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.

One Percent Other: The Duke of Hazards

From the first time someone paid Brazen to jump off the roof of the elementary school, he knew he wanted to be a stunt man.  He had no sense of self-preservation.  Anyone who hung out with him could attest to it.

In a school that was 49% white, 50% black, and 1% other, Brazen was one of the few in the “other” category.  He was unusual to look at, having inherited his Iranian father’s skin tone and coarse black hair as well as his ginger mother’s summer blue eyes.  His mid-teen growth spurt left him with awkward long legs and arms.  When he wasn’t in school or up to no good, he was running, knees and elbows pumping, and a foot-long braided rattail flailing behind him.

Brazen loved to do stuff no one else would dare, and he would do almost anything for almost nothing.  His toady and his best friend watched him eat twenty cockroaches, the big kind, for fifty bucks.  Any given weekday, he could be found taking money from other kids in exchange for an exhibition better suited to a sideshow than lunchroom entertainment. He always gave his audience what they wanted, and he craved the attention, which made him perfect for Ms. Cornell’s drama class.

When he wasn’t running lines or painting sets, Brazen passed the time walking across the auditorium on his hands, trying to see how many folding chairs he could jump, or just sitting in a circle of mostly girls and telling stories of the many and varied ways he’d broken bones.

They sat rapt, and he told the story well, despite the inevitable cracks that come with a boy’s changing voice.  “So three summers ago, my mom was dropping me off at the skate park every morning, at like nine, before she took my sister to band camp.  G-Man’s dad has a pick-up, so he brought the ramp.  P-Dawg has a friggin’ six foot half-pipe at his house, but my mom won’t let me go over there anymore since we got caught smoking, so we were at the damned park everyday.”

“Brazen, don’t cuss at school,” Ms. Cornell called.

“Sorry,” he sang back and looked at Toady.   Dropping his voice, he said, “You know she’s pregnant?”  The kids in the circle turned to look as Ms. Cornell, a tight-bodied, smoking hot redhead, as she gave stage directions.  The other kids whispered that they heard she got knocked up by a twenty-two year old, and she would be thirty in a few months.  “Yeah, well, if it’s true, then she’s a MILF for sure.”

“Ew,” Rasia, a pretty, light-skinned black girl who Brazen hoped to get to second base with, said.  “Tell us about the skateboard.”

Brazen looked at her, cocked his head, and gave her his best pirate smile.  “If it pleases m’lady.”  He batted his eyelashes at her.  “Yeah, so we did tricks all day, and we got bored real quick, but it was like an hour before my mom was supposed to get me.  So, we set the ramp up near some cars in the parking lot, and I hung out by the red light.”  Brazen paused to let the suspense build.  “So, this guy in a truck drives by, and I grabbed his bumper, staying low so he wouldn’t see me in his mirrors.  When I got near the ramp, G-Man yelled at me to let go, and I like swerved over,” his hand shot out toward the girl next to him, “so I could hit the ramp.”

“Man, it was wicked,” Toady said.

Brazen grinned at him.  “I hit the ramp solid.”  The fingers of his right hand swooped across the palm of his left.  “I caught some serious air.  I even made it over the car, but when I landed, I shattered both tibias.  My fucking knee caps—”

“Brazen!”

“Sorry, sorry!”  Brazen bumped the edges of his palms against the middles of his shins.  “My knee caps were down here.  G-Man had his cell phone.  I thought my mom would kill me.”

Eyes wide with sympathy, Rasia said, “I can’t believe you can still walk.”

After soaking up as much attention as he could, Brazen ran through his lines, which he’d already memorized, and then counted down the seconds until the bell rang.  He visited his locker, and then visited Rasia’s locker where he was rewarded with a kiss for his heroic feat and recovery and a hand slap for trying to cop a feel.

When Brazen walked out the front doors of the building, he felt as though his day had been fairly productive.  Then, he saw Ms. Cornell cranking her car.  Tossing his books aside, he ran and leapt onto the hood just as she backed out of her spot.  When she realized she had a fourteen-year-old boy clinging to her car, she slammed on the brakes, which sent him slamming into her windshield.

“Get the fuck off my car you crazy child,” Ms. Cornell shouted through the glass.

Brazen just smiled.  “You shouldn’t cuss at school, Ms. Cornell.  Give me a ride home?”

Ms. Cornell rolled down her window.  “No.  Your mom is probably already here, so go on and get off.”

“Okay, I’ll get off,” he said as he scooted over to the driver’s side of the car and stuck one foot on the ground.  “I get off to you all the time.”

Ms. Cornell frowned.  “That is just,” she shook her head, “go on.”

After blowing her a kiss, Brazen did just that.  On his way to his mother’s van, he accepted a congratulatory high five from a boy two years older than him and decided that his day turned out far better than he could’ve hoped.