By Angela Kempe
We were both going through a hard time that winter. So, we decided to give up our issues for just one night and hang out. We were trying to rekindle that strong bond that had been so lovingly there before the teenage years. Before addictions. Before life hit us smack in the face and left us both flailing on our backs like fish flopping around on an old dock.
I remembered when it was okay to sneak into bed and cuddle. I remembered when you were still trying to make me proud by being a den mother. We both felt like something important had been stolen from us and we both desperately needed it back. But it was a time when there hadn’t been any resolution yet. Not then. We were still searching for a way to be together now that neither of us were so innocent.
You probably carried your one month sobriety chip in your wallet that night. And I carried a lot of memories that I wanted to bury. So, we did what any family would try and do to make things right again. We went out to dinner in San Francisco and walked around Little Italy together. All was going pretty well. There were those awkward moments of course. Moments when we both stuttered over saying something that may have offended the other over the warm smell of garlicky pasta. There were those moments when we came to that awkward break in conversation that asked, “Should we talk about this now? Naw, let’s have a good night,” and continued walking, paying no mind to the strip clubs that lined the busy streets. And so we made our way through our little mom and daughter date, and were making our way home, when you suddenly pulled over the car.
“Want to go to the Golden Gate Bridge?”
It was right there in front of us, standing tall and purposefully not golden. For a moment, I wondered why on earth someone would give the Golden Gate Bridge a name like that and then paint it bright red? But whatever my problem with the Golden Gate Bridge naming committee was, or what my problems were with you at the time, I was always up for a spontaneous adventure. So, you parked the car and we both got out, zipping our jackets up to our throats.
I looked around.
“Maybe it’s closed,” I concluded from the vacant parking lot.
The lamplight cast a warm yellow light over the hazy lot, and the Golden Gate Bridge looked gentle and quiet in the fog.
“When will you ever get to walk on the bridge? Let’s go for a walk!”
Well, I knew I couldn’t be misled by my own mother. So, we meandered over to the entrance. The gate was ironically still open. Now that I look back at it, I often wonder what time it was when we wandered onto the bridge. Was it left open due to a mechanical error? Did someone forget to do their job that night? Whatever the reason, it allowed us to pass freely onto the long suspension bridge that was San Francisco’s most prized symbol of the city.
We started walking along sightseeing on the bridge. Laughing, and talking, and pointing as we sauntered up the sidewalk.
I noticed the giant chainlink fence that guarded the red railing.
“Why is there a fence here, Mom?”
“So people don’t try and jump in. Some people would try and kill themselves.”
I looked down at the icy water below. It seemed like a scary way to go. There was no turning back once you jumped. I shivered a little at the thought as I untangled my fingers from the wire.
I gazed up at the huge red towers which stood over us like a strong red ladder ascending into a magical world built by giants. I imagined them slumbering in castles above the fog. And the cables which flowed gracefully from the tops of the towers were in fact rather large themselves and once painted, appeared to be like steel pipes streaming down with strong steel ropes, twisted and braided, hanging down from even that.
Suddenly, a voice rang out from the loud speakers.
“Return to your car at once. The Golden Gate Bridge is closed!”
We both flinched and looked around for the voice.
“I repeat. Return to your car at once!”
We stared at each other with that same look. It was the “oh no” look. It was the, “we better get off this bridge or they’re going to put us in jail for the night,” look. So, we scrambled back down the path where we came to the closed gate.
You tried shaking the locked gate.
“Hey! We can’t leave!”
I waved my hand in the air to get the guard’s attention. Then, the gate unlocked automatically and we ran off to our car, stumbling into your cold Ford. As soon as we got inside the dark car, laughter spilled from our mouths like a fresh batch of fish falling out of a fisherman’s net. I think I laughed so hard, tears started beading up. You turned the engine on and started the heater and our breath fogged up the windshield as the defroster warmed up and the heater vents sighed.
After that, we may have had our moments. Life has a way of catching you on a good barbed hook only to cast you back out into the water. But as the years go by, I always have that memory and know our bond is strong, like the cables of that great Golden Gate. I smile a little because I know life can get crazy, but that Golden Gate is always standing, like an old friend letting the cold Bay waters rise and fall against its strong towers. And I think of that night, when life was brought into perspective by the shear absurdity of the Golden Gate’s presence. I think of all those things, whenever I think of Mom.