The middle of the Brooklyn Bridge is not quiet, peaceful, or romantic, but sometimes when we were there together it seemed that way. We would meet there on summer Fridays, late afternoon; he would bike in from Manhattan and I would ride in from Brooklyn. We would meet somewhere in the middle, whoever got there first parking the bike and staking our claim.
We always found each other before sunset. He brought the food. Usually bread and cheese, bottles of beer in small brown bags, maybe some flaky samosas which we’d eat dry. Always a pint of chocolate fudge brownie.
We avoided the benches, sitting up instead on the green-gray metal beams, trying to find a comfortable spot between the round bumps. We’d face the Statue of Liberty and the setting sun and feed each other, sipping our beer.
I was young enough and crazy enough to believe that anything was possible, even this relationship. Or maybe it was the hum of the city, the vibrations of millions on a Friday night, some winding down, some keying up, all aware on some level that we were in the middle of something amazing. Lights clicking on, lights turning off; we rarely saw stars. We rarely looked for them. I had seen stars all my life; it was the buildings that fascinated me.
Sometimes we met under the bridge, instead, and stared at the water. We went there once during a storm, not one of ours, and watched the rushing water rising and rising. It was romantic, sexy, terrifying.
Times on or around the bridge were peaceful; looking back it seems as if those were our only peaceful times. Afterwards, we might go back to his apartment. He lived on the second floor of his mother’s house. She had the first floor, and his brother the third. I never heard a word exchanged among the three of them, ever, though we often crossed paths.
He told me once that they hadn’t spoken since his brother’s funeral, not a single word among them, although his mother filled the glass of water she kept on a small shelf every evening. Next to the water glass was a small vase filled with plastic flowers and a candle of Chango. I watched her do it once, and she was almost reverent, as reverent as such a bitter heart could be. She didn’t see me that night, didn’t address me. Never did. I was never introduced. I wondered sometimes if she even saw me, saw her sons, saw anything beyond the glass and light of what she had lost. What would she think of me, a tiny blond from someplace she had never heard of, a white girl who spoke no Spanish at all?
Looking back I can see how foolish I was to expect love from someone so wounded, wounded in his roots even, his history, his people. Although his mother never spoke, her hum was loud, loud and furious. She was tall, big even, flat-footed, flat-nosed, with the face of an angry Taino goddess, deep lines, scary level eyes that never saw. She had a funny shuffling kind of walk, never picking her feet up from the floor, as if her soles could not bear to lose touch for even a minute with the earth, solid surface under which one son was buried somewhere.
His brother was a big man too, like him, like their mother, but was wispy, ghost-like almost, as if he was trying to disintegrate away and join his murdered twin.
“Little country girl,” he’d say, holding my hand as we walked into the house, into the quiet hallway where the shelf was. “Little country girl in the big city. People get shot. It happens.” Like he wasn’t mad, like he wasn’t hurt.
“How can people come here?” I wondered, although he hadn’t come at all, he’d been born right there in the gray dullness, the neat brick rows of Sunset Park. “How can they leave their island paradise?” I thought, picturing warm sand and cool waters, fresh sweet mangoes and plantains and spicy beans.
“It’s not like that,” he said. But it was. I knew even though I’d never been. I could hear it in his music.
He couldn’t love me because he couldn’t love, but by the time I figured that out he had become obsessed with having me. He professed his love day and night, sixty-three unwanted messages on my answering machine each evening. He followed me. He waited outside my apartment so that I learned to look for him around shadow corners and go sleep at Mayra’s house.
Mayra’s second husband was sick of me but would never say so. Mayra had stabbed her first husband “only enough so I could get away,” she said.
That’s how I knew what to do, when I went in one night and he was there, long after I thought it was over. I was letting myself be happy again, doing simple things like sleeping and eating and picking up a bouquet of tulips from the Korean store. I didn’t see him at first because he was in the kitchen, my tiny kitchen on top of the BQE. I heard him, felt his hum, smelled his scent of sweet coconut and cigarettes. I reached into the utensil drawer and grabbed the first thing I could find. “Get the fuck out of here!” I screamed, brandishing a pizza wheel. “Johnny! Johnny! Vito!” I called, knowing they weren’t home, knowing that he wouldn’t know that. “Call the fucking cops!”
He moved towards me, telling me to shut up, moving as if to put his hand over my mouth. But I held up the pizza wheel like I meant it, and I did.
Later, smoking a joint on Mayra’s roof, we laughed about it. “What kind of damage would that do?” she said. “You would have had to roll it up and down on him!” She laughed her smoky laugh, her laugh that still was because she had stabbed a man, stabbed him so he wouldn’t stab her. “He won’t be eating a slice for a while!”
“I didn’t stab him,” I say, after a while, knowing I would have, pizza wheel or no. “I didn’t have to. It was my eyes, my hum, my brujeria.” It was a psychic battle and I won. He had turned and slipped through the window, down the fire escape and over the fence onto Nelson Street.
“It’s over, now,” she said, and I nodded.
It was. Only the bridge had been ruined for me, I avoided it for months. Even now, when I go to New York, walking over the bridge in afternoon sunlight with my daughter, I look for him, tall, bronze, green and black bike shorts, maroon bike, a small brown bag with a beer bottle in it poking out of his messenger bag. “I will never see him again, I will never see him again,” I chant silently in my head. And the bridge is quiet, as quiet as it ever was when we met there. And it is peaceful, and since then there have been a thousand souls, a million maybe, that have hummed there and away again, and the bridge is quiet, and peaceful, and I am laughing on a summer afternoon. Kathleen Furin is the co-founder
and co-director of the Maternal
Wellness Center, which provides education,
psychotherapy, and advocacy for pregnant women, mothers, and families.
She holds an MSW and is a certified childbirth educator. Her work
has been published in Literary Mama, The Birthkit and the Expectant
Mother’s Guide. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband and two