The Bridge Over Always

There was a bridge that no one crossed, because it stopped where it shouldn’t.
Over the water, where it wouldn’t. But lovers went there, and the lost.

The slats, though a little dark in spots with mildew, were tightly fitted, and the carriage bolts, though oxidized and smudgy, were firmly seated and strong. It was crafted by someone who took his or her work seriously. Not a job, but a profession, had built a bridge like that.

If you asked someone, because you were curious, and a kid, why a person might make half a bridge, you got the impression it just wasn’t very important, as questions go. Maybe someone had a silly idea, and realized it was silly and halted, like a sensible person should. Maybe the builder had made a lot of other bridges, but he got sick and died, and left one unfinished. You should want to die doing the thing you love – it’s a good way to go, if you have to go.

The bridge was full of lessons, of messages. And of course none of them made any sense. You don’t build even half a bridge by being half way over the water. And there’s no someone who builds a lot of bridges around, and builds one near where you live, without you knowing about it, and knowing who they are. It seemed like the platitudes people put out to explain it were a way of waving away the thing that really might. The stories people tried to send out over the half bridge never came back – like voices without an echo. And yet, there was something to be learned. Not a lesson. Not a message. But something true.

I went one day, with my younger brother. I didn’t see anything that would explain it. We walked to the edge. We stood there, and it was just the water staring back at us, and the grey sky of the North – that sky that always lets you know you’re home, if you ever have to leave. The grey that tells that you can breathe. Grey is my favorite colour, sometimes. I love it where we live.

The half bridge has a half rail, and we swung on it, and I had to stop him from jumping in, which would have got us both in trouble. It’s not dangerous. It’s not a suicide bridge. Probably if someone had built half a bridge that was high enough to leap to your death from, someone else would have torn it down. No one bothered with a bridge that was just a few feet off the water. But I still couldn’t let him jump in. Parents have a way of focusing on the symbolic over the real, and somehow jumping and public structures don’t go together in their minds.

I spent enough time watching him, and being distracted by it, that I decided to go back alone, when I could. Maybe there was nothing there to be understood. Maybe there’s just a simple explanation. But you’d think, if that were true, or if there were any explanation, either the older people or the newspapers would know what it was by now and do some kind of human interest, retro, our town focus piece and explain it to us, so we’d all have something to talk about over breakfast at Lana’s diner. I was giving it a once more, before just giving up and shrugging like everybody wanted to do.

You don’t always have the bridge to yourself. Girlfriends and boyfriends go there and dangle their feet off the edge, because they’re feeling mystery, so they look for something that makes the whole world seem like it could be a mystery. Depressed people go there, because the world seems like it just ends at some odd point, so they look out at an ending that abrupt, and it confirms that it’s not natural, that somehow it’s wrong.

This isn’t some psychologist I read, talking. I just think these things, because that what it looks like. The bridge has a story, but you can’t find it if you bring your own story to write on it, like kids write on walls, like the walls don’t already have a story to tell. So I settled on first thing in the morning, when I’d probably have the thing to myself.

About a week later, first light, I was there. I walked slowly along every board. I ran my hand along the rail. I guessed lots of people had done these things. It felt kind of hokey – you know – like when you tried that time to do magic, maybe break something with your mind, just to see if it would work, and it didn’t. If there’s magic, it isn’t like that.

I stood there on the edge of the bridge, and I thought about how all our accumulated stories did their level best to make the thing either completely natural and understandable, or else deeply mysterious and speculative. The truth was probably something else.

It was a lot of years ago. If you thought I was talking about last month, or even last year, you’d be wrong. And you might think I just fell asleep on that bridge, or hallucinated, or fantasized, and I was a kid and I couldn’t separate what was there from what I wanted to be there. But that’s just it, you see – I didn’t want anything to be there – I didn’t want to fit my own story over the truth and make it into anything. I had no preconceived agenda. I saw the other side, looking out from the half bridge. I saw it and I knew.

See, I stood there, looking out out over the water, but not far over it, not like you stand on the edge and look at the lake. I looked just where the rest of the bridge would be. I’m sure people have done that before, too – many times. But I started thinking, “what if half a bridge was all you needed? Why would that be?” In other words, what if the thing actually was finished?

And that’s how I found the answer to the magic. There isn’t just half a bridge, there’s a whole one. And he didn’t die, the man that built it. He’s with *her* now. Why the lake? Water is the eternal, the transcendent. Sure, ask ten people, an arbitrary number, what water symbolizes, and you’ll get ten different answers that also seem arbitrary, like guesswork. Put them all together, and get them to tell each other their answers, and most of them will say “yes, that too.” But everything they say that water represents is transcendent, isn’t it? It’s eternal. It’s beyond the beyond.

The man that built half a bridge was completing something. It was the answer to a question. It was the word to a thought. It was the kiss to a hello. I talked to him. Not long. I left them their peace, and their wonderful togetherness, but I had to go to the other side at least once. He couldn’t be with her, you see. He was one place, she was the other, and in between them was the transcendent, a thing to be shared and a gulf that separated them, the eternal chasm.

That day I knew where to look for the answer. Somewhere, on the other side of the world, the other side of the country, or just the other side of our fine and beautiful county, there was also half a bridge. Lovingly and carefully constructed. And whoever had made it would come to the water’s edge and look across, on mornings like that one. And sometimes she would be a lover, and sometimes the lost. And across the eternal, he would talk to her, and she would talk back, and they would love endlessly in a world that in the ancient words was called “world without end”.

I knew the rest, too, though it took me the better part of the morning to work it out. There could be only one reason why he wasn’t there, why no one was there any longer, on that bridge that now other lovers and other lost go to, because they sense the power of it, the pull, and are drawn toward a thing that could reach half way across eternity for what a man’s heart longed for. He wasn’t there, because they were together now. Somehow, the bridge had kept them alive and connected over the span of however many years it took, and now they were in each other’s arms. World without end. World. Without end.

It took me a few years, to finish growing up – well, to be officially finished growing up, anyway. Old enough to drive a car long distances. It wasn’t that hard to find them. You need a map, and the ability to draw a straight line. It was one bridge, you see, with forever running through it. A bridge over always. And that’s where I found them together. I’ll leave them their privacy – they’ve surely earned it with the waiting. I found them in ‘from now on’ and I took my leave, bidding them happiness in the happily ever after.

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