Monday, September 18, 2006


I have a fear of bridges. When I drive over them, I feel an imaginary pull, as if I am going to be sucked over the side. I must be in the middle lane. I focus straight ahead and feel my heart race. It’s hard not to speed. Walking on a bridge isn’t as scary. I feel more in control- I’m not relying on a car to get me across. My heart still races. Every summer, I cross the pedestrian drawbridge into Perkins Cove, over and over again. 8 years later and my heart still races. I don’t think anyone notices. I hope no one notices.

There was one time in Vancouver, British Columbia when everyone noticed. I was there with a group of friends for the Gay Games. We went up to the mountain just outside the city for a hike. We came to a rope bridge. A fairly large one, but still, rope and boards. Over a deep gorge. It would sway back and forth as people walked across it. I couldn’t do it. I tried. I remember thinking I was going to wet my pants. My heart pounded so hard it hurt.

I could not make my legs walk across that bridge. The terror seemed to live independently in my muscles and it was too powerful. I felt helpless.

I know where my fear of bridges comes from- at least now I do. As a child, my grandparents- my father’s parents- lived in Ithaca, a town famous for it’s gorges, rock formations and colleges. My grandparent’s house was a short walk away from the Suspension bridge over Fall Creek Gorge. I would go with my father and brother. They would try to make the bridge shake by jumping up and down on it. In 1970, it did shake. I would be scared. And I would still go every time they were walking down there. I hated it. I loved it. There was a thrill, a rush of adrenalin I could not resist.

Once, we went because it was heard that a student had leapt to their death from the bridge. Suicide over bad grades was not that uncommon until they put up the safety rail. I was little, eight years old, at most. We all went to look. I remember my father picking me up and pretending to get ready to throw me over the bridge. I remember wetting my pants. I was frozen with absolute terror. He put me down and with my brother watched as the emergency crew gathered around what seemed like a small, metal basket covered with a white sheet. I stood, trembling, soiled, and holding onto my father’s leg, too afraid to let go.

I am afraid of bridges. The bridge itself feels powerful. I dream I’m falling over the side of that bridge. There is a peace once I’ve given up the struggle. I’m just falling. The worst is over. It’s not about dying or being afraid of the impact. It’s about not having control. Not having a choice about whether or not I go over the edge. It’s my father’s hands and quiet laughter while holding me high in the air that is unbearable. The final arc to the water and rocks is peaceful in comparison.

I’m on that bridge again. I am afraid of not being in control of my life when I am most in control. I feel the imaginary pull to the side. Do I go try one more time with my mother, to feel her love and recognition, knowing full well I will only end up uprooted, dangled? Do I work diligently to try and care for someone else’s needs in hope of getting the golden light of approval, absolving myself of the sins of needing, wanting something in return for myself? Do I keep loving people who can give so little in return?

Or do I understand it is only a feeling. A fear. I am in control. I have choices. I’m not eight. I no longer have to hold onto those who frightened me for safety. It is deeply ingrained but not permanent. No wound ever is. It means giving up the thrill, the rush of adrenalin. It means walking away from the pull.

I want to be able to drive over a bridge and relax my clenched muscles. I know I will make it to the other side. Maybe even look, for a moment, to see the view. I want to walk across the footbridge to the Cove and join my kids jumping in the middle, where the two sides meet, making the bridge jump up. I know it will hold me.

I’m tired of being afraid of bridges.

I’m tired of being afraid.


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