This is the last time I’ll cross this bridge.
Grabbing the metal cord of the handrail, I looked down. I spat over the side and watched it disappear into the dark. I was going to fall pretty far, and then I was going to hit hard. I knew my bones would break—hell, I was counting on it. A long shudder ran through me. It was going to hurt really bad.
A long time ago, there was a kid that had fallen from the bridge and lived. What would that be like, to just be maimed at the bottom all night long and not die? To get fucking rescued and live totally fucking broken? Well, visibly broken. Living broken was already my normal.
I looked across to the other side of the bridge, and the dark forest called to me. I wanted to be back under the trees instead of out under the dark, heavy clouds. Plus it was fucking cold. I wasn’t warmed up enough yet for the rain to feel good. A T-shirt was pretty stupid at this time of year unless you were running your ass off. I shivered hard, water shaking off me, and blew out a big cloud of steam.
Twin Falls. I ran to the other side of the bridge, my runners slipping once near the end as the smile-shape of the hanging bridge curved up again. Twin Falls, the lower bridge, isn’t that much of a drop, but it is a known drowning spot. There is enough of a waterfall to have dug a large pit where the water drove down, carving out a deeper spot in the pool. You can’t see it from the top, of course, so people who think that a waterfall was like a natural waterslide sometimes went down it and got stuck in a massive spin cycle at the bottom of the underwater pit. The force of the water coming down would keep you from surfacing, but you might just die from the churning water that smashed you against the rocks. Like a mortar and pestle. The thought of the pain was somehow scary and gratifying at the same time. There would be pain, and then there would be no pain. I just had to hike down there.
It was a relief to be under the canopy of the trees again. I ran along the boardwalk and then the dirt track, but I took my time. The hush of the forest was quiet, alive and lush. The air was so full of moisture, I could feel it filling me with each breath I breathed in. I brushed my hands along the green tips of the hemlocks and cedars as I ran, feeling the droplets running down my fingers. This was my special place and it felt like a gift to have it all to myself one last time.
There were a ton of stairs to go down, and the jiggle of going down them one at a time felt like it loosened up all my tight joints.
The Twin Falls Bridge came up all too soon. I cued up the song I had picked out a month ago for this exact moment. “What the Water Gave Me” by Florence + The Machine was today’s theme song. I stood on the bridge and let the music roll over me like water. I’d been thinking about this song and how it was clearly about drowning. Lying down in the water and letting the water take you. Florence whispered about the bargain: you in exchange for your loved ones.
The thick wooden boards of the bridge thunked hollowly as I walked to the middle and looked down at the dark water. It comes down the narrow canyon and almost bulges up in this weird pool before pouring over the falls and then over another falls into an open, calmer area. The pool at the top looks calm, but it’s that fake calm. That deep churning, that’s pushing up right under the surface.
I thought about my parents, my sister. What good was I to them? Ryan and Skyler? God, I could still see Skyler jumping behind Jeremy when he caught sight of me. He was terrified and Ryan was furious, clearly disgusted with me. He knew how cruel and cowardly I was, even if my sister could make up excuses for it. Even if she and my parents wanted to let this blow over and just sweep my demons under a rug and not talk about them, there was no safety in that.
The song was true, wasn’t it? Their lives were only going to get worse the longer I stayed. I closed my eyes. I would deserve any amount of suffering, and hey, it would be over pretty quick.
Jeremy. I pushed the thought of him away. I already knew he wouldn’t be alone long. Ryan’s mom? I pictured her getting the call, sitting down heavily and realizing that there was nothing she could do to help anymore. She would cry. She would feel like it was her fault. Fuck. Why had she felt like I was her responsibility? It wasn’t her fault no one could live with me. I couldn’t live with myself. It wasn’t her fault that two years ago she’d opened the door on my secret and that I’d chosen to just thicken up the armor, to run and hide so I could still look like I was in control.
There was the outside me, the tough guy, Gunns, and the real me inside. Maybe the armor was handed down to me, like Erin had said, from my grandfather. Maybe I wore it because the real me inside was so afraid all the time. There had been two of me for a long time, but it didn’t matter. The outside was all lies and the inside was weakness.
Another song came on and I still hadn’t climbed over yet. Was I going to be a coward about this too? The song was talking about a burning in your heart and feeling like you might burst apart. I laughed. God, I felt like that in so many ways. About Ryan, about Skyler, and then about Jeremy. The feelings inside me that I could never show had been torture.
I looked down at my phone, flicking the raindrops off it. I guess it doesn’t matter if it gets wet. Or should I leave it here? Leave a pile of my clothes? My shoes? The song on the screen was “You Are A Tourist” by Death Cab for Cutie. Ryan would get it if I told him about this song. I mean, if he were speaking to me. He always had a theme song that was about how he was really doing on the inside. I’d loved that about him. How he let his heart show sometimes. I’d felt so close to him. And Skyler, fuck, he was like a walking heart. I hated that about him.
Jeremy got me more. He had the armor too.
And he’d taken it off for me, and stripped mine off too. God, he’d insisted on it, and it had been so, so, so much lighter, freer, better. I wasn’t evil inside when I was with him. Or maybe he didn’t mind how fucked-up I was because he understood it? He wasn’t freaked out by it at least. I could be good to him without all that fake shit on the outside. Without pretending I didn’t care about anything and constantly trying to one-up everyone, I could be a warm place for him to land. It wasn’t that all of me was disgusting. More like the inside me was suffocating and burning and needing to explode out of that hard shell.
The song talked about being the villain in the story that you’d written, and right at the end of the song, there was this line about redemption. It was like, if you knew things needed to be fixed, then just start doing it. This weird feeling in my stomach started, like churning but with butterflies. My head snapped up. If I had this bulletproof outside, what was that doing to the person I was underneath?
And if there were two of me and one of them was killing the other, warping him… maybe the answer was really quite simple. One of us had to go, but not necessarily both of us.