She stood right here, on this very bridge, contemplating life and
death with all the wisdom her 16 year old mind could produce. Her heart
and mind raced at an equal pace, flooding her entire body and soul with
an anxious intensity she’d never known before. Her breath quickened and
her shaking hand clinched the cold steel bar of the fence, while she
steadied herself up and into the 2 foot space between where the fence
ended and the toll man’s empty booth began. Today was Sunday, and the
toll booth was most certainly empty due to a recent approval at town
meeting declaring that “Sunday shall forthwith and forevermore be a toll
free day” in the town of South Dartmouth, Massachusetts.
The early morning summer wind caressed her face, tossed her hair and
caused her to lose her balance several times. She struggled against the
will of the wind, which seemed intent on sending her spiraling to the
sea below with absolutely no regard for whether or not she was ready to
crash into the sea. For she definitely was not ready, almost ready for
sure, yet not quite, and she defiantly held her position while shifting
her weight to keep balanced on the wooden railing.
“How could I let this happen? Not once, but twice!” She heard the same
question over and over again in her mind, yet was unable to formulate a
reasonable answer. Of course, she was well aware of how “it” happened,
that was not the issue, her question was more about trying to comprehend
her own irresponsible behavior. All she could do was “sigh” and shrug
her shoulders; then shake her head, defeated and exasperated.
Finally, she screamed, “There is no answer!” Yet the nagging question
echoed over and over again like a scratched record skipping inside her
broken mind. She watched a hawk glide effortlessly overhead, envious of
its peaceful existence.
Her own voice interrupted the silence, “This is better than having to
face her again. I just can’t face her, not after what happened the last
time. I’d rather die than go through that “procedure” again like she
made me do the last time. I am not going through that again.”
She looked up at the hawk, circling gracefully above her head in the
sky, and then turned to look down at the empty ocean. The memory of her
mother’s reaction flooded into her mind like a tidal wave.
“What?! How did you let this happen,” screamed her mother, slapping
her across the face. “You’re only 15 years old. You will not have this
baby! Do you hear me?” This time her mother hit her across the back with
enough force to knock her to her knees. “There is no way I am taking
care of your mistake. I will call the clinic in the morning and you will
have a procedure to get this taken care of as soon as possible. Case
closed, and do not breathe a word of this to anyone.”
There was no discussion. They made the trip to the clinic three days
later and the “procedure” was over in less than an hour. They drove to
and from the clinic in silence. Back at home her mother smiled, asked
her if she wanted some lunch, and carried on with her daily routine
without ever once again mentioning the “procedure” or the reason for it.
As quickly as they began, the memories began to fade. The sun warmed
her face. Her breathing became shallow. The beating of her heart also
slowed as did the thoughtless nagging in her mind. The waves lapped
against the bridge timbers. She became exquisitely aware of minute
details, those surrounding her and those inside of her. Her senses so in
tune that she actually thought she felt this new baby’s heart beating
inside of her. The thought was comforting. She would be with this new
baby. They would be together.
She noticed that the wind had died down a bit, which made it much
easier to balance on the railing. She thought matter-of-factly of how
much easier it would be to balance without shoes on her feet, and
proceeded carefully to remove one and then the other; sending them both
splashing into the water below where they were quickly taken by the
hungry current and whisked away under the bridge.
Calm descended upon her from the top of her head to the tips of her
toes. She thought, “This is how it must be, and it is the best I can
do.” She took one final look up at the sky and again saw the hawk
gliding in an effortless flight above her head. “That is a beautiful
hawk,” she thought.
Then a distinct voice broke the silence, as if responding to her thoughts.
“But, my dear, how do you know I am a beautiful hawk? Maybe your eyes only see what you want them to see.”
Startled by the unfamiliar voice, she nearly lost her footing on the
railing. She held tight to the steel bar and looked around; not a soul
anywhere in any direction.
“Who said that?” She asked.
Again the voice spoke, “Do you only believe what you can see? If this
is the case, then you might as well jump and get it over with.”
“I don’t understand. Who is speaking?” She asked again.
“You know it is I, the hawk circling above. Who else could it be, there isn’t anyone else here.”
She asked, “Why are you talking to me? I need to be alone.”
The hawk replied, “You have other needs, more pressing than your own need to be alone. You can feel it, can’t you?”
She could, of course: the pulsing beat of her heart in her neck.
“Yes, I can feel my heat beat, so what.”
“You cannot see or feel yet what you know to be true, because the
truth is like a hidden jewel, waiting to be discovered. How can it be
true that this is the best you can do? Ask yourself twice, once for
yourself and once for the faint heartbeat that you can only sense is
She held on gently to the steel bar for support. The hawk continued to
circle above. Her eyes filled with tears; aggravating, stinging tears
that burned down into the very nucleus of her soul. She shook her head,
hoping to free herself from feeling….anything and everything.
Her mind began to race again and her heartbeat quickened.
“What am I supposed to do now, Hawk? Could you answer me that one question?”
The hawk replied, “The hardest thing to accept is the unknown, and sometimes there are no answers.”
With that, the door of the toll booth suddenly creaked open, startling
her. She lost her grip on the steel bar. Then, as if in slow motion,
her feet begin to slide out from underneath her. She was still not ready
to actually give herself up to the ocean, and she screamed. In that
instant, she felt a tug on the back side of her windbreaker. Her feet
were steadied. Her balance restored.
“Young lady, what the heck are you doing up there?”
She turned to see Ed, the toll booth man, still holding onto her jacket.
She couldn’t speak.
Then he said, “You could have really hurt yourself playing around up
there by yourself. Now, you come on down from there right now.” He
helped her down, and she stood timidly in front of him.
He looked down, noticed she was shoeless and said, “And you really
shouldn’t be running around here without shoes on either. You know those
seagulls make a damn mess all over this bridge.”
She spoke quietly, “Yes, Ed, I, I, I know. I’ll remember next time, I promise.”
He questioned her, “Now you tell me young lady, why were you standing
up there anyway? It’s not safe, you know that. Did you see my friend
while you were up there, the hawk?”
She nodded yes.
“Every day I see it up there, circlin’ and flyin’, like it’s waiting
for something important to happen. I thought maybe I’d seen some baby
hawks with it last week, but not anymore.” he said.
“Ed,” she asked, “why are you here today? There are no tolls on Sunday.”
“That’s a strange question, young lady. I think maybe the sun has
gotten to you or maybe your little brain is weak from being up so high.
You know that today is Monday. I’m here Monday thru Saturday, same as
I’ve been doing for the past 40 years; well, except for Sundays now. ”
“Monday? Today’s Monday?” She asked.
“And it’s a good thing it is Monday, because if it really was Sunday like you thought, you’d be swimming right now without your good friend, Ed, here, to catch you.”
She said, “I know, thank you, Ed. I guess I’ll be getting along now. I
wonder whatever did happen to those baby hawks that you saw.”
He said, “Young lady, sometimes there are no answers. They are hidden away, like the truth, waiting to be discovered. ”
He smiled, winked at her, and then turned around to go into his booth.
He sat in his chair, the same way he’d been doing for the past 40
years, lit his pipe (which was against the rules), put his feet up
cross-legged on the desk (also against the rules) and pulled his blue,
faded skipper cap down over his eyes.
She looked up to the sky. The hawk was gone. Seagulls dropped clams on
the rocks near the shore. She put one foot out, stepped off to go
forward, not having any idea where the heck she was headed. Still, and
without even a single ounce of doubt, she just continued to place one
foot in front of the other. She didn’t have an answer for how she would
manage, but she was okay with not knowing. Her heartbeat and her
footsteps kept time as she plodded carelessly along.
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