“For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
shall be my brother.” -Henry V, Shakespeare
“Greater love hath no man than this
That a man will lay down his life for his friends.” -John 15:13
Death loomed overhead, as if we had our own little private black clouds hovering above us, shadowing us as we wasted our precious days away. Peter Cushing, the proprietor of death, always gets paid in full. Death was all around us. I couldn’t speak for the others but that was how I felt growing up in Whitestone and highly doubtful I was alone, although admittedly my perception was skewed in the direction of all things negative. I’m from a town in Queens with a small minded way of thinking you might find much further outside of the five boroughs.
A residential neighborhood where everyone either knew each other, or knew of each other. People from our town thought that they knew you, or they presumed to know you as you thought you knew some of them, only to be proven wrong over time. It’s quite easy to make assumptions or to pass judgement on other people but if we’re being honest, we’re all guilty of it to some degree. The citizen’s personal business was minded by others and often. This neighborhood, was imperfect and changing, but not improving.
My team of hell raisers were brought up under the gaze of two sentinel suspension bridges. Two bridges that adjoined our esteemed borough to Jonas Bronck’s playground, whose stadium we were always reminded of without provocation, outshined our darling Shea. We vandalized those bridges. We scaled them and had key parties beneath them. Forgive us our trespasses but just as Shea Stadium was a part of us, the Whitestone and Throggs Neck Bridges were also extensions of ourselves.
The life expectancy of a bridge is typically somewhere between seventy to a hundred years, while I was a couple years shy of a quarter century. Most bridges required major repairs before even reaching half life. I was skeptical I’d make it to twenty-five. Twenty-five sounded dreadfully old.
The intent of a bridge is simple and quite obvious, it is designed to connect places and people, but other things can create bonds as well. Other things have the potential to establish connections like the sharing of life experiences, shared trauma, or bloodlines. Even things like music, literature or films can bring people together. A pint of beer can bridge a relationship for an entire lifetime.
A sharp knife can unify two or more people. A blood oath. A pact.
I’ve always admired bridges, particularly the dominance of the towers, as they smirked down on us insignificant people. The curious tensile strength of the cables impressed me. I’ve had a fascination with bridges for the longest time, possibly more of a morbid one, but a fascination nevertheless, from way before I started painting them. The irony of my occupation is that I never liked heights, still don’t, and maybe never would, but I don’t like a lot of things and yet I endure. Unhappy people jump off of bridges daily, it happens all the time, more than you would want to believe. I wouldn’t leap off a bridge, not into a river, not onto the pavement, not ever. It’s not pretty, trust me.
I’ve almost convinced myself that I could survive the jump from the midspan of the roadway off the Brooklyn Bridge. I’d bet money on it, if I didn’t know better, If I was a betting man, which I’ve never been. I’m much too neurotic for that kind of thing. I tended to obsess over stuff. Women. Bands. Baseball. Graff. Movies. But I’ve always fixated on death, well before death came to our doorstep and tracked blood all over the floor.
Bridges can be an instrument of death. You learn that there is no such thing as a good or a safe fall from a bridge, you know that you are one false step from the lights being turned out indefinitely. A healthy amount of fear is a good thing. Don’t ever get comfortable. You’re likely to make mistakes when you’re comfortable. You make errors when you let your guard down.
In our beloved and reviled town of Whitestone, like many others across the earth, innocence and optimism were dying at a distressing rate. Ruin, in various forms, was ubiquitous. For most of us, death was a slow and agonizing process, taking that iconic cloaked figure longer than necessary to reveal himself, and to show any morsel of mercy to the people, to all of those who were suffering and all the while he knew they just wanted it to be done with. There are many different tiers to suffering.
I’ve pictured Peter Cushing, shrouded and skeletal, smiling beside my friends and family, taunting them with icy whispers. But then again, I don’t believe in that sort of mythology or religious nonsense. Death resided in every city and in every home in this increasingly disappointing world, a world that we have created, in varied manners of bankruptcy and betrayal. While I am dark in nature, and I use death metaphorically, whether it is the death of love or a relationship, or permit me to say the death of a soul, which I also do not believe in, there was literal, real and actualized death stalking about. The toll only increased as time marched onward.
I was not the one who died but it should have been me. I have repeated that to myself a million times. I have scribbled it as a punishment on a dirty chalkboard inside my mind, over and over again. It should have been me. It should have been me, I knew that. Someone else out there had to know, maybe even the reaper himself, Mr. Cushing was aware the wrong person died that night. I never get what I want, no matter how politely I ask or how many times I’ve begged for it.
My name is Colm Ryan. Most people don’t know how to say my first name, and I don’t like most people, but not because of that. It’s Gaelic. It means dove but there is no peace within me. I’m not content with a lot of things in my life, but I’m fine with people mispronouncing my name, it’s expected.
Don’t mind me or my depressive musings. I ramble and I get lost in my own head sometimes. I implore you to please bear with me. We are not alike, and I would never want to be like you, but one commonality we might share is the search for purpose. I’m trying to find a reason to wake up each morning, a reason to live while I attempt to humor any remnant of a higher intelligence who might be watching me while I kill time, keeping barstools warm and conversing with myself. When I speak of a higher intelligence, I’m not referring to a bearded man sitting on some clouds, I prefer aliens to gods.
Not another heartbreak/ Oh, Baby, for heaven’s sake.
I may be lost but you could find me in the corner of the local dive bar on a weeknight, drunker than I should be, singing the words to King Floyd’s Don’t Leave Me Lonely. It should be noted that I can’t sing.
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