The house we moved into two weeks ago borders Haverford College, on the “Main Line” of Philadelphia. On the other side of the campus, about 300 yards from our new home, stands our first apartment. Phil and I could walk there easily by crossing the small footbridge that connects our neighborhood to the campus.
We used to call it The Magic Bridge.
When we lived in the apartment over a decade ago, our favorite summer evening activity was to walk to Marita’s Cantina for chicken tacos and Tecates. On the walk home, we had a Magic Bridge ritual. Standing in the middle of the bridge with our eyes closed, we breathed in the heavy summer air, thick with the heady scent of wisteria. The hum of the cicadas got louder with every passing second until it became a thunderous symphony pulsating in our ears. Phil always knew the right moment to say what I knew was coming:
“Close your eyes and make a wish. This is the magic transformer bridge, and wherever you want to go, it will take you there. Whatever you want to be, you can become it.”
Disclaimer: When I say “we drank Tecates,” I mean like
five six Tecates. Each.
This is a bittersweet memory for me, because there was a desperation to this tradition. Two very scared people clinging to each other, wanting so desperately to believe that their love is bigger than their problems. And there were problems. Oh boy, were there problems. But the moments on the Magic Bridge made us believe in transcendence. Standing on the bridge, suspended in time and space, I believed in the possibility of another way. That there was hope for me/us yet.
After living in Boston, you would think that moving back to Philly would be easy. Like slipping on a glove. Simple. And in many ways, it is. Family and old friends are close by. We can walk to WaWa. We drive around with the kids and point out our old college hangouts:
“OMG, that used to be Manhattan Bagel! My roommates and I went there every Saturday morning but used to split the cream cheese because they charged like $1.50 for-
All Phoebe hears is bagel: “I’m hungry. Do you have snacks?”
They have no idea what I am talking about, nor do they care. To my daughters, I am not the hungover college kid with exactly $1.26 in her pocket after a night out at the bar. I am the lady with the snacks. Memories of my life before them have no context. In their eyes, my life began at age 28, when I had Emma.
And in some ways, I wish it had. Having kids anchored me. The name Emma means healer, and she is just that. She healed me of my selfishness, my crippling neuroses, the helplessness borne out of my paralyzing fear of….everything. And then came Phoebe. Her name means light, and that is exactly what she brought into my life. She has taught me how to be present and joyful. How to be free….free of the past.
Or so I thought.
Memories can be sneaky. Familiar smells – hot dogs on a grill, burning leaves, Blistex Medicated lip balm – can bring me right back to a different time and place, as if it happened only yesterday.
For Phil, this is typically a good thing, as he relives his glory days as the Party Mayor of the Main Line, and his brief stint as a cable TV star on TLC’s The Dating Story. Rumor is that he still has a fan base in Canada: “Aren’t you that guy from The Dating Story?? The Camden Riversharks guy? Dude, that foam finger was HILARIOUS!”
Had my life on the Main Line been featured on cable television, it would be a Lifetime Movie: psychiatric hospitalizations, eating disorders, social anxiety, etc. Oh, and there was the removal of my entire colon due to a rare genetic defect found exclusively (before me) in Japanese cadavers. My fan base includes the med students at Hahnemann University Hospital – although they may not recognize me with pants on.
Writer Madeline L’Engle said, “The great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been.” Exactly. Because believe me, I’ve tried to lose a bunch of them. To be reminded of a time when I was so
weak emotionally fragile was too painful. Too scary.
In her memoir Magical Journey, Katrina Kenison writes:
For me, the big surprise of growing older is this: Fear never actually goes away. But I’ve had a lot of practice by now in confronting it.
Maybe my reason for coming back here was not to re-open those wounds, but to finally heal them once and for all.
I went for a run yesterday past the old apartment. I stopped for a minute and let myself go back to that place when life felt too overwhelming; when I felt so undeserving of everything I had. I stood with my feet firmly planted and just let those memories wash over me. Then, when it felt right, I ran home. And I felt lighter.
A bridge cannot stand without two ends.
-Clarissa Pinkola Estes
I still believe in the Magic Bridge. But, like The Giving Tree, I think the Magic Bridge meets us where we are. The type of magic it gives changes as we change. Now, the magic I need is not to be transported to another place, but to really be exactly where I am. To be present to my life. And celebrate it. Because it’s good. Really good.
As I cross the bridge now, I try to be grateful for the life I had, and for the lessons that led me to back to this place, as a truer, less encumbered version of myself.
Then I run to meet the life that waits for me on the other side.