Together on the steps
November 12, 2021
Mom wasn’t moving as fast as she should’ve on the Friday morning of Family Weekend. The asphalt before us now seemed an insurmountable journey and her speed the only barrier between us and the water. For how many times I had to wait for her on the pavement, it didn’t seem she was that excited. But on the car ride here, all she gushed about was the beauty of the pines and inlets of the unfamiliar coast as she wondered how it could get prettier at our destination.
“Matanda na ako, Alfonso. (I’m old now, Alfonso).”
She finally caught up. As always, I waved the comment off. No. Mom was not getting older. How could she? She wasn’t any slower. More breaths than usual weren’t taken as we walked towards the ocean. Lines hadn’t been added to the patchwork of her forehead. And, certainly, no new gray hairs had been painted. In fact, today she donned her signature pink lipstick, slightly smudged on the corners like usual. Nope. Mom was not getting older.
The path was now narrow with thickets along both sides. I needed to sell the idea that eight weeks was enough to grow up. With a puffed up chest, I fixed my eyes on the horizon.
“It’s this way, Mom.”
I pushed forward out of that green prison and onto the jagged slabs of rock. The ocean roared, spraying mist into the air as a reward for finding the coveted outcrop. I looked back. Her eyes weren’t on me. Instead, they were on the shrubs, accompanied by furrowed brows. My chest deflated.
“Walang snakes dito, no?”
I scoffed. “No, Mom, there aren’t any snakes here.”
Though not fully convinced, she eased up and gave the bushes a few more glances to confirm that a cobra hadn’t magically appeared. Satisfied, she took the leap of faith and joined me on the rocks. Finally, we arrived. “The Giant’s Stairs” were no longer just foreign words my floormate mentioned one time during lunch. They became real as we stood in front of miles of glimmering ocean, barricaded by the colossal stones. Waves crashed; seagulls squawked; wind flowed.
In standard Mom fashion, only a few moments passed in that seaside solemnity until she whipped out the new phone she’d been bragging about. She didn’t forget to mention how big the camera was now as she guided it across the landscape, zooming in on whatever she deemed worthy of storage space. The tidal pool next to her, the ocean mist and, inevitably, me.
It was a habit we were used to—Mom documented the quirks of life she knew she’d cherish in the future, like feeling extra good after dressing up cute for a date with Dad or when my sister blasted her playlist down the I-95 S to Jersey City. But whenever it was my turn in the spotlight, I’d shy away, the gaze of that camera too intense. I didn’t want to be bothered.
Yet, this time, something changed—I welcomed the camera. Entertaining the invisible audience watching Mom’s vlog was easier than before. I waved, danced a little and I introduced the Stairs with a giant sweep of my arms. She ate it up, smiling while recording the last shot of my segment. My airtime done, she tiptoed past me to focus on the more interesting house in the distance.
The heady surge of confidence left me, leaving in its wake only somber introspection. Where did it come from? I sat down on the rock. With nothing to do, the layers of sediment suddenly fascinated me. Orange, white, brown—the colors shifted like pages of a book over 500 million years in the making. I closed my eyes and thought of the authors of the place: shifting magma; lava bursting from the sea; tide eroding the coast and humbling the advance of land. More magma. More lava. More tide. More sea. One year. 10 years. 500 million years. A cycle, age, death—it was me. My eyes opened. I looked down at my sweater, pants and shoes. I changed.
I realized then that in just two months, I unraveled the fabric of an old self. I wore clothes that I would have been made fun of for wearing in high school. I unearthed a personality hidden beneath all along. I should’ve been happy—this was what I wanted, right? To start to grow up? To show my parents—especially Mom—that Bowdoin was worth it, and that it had already shaped their son in such a short time? And yet, the realization was naive—a fruit not as sweet as it seemed. Because now, it was impossible to deny how, simultaneously, Mom, too, was changing.
On the rocks, sunlight revealed eye crinkles not there a month ago. Having to wake up at 4 AM to drive up to Maine was evident in her smiles. A few gray hairs had been painted. Perhaps, lines had been added to the patchwork of her forehead. A cycle. Age. She stopped recording and looked back at me—an invitation to join her. I took it. I walked up next to her, no puffed-up chest or illusion to sell, and hugged her. It felt like coming home.
There, on the steps, we just gazed at the sea. Waves crashed; wind flowed. Yes, things were changing—the tide was eroding the coast—but I knew then that it’d be fine.
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