Between the Lines / "The Bridge"
It's funny how certain images tend to stand out in your memory. In a curious way they come to symbolize the incomplete parts of the history of the heart. We think we know everything there is to know about ourselves, but most of us know very little. We aren't always ready for what life teaches us or receptive to the lessons either.
The summer of my high school graduation proved to be one of those times in my life. The pace of things seemed to quicken somehow and I felt I had no protection against what was happening. It was a summer like no other for its many changes. I had foolishly hoped to sidestep some of life's puzzling experiences or at least put them off until I felt ready to manage them. All too soon I was to learn that I had no such choice.
As a sign of our growing up, my twin Brian and I were allowed to live at home while the rest of our family summered at Pine Creek. We both had summer jobs nearby and we were expected to save our money for our first year of college. Brian was staying local and I had been accepted at the University of Hartford on a basketball scholarship. It hardly seems believable now, but that was my plan for the future back then.
As twins we were very close in ways that only twins can be. Yet we never sat down and discussed each other's problems. In those days male friends just didn't so that sort of thing. You kept your troubles to yourself and showed up at the field with your glove ready to join the rest of the guys. In the case of twins, you assume that your brother doesn't need to hear the words anyway. Twins identify with each other on such a deep level that sometimes language can be superfluous. You feel so completely understood by your twin because you are both in the same place so often. As in the normal course of friendships, however, the idea that you are different in significant ways can come as a surprise to twins. That first realization can even be something of a shock.
One of my biggest worries was that I wasn't ready to leave Brian for college. I felt a twinge of uncertainty when trying to imagine navigating the world without my twin. We had depended on each other so much and supported each other so long that our fates seemed intertwined by both genetics and proximity. Brian had become my mentor in sports and in school. I saw the world and I saw myself through him. I kept everything to myself so I wouldn't have to face my fear and admit my weakness.
That summer it became clear to me that my brother was coming into his own, but I wasn't yet. I realized that our circle of friends was really his circle of friends. Sure, we all hung out together, but Brian was my best friend in the group. The rest of the guys were his buddies and they started doing things without me. I wasn't always included because I didn't want to be, and a rift began to grow. They would get together every night and leave me alone in the empty house feeling left out. It surprised me how lonesome I felt.
I must've said something to Brian about his always being out because I remember his rather abrupt reply. "You have to make your own friends. You can't sit home and wait for mine." If his words sounded sharp to me, they were, in fact, long overdue. He was growing up -- maturing socially and becoming more confident. As my father would sometimes say, "Bare, you're hiding from life." This was only partly true. I was more than willing to come out of hiding, but where would that take me? There didn't seem to be anyone waiting expectantly at my doorstep.
We both worked as playground leaders that summer. After work I usually pedaled to my grandmother's house a few miles away for supper. Since I was no longer one of the guys, I would watch TV with her until the late news, then ride my bicycle back home to Old Town Road. How I loved that late night bike ride! Coasting down the long hill at breakneck speed seemed to be my only sense of liberation that summer. I knew it was a little reckless but I was filled with the exhilaration of being young and moving fast. The skies were brilliant with constellations and the darkness on the ground was as soft as velvet.
Halfway between the two houses was a concrete Merritt Parkway bridge. Crossing that bridge on my bike was always a bit magical for me. Don't ask me why, but bridges have that effect on me. I felt that I was hovering between two states, one of them boyhood and the other a darker and vaster place as yet unknown. I held on tight to the handlebars. The wind pushed back my hair. Sometimes I shouted into the blackness for the sheer joy and terror of it. I was alone in a way I had never been before. I was finding things out about myself, and some of them were confusing. Our friends were already driving cars or riding motorcycles. And there I was, pedaling along on 24 inch tires with a tiger decal on the back fender.
And so the summer went. I felt like an outsider to everyone, including myself to some degree. I did begin to perceive some things that would later prove to be useful and true. But these realizations would be years in coming. For now I would just have to just muddle along in this new state of affairs. I was scared and sad sometimes. I couldn't figure out what was happening to me or what wasn't. But then there were times of hope when the world opened up and I believed I would someday find my place in it. As a true teen, I vacillated between bliss and the blues, sometimes by the hour.
Once I stayed especially late at my grandmother's. It was a dark cloudy night and she suggested I sleep there and go home in the morning. For some reason I felt like I just had to get home. As I set off on my bike at nearly midnight, I saw the sky roiling with fast moving clouds. The sky was enormous and seemed to be clearing as moonlight broke through the clouds. I pedaled quietly past the sleeping houses. Most lights had been turned off for the night. Crickets were chirping and a dog barked in the distance.
When I got to the parkway hill the moonlight dimly illuminated a pair of shadowy figures standing by the bridge. They were at some distance from me but I noticed they were close together. It was unusual to see anyone on the bridge this late. I rushed headlong towards them on my bike along the opposite side of the road. I kept my head down making sure not to hit any potholes in the dark. As I neared the two people, I realized they were lovers sharing a tender embrace.
The moon suddenly wheeled free of the clouds, a limpid round orb that cut through the darkness with a cold light. I glanced over shyly just as I passed the young couple. In that split second I felt like I had been struck by lightning. I had to hold on with all my strength to keep myself from falling off my bike.
In the silvery moonlight, just for an instant, I recognized my twin brother's face.
Barry Wallace writes a weekly column for the Fairfield Citizen.