Narrow bridges

A narrow stone bridge has been in my mind for a while now, a humpbacked one-lane bridge with deep grooves carved in the cement from cars bottoming out. If you hit the hump too hard, the car would jump and float; you could feel it in your stomach when the wheels left the ground. It was exhilarating. One bump and you could lose control completely.

The traffic had to alternate to cross. At first, there were no signs to instruct people in how to handle this. Natural courtesy dictates a slow approach. Eventually, this broke down. There was an accident. A sign, NARROW BRIDGE, was posted. This had the effect of making drivers approaching the bridge more aggressive about asserting their right of way. Eventually, it became obligatory to stop completely to protect yourself before crossing.

The first time I saw this bridge was when I was 11. One humid summer night in the backyard, the fireflies, the moon, and the cicadas, wiffle-ball paraphernalia scattered around, Keith and Andy, older neighborhood kids, told me they were going for a ride, and they let me ride along in the back.

Keith used to ride a wheelie on his ten-speed around my block for hours at a time. No one was particularly impressed, but everyone noted it.

We drove on roads I had never been on, windy roads through endless forest. It was my first time in a car that wasn’t being driven by someone’s parents. I didn’t know where I was; no one knew where I was.

Keith parked the car on the side of a road by the bridge and let it idle with the parking lights on. A girl had left something for Keith underneath the bridge, and he went out with a flashlight to get it.

I could see the bridge in the dim glow, large flat stones held together by cracked mortar. I decided that Keith was in love with this girl; he seemed so lonely on his bike all the time. I decided that we had made this journey into the darkness to find out if the girl felt the same way. That was what was in the package.

When Keith came back, he showed what he got to Andy, who nodded. He didn’t show it to me, and I was always afraid to ask. I decided I didn’t want to know.

I always associated the bridge with the weightlessness of love when it seems like it might come true. Other drivers had no nostalgia for it. It was inconvenient and outmoded and was eventually destroyed, replaced by a wider bridge, which you can speed over without realizing you’ve crossed anything.