The top of the bridge has always been my favorite place in the world. You might not realize it at first, but it is eternally, unspeakably beautiful. I can be alone there, when the night is vast and infinite and the concrete is solid beneath my feet. I can sit in silence, half hidden by shadows, my forehead pressed against the cold metal railings as they shine against the moon. Twenty feet below me seems a world away as I gaze down at the lights of speeding cars. It is dazzling, enigmatic, and inexplicable. Lifetimes seem to pass before me in the blink of an eye, as headlights burn like comets’ tails and the world rushes on beneath me.
It is different underneath the bridge, though. Filthy, dank, and shadowed—the moon hardly shines where the earth is so close. Charlie loves it here, but I do not understand why. I cannot love where the brilliant lights are gone: where all of the pain and discontent of the world screams at me from graffiti-stained walls. I hate it down here, where anger is so present. But perhaps it is fitting. After all, I did not come to see the beauty of the passing world. I did not come to find solitude or peace. I came because I am afraid tonight.
I sit alone for what seems like hours. Suddenly, I see her coming towards me in the in the night. She walks in total silence, her ever movement graceful and discreet. I have never truly understood what Charlie saw in shadows. Perhaps she is at home looking up at the faded sky, but I know that I never could be. I will never belong to this place of small dreams and broken homes and limited ambition. I am at home twenty feet above this spot, looking down upon the world. There seems to be no place for me on the Earth.
The glaring lights from passing cars briefly illuminate her face, and in that instant she turns toward me.
“Hey Leah,” she whispers, smiling slightly. “I thought I’d find you here.”
To anyone else, she would appear a ragged seventeen-year-old, strangely lovely with her wide green eyes gleaming in the darkness. But as she comes closer I can just make out the light dusting of freckles, the dirt-streaked skin, and the chestnut hair hanging past her shoulders in lank, unkempt strands. In the half-light allotted by a shadowed moon she is dangerous and engaging: an embodiment of unkempt, feral beauty. A moment passes before I find my voice.
“I thought you were with him tonight.”
She kisses me before I can speak; sweetness mingled with cigarette smoke. Her fingers intertwine in my hair. That fierce, inexplicable joy ignites inside of me: that hunger that awakens only for her. I never want her mouth to leave mine, and yet suddenly, I break away. Charlie frowns as she steps back, her intense green eyes studying me carefully. One hand grips the neck of a whiskey bottle: a cigarette is tucked behind her ear. I want to say something, but I cannot seem to find the words.
“What is it?” she asks me softly.
When I do not reply, she leans in to kiss me again, and the bottle slips from between her fingers and shatters against the asphalt. The sound splits the silence, causing us both to flinch.
“Damn it, Charlie.” I say, breaking my silence at last as step gingerly away. My bare, dirty feet edge across the rain-washed pavement, trying to avoid the broken glass. She grins at me, that strange half smile dancing across her face as she kneels down amidst the fragments of the bottle. She picks up a shard and tosses it to me. I catch it instinctively, turning it over in my palm. It is small and jagged, and the edges are viciously sharp.
“I’d rather be with you anyways,” she tells me almost playfully. “You kiss better.”
“What are you doing, then?” the question is torn from me before I can stop myself. I know that no answer she gives can console me.
She offers no response, however, except to kiss me again. I cannot bring myself to pull away this time. She is beautiful, intoxicating, and dangerous, and I love her more deeply than she will ever know. I want to stay here with her, underneath the bridge, for the rest of eternity. But as one of my hands moves to the back of her neck, the other clenches around the fragment of glass. I feel its bite against my skin, and in that instance of pain, I find a moment of clarity. I finally realized what she had known all along.
I break away from her again. I allow my eyes to meet hers, and I know that she can see the pain and recognition within them. Now we both know the truth. The beautiful girl standing before me was never mine to keep. She would never belong to me, would never sacrifice the life she led by day to wander the night with me. I do not need to speak a word, because in my eyes Charlie has understood everything. And so the girl I love turns and walks away from me, head held high, without a backwards glance. She makes her way down the dark street, disappearing again into the shadows.
When she is gone, I finally relax my fist. The glass shard drops to the pavement again, and I feel blood running down my hands. I am alone again in the darkness, and for the briefest of instances, unspeakable rage consumes me. I slam my palm hard against the wall, leaving an image of agony and love in the imprint of my hand. It gleams slick and red upon the rough grey stone. I almost smile. Now my own pain screams at me from the walls under the bridge, which I have branded with my own, personal form of graffiti. I wonder if anyone will ever find it here. I wonder if anyone will ever know what it means.
A silver moon is just emerging from behind the clouds as I make the climb to the top of my bridge, where the silence calls to me. I do not why I am out so late tonight; do not know when I chose to live among the angry, the restless, and the utterly forsaken. I think of Charlie who, like myself, has been cast aside by society. I turned away from what this town never offered us, and chose instead to wander the night. She lingered in her ever-present reality of small towns and broken dreams. It is hard to say who has made the right choice. I think of my home, of my bedroom, where traces can be found of the life I live by day. There is a pile of textbooks. There is an old guitar. There is a razor on the nightstand beside my bed, where it has remained since the last time Charlie stayed the night.
I cannot deal with the pain of it any longer. I press my forehead against the cold metal and stare down at the road so far beneath me. The blazing lights of cars consume me in their brilliance, and elevate me far above the streetlights and desolation of my town. Suddenly, the pain of my life seems behind me. In my mind, I am not in a small town anymore. Instead, I am in a city. I am a thousand miles away, in a place of possibility and life, where passion is accessible, where life holds some higher promise, and where vitality can be drawn from somewhere other than the shadowed viridian eyes of a girl whose love was never mine to keep. These lights are my salvation, and strengthen my resolve. I will not play this game any longer. I will escape in whatever way I can.
I light a cigarette and stare out into the darkness: knowing full well what I have to do tonight, and wondering who will find me in the morning.
As the eternity of darkness overwhelms me, I swear I can see her shadow against the moon. But as my eyes widen, drawn to cold ethereality of the scene, she is gone again, and I realize that I am alone in this vast expanse of night. There is no love, no passion, and no beautiful green-eyed girl. There are only the cars below me, and the moonlit sky above. All illusions have shattered and all desire has ceased, as the beauty and agony of the world surrounds me. For a moment, I almost smile, and at long last I am overcome by the inevitability of my destiny, the reality of my nightmares, and the musings I contemplate in my city of lights.
musings in the city of lights
Drunk with a cigarette,
While she’s off with him
As if I hadn’t known.
Four hours north
Feels like lifetimes away
Fuck it, one more drink
A lover’s cliché.
This time I’ll go bold
Won’t cop out with mint
It may kill me faster
No rose colored tint.
I’ll live just like smoke
That’s not asking for much
A vital illusion
That’s empty to touch.
I’ll keep myself empty
And light in the head
Every calorie skipped
Is one closer to dead.