It’s not a real phobia or anything. I only know this now that I know people who truly do suffer from actual phobias. But, I am really afraid of bridges. My already humming bird fast heart beats faster, palms sweat. Just driving over them is enough to make me quite a bit uncomfortable. But, I secretly love them too.
I have learned that taking photos of them looking up helps (chin up darlin, chin up) because I can then focus on the beauty of the architecture. But every damned time I approach a bridge I get just a little scared. It used to be really, really bad. Only once has this particular fear ever made me mad, made me regret something…
I had the privilege of running the Big Sur Marathon a few years ago. (I’ll write about how running saved me someday.) Part of the draw of that race for a ton of people is running over the Bixby Bridge at the halfway point, mile 13.1. Not for me though.
It’s postcard worthy Northern California running up Highway 1. To add to the already epic route, there just so happens to be a Grand piano and a real live human playing it at this bridge. Surreal. This race is epic beauty that at times simply hammers at all of the senses. There is classical music from that Grand piano you hear for miles running up a hill of all hills, blending in a strange harmony with the sound of the surf and the heavy breathing of fellow runners. There is wind on your skin and you can at points actually feel the mist from the crashing waves, I swear. You can taste your own sweat met with the salt of the ocean. The sight…unparalleled. Rolling green hills and cliffs dropping to shades of cerulean, cobalt and turquoise blues that change with the depths. I could watch the ocean all day. Sometimes you can even get a slight smell of the eucalyptus trees on the wind. I really love that smell, it brings me nostalgic comfort.
Runners stop to take pictures of themselves on this bridge during this moment where there are no cars around the closed highway, a chance of a lifetime and…I couldn’t even think about stopping at the halfway for a selfie. Nope.
All I could do was psych myself up to make it across. I even worried about it during training leading up to the race day. The thought of crossing that bridge scared the hell out of me, because there wasn’t anything to look up at. You can only look ahead. I did it anyway. But I didn’t take that picture dammit.
I finally realized in these last few years of adulting (still using that term most gently)
why I am so very afraid of bridges and edges and heights. As with all the phobias or slightly irrational fears we carry, or hang ups we all have, there is a root
. This root isn’t a tasty carrot or a useful potato that I could glaze or put butter on. This particular root just sucks. But I found it, and this
time, I’m going to dig it out.
I might have been four. I may have been a bit older, you know how it is looking back…kid time is always so fluid when we remember events to help us make sense of the world we were just learning to live in. I don’t think it was meant to scare me, but then again I really do try to assume the best intent for people all the time. I think it was Lake Berryessa. I googled it. Yep, that was the place.
Not sure how it all really happened but what I remember is that at some point around that lake we walked around the top of a dam (which apparently translated to be a bridge in my kid brain) on some sort of pathway or maybe just the road… and observed. I’m not really sure as I haven’t been back in decades. To my kid brain all of it was big and there was a cool gigantic hole in the water. It looked like a huge whirlpool, a tunnel to a magical land…or a place that could swallow you up forever with no return. But it looked amazing nonetheless and as with so many things as a kid, I was really curious.
As we approached the edge of the water he thought it would be cute to pick me up. Maybe he thought he would lift me up so I could see over the guard rail. I was immediately nervous, I had the wherewithal to know that falling in would kill me. I wasn’t a good enough swimmer. I wasn’t strong enough to survive a fall over the really high edge…I wasn’t, I wasn’t, I wasn’t. ( I spent a lot of time thinking about I wasn’t, even then.) But I was so intrigued. I wanted to know what was in there. I usually do.
He grabbed my tiny bird boned ankles and then held me over the edge of that rail upside down. All I saw was water.
I sure as hell hope to think it was to help me see better, a sweet gesture, or a joke that was taken just a step to far at the time, or maybe I asked him to dangle me over the edge. I’m not sure it matters anymore. Besides, kid brain and a few decades of time (and wine to be honest) make it fuzzy. But that was the moment. Me hanging over the edge upside down at Lake Berryessa was the precise moment bridges would forever freak me out, and edges and heights. Shitty part is, I din’t even get to see down the whirlpool or whatever that thing actually is in real life. When I look at google images today I can see it’s not really even possible, in that moment it couldn’t even happen.
If I could, today I would find a drone pilot to film down that hole. Maybe I should google that someday. I’m guessing someone has probably done it already. Maybe though, some things are better left untouched or unseen. Maybe the source of fears should actually be left alone. Maybe I should just suck it up buttercup and move forward…or maybe when I’m done writing I’ll look to see if someone else faced it for me and thank them.
The bright side is that bridges fascinate me slightly more than scare me these days. Not enough to stop and take a selfie on one alone. Not yet. But enough that I can walk across one holding a hand to see the view I would otherwise miss, or to look up when we are driving or stand tall on my moto forcing me to concentrate on something other than my fear.
There is math to a bridge, and I do love numbers even if I’m just counting my dice like Rain Man counts toothpicks
. The numbers then in a truly sexy way are translated to form,
often in an actually perfect symmetry and balance that my slightly OCD brain really finds comfort in, and stunning purpose that my heart needs. We all need comfort and purpose.
The triangle trellis forms that make me think of my moto frames I fell in love
with and so desperately want to weld together someday. (I could so go to welding school, I so could.)
The intentionally stacked stones examined carefully for fit. The suspension cables that make me think of all of my super heroes who always
hold on. I love the idea, the fact
really, that something that appears fragile has immense strength. Often there is power in something that seems so, slight.
I’ve watched countless documentaries on bridges to help me get over the worries I have. (Maybe it was too many psychology classes and I’m doing my own exposure therapy.), But now, I think of the brave men and women who built our infamous bridges, and the danger it takes to make that possible. The craziness of these people suspended from cables dangling over a river or the ocean… while welding or riveting carefully so as to ensure our safety. I couldn’t do it. But I ask myself, what fears did they conquer to build these bridges? If they can do that, I can just be grateful and cross it, study it, or look up, and someday take that picture.
I’ve learned a lot about bridges that I used to take for granted because they scared me. It is important sometimes, to learn about what you fear. It makes it less scary.
Unassuming stone bridges have been massive turning points in battles and wars. Our* own Civil War has so many bridges in the crux of the battles, we name our fights after them. Our ancestors fought and died in battles for bridges. The history nerd in me understands to study them for the power they gave to one side or the other. Bridges can be powerful tools.
My marathon Bixby Bridge was built in 1932. The Golden Gate finished in 1937. I can imagine the people building them and their gratefulness for a job during a time when so many people stood in lines for food. Bridges can give people purpose.
We sing of bridges. From nursery rhymes about London Bridge to 60’s folk music about troubled waters, to modern songs I googled and have never actually heard. But bridges are a part of us.
Famous bridges span the entire globe. Trust me, I googled that shit. There are some that to even look at made me nervous, but some just so sweet (Wow, I can actually think that now.) I’m pretty sure that being on a bridge for 102 miles somewhere in China would almost kill me, and I don’t think I could handle the tallest bridge in the world in Southern France without puking. But I could cross a bridge in Venice with a glass of wine in my hand just fine these days.
Bridges have survived wars, earthquakes and thousands of years of storms
. Some have just stood the test of time, some have been sweetly and deliberately maintained over the years by the people on both
sides . They are everywhere, and have been since someone decided to knock a tree over the stream instead of getting wet. It’s less scary when you learn about what scares you.
Bridges are a part of cultural understandings. We know collectively that metaphorically we get to burn them or cross them. They represent, really, are a different type of crossroads, so much more than just taking a left or a right when the road forks. Bridges offer us a crossing over, a joining of one side to the other. They are literally and now for me figuratively moving over an obstacle that could otherwise not be crossed. They are a shortcut to the other side, they give us an answer to a problem. Bridges join people and places and of course hearts.
Now that I think about it, bridges are pretty awesome. We all need them. Maybe that’s why these days I am less afraid of them, because I’m really starting to understand the power of getting over something and connecting in the process, and that if there’s a bridge, I should take it.
Time for a road trip, maybe I’ll be taking that selfie sooner than I thought.