Bridge

I’m a native Seattleite.

My roots are here, buried deep in this seaside soil. My quiet awkwardness fits in nicely in this land of isolation, where neighborhoods are spaced out and teetering on tips of dark green hills or buried under layers of evergreen branches. A place where water dominates the landscape, a city so separated from itself a network of bridges is required.

I have to cross two to get to work. Two to make it to Trader Joes. One, if I’m going downtown.

When I was a child, I was afraid of all that water underneath our tires. I begged my parents to drive way up north and around the lake if we had to go into the city. The 520 bridge was especially terrifying with its belly resting directly on the waves, and it’s ends miles from each other, as though it were silly putty stretched from one shoreline to another.

The floating bridge, they called it.

Please, I remember begging my parents, feeling as though we might slip into the water and be lost forever, let’s not take the bridge. It won’t take that much extra time.

I’m in my mid-thirties now, so the fear of a bridge collapsing has been replaced by other concerns, like getting to work on time, and getting back home as quickly as possible to relieve the babysitter.

They aren’t even using the old bridge, I tell my husband after my first day of work on the Eastside. I thought the whole point of building a new 520 bridge was to ease traffic. You know, have one for eastbound, one for westbound.

We make an inside joke about tax dollars at work, and continue on with our life.

I don’t think much about the bridge again until the next morning when I’m crossing in rush hour and can see a giant crane anchored to a barge. I can see the gapping edges where the crane is tethered, the rebar jutting out like bones, where it was once attached to the rest of the bridge. I can see the smallness of this floating bridge, now that it sits unoccupied next to the wide bridge we are busy driving across, the one that is high enough above the lake it is hard to even spot what’s left of the other one.

I drove across the old floating bridge quite a lot during my first marriage, and when that relationship was over, the bridge was the first thing I wrote about. I scribbled out a story about being pummeled by waves as I made my way across the bridge deck on a windy fall morning. I jotted down what it felt like not knowing when the wave would hit, only that it would, and there would be nothing I could do but wait for it to slap across my windshield. In the essay, this bridge had taken on all the predictable unpredictability of that relationship. All of its volatility. It was the first essay I sent out into the world, and the first piece that won an award.

I was really proud of it, and also deeply embarrassed because of how personal it was. It’s since been buried.

Last night at writing group, I mentioned the bridge construction, knowing that these women had been with me when I wrote that first bridge essay, knowing that they would see the meaning in witnessing such a symbol deconstructed before my very eyes.

They marveled with me, they even remembered the title of the essay, though it’s been at least six years since I first read it out loud.

This morning on my commute, there was water, choppy and foamy, where before–for decades–had previously sat a mile or so of concrete. Tomorrow, there will be less of that bridge, and the day after, even less. There will come a day when all of it will be gone. Every last crane, each chunk of concrete, each metal pole and reflective marker.

It’s a miracle, really, to see it, and to have someone to tell.

CLAIRE CAREY DEERING believes less is more, in writing and in life.

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