabbing him, stealing him, dragging him down to the river, with no parent to protect him. I thought about how scared he must feel, not knowing where I was. I started to imagine telling B I had lost C.T., our only surviving child.
About ten excruciating minutes from the time I first realized C.T. was missing, we found him. He was pedaling back towards us, about a mile away from where E's bike broke down. I dropped my bike and we threw our arms around each other, weeping and trembling with fear turned relief. C.T. was severely shaken and angry with himself for getting lost, for upsetting and scaring his already-broken mother. My knees in the dirt, head in my hands, I could not stop wailing.
C.T. hadn't heard me call to him when E broke down. He'd been distracted, riding, leading the way, when he finally realized we weren't behind him. Confusion set in and he wondered if maybe we passed him and he hadn't noticed. He kept pedaling forward, too frozen by fear to turn around. He broke down into sobs when he explained:
I had to stop someone and tell them I lost my mom. I was so scared. She told me I should turn around and see if I could find you.
My C.T. He is still so little. He was with me, in my care. And then he was gone in an instant. Right under my nose, he was gone.
(To be continued)