by Margaret Dragu
I don’t remember ever being afraid of the bridge.
I could be wrong about this.
I am, after all, a LIFELONG COWARD.
I am afraid of bats, spiders, and snakes. I worry that electricity is leaking out from electric sockets. I get seasick on moving docks. Ladders give me anxiety attacks.
And don’t get me started about my experiences on airplanes.
So it is pretty stunning that the bridge at the slough has never fazed me.
I had heard the bridge stories.
Apparently, almost everyone who lives at the slough falls off the bridge. At least once.
Tommy (the most respected, loved, & deeply missed Village Elder) used to drop by for tea with my partner Jim. They would talk about fishing, ecology, and politics. Sometimes Tommy told very funny stories about slough residents falling off the bridge. I laughed at all these stories but it never worried or stopped me from hauling food and other stuff by hand, by wheelbarrow, and by bicycle across the slough bridge. To and fro. Forward and back. Several times a day.
Even when Jim’s and my daughter Aretha was born, I never worried about the bridge. Playgrounds, super markets, escalators – yes – these were dangerous negotiations.
But not the bridge. Jim and I progressed from carrying Aretha in the infant front-carryall, to the backpack baby carrier, to the baby seat on the bicycle, to the stroller, and finally holding hands with Aretha the toddler as we criss-crossed the bridge again and again. Slough kids are nimble. They are sure-footed goats on the footpath that connects the houses. They are excellent tree climbers and generally really fit specimens. And they’re cautious about the bridge because they, too, are told all the stories about people falling off the bridge.
When Aretha was perhaps 3 or 4 years old, I dressed her in her new and favourite leggings made by our family friend Tsuneko. Stretchy white spandex with big red roses, green vine leaves, and tendrils. The kind of pattern you see on sofas or curtains. I remember those leggings very clearly. I dimly remember Jim wearing new sandals or perhaps it was new sunglasses. The next thing I remember is the door being thrown open and Jim standing in the doorway with Aretha in his arms. They were both coated in mud and dead leaves. Jim was frantic.
“One moment she was right by my side,” he said, “and then the next she was gone!
Not a splash. Not a shout. I didn’t know where she was. And then I looked down and she was in the slough. She just … fell off the bridge…” He had not looked to see if the tide was high or low. He just jumped in – feet first – into the Big Muddy– and gathered up our daughter and staggered to shore and ran home.
We gave Aretha a hot bath and dressed her in clean clothes. Then it was Jim’s turn for the hot bath. I remember sitting at the kitchen table and Jim looking like a man frightened out of his wits about what had just happened and what might have happened. I remember Aretha, though, looking like she had been on an exciting ride – a merry go round or whirly-gig – smiling and tired. It was a happy ending as there were no injuries.
Merely a pair of lost sandals (or sunglasses).
The story of Aretha Falling off the Bridge is now one of our family stories.
Each of us has told it so many times that perhaps by now Aretha cannot tell if she actually remembers it happening or she just knows the story so well (heard and told it so many times) that it is the story that is part of her personal history more than the actual event. Hard to say.
When visitors come to the slough and I walk them across the bridge, they often ask if the bridge is safe. “Oh yes,” I always say. “Totally safe. You see. The planks have to be free so we can pull them up so boats can pass at high tide. It is really a brilliant design.”
And it is a brilliant design. And the bridge is safe. In life one must always be careful.
In the bathtub. At traffic intersections. On ladders. Gravity is everywhere.