We didn’t have much money when I was growing up in Utah. When
we were looking for something fun to do the four of us kids often piled into Mom’s
sky blue '79 Volkswagen Rabbit speckled with cinnamon-colored rust in search of
More often than not, she drove us up a canyon we lived near
and unleashed all four of us on a park nestled beneath the Wasatch Mountains. It’s
called something else now and is all manicured lawns and boring plastic
playground equipment, but back then it was wild: trees everywhere, wildflowers, and a
rickety old battalion of a jungle gym constructed from heavy duty wood that was
rotting and would just as soon splinter you as assist you in play, and probably
contained more than a few rusty nails eager to puncture young skin, but we
loved it. It was a spaceship, a pirate ship, a haunted mansion, a crime scene all within
the span of a sunny afternoon.
Mom sat around pretending to admire our agility every time
we shouted for her to WATCH MOM, WATCH while we played, climbing trees and
hills and wading in the river that ran along the edge of the park. An old
bridge constructed from massive wooden trestles spanned the river. Long before
my hundreds of childhood hours logged in the park, trains used to run across
the bridge. The bridge had long since retired from escorting train cars and was
spending its twilight years squiring only people from one side of the river to
The bridge was the Mount Kilimanjaro of my childhood. I was
terrified to cross it because the beams were placed so far apart, or seemed to
be, from my 6-year-old perspective. One wrong step and I’d slip through the
heavy, wooden beams without even a whisper and plunge straight into the roaring
river below, or so I imagined.
I’ve been thinking about that bridge a lot lately. Crossing it as a child feels a lot like the summation of my adult life now as I traverse the theoretical bridge from marriage into singlehood.
After straight-up refusing the bridge’s wordless entreats to
cross, I eventually got to where I’d traverse if Mom firmly held my hand. I
couldn’t cross it with regular steps, though, as that was inviting certain
death. I’d take a step with one foot and bring the other to the same beam.
Step-together, step-together. Mom would tell me not to look down but of course I
looked down, almost thrilling in the delicious terror that vibrated through my
body each time I caught a glimpse of the raging (or so I imagined) river below.
Mostly I tried to focus on perfect foot placement but every few steps my eyes
would refocus on the space between the beams. My knees would weaken and I’d
freeze mid-step, breathing deeply, while gripping Mom’s hand until my body
would comply with my brain’s commands to continue. My older brother taunting me, dancing along
side me in monumental mockery and pretending to fall didn’t help.
Eventually I got to where I’d cross the bridge without Mom
but still with the same trepidatious step-together, step-together process. If Mom was busy with my younger brothers I’d
stand anxiously at the edge of the bridge, looking across the gapped beams where
my older brother was beckoning.
Profound relief would flood my body when I made it to the
other side. Relief and pride. I made it! By myself. When I was afraid I stopped,
took deep breaths and focused on my feet firmly planted on the solid trestles
until the fear subsided.
I’ve been thinking about that bridge a lot lately. Crossing it
as a child feels a lot like the summation of my adult life now as I traverse
the theoretical bridge from marriage into singlehood. I’m in the middle of the
bridge, just now. Frozen in terror at the sight of all the space I now see between
the delicate construction of my life. A marriage unraveling, the newly realized
fragility of human relationships and always the inevitable maws of death
slithering ever closer; cancer, car accident and heart disease taking out people
I previously deemed immortal.
I can’t help it. I keep looking through the trestles at what
lies beneath and it fills me with dread. We shuffle along, living our lives,
focusing on the trestles; our friends and family, our jobs, the balance in our
bank account, what’s for dinner—and all the while the great unknown is roaring there
beneath it all, ready to swallow us up.
Sometimes, in my more hopeless moments I long to slip
through the cracks. Seconds of helpless freefall before plunging dramatically
into the icy mountain river; water filling my eyes, ears, nose and mouth, debilitating
stress over crossing the bridge immediately transformed into nothing. One you
fall, once you let go, it doesn’t matter anymore, does it?
But that’s the worst of it and I always shake it off and
refocus on my feet, willing another foot forward—step-together, step-together—until I make it to the other side where who knows what’s waiting around the