On a Bridge
I stood there stupidly upon the bank of a filthy river, cold hands in colder pockets with a steady drizzle leaving nothing untouched by its gently chilling embrace. I've pondered for an hour or two upon the relative comfort beneath that roiling surface, parted by bridge pilings and carrying all sorts of debris into the downstream eddies, where garbage danced merrily around lazy milling logs. I seem to have moved a bit closer to the moistly crumbling edge.
Tonight I had an epiphany, or so I think, given the popular use of the word. Anyway, I've come to the realization that I am a supernumary, having no relevance whatsoever in the world. I will not be missed, in fact, net happiness of the universe around me will likely increase.
Disappointments of youth became those of maturity, and my foray into the 'real world' has served only to destroy all that had caused me hope. Aspirations, Dreams, fallen flat and gone like muddy bits of riverbank tumbling to leave barely a ripple in the turbulent flow.
“Altitude,” I think to myself as my mind's eye focuses upon the great, rusting railroad bridge to my right and above. My head remains lowered, eyes tracing flotsam and jetsam, following my brothers as they are swept away.
My feet know the way, and the sagging chain link fence poses no challenge. The security guard is sound asleep in his warm little plywood shack and I don't bother with stealth.
Cold water and rust have mixed well, they coat my numbed fingers and palms with the resulting red-brown goo, and I am oddly careful not to slip. Perhaps I'm afraid of the consequences of a botched job, with the painful recovery and awkward questions. No, it is better to end this story convincingly.
Steel rungs are set in rough concrete, clad in layers of local expression in Krylon, and I do not look down as I ascend. Each rung is a destination and the beginning of a new journey.
The memory of a dream rises to the surface, fleeting at first. A dream, in which I lived an entire lifetime. From a normal birth to smiling, loving parents, through a normal, happy childhood. I remembered my other youth, the friends, good times, first loves, and my adulthood, which to my jaundiced mind seems like something out of an old sitcom, too good to ever pass. Then, old age, and death. Only, it wasn't a terrible death, being a weak old man surrounded by love and life, knowing I meant something, and would be mourned. I would be missed.
In reality, I am a polar opposite to this bastard, this dream self sent to torment me.
I am here, standing upon a corroded steel catwalk bolted to the old drawbridge control room, itself a steel box fastened to a high point on the bridge. I allow the remnants of my curiosity to carry me inside.
The windows have been shattered, probably long ago, their draft and the moist darkness combine to enhance my mood. Slowly, my eyes adjust, the faint orange light of the city reflected from overcast now revealing a figure on the floor.
“Hello,” The voice is female, and quite mature in relation to her obviously youthful face, which she lifts toward mine.
“I... I'm sorry.” I stammer. “I didn't mean to intrude.” My feet word their way back, carrying me toward the door.
“This bridge belongs to me no more that it does to you.” Her eyes are a stunning blue, shot with gold, and my feet are stilled.
“My name is Lynn.”
“Jack,” I reciprocate.
“So, when did you decide,” her voice was flat, yet strangely melodic.
“When,” she maintained her tone, “did you decide you wanted to die?”
Funny, it didn't really sound like a question coming from her. Denial rushed to the speech center of my brain, to be stopped by Logic, “It wasn't really my decision. I'm of no value to this world, so I'm merely correcting a mistake.”
She let the statement hang for a time, as rain began to pelt the sheetmetal walls, then, “That's bullshit.” Her voice had not changed, but anger flashed in those eyes of hers.
I'd no idea how to respond, so I stared back at her, confused blankness replacing thought.
“Listen, I'm only going to say this once. It's not my job to save your life, no matter how miserable and useless you think you are. I am not here to make you or anyone else happy, because in the end it's all about you. If you do not provide for yourself first, physically, emotionally, financially, you'll never have enough of anything to give. Are you convinced that you owe some social duty for the right to exist? Do you think your life is a privilege, maintained at the pleasure of those around you?”
Unsure as to whether those questions were rhetorical, I remained silent.
“Go back to the world, Jack,” her voice pleaded, her eyes made it a mandate, “Go back and live for yourself. Find your happiness and you'll discover that you have more than enough to give.”
I nod, as her eyes would brook no argument.
“You look cold. Take my blanket and go.”
I can feel her residual warmth across my shoulders as I make my way back down the mottled face of the bridge structure. I chuckle under my breath as I catch a glimpse of a children's cartoon character grinning repeatedly from the colorful felt.
The idea surfaces, maybe I'd ask Lynn out for a cup of coffee, and I decide to return tomorrow night. I imagine she's here often.
Sunday morning announces itself with a weather report blasting in my ear, and I lever an arm over to silence the old clock radio.
My arm stops in midswing, as the weatherguy forecasts a mild and sunny day. “Crap!” I grin and pull on a pair of shorts.
There's much to do, people to visit, things to see, someone to thank... yeah.
I brew some Earl Grey and wait for my oversprung toaster to launch a bagel while listening to the TV on the counter.
“Looks like sunshine and puffy minicumulus over the next week,” the meteorologist smiled into the camera, “Now let's get back to Sheila with the local news.”
“Thanks, Brad. This morning, an apparent suicide...”
My mind blanks out her voice as soon as Lynn's photograph flashed onscreen. She'd been found washed ashore near the new library, pronounced dead on the scene, and filed as a Jane Doe at the local morgue. I smell her on the Spongebob blanket, and, for the first time in too many years, I cry.