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Crossing the Last Bridge

April 10, 2005

She wanted to build bridges.

Of all the things that have been running through my mind, that one sticks the most.  I remember the wonder on her face as we passed under the fan of yellow cables that held up the Hartman bridge in Baytown, Texas.  The disappointment that her team faced when their model bridge was disqualified due to what was obviously an equipment error on the judge’s part.  And the way her face lit up when she talked about building, designing, creating.

For years, Adrain’s family and mine were close friends.  Both families had three daughters, each of similar ages.  We lived a few blocks from each other and most of my happiest childhood memories involve her younger sister, Allison.  We grew up together, went to school together, and tormented each other as only sisters who are close in age can.  We participated in Girl Scouts together, spent the night at each others homes, and celebrated birthdays, Christmases, and Halloweens together.  Allison was my closest friend, and Adrian was always there, on the fringe of my childhood.

My parents moved away to a larger home, her mother remarried, and one day, they moved across the country to California.  The following summer, my parents packed up their two youngest children, sent the eldest off to drill team camp, and we drove out to California to visit them.  We spent a week in the back of an Aerostar minivan, picked up my eldest sister at the airport and finally arrived in Calistoga, California.  Our families were reunited, for the last time.  We camped, went to Disney Land, and when we parted, our parents swore that we’d do it again next summer.  Or the next.  Or the next.

We went to school.  The eldest girls graduated and left for college.  My parents moved once more to a bigger home across town.  We e-mailed each other, though less and less frequently as time grew long.  Adrian and Allison joined sports teams.  My middle sister joined the dance team.  I joined the debate team.  Adrian’s mother sent word that Adrian had been in a horrible car wreck and nearly died.  Adrian later described the wreck to my parents and I wondered at the miracle that allowed her to survive and find strength in that survival.  We all grew older, we all healed old wounds, and Adrian decided that she wanted to build bridges.

The bridge building competition was at Texas A&M that year.  A half dozen energetic Californian college students arrived on my parents’ doorstep to be greeted by the strange Texas breakfast food called kolaches.  My parents and I drove up with them to Texas A&M and watched the competition.  The bridges were built over sheets of blue and green, showing where the water was.  Students had to build their bridges without touching any part of the bridge or the team to the water.  The Californians hefted the skeleton of their structure into place, and crawled from end to end riveting pieces together.  Bridges around them collapsed while being built, broke while being tested, or bent as their builders placed that final last stress on the wrong joint.  In the end, a piece of testing equipment failed them.  Despite the equipment’s obvious error in the reading, they were disqualified.  Despite it all, they remained cheerful and happy, allowing my parents to drag them across south east Texas to feed them fresh seafood and show them bridges that they someday aspired to build.  It was raining as we passed under the yellow cables.  But the sun could have been shining, for the light that shone on her face.

She was strong.  Beautiful.  Brilliant.  And she wanted to build bridges.

Today, my mother called me.

Last November, someone took that away.  Someone came into her apartment and murdered her and one of her roommates.  And all I have left of her is the memories.  Always older, always stronger, always there, somewhere on the fringe of my childhood.  And now no more.

When she came to the end of that last bridge, I hope the sun was shining on the other side.  It’s a little darker on this side without her.

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