June 4th, 2011 - Erin Calabria
We are sitting on the Brooklyn Bridge. I tune the slide of my whistle to his guitar, meanwhile twilight rolls turquoise waves against buildings stacked far as the eye can see. Ready now, I tap my foot to set the tempo, and the two of us begin to play.
I am young and in love. I am in a beautiful place. I don’t quite know what I’m doing with my life, but it feels like everything is just starting. What I don’t know is that this moment is no launching point but a pinnacle, that I am about to fall fast and hard, and I can’t stop it. No one can stop it—not him, not love, not anything in this bright, improbable mess of a city.
Ten years from now, bridges will begin to appear in my dreams, in the stories I write. Sometimes, their visitations will charm me back to the valley I grew up in, to concrete stringers crossed by school buses in grey dawn hours, to the cat’s cradle of truss bridges condemned, lost in floods, left to rust into the woods. Other times, they will conjure the nautilus arc of the Hell Gate or the Triborough’s winking tines the day I first came to the city with no job, just an unpaid internship, a friend’s couch in Queens, and whatever I could carry on the Amtrak Vermonter headed south.
And sometimes, those bridges will bring me here, where I’m not thinking at all about the gentle rock of steel or the coiling river right below. In fact, I’m trying not to think. I’m tired from one of my three jobs, ignoring a cough that has just begun to prick at my chest because this is my first paid gig; I’ve agonized over the tune list, practiced for hours, much more than I ever would to busk with him in Washington Square Park, which is where we were when a business card asking us to play a party here dropped into his open case.
Instead, I am trying to focus on the draw and release of lungs, the ripple of fingertips, the shape each tune makes as it unfolds. I am trying to push away the realization: this is it, I am doing it, lest I break the spell of the present. I want to bind us right here, to the music spanning between and beyond us, to the rhythm distilled into a kind of prayer from hands down to tapping feet: and now, and now, and now.
The sky gets dark as he and I play. Windows bloom into innumerable squares of light. We grin big, stupid grins at each other between sets, and he picks a few solos to let me catch my breath. I think of the first night I heard him play in a crowded pub, how I’d known even then I could listen to him forever. How later, he confessed he’d been playing that night just for me.
From here, it is only a few weeks till the equinox, only a few weeks till I get the news that will flip the welcome sign on my heart’s door closed. By the winter solstice, a blood test will give confirmation, and before I even know what kind of life I want to have, I know I cannot have it.
At least, that’s what I will think for the better part of a decade. But then, these bridges will show up, wanting to tell me something different, wanting to remind me of what else I don’t know yet. How in a few years, he and I will visit City Hall and walk across this same bridge again after, no rings, but a promise nonetheless. How we will cast our fortune then across the Atlantic, where a vertical lift converted from rail to footbridge overlooks a new city’s cathedral, and words in two languages begin to grow inside me like a second self.
Those bridges will want me to recall the sway of suspension just barely tugging on the rhythm of each tune and recognize this day not as a pinnacle, but as what it is so simply, so unmistakably: a bridge—a place in between, just as every present swings aloft, one after the other, moment by moment composing a structure we might not see until it becomes a story we are able to tell. And maybe it’s only here, finally telling you this story out loud, that I know for sure it has been taking shape all along.
Queens, New York
Erin Calabria grew up on the edge of a field in rural Western Massachusetts and currently lives in Magdeburg, Germany. She is a co-founding editor at Empty House Press, which publishes writing about home, place, and memory. You can read more of her work in Little Fiction, Milk Candy Review, Longleaf Review, Pithead Chapel, and other places.