Dark clouds approach from a distance, intimidating the sun into a hasty retreat behind fluffy white puffs that flee from the advancing gloom. For a moment, the new bridge shines against a blue sky, its cables glistening like the straight edge of a razor. I stop at the edge of the footpath that runs parallel to the road, separated from careless traffic by another cable that runs the length of the bridge. High above the choppy river below, even a structure as large as this one sways in the slightest breeze.
No one actually crosses here, no one but me. Why would they? The path leading to this one starts on a curb at the end of the business district. On the other side, the path leads to corporate headquarters and posh restaurants. There is no beauty to be found before the bridge or after, not within walking distance anyway. The old Victorian homes keep to themselves, miles beyond. Areas designated for parks and playgrounds are held close to the heart of the city behind me, protected by rings of neighboring homes with white picket fences and black metal bars in the windows. These and more, all places where I didn’t belong. Do not belong.
If you’d asked me a week ago, I would have told you people do not belong with places, but with other people. That’s because I belonged with someone, and he belonged with me, though he didn’t know it at the time. Doesn’t know it. I think, though, that I belong with this place. The metal grate grinds into my feet through the flimsy material of my house-slippers. I should have put some shoes on before I left my apartment. The metal, zebra-striped key chain with my name, Alice, spelled out in bold, hot pink letters sticks to my warm palm. I probably should have put a coat on over my night gown, but I didn’t. I should be cold, but humiliation washes through me once again and I’m not. The heat of that agonizing moment, a different kind of heat than the passion I had expected, remains in the front of my mind. My embarrassment will keep me warm through the remainder of my journey. The more I think about it, the more certain I am that I belong here.
The bridge is only half a mile long, so it won’t take me long to reach the center, but on the way, I think of him. How could I not? From the first moment I saw Adam I knew what it meant to fall utterly and completely in love. His incredible wit never failed to find its mark. Though his compliments came few and far between, that only proved he really meant them. His kindness towards others tempered the disparaging comments he made from time to time. And he’d never said a cross word to me, not before today. His words echoing through my mind threaten to send me reeling, but the solid familiarity of the bridge keeps me steady on my path.
As always, the bridge sways beneath my feet, more of a comfort to me than any man or woman has ever been, not since my mother died three years ago. Another pang of sorrow grips my chest, but I’m here now. I’ve found my mark, and I turn to look out at the waters below, gripping the steel railing that keeps pedestrians from flying over the side of the bridge. The ominous clouds above reflect in the churning depths below. Slivers of sunlight prick points of light on the waves. Let those be my tears, I won’t cry. There’s no need to, really. What’s done is done, and I’m here now.
He’d pissed me off- that’s what did it. He insulted me, and, hurt, I screamed at him. I’d never raised my voice to him, but he’d never criticized me so harshly either. His look of disgust had plunged into my heart, sharp and quick. When he turned to walk away, the pain twisted deep within. I asked how he could leave so easily, just walk away like I meant nothing to him. He’d looked back, confused by my soft tone and tears springing to my eyes. He asked why on Earth I was crying, and I told him. I told him I loved him, but he didn’t respond in kind. I told him he’d hurt me, but he didn’t rush to comfort me as I’d so desperately needed him to. I told him I needed him to understand, hoping he felt the same, but he didn’t stay.
All the fire had gone out of his eyes, replaced with pity lacking any trace of the love I’d sought to share with him. The door to my apartment quietly closed behind him, shutting out any chance I might have had at happiness. The vanilla candle on the entry table blew out in the soft breeze. Before a chill could set in, the heat of rejection warmed me from the inside out. My tears dried as I stood there, more disheartened than I’d ever been.
Now that I’m here, that moment is but a memory, albeit a painful one. The bridge welcomes me home where I can be free. Free to fall. Free to love. Free to live. The waters below offer me freedom from it all. Easily crossing under the cable barrier, I stand at the edge of the bridge, tall and proud. Wind buffets me like the embrace of a strong lover who I am, once more, eager to fall for. This time is different, though. Wind rushes by and dark waters invite me to stay, promising to keep me forever.
So this is love.