You thought my fear of bridges as ridiculous as my fear of tunnels. How else could we cross relatively small bodies of water, you asked me. So as we drove the ugly trough of white concrete that bulged above the Choctawhatchee Bay, I stared straight ahead to the shore and focused on singing along with Sheryl Crow.
I never remember much about driving to Florida, but I remember that bay, that bridge, and the Tom Thumb at the crossroads.
You said you loved my voice, loved to hear me sing, and that I missed my calling as a country music singer/songwriter. I reminded you of my opinion of most country music and told you that you were full of shit. You laughed, but I was still afraid that any moment the bridge would give way and your car would drop forty feet into the swamp. I lit a cigarette the moment the wheels touched asphalt again and smoked in celebration of surviving another trip over water.
Cheap cheap smokes, back then when I was young. I had my purple Bic, the last of a quickly vanishing breed of non-childproof lighters. Adjustable flame and see-through plastic. When it finally ran out of fluid, I tried to open it to refill it. The plastic cracked and fell apart in my hands.
You said it wouldn’t be much longer before we were in San Destin and inside a house of strangers to me. With only you for a liaison. I was as afraid of that house as I was of the bridge.
It rained every day but even so, I went out on the beach, fully dressed because it was still too cold for swimming. In the drizzle, I danced and sang in my head.
You made me feel things I’d never felt. Cute in a skirt. Protected, sheltered, and yet afraid at the same time. It doesn’t matter if it wasn’t intentional. Once the fear connects itself to the pain, it’s hard to ignore. It’s hard to shut it down and move on. I had to shut it down and move on every time you touched me and looked at me that way.
I was young, and I didn’t know any better, and I should have. It isn’t all your fault. Like with so many other things, I didn’t know when to stop, to say “Enough,” until it was well beyond the point. The fear of being without you matched the fear of being with you. The fear ate up everything until there was nothing left. Then, one day, the fear was gone, too.
I’m okay with bridges now, as long as I can see the other shore. I can see a way out. I still can’t abide tunnels.