The Left Turn That Nearly Killed Us

A day that could have ended so differently.

Woman making a left turn to the beach that nearly killed them Africa images, katexlab, goldhafen | Canva

I didn’t have a car as a teen, but my girlfriend Debbie did. It was an old, blue Chevy convertible. We could easily fit five or six of us from the friend group into it, and we cruised around the country roads, top-down, belting out Bob Seger’s “Against the Wind.” Wheels beneath us, the lyrics melded into one young and strong rockstar vibration, announcing our release into the unknown wild.


As the years rolled slowly past, I kept searching for the power of what I didn’t know then. When my sister came from Philly to visit in September, we decided to take Mom out for a walk on the beach. We missed the feeling of being steamed like crustaceans and the against-the-wind sand plastered over newly pink bodies. I always enjoyed imagining, as my skin stiffened in the sun, that I was posing for a mixed media artist who’d just discovered modeling paste.

With the fun beach day conjuring in my mind’s eye, I agreed to my role as la chauffeur.

My driving skills were supported by the expertise of my passengers, who vicariously steered my Equinox, Little Red, through me. The degree of difficulty was upped by the fact that my mom, an octogenarian, had a vivid mind map of the area, having lived near Hilton Head Island for a quarter of a century. Mom directed by landmarks. She even knew landmarks that no longer mark the land. Meanwhile, my sister Linda was in a serious relationship with Siri, and SiriLinda announced every twist and turn, almost in unison. But not.


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When we got to the beach, I was eager for a minute of alone time and offered to drop my driving team right at the nexus of the path to the beach. “There’s a nice bench here,” I suggested, “I’ll park the car.”

Mom would have no part of being treated like a geriatric beach lady — deep sigh. Yes, I needed expert directions to find the only spot in the farthest corner of the parking lot. It was quite the hike from parking, then down the path to the beach. Thankfully, we had fewer accessories than some people. Caravans of families with coolers, wagons of chairs, tents, and toys politely excused their way through us.

At last, we stood at the ocean’s edge, the odor of suntan oils cooking our tender white skin like potato chips. I figured we’d be in for a selfie or two and good to go. But no. Linda’s heart was set on the beach walk, and Mom went with her.


I melted in the shallow end, close to a family whose kid was digging a moat. When I took that surfside selfie of the three of us, I’d joked aloud, “We better take a picture because I don’t know if we’ll ever get Mom to the beach again.”

Mom, Linda, and author on the beach, Hilton Head Island, September 2023 Mom, Linda, and me on the beach, Hilton Head Island, September 2023 | Photo by author

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Mom declined most invitations to the beach, and it was a push for her to say yes today. Perhaps Linda’s presence awakened an inner call, the urge for freedom that seemed like yesterday — but it was long ago.

I indeed provided one reason to scare Mom away from repeating adventures like these. I should have avoided trying to make that left across the busy lanes of traffic.

Between Mom, SiriLinda, and my bad eyesight, I missed our beach entrance. Circling back, I pulled across the highway, aiming to land in the center zone of safety. A car appeared from nowhere in my intended space, and I got stuck half hanging out. Horns blared as drivers swerved around.

The moment itself was a blur, and after the initial spike of adrenaline gushing into my body, I heard myself apologizing. It was as if I stepped into a private room with Linda and Mom, a space that existed beside the space where Little Red’s rear hung out into the highway. As I watched, it was as if a giant pair of hands buffered us as cars careened right to avoid crashing into Little Red.


thinkin about it the rest of the drive and how it was 100% my fault💆‍♂️

♬ original sound - nicholas philmon

This day could have ended so differently at that moment when I lost my way. Yet here we were, still running against the wind. Or, at least, walking.

We had this time to be girls again, reclaiming what pleasure our escape provided. The boy dumped a new load of wet sand on his castle, and I texted Linda that I would have Little Red waiting by the bench at the trailhead. I didn’t get pushback this time.

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When I retrieved my beach warriors, they were wiping themselves with the tiny, folded into-one-square-inch wet naps Mom smartly brought for the occasion. Wet naps may be great for dapping that stray splash of barbeque sauce above one’s lip, but they don’t go very far when trying to remove sand from the surface area of full-bodied women.

Mom looked exhausted, and I passed her the water bottle. Her only concession was, “I don’t remember the walk to the beach being so far.” We decided to go to a casual place to eat, where they would accept wild-haired, rumpled ladies without judgment.

I anticipated a more restful drive, but apparently, the air conditioning revived my passengers. Or perhaps it was the fear of my driving skills, earlier instilled by the day’s previous left turn snafu.

It didn’t take long to arrive at the intersection of Mom’s “this is the way we always go” and SiriLinda’s “turn right on Gumtree Road.” Going with seniority, I disobeyed SiriLinda, and we were subsequently caught in a traffic snag. Meter running, I did acknowledge the cut-through as we later passed Gumtree Road, which let out very near the restaurant. I heard a quiet “Mmm, yes” from Linda.


“Sorry again for what happened earlier today, making that left turn,” I blurted out, suddenly realizing what I know now that I didn’t know then. I nearly killed us. Mom shrugged.

“Your destination is on the right,” SiriLinda announced. Mom said, “Girls, I’m hungry.” The only hard feelings were from the sand-made cast that had solidified around our ankles.

As I held the establishment’s door open for Mom, we heard a musician singing a familiar tune on the patio — “Let the cowboys ride. Against the wind.” “Let the cowboys ride,” I agreed.


On this day, as I shook inside the doors of Little Red and two invisible hands descended, I received a glorious revelation. Mom and Linda had always been my shelter against the wind. Time slowly exchanges freedom for life’s other gifts. I am good with that inevitable transaction.

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Susan Nicolai produces Ripples. Feel Good Stories, creative writing that makes you smile.