The Bridge


Ten Years. My father came up to this bridge and he stood up on the rail, looked around as though he’d never seen the landscape of foothills and evergreen, then he stepped off. Just like all the others, he plunged into the churning center of the river, and only weeks later did his body surface. Though, we knew. We knew it had to do something with the bridge. We didn’t think he was dead—never would have guessed him a jumper—but we thought that he was trying to do something to stop it.      
     He’d sit in his study window and stare out at the bridge sometimes he would mumble to himself, sometimes he would just look, and sometimes we could hear him going on, “I’ll stop it. I’ll stop it.” Away from his study, he tried not to talk about his bridge, but everyone always knew someone or saw someone or met someone who had jumped off.
     So, when he didn’t come home for dinner, and he wasn’t at work, and he wasn’t at the courthouse trying to get the bridge torn down, we knew something had happened.
The river still churns, but today it is low, and we can see the rocks at the bottom. Since my father’s suicide, the city erected chain link over and around the entire bridge. If someone wanted to jump they had to cut through it—people did.
     We’re here with my father’s blueprints, designs, and pictures of the building in progress. We’re making our plans—the weakest points were in the middle. Our father was in the process of reinforcing them, when the suicides spiked, and while on site, he saw someone jump.
In 1982 our father built the bridge. There was champagne, ribbons, and hundreds of handshakes. The town no longer had to drive the hour-stretch down to go to work in the city. The next morning the first jumper came and went. They knew he was dead before his body surfaced weeks later. From 1982 to 1995 there were 694 suicides (not counting my father’s). The papers wrote of my father as a great man, who slipped from the bridge while trying to reinforce it. The articles never mentioned the hundreds of jumpers the bridge attracted, and all his attempts to destroy it. We knew about our father’s other plans. We saw the dynamite and pictures of the bridge with red circles, hanging in his study. We knew he wanted it to fall. And when he couldn’t blow it up, he jumped off.
     And one person saw him jump. Us kids were the only one who believed her. So, weeks after the funeral we crossed the bridge and found her.
     She told us the story: He wasn’t working. He just walked up to the bridge, climbed on the rail, and stepped off. There wasn’t anything to it. Don’t go searching for the answers. Sometimes we don’t know the people we love, and when they do things the mystery shouldn’t be the why of it, it should be the how.
     As kids we didn’t know exactly what she meant, but we told her we knew it was because of the suicides.
     What about them?
     There were so many, so Dad just couldn’t take it.
     He’s your father, you can believe what you want. I don’t know the man, but I know what I saw. Just a man, calm and determined. There was no hesitation.
     He wasn’t a man of hesitation, we said, paraphrasing the lectures he gave us monthly about being a good man.
     She offered her condolences and we left.
     Today, we can see her house from where we are on the bridge.
     I wonder if she’ll see it when the bridge falls? I say.
     If she’s even alive, my brother says.
My father would go from work to the courthouse every day. It started in 1994 when the suicide rate reached 600. He petitioned for the bridge to be torn down and rebuilt. It was ridiculous of my father. There would never be enough money for that. And no government would ever agree. They offered solutions (the chain link was one; though that never came through till after my father jumped), but my father claimed that it had to be torn down or more people would die. They continued to turn down his proposals for the year, till his death.
My father loved bridges till this one. There are stacks of pictures in our mother’s attic in Florida with him in his PJs as a kid, building bridges out of branches, Lincoln logs, rocks, garbage. He’s always sporting a smile or grin. But when I see these pictures, I can only think of him looking out the window, the bridge a slit in the background, his face contorted.
Our mother had remarried by the time we were old enough to no care if we had a step-dad. But we just call him Frank.
     Today, we call her and tell her we’re going to finish what he started.
     You boys don’t go up there to relive something your father tried.
     We just want to give him what he wanted.
     Apparently that man wanted to give up on his family.
     The bridge did it to him, Mom.
     The bridge is not a person. It is a structure your father built and then people jumped off. Do you see God jumping off of cliffs because he built them and people jumped off them and died? Do you see pharmacists swallowing a bottle of pills because the last one they made was taken all at once? Don’t be childish. Go home to your families.
     We just wanted to tell you, Mom. It’ll be over tonight.
So, here we are with our father’s things. Last night in the hotel we finalized the plan. We had our father’s things tacked to the motel wall, a VHS tape of the time lapse of the building of the bridge playing. We had gone over the plan two hundred times in the last couple years. This was just a ceremony of sorts.
     We leave our bombs and explosives in the car.
     We leave everything up for the night, so that when we wake we can see what comes tomorrow.
It’s morning. We tear everything from the walls, pull the VHS from the player, and pack our things into our cars. We drive to the other side of the bridge, scale the security fence, and hike to the center of the bridge. We set our explosives where our father had marked.
     At this time of morning, there are few cars. When the explosives are in place, my brother sets a fire at the other end of the bridge with oil and gasoline, and I set a fire at my end. They will burn well into the explosion. The fire department is at the other side of town. They will take 25 minutes to reach the site.
     We have twenty minutes left, when my brother comes back. We rev up the dirt roads just past the bridge, and find a spot in a cluster of Firs still unmoved by loggers. And we watch. The fires are still going when the explosion go. The fire department is pulling up to the fires, and the bridge crumbles inward, collapsing into the water.
     When it’s over, and the town is all there, watching it smolder, we drive back down, and start towards home. We pass the old cabin, and the woman is there, watching the wreckage.
We call our mother. We tell her it’s done.
     I’ve forgotten about all that. You should too.
     We don’t forget. We wanted annihilate the history he left behind. We draw him back into our lives as though there has been no suicide, as though he died honorably. We talk about it. We tell stories to our kids. We tell them how it fell. We repeat the story till they know every word. We tell them that our father became a ghost, rose from the water, and took the bridge down. They believe us. They want to meet their grandfather, they want to see him destroy things.