Blue River Bridge
“The eyes of others our prisons; their thoughts our cages.” -Virginia Woolf
My name is Sammy Sherwood. Or rather, it was about ten years ago when I was fifteen years old and in the middle of my Freshman year at Blue River High School. I was always one of those kids who was either invisible to everyone or ostracized by those who had nothing better to do, whose own lives hid dark corners that perhaps they couldn’t speak of. I never spoke of mine, but I never took it out on other people, at least never intentionally.
I was a quiet kid who loved comic books and the stories of H.P. Lovecraft. I had a collection of Superhero figurines that I often held and imagined myself as one of them, instead of the “Fat Nobody” I was. In my Superhero fantasies, almost everyone loved me not only because I rescued and protected them, but because I was good-looking with a muscular physique and had a variety of powers. I was also a bit mysterious like Batman, and all the girls loved that.
But enough about Superhero fantasies- there are more important things to explain.
My mother left my father when I was nine years old and I soon developed a habit of eating too much, which didn’t take long to show on my body. Pretty girls would snicker or avoid me altogether; boys my age called me all sorts of names and sometimes threw Twinkie wrappers and rocks at me.
I always sat alone on the bus, usually pretending to read a comic book and praying that I could get through the ride without being harassed.
Every now and then while walking in town I’d even overhear adult strangers make comments about my weight and peculiar demeanor. Almost no one accepted me the way I was or bothered to ask me how I was, what I thought or how I felt, except for my one true friend, Ray Saunders.
Like me, Ray was a misfit who most people didn’t bother with. We lived next door to each other in a small, modest neighborhood. I was pretty much his only true friend also. I remember how he’d give his toys and games to other kids in the neighborhood to try and gain their friendship, but they would only be nice to him for a day or so and then return to excluding him.
He’d give me stuff also, especially Matchbox cars and comic books. But one day after I witnessed him giving his favorite GI Joe toy to some bratty mean kid, I told him I wasn’t going to accept any more gifts from him, but that we could instead trade stuff sometimes. I told him I liked him well enough without any gifts and that he didn’t need to give me things in order for me to stay his friend. I told him he was my best pal, and he sat down on my front steps and cried afterward.
Unfortunately there came a time one summer when I hardly ever saw Ray. I had heard through gossiping neighbors that he was causing a lot of trouble at home and in school, so he was sent to a Boy’s Home for troubled kids.
He never had a father around and his single mother worked a lot of hours. Sometimes she’d have a boyfriend, but according to Ray they never took much interest in assuming a fatherly role with him, and acted like he was more of a nuisance than anything. I guess some of them were downright mean to him when his mother wasn’t around, or if she was she’d put the guy in his place and a breakup wouldn’t be far off.
Ray’s mother was always nice to me and sometimes let me spend the night. She was a fun-loving woman despite all the burdens she had to bear. Once when Ray had been gone for several months, I went over to his house to ask his mom when he’d be coming back home, but just as I was about to knock on the door I heard Ray’s mom sobbing uncontrollably. I knew she was crying over the situation with Ray, and I turned and left without knocking, even though I wanted to comfort her somehow.
I saw her briefly the next day at her door and her eyes were red and so swollen I almost couldn’t recognize her. I remember how defeated and haggard she looked and I said a silent prayer for her and my best pal.
When Ray did finally return, he told me that the professionals suggested his mom make him a ward of the State and get on with her life, but she refused to give up on her only son. I always admired her for that and though I know Ray had a lot of hardships and similar problems with peers like I did, a part of me envied him, because I missed my mother so much and resented the fact that she left. There were times I’d forget that she was gone and would call out for her after having a nightmare, only to hear the crickets respond and the sound of my dad snoring from his bedroom.
I guess my mom left because she was unhappy with the simple life she had with my father. She used to be very vivacious and had a special light in her eyes that slowly began to fade along with her quirky smile. She had dreams of dancing on Broadway and loved everything creative; yet she wound up with my father who was a postal worker and a man who liked television over dancing; small town life over Jazz bars and Open Mic nights in the city of Westland. I think she got very lonely and I wasn’t enough to keep her happy.
After she left, I decided I had just been another thing in her life that drowned out her dreams with my childhood demands. She sent me birthday cards and letters sometimes over the years, and even called, though my father rarely answered the phone or let me do so myself. When she’d send me money for my birthday, I’d buy a new comic, some candy, then stash the rest away in an old shoe box to go visit her one day. I’d often remember her brushing her hand across my forehead to help get me to sleep, and I missed that along with the scent of her Shalimar perfume.
My father was caring to some degree, but more often than not seemed solemn and weary. Sometimes I caught him sending a look of pity in my direction and would watch him shake his head. I know now that he too had his secret pain that dulled him, kept him at a safe distance from most people. He also missed my mother but stayed angry at her for leaving. He had his own dreams that never came into fruition, and his passion for life was smoldered by the day to day grind of the same old thing. He got so accustomed to it that he didn’t even recognize his own plight, nor paid any mind to my mother’s or mine.
I think it’s strange how the truth is right in front of so many people, and they shrug it off and toss it away- as if it were another piece of junk mail pushing them to enter a sweepstakes they know they’d never win.
A truth I know now is that the world has a big hole in its heart and too many get caught in it. I became one of those people when I accepted what others thought of me; when I blamed myself for things beyond my control. So many don’t even know they are caught in it until it is too late to return from that place.
Such was the night I stole my father’s vodka, guzzled it down and dangled my fat legs over the edge of the Blue River Bridge. It was only a few months until my sixteenth birthday, and I was devastated by a recent incident at school.
I had passed a note in the lunchroom to a pretty girl from my Science class who I had had a crush on since Junior High. She was always kind to me and smiled at me, even though she was popular and came from a well-to-do family (her father was a partner in some law firm). She never teased anyone or acted superior. Her name was Sara and she had that certain kind of light emanating from her eyes; the kind comparable to my mother’s before life got in her way.
At home I’d often play an old cassette tape of my mother’s with that song titled ‘Sara Smile’ and practice singing it, in case I ever got lucky enough to get closer to Sara and date her. It was her kindness and smiles that got me through more tough school days than she will ever know.
After so much time of wanting to ask her out on a date, and feeling rather good because I had new school clothes and had managed to lose twenty pounds, I finally got the nerve to ask her in the note. She smiled with her usual warmth, but before she had a chance to read it, one of her loud snobby girlfriends sitting next to her snatched it away and read it out loud. Then she scowled at me, turned to Sara and yelled, “Why would that Big Fat Nothing even dream of asking you out?!” Much laughter ensued, but not from Sara, and I ran out of the lunchroom sweating and dizzy with pain.
So there I was the following weekend on the massive steel of Blue River Bridge. It was a cold night in October, and I knew the river would take me down quickly with its icy chill and heavy current. I didn’t need to put stones in my pockets like the famous writer Virginia Woolf; my weight was already like a boulder that would sink quickly, especially since I wasn’t one for swimming.
The last thing I remember in my fleshly body is seeing the autumn moonlight reflecting off the river. As I said a final prayer, I imagined the moonlight was God’s arms reaching out to hold me, caress my forehead as my mother once did.
If still on Earth, I would be approaching twenty-five. There would have been some consolation from those dark days; a way to retreat from that sad place in the center of the world’s heart.
I was beautiful; capable and deserving of good things- I just didn’t know it that night on the bridge. I hope that you know you are…
If you or someone you know is thinking of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1 (800) 273-8255 (24 hours, 7 days a week)
If you are feeling hopeless and alone, please visit: www.halfofus.com