over an impossible bridge from alone to love
For some weeks, I would lie alone in the quiet night, imagining what it would be to take all my walls down. So long they had been up, so tall, broad and strong. Brutal and jagged, as thick as the Berlin Wall. I’d seen a piece of the wall, put up in the center of the Chapman campus like a hideous sculpture. It’s not far from Adam Smith’s bronze head.
Students pass by this monument every day and don’t know what the ugly sculpture is, just as they do not know Adam Smith. It’s a tall hunk of dirty white concrete topped with twisted rebar, splattered with graffiti, some written in foreign tongues, most written in no language save agony.
As Temple Grandin sees her life as a series of doors that she opens and walks through, so too have I seen my life as a series of bridges. One crossed with a path to follow, and then another, and another, and another.
And this bridge, the highest, like looking down from the Golden Gate Bridge to the chill gray water below. The drop is some 270 feet, 27 storeys. Of the 2,000 people who’ve jumped off the bridge since it was built, only 33 have survived, and of those, only a handful have recovered from their injuries.
One of the survivors said, “the second my hands and feet left the rail I realized I had made a mistake, I realized how much I needed to live, or didn’t want to die.”
For me, it is not to jump off the bridge, it is to cross it without falling.
And I am so afraid.
Once when I was young, my grandmother was in a rare contemplative mood and wished to tell me of the days before my mother died. She often spoke of driving to Los Angeles from Redlands each day to see her. Well now I know such trips; when I was young I could not imagine them. But I was eager for any word about my mother.
Nana said she went in one day to find my mother out of bed and lying on the floor beside the window, unable to stand.
I immediately saw her, slim, pale arms and legs tangled, fingers reaching for the sunlight.
“I was dreaming, mother,” she said. “I dreamt I saw the most beautiful color, and I was trying to reach it. But I fell.”
I asked what the color was, though I already knew. I had dreamt of this color my entire life.
Before I could really write, I wrote about it. I told all of our stories mixed into one. Nana pointed out the old copper pot on the patio, and its patina. That was the color. It was, it is, the color of time.
These newborn eyes, the color of old copper pots which have been left in the sun. The color of a nugget of turquoise taken straight from the earth, of the sea off Laguna at sunset, of what you are moving toward, of what will be as well as what was. Your eyes. Your child’s eyes. Your mother’s eyes. Shot with time’s arrow, melted, forged into a pot.
To say that this is my favorite color is to say that I like to breathe air. It is as much a part of me as my blood, the muscles in my legs, my fingers.
I think often of the choice my mother made. I would have made the same choice. Rather than grasp for a few more miserable sick months, just let go. Give my life to my baby.
That baby was me.
I did make the same choice as was given to me and would make it ten thousand times over. But I had no real risk to my life, and instead it was the baby’s life that was taken. In terms of his eyes, they were blue. So blue.
Grief is like biting into a crab apple, over and over. Regret is a bittersweet orange bad at the heart. Loneliness the comfort of a rotten, threadbare sheet.
And how I have loved such things. My daily bread and meat. They have the comfortable familiarity of Poe lifting Virginia’s dusty white bones from her grave, gathering the bone and mold and death in a mad embrace.
And ahead, I see the color of time.
Yet I remain fearful to leave these things behind. Reluctant to cross the bridge and step into the clear blue sky. I do not wish to fall. But around me, the bridge is crumbling. The walls are cracked.
I must cross now; I have no real choice.
If I stay on the bridge, I will surely fall, and if I go back, behind the walls, I will die.
For some weeks I have been feeling the world around me more than I feel myself. First, while swimming, I felt the water about my body more than I did myself, and for the first time, swam with it. I went fast. Then walking with Gambit, his eager body pulling forth, I felt the world about my face and arms and hands, the warm sun on my cheeks.
Dancing on the patio after Jay Lake died, I said a prayer for his soul and felt the world about my hands, and I let it lift them, then felt it holding my muscles as I danced to the music of the air. The wind rushed through the trees. A bird sang, and then took flight.
Then came a bear, his black eyes flashing. A buck chasing a doe through the forest. A doe and her fawn eating calmly, no fear at all.
The sun on a high mountain rock, above the world and all its cares.
Gently, the sun touches my face, my shoulders, my back, my belly, my breasts. I am as God made me.
I already know that I will never truly live if I do not cross these steps. If I do not take his hand, if I do not truly kiss his lips, feel his blood rushing, feel his heart beating, feel his love through his hands. If I do not let this thing happen, if I do not let him feel me –
I will be ashes, clay, dust, mold, bones in a grave.
And like all things we think to be so difficult at first, the doing is as easy as slipping into warm water.
I slip from my skin into his, and he into mine.
We are the buck and the doe. We are one under the crystal blue sky. The sun is like fire; our shadows meet. My breasts reach up to meet his hungry lips.
We are as beautiful as the buck and doe. The forest is alive, and so are we. This savage black image, raw as hell, naked on the flat gray rock, is who we are.
I have crossed the great divide and have not fallen; he fell a short way, but got up again.
Yes, I have been afraid. I have shivered alone in the cold night.
But now I am warm and unafraid.
And on my finger, because we are people, and people make such things and do such things to remind themselves of eternal truth, things of which the buck and doe and bear have no need, for they never forget how to live, I wear a stone that is, improbably, impossibly, inevitably — the perfect, exact color of time.