“They tore it down a year ago.”
The sentence washed over me and rested around my ankles like a pair of cement shoes. When you’re young, the places you see every day are simple facts you never give a second thought. Life isn’t a changing and growing organism; it’s a static and structured thing. It is a building. A place. A definitive monument, untampered by time.
I walked over the torn-up soil where there was once an old wooden bridge over a small creek. “I don’t think ‘tore it down’ is quite the phrase you wanted to use,” I joked, pretending that the loss of the bridge wasn’t a big deal. “There was a creek here. They fill that up?”
“Yeah, before the bridge went, even. Honestly, I’m surprised it took them so long to tear it down.”
Amy had been one of my closest friends through grade school into senior high. She was one of those rare friends that didn’t abandon you in the awkward pubescent years. We waited until after graduation to drift apart. She got attractive in eighth grade, which put me in a weird position because I always looked young for my age. It wasn’t until late in high school that I sprouted up. She could have left me for any boy she wanted or the sudden interest of a cooler group, but she never did. We watched Star Wars on Friday nights and saw Attack of the Clones opening day. In retrospect, it was a waste of money. I never thought of her as a girl, which is why I never understood why guys hated me after they asked her out and then saw us at McDonald’s. She was just Amy.
My family moved just before I started college. I guess they figured I’d be going away to school anyway, so what was the harm? At first I visited Amy and traveled home during breaks. But after a while it got harder. I didn’t have the time and I only ever spoke to Amy occasionally online and said, “Man, I haven’t seen you in so long!” That led to “We have to see each other this Christmas break,” but never to seeing each other in fact.
Amy came up to my school last semester because I guess we finally got tired of the circular conversations. It was fun. We spent the night watching Star Wars and drinking every time they said “I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” or when Darth Vader choked someone. But it was different, like the time we spent apart was separating us the whole night. It manifest in gaps in conversation, in the awkward reference to embarrassing things we had done together then forgotten about. It was as if we were eulogizing the friendship instead of reinvigorating it. I decided then that I needed to visit home again.
And that’s why we came here. When we needed to get away from parents or high school drama, we’d come to the bridge, sit on the edge and throw rocks into the creek.
“I remember more trees,” I said. If my memory served me, I was standing at the center of the bridge. If I closed my eyes I could see the old view. Lush and green trees older than the world we knew. They blocked out the late afternoon sun. Today, I had to shield my eyes. When we were here, time stopped for just a little while. It didn’t matter if it was day or night; there was always the same hazy glow from between the leaves. The trees were our sanctuary.
“Oh, those have been gone for years, James,” Amy responded, as if it wasn’t a tragedy.
“Shit. It’s been a long time.”
“They’re supposed to turn this whole place into a new development for the over-50 community,” Amy laughed. “Can you believe that? And we came here to get away from grown-ups.”
I laughed and tried to forget for a moment that I was 23 now and part of the world I wanted to escape from back then. “This was our place.”
“I guess things change,” she offered with a half-smile, placing her elbow on my shoulder, despite having to reach up to do so. She used to do it all the time when she was taller than me for most of our lives. It was a habit she hadn’t broken despite the shift in size. “Besides, it hasn’t been our place in four years. Not since you moved.” I shrugged, using one shoulder.
“What do you think would have happened if I stayed? Would we be here right now?” Amy moved her arm and her feet brushed the fallen leaves beneath her feet.
“The bridge would still be gone,” she answered. I turned around to face her, and she was doing that familiar ballet twirl she always did when she was thinking about something. “We grew up, you know? It just happens.”
“Yeah, I know, but I missed you. I missed this place and this town. Maybe we would’ve gotten to say goodbye to the bridge before they tore it down.”
“Don’t be such a girl,” Amy teased and pressed her finger into my chest. That was familiar, too. “When was the last time we even came here? Before the day you moved, anyway. We never came here after graduation. One day, something is there and the next it’s just not. We can’t live in the past forever.”
I looked again at the patch of soil that used to be our bridge and took in a deep breath. “How about us? Think we would still be friends if I hadn’t moved?”
Amy laughed at that. “What, we’re not friends anymore? We’re here now, aren’t we? That’s enough for me.”
And I guess with those four words, it was enough for me, too.
first published in Woodcrest Magazine 2012 edition. Photo by Alyson Winkler