Welcome to For Your Consideration, a series about things we love and love to do — and we’d like to give you permission to embrace your authentic self and love them too.
When everything starts moving too fast, I like to walk on bridges. I live in New York, so there are plenty to choose from. It’s an oddly confined place to turn to in the aftermath of a panic attack or when I’m too sad to do anything other than walk with no real destination in mind, but I like bridges. A thing that connects disparate places. A thing that overcomes an obstacle.
The Brooklyn Bridge is just over a mile long each way, but during busy times the crowd moves slowly, stretching out the walk time so that it feels much longer (I lose sense of time on bridges). People will ask me to take their pictures. I’ll watch some ambling tourists and some more stopping for selfies almost get pummeled by bikers. Locks latched to the sides are strictly forbidden, but occasionally I’ll see one that snuck its way in and wonder who put them there and where they are now and if their love has outlived the lock, which will soon be removed by the city.
Abbi and Ilana finally walk across the Brooklyn Bridge together in the series finale of Broad City, a moment as much about them and their relationship as it is about New York City. They emblazon the bridge with their love for each other, a Sharpied love letter to themselves and fans of the show. They’re walking toward something that scares them both, but they have to do it. On another, slightly different show, Real Housewives Of New York, Bethenny and Ramona have a full-on fight on the bridge. It’s a brilliant scene of reality television, the setting heightening the suffocating feeling of fighting with a friend. Strangers everywhere. Traffic on either side. The East River below. You can tell how badly each woman wants to just get to the other side, but it stretches on and on and on.
I walked the Brooklyn Bridge with her so many times. We walked it with her mother, with my mother, with out-of-town guests. I told them about the bridge’s history, how over two dozen workers died during its construction, how the original designer John A. Roebling died and his son Washington Roebling took over, how when Washington sustained an injury so bad he had to stop working on the bridge, his wife Emily Warren Roebling took lead supervising the bridge’s construction and yet is rarely credited. Emily was the first person to cross the bridge. I learned all these facts from an episode of Drunk History.
We walked across it to the cute date day I planned that involved lunch in Chinatown and dessert and limoncello in Little Italy. We walked it in the lashing cold and on days so hot it felt like the bridge was frying us.
We only ever had one framed photo of us together. Her mother took the photo, framed it, and gave it to us for Christmas. It was a picture of us walking on the bridge, snapped from behind. We’re holding hands. We have no idea our photo is being taken. Blurry, black and white, it almost looks like a paparazzi shot. We could be anyone. On a bad night last year, I ripped it in half, right down the middle, severing us. I’m almost embarrassed to admit it. I hate when I start to feel like a cliché. I hate when it starts to feel like a television show. I put the two halves in a drawer and haven’t seen them since. The frame sat empty on its shelf for weeks.
Now, I’ve walked the Brooklyn Bridge alone more than I have with others. Last summer, I walked across the bridge, got to the end, and turned right around to walk it back. Back and forth, back and forth. Bridges are supposed to take you somewhere, but I had nowhere I wanted to be at all.
I didn’t want this to be yet another story about her, but sometimes bridges take us where we don’t even want to go.
When I think of the Manhattan Bridge, first I think about passing under it on a boat and the momentary flash of darkness (is it even a full second?) on a sunny day when the ferry passes under it. The bridge is gorgeous from beneath, its blue criss-crosses reminding me of a mouthful of braces.
Then I think of riding over it on the train. I’ll go a little out of my way to take the B, D, N, or Q into Manhattan just for that moment of the train coming up for air between boroughs. I briefly developed a fear of being underground, which is probably more manageable in other cities but made it very difficult to navigate New York. Even those seconds above ground in the middle of a trip helped bring my heart rate back down.
Once I took the N train into Manhattan, over the bridge, to meet a stranger in a hotel bar to do the kinds of things one does when meeting a stranger in a hotel bar. Bridges can take you all sorts of unexpected places, and this one certainly did that night.
When I used to think of the Manhattan Bridge, I’d think of being in the back seat of cars going over it, too. Almost always at night, sometimes just as the sun started splitting the night sky up into the earliest hours of morning. Those later-than-late nights were beautiful. Beautiful enough to forget that the next day would probably be dark and full of nothing. Always after her shifts at the restaurant. There were so many cab rides over the Manhattan Bridge at night.
But now when I think too hard about cabs going over the Manhattan Bridge at night, I’m not with her. Because eventually, I wasn’t. And someone else was. And I think about those cab rides over the Manhattan Bridge so much that they feel like memories of my own. Even though I wasn’t there. Even though I can’t know for sure exactly what happened during them. I only know a little.
In Blue Valentine, Ryan Gosling threatens to throw himself off the Manhattan Bridge if Michelle Williams doesn’t tell him what he wants to know. He does it not at all like someone who actually wants to die but like someone who will do whatever it takes to get what they want. That’s much scarier than someone who wants to die.
I’ve heard someone talk about climbing to the top of one of the bridge’s two looming towers, and I used to believe them, because I used to believe a lot of stuff.
This time last year, I was at my parents’ home in Virginia, in the house I grew up in, the house that still holds the books I stayed up past bedtime to finish and all my prom dresses and old journals and probably a lot of shit I’ve forgotten about but would be devastated to lose. None of it felt familiar then though, because nothing did, except for my poor little cat who I had uprooted along with me for the journey down and who didn’t understand the quietness of the suburbs or why I wouldn’t let her out of the bedroom that I also barely let myself out of.
On one of the times I did leave the room — the house, even! — I got in a car and drove away from my parents’ suburbs into the city. For chicken salad. I’ll travel anywhere for a specific food craving, even (especially?) in the midst of a full emotional breakdown. It’s not just any chicken salad. It is an extremely good chicken salad served from a cart that operates only during lunch, for about three hours, on weekdays. It has tarragon and golden raisins in it, and the chicken is so finely shredded, it spreads so smooth on the French bread it comes with. It comes with two sides, too, and I always get a wedge of cheese and marinated cucumbers as mine. Or, on a certain kind of day, two wedges of cheese as both sides. Do I even need to tell you that this was a double cheese day?
On the way to the chicken cart, I turned my head, as I always do, when passing my favorite bridge in the world. It’s a bridge I’ve never walked on, because no one has. The CSX A-Line Bridge only carries cargo trains. It was built in 1919, and you could have told me it existed before time itself when I was a kid and I would have believed you. Its arches standing over the James River look like bones.
I’ve never thought to find a place where I can look at this bridge for longer and really study it. I only have those few seconds driving over its parallel highway bridge (that is, by comparison, a very boring bridge) to look at the CSX A-Line Bridge. Until I wrote this, I never even knew its name, just that its the bridge that takes me home, even though it technically doesn’t.
I got my chicken salad, ate most of it in my parked car, and drove home. This time, I kept my head locked forward, driving white-knuckled and refusing to let myself look at the bridge on the way back to my parents’ house because I feared that if I did I’d start crying and not be able to stop.
There were other bridges we walked on, too. There was one in Connecticut, where she told me secrets and where our friend who is always putting herself in danger climbed up on the beams and walked while I shrieked for her to get down. There was one in Central Park, where we stood alone on a winter day and watched a pair of dancers practice their ballroom routine. There was one in Nashville that we took on our way to the lesbian bar, and she already seemed so far away from me.
There was also the Williamsburg Bridge. We walked it together a few times, but I usually walked it alone to meet her at work. I was always sweaty by the end. It’s almost a mile and a half, and its incline is steep, something Brooklyn bikers love to talk about. My sister has run across just about every bridge in New York, and just thinking about it makes me need to sit down.
I worked out my writing a lot on that bridge, filled my head with broken sentences that I tried to fix and my ears with St. Vincent. I walked to where it spits people out on the Lower East Side and then up to the West Village. It was about a four-mile walk, and at the end, she gave me a pint glass of iced tea with ginger juice and lemon squeezed in. There was wine, there was food, and after, there was always a car back home, over the Manhattan Bridge.
I may not have been running or biking, but I worked myself on the Williamsburg Bridge. I went to that workplace in my head that I sometimes get lost in. I wrote screenplays and essays and stories and most of the second season of my cursed webseries. After the affair, I aimlessly walked bridges all the time, but not this one.
After the affair, after the affair, after the affair. It’s a phrase I’m sick of saying and writing. Along with before the affair and during the affair, too. It feels like my life has been fractured into two halves: before and after the affair. And technically that period in between, those few months that seem, in my memory, to have stretched on endlessly, are the bridge. The between. The horrible, ugly, crumbling thing that brought me from one side to the other, as unwilling and unknowing as I may have been. A bridge I never wanted to cross. A bridge I’ve wished so many times that I could destroy. A one-way bridge I wished so many times I could travel back on, back to before. Before the affair, before the affair, before the affair.
I love action movies, and the Williamsburg Bridge shows up in them a lot. The site of a shootout in the 1948 noir The Naked City, an explosion in The Dark Knight Rises, a face-off between hero and villain in 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man. It’s a bridge that has, in fictional realms, taken a lot. The Manhattan Bridge always gets the romance, but the Williamsburg Bridge gets the explosions.
All bridges feel like alive things to me (or, in the case of the CSX A-Line Bridge, the left-behinds of an alive thing), but there’s something about this one that feels particularly active. Arousing. Ablaze. During its construction in 1902, a fire on one of the towers almost severed the bridge’s suspension cables. It’s like the bridge didn’t want to be built.