Was it Sigmund Freud who said: Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar? Well, for most people, a bridge is just a bridge. Especially one being torn apart the way this one is. It's ugly. Downright ugly. And for me, it's not just a bridge, but a force of evil. It needed to go. It deserves to be destroyed. It's as old as me, yet I'm the one truly dying here. Just the sight of that chipped concrete shoots pain through my ribs all over again that no pharmaceutical can phase. And I have to sit here - eye to eye with it - every single day.
The noise of cranes and other heavy equipment rattles my nerves. I can't help but be reminded of those Jaws of Life every time I hear that kind of noise. The growling putter of a helicopter passing overhead; the piercing scream of any siren; bright lights strobing across my wrinkling, pale face. Anything does it, really. But this road construction project is pure torture. Annoying, yes; inconvenient, yes. That's all it is to these two folks sitting in front of me this bright -otherwise "nice" morning - and this one fella sitting behind me. All waiting impatiently and rightfully for the one skinny lane on this already-narrow bridge to open up.
Wonder how long it'll take this time. How long the metal snake of cars on this side of the highway will grow before finally being allowed to slither through. Yesterday, it was only about fifteen minutes; the day before, right at thirty. I guess it all depends on how full the moon is as to how much traffic on any given morning.
I welcome having things to gripe about. It takes my mind off the real subject of this bridge, if but for fleeting moments. Listening to the radio doesn't help. Definitely not the news part, where I have to hear the routine accident reports. These are people just like me (or were, in the case of the fatal ones). Every time I hear one of those reports, I can picture as vividly the exact scenario as if I were that person. Because I am that person. It doesn't matter what caused the wreck, or where, or why, or how; the fact our lives will never be the same again is a torment I know we all have in common.
I'm staring into the rearview mirror, but not at the fella behind me. At myself. I thought maybe taking these sagging, exhausted eyes away from the grinning, symmetrical, gap-teethed railings of that bridge would ease my mind a bit. But it's having the opposite effect. The airbag was probably the only thing that saved this slim, albino-haired head from the fate the rest of this broken body suffered. That day, it had been raining cats and dogs. It was cold, wet, miserable. I could sense every square inch of my dark-spotted skin pleading with my brain to allow it to shiver as they strapped me down and shot me up with something to hold me over during that eternal ride to the city. Today, in nearly every way, is just the opposite. Sunny and muggy. But what difference does it make? What happened could happen on any day, to anybody. That day, it was the slick pavement; on another day, it might be a deer darting out of the woods, or a drowsy truck driver veering across the centerline.
I want to turn around and go back to my sanctuary I call home. I don't want this orange-clad sentry to ever give us that waving gesture that says: Proceed on through! If you dare. I don't want to experience that intimidating, galloping clack of tires rolling across sections of concrete - the bridge teasing me as though it wants to hurl me into that blood-red banked, brush-tangled, unforgiving creek all over again. I never want to be in a car again. Not as a driver, nor a passenger. I want to walk from now on.
But I can't. I have to get across this bridge so I can make this doctor's appointment for this PTSD therapy. My life depends on it. My sanity depends on it.
My jittering, skin-and-bone fingers swipe across a damp, cooling forehead. I breathe, relieved. Apparently, a cement truck has stalled right in the middle of the highway at the other end of this jinxing bridge. I can see some workers lifting the hood up, as well as the drivers in front of me throwing their hands up in the air, and faint, window-muffled obscenities bellowing from their disgusted throats. The clock on my onboard dash display changes minutes. The truck's mixer has stopped turning, the hood has been closed, and I see a worker standing in front of it on his cell phone.
Something's happening! The collar on my checkered, button-up shirt is quickly becoming drenched. The bridge is alive! Humming. Like a monotone, high-pitched beast growl. I'm lightheaded. I hear a popping noise. A jolt. A sensation of my tiny car being lifted off the ground. When I finally calm myself down enough to aim an instinctive glance back into the mirror, I don't know whether to laugh over the fact that a bridge is just a bridge or be concerned over this peculiar old fart. What in thunderation?
It's him. It's the driver who's been sitting behind me all these long moments. The humming is from an air compressor. His hood is up and I can see the positive/negative cables running back to his car battery. He's squatted down beside my back-left tire. I power down my window and twist my aching neck to send a half-smile his way.
"Tire's low!" his nasal, dead-waking voice flies into my ear drum. Tingling nerves still lingering within make me twitch in my seat. But I should thank him. So I get out.
"Yeah! It was all the way down to the ground!" he informs, voice still at the same volume despite my standing directly over him. He looks like an underweight version of Santa Claus.
"Is that you I hear rattling back there, Ron?" the young worker directing traffic yells with a grin.
"Get back to work, Turkey!" Ron quips with an echo that blasts through his ears and across the creek.
The worker laughs and turns his eyes to me. "Make him wash your car while he's at it too!"
Ron pats his knees and spouts off some gibberish for expressions of aches and pains as he struggles his way back up to standing position. I like this old boy. There's something about him, I'm just not quite sure what yet. I ponder. I'll bet kids really do think he's Santa Claus. I'll bet everyone around here knows him. I'll bet everyone around here likes him. I should tell him thanks, and attempt to pay him something.
With his characteristic abruptness, he interrupts my train of thought. "Sure be glad when they finally get done tearing up jack here!" he says at a volume clearly intended for both me and all the workers. We all laugh, including the people in the cars ahead of us. "Yeah, they're gonna widen this thing...one of these days!" he states. "Maybe there won't be anymore wrecks like that one last year!"
My upward-trending mood takes a dive, and I shudder. I don't want to resurrect this subject from its long-overdue nap, so I keep my mouth shut. Instead, I pop the hood on my own car and reach for the air gauge in the glove compartment.
"Well, if you'll hook her up, I'll air 'em up," I tell Ron. "Tires almost always are a few pounds low." As we make our way around the two vehicles, checking and airing to proper specifications, I introduce myself to him by my last name: Bradford. I have a feeling this guy addresses everyone either by their last name, or as "Turkey".
I'm not thinking about the bridge as the four fully-inflated wheels slowly clack their way past bright rubber cones, roaring equipment, and the chipped railing that once almost killed me. I'm thinking about taking Ron up on his offer to come over for that barbecue this weekend.