Hot Metal Bridge

Current Issue : Number Twenty-Five

Dear Bridge Jumper

BY B. J. HOLLARS

Dear Bridge Jumper,

Don’t jump.

I understand this seems a strange request coming from a stranger; nevertheless, I urge you to reconsider. The water beneath you is cold. Please stay on this side of the ledge.

You’re not alone, you know. I’ve got my own problems. In fact, the only reason I’ve found you here—me idling in the parking lot adjacent to your bridge—is because my wife mistakenly filled the gas tank with E85 instead of unleaded gas. Are you familiar with E85? It’s an ethanol blend, apparently, and while it’s about fifty cents cheaper per gallon, it’s not for every car. Specifically, it’s not for our car, which was made clear to us earlier tonight when the engine light first came on.

Likely, this was around the time you were losing your love and considering your leap from the bridge. Meanwhile, my wife and I were picking up a pizza. Moments later the engine light came on, and my wife and I found ourselves lost in a forest of possibilities—surely, you know the feeling.

It could be any number of things, I reasoned, whittling away the possibilities

I used words like “gasket” and “sparkplug” and “O-ring” but couldn’t tell you anything specific about any of them.

This was when my wife recalled the too-good-to-be-true gas price, and a few Google searches later, our problem became clear—E85 was our problem.

Bridge Jumper, I’m sure you’re wondering how one properly siphons E85 from a gas tank. I’ll tell you: it’s not easy. It’s supposed to be easy—all you need is a tube and a criminal instinct—though unfortunately, I had neither.

So I drove to the nearest auto parts store to explain my dilemma.

“My wife,” I explained. “God love her…”

After much debate, a few tattooed men—who appeared to have the instincts (and prison record) I lacked—sent me away with a hand pump siphon. They said it would do the trick. And so I snaked the tube into the tank, though it wasn’t long before I came against some resistance—a so-called “siphon stopper,” and there was simply no getting around it.

And so, I was left only with one reasonable option: I had to burn out the gas. I had to get in the car and drive around town—loop after loop, bridge after bridge—until the fuel needle tilted toward empty.

Which brings me to you and me and this bridge and this night and our moment.

Hello.

It’s nice to meet you.

||

Bridge Jumper, I know we share different problems, but we also share a bridge.

Now, admittedly, you can’t actually see me here in this parking lot, nor can I make out your silhouette beneath the flashing lights; nevertheless, please know that I am here; that somebody cares for you, and that that somebody happens to be the guy in the Ford Focus trying to run out of gas. If I could, I’d tell you I’m just some guy jumping off his own bridges, facing his own crises—some of which, believe it or not, extend beyond my current dilemma. I’d tell you I’m going to be a father soon, and yet it has just occurred to me (somewhere between my fifth and sixth lap of this town) that I have dedicated the last twenty-seven years to being a son without ever considering what fathers do.

Earlier today, I rode my bike to the lake where we swim (this was before I knew of the gas tank, otherwise I would’ve driven), and on my way, I passed the hospital where in four months time this child of mine will be born. Upon arriving at the beach, I laid down my towel and swam to the buoy and back. When I returned to shore, I spotted a couple of kids bounding across the sand, cursing and shoving and rushing terribly to leap into the water. And while I stood there, dripping, as old as the sand, I thought, These kids are having a really great time. And then: When did I last have a really great time?

I can remember one instance several years back when I watched a storm sweep over a lake. It was at a summer camp where I worked, on Carnival Night, which meant we’d rented a dunk tank and a cotton candy machine and everyone was wet and sugar crusted. But then the storm approached. And here’s the strange thing: That’s when I began having my own really great time. I reached for a white rope and rang a bell, signaling everyone to take shelter inside the lodge. And everyone did—a string of campers flat tiring one another’s shoes while rushing to safety. Things got worse from there, the storm tearing into us, and at one point I watched a counselor attempt to close the doors, though his body was thrown back by the wind. A window shattered, and the campers screamed, so we rushed down deeper into a basement.

Probably, Bridge Jumper, you require no description of this basement, but it’s a game room, and as the campers crowded in, a few counselors pushed back the Ping-Pong and bumper pool tables to make room for everyone.

I was twenty—I knew nothing of anything beyond Ping-Pong and bumper pool—and what I’ve failed to mention was that my future wife stood beside me there, singing song after song to calm those kids in that room. She was twenty-one, and within a few year’s time we would get married on a wooden stage beside that lake, and afterward, return to that game room, to that Ping-Pong table, to sign a marriage license. And years after that, she would limit her protection to a single child—mine—her belly like a basement for another body.

I guess I’m trying to tell you there will be other bridges, and often the people we love will lead us there. Not intentionally, of course, and yet somehow the world’s coordinates will always narrow to this: a gas tanked improperly filled, a heart improperly broken. From my place in this parking lot, I cannot yet see you (just more of those flashing lights), though a part of me wonders what might happen if everyone just gave it a rest for awhile. If the police officers could just turn off their lights and plunge the world back to darkness, allow me to step from this car. Let me have a word with you, ring a bell for you, show you all the safest places I know.




B.J. Hollars is the author of Thirteen Loops: Race, Violence and the Last Lynching in America, and the editor of You Must Be This Tall To Ride (Writer’s Digest Books, 2009), Monsters: A Collection of Literary Sightings (Pressgang, 2012) and The Borderlands: Explorations to the Fringes of Nonfiction (University of Nebraska Press, 2012). His chapbook, “In Defense of Monsters” is forthcoming form Origami Zoo Press.