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Authors: Amy Leigh McCorkle


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Amy McCorkle

























Chapter One

              He stood on the bridge. Shirtless. Shoeless. In jeans. His arms outstretched with a half bottle of Jim Beam in one hand and burning cigarette in the other. The sun was peaking just over the horizon and his face was turned up and his eyes closed. His blonde hair glinted with early winter rays. His body scarred from a life hard lived and his time in Afghanistan and the first Gulf War. His name was James and I had befriended him a few months before at the local coffeeshop when I had spied him spiking black coffee with something a little longer.

              It had snowed the night before so I had decided to run the trails more off the beaten path. That bridge James perched himself so precariously on had a forty foot drop. It was my turn around point. I rarely if ever crossed it. As it was a natural bridge and tended to get icy on days like today. Two months wasn’t long to know someone. In the world view it didn’t necessarily call upon me to intervene. But basic compassion and humanity did. I was bundled up and carrying my pain like a one hundred and fifty pound ball and chain. His pain was mapped across his face and body.

              I was terrified of heights and drowning in the rushing rapids below did nothing to strengthen my resolve to cross that bridge and talk James back in from the ledge.

              I stood there frozen to the spot, my breath rolling out of my like a steam from bull’s nostrils. I wish I could be delicate in my description but I was anything but delicate. My breathing was labored as I had been running for forty-five minutes and when I turned a trail would take me home to my parents old home fifteen minutes away.

              “Go away, Rayna.”

              “I can’t do that.”

              I wondered how the hell he knew it was me without opening his eyes.

              He turned his head towards me, eyes wide open. There was such pain and rage there it was as if he punched in my heart.
So what if I was phobic, I was going to bring him in off that bridge and back to onto solid ground.

              “Rayna, I like you. I really do. That’s why I’m asking you to go. You don’t need to see this.”

              “You don’t need to do this.”

              I bit down hard on my lower lip and forced myself to take a step towards him. I kept my eyes on his, my legs like spaghetti. I could feel myself swaying back forth. With nothing to hang onto I listened.

              “Please, don’t come any closer.”

              “Why? Tell me why not and I’ll walk away.”

              “I can’t deal with life on life’s terms. I never have been able too. I thought I could get my shit together in the Marines but that just fucked me up even more.”

              “They care about you, James. They’re your friends. I’m your friend. I care.”

              “Sweetheart, you think you know me but you really have no clue.”

              I forced myself to take a few more steps closer. The wind gusted and the cold air cut through my body. My legs shook as I looked down. I squeezed my eyes shut and deep breath, opened them then took a few more steps again.

              “Why don’t we go back to my place or your place and put on a pot of coffee get you warmed up? You tell about who you really are. I don’t judge people and I’ve been told I’m a really good listener.”

              I took a few more steps and held out my hand to him. It was then I realized how lost he was. The lonely look, that desperate desire to be out of pain no matter what he had to do to get that way.

              “Please, you’re not alone.  I’ve been where you are. I know you don’t think so. I know think I’m some crazy fat chick who approached you for no particular reason at a local coffee shop. But I went to you then for the same reason I’m standing here now. I know the pain of being lost. Of feeling isolated. Of knowing deep down no one could possibly know the hell I was in.”

              “I know you think you know. But you don’t. You can’t and you never will.”

              I knew I had to act fast or I risked him going off that bridge. He flicked the cigarette free and drained the bottle. He started to leaned I quickly grabbed him by arm. He looked at me incredulously.

              “I care about you!” I screamed. Tears came to my eyes. “It takes a lost soul to know one. I know think you me. But you don’t know the first thing about me. You know nothing of how in the morning I wake-up and I have to decide on most mornings will it be a good day or will it be my last day? You know nothing of how I’ve crawled back from the pit of despair, only to wake up to find myself there the next day. I start each morning with enough medication to choke a fucking horse. I thought I had my beast beat. But no. I was in a relationship with the wrong guy and was in a relationship with half the free world. He gave me HIV. So now, whenever, I manage to even have a guy look twice at me it’s a serious talk right up front. All my friends all but disappeared. I have a select few friends who know and don’t care. I don’t know what you’re going through, but I know pain. I know physical and the emotional kind. I know what it’s like to do self-destructive things to your body praying the next morning you wake-up. But I’m through that shit. Now battle Diabetes and the side effects of the medication. So I’m telling you
I care.
There’s nothing you can tell me that I haven’t heard or done a million times myself. Believe me when I say my life will be infinitely emptier if you jump. Your life has value, James. You just can’t see it right now.”

              Cleary he was torn. The pain he was in was excruciating. Yet he was moved by my impassioned plea. He removed my hand.

              “Okay,” said softly. “But home is closer. Just a five minute walk.”

              I didn’t know how long he’d been exposed to the cold already. So removed my coat as he led me to the other side of the bridge. My legs were like noodles and my heart hammered against my chest. I was layered up in a turtleneck and a t-shirt and gloves and said, “Here put this on.” I took my toboggan and handed it to him once the coat was on and zipped. “And this.”

              “You need that, it’s too cold for us both be without one.” I was about to protest. “Listen, the trailer is less than five minutes away on foot I wouldn’t feel right if the person who just convinced me to at least walk away from the bridge on this morning catches cold and gets sick.”

              I looked at his feet they were bright red. If I didn’t get him indoors quickly he was sure to get frostbite if he hadn’t already. For time, I acquiesced.

              “Fine let’s go.”

              We walked along in silence for a while. When he spoke he asked, “Was any of what you said true? I mean, you’ve never talked about any of that stuff before.”

              “Why would I? I didn’t feel like you would understand. I thought you would be like everyone else and scurry away to the four corner of earth. Then where would I be. Someone I liked. Someone I could relate too, even though he was clearly troubled, would be gone and I’d have another hole in my heart to deal with. Making friends isn’t the hard part in this town. Keeping them is.”

              “I wouldn’t know. People don’t really go out of their way to get to know me. Of course, I suppose the opposite is true too. I don’t exactly give off a welcoming vibe.”

              “No. But Ellen tells me I use my illness as a way to keep people out of my life.”

              “How so? I tell people rather quickly I’m HIV positive. People usually assume I’m a slut, a heroin addict or both. To be honest I’ve learned to expect people to reject me. It’s just easier that way. No risk. No heartache.”

              The saddest expression crossed his features like a shadow.

              We came to a clearing and he stopped us. His trailer the lone house in an open field. His orange pick-up truck has clearly seen better and younger days.

              “I think that’s the biggest lie we tell ourselves.”

              “You probably right.”

              “You’re were terrified out on that bridge. In all honesty I thought if I gave you the out you would take it and I could put end this miserable life. When you grabbed my arm there’s a chance I could’ve accidentally pulled us both over.”

              I swallowed hard my mouth went dry. Uh oh. I could feel my defenses crumbling. Walls that no one else had managed or cared to scale in a very long time threatened to come tumbling down.

              “You’re vulnerability that everyone else thinks is a weakness is really your greatest strength, Rayna. For whatever reason you think my life has value. I don’t if that’s true, but I know what is.”

              “What’s that?”

              “That you’re going make a very lucky man a wife one day. Do me a favor, okay? Don’t settle for a loser. Someone as kind hearted and passionate s you are deserves a stable man, a good man. Not someone who’s going to make you feel like you don’t matter.”

              I knew what he was saying. Don’t invest me. Don’t bank on me. I may not be here for much longer.

              “The heart wants what the heart wants. Ain’t much I can do about those sorts of things. Now let’s get you inside where it’s warm.”

              I could see he wanted to resist my help. But he was too wrung out to do so. I helped him inside and prayed to God my heart wouldn’t lead down a pitch black road with no chance of coming on the other side.
















Chapter Two

              Once he was sleeping his drunk off comfortably I made sure there was plenty of coffee on, a mug down. I was tempted to ditch the alcohol and the pills but I couldn’t force him to choose to get better. That was a decision he’s have to come to himself.

              I gazed down at him. It should have been a sin to be that sexy and that troubled. Made a troubled girl such as myself weak in the knees for him. Forty pushing forty-one I knew that if I stood seeing forty-two I wouldn’t engage in any of the notions running through my head where that slumbering lost soul was concerned.

              Looking down at my phone I knew I should be getting home. I slipped on my coat and knew that bridge lay before me. I knew maybe I should stay. But my meds were at home and the strict regimen I was on refused any leniency. So bridge or no bridge I had to get my ass home. I just had to find my way back to it, which wasn’t too difficult.

              I glanced over my shoulder back at the sleeping James. I’d placed a heating pad beneath a few quilts on top of him and placed wool socks on his feet. I made sure he had big gulp glass of ginger ale with plenty of ice, Pepto Bismol, and Tylenol on the small table nearby with a puke bucket for when that Jim Beam paid a return visit. God knew that hangover would be fierce when it hit him.

              He would probably remember nothing. As I walked to the clearing I told myself it was just as well. He was too troubled for me to bank on. Even as I said it I knew I was kidding myself.
would remember this morning and that was what mattered.

              I had been drawn to James from the moment I’d seen him in the coffeeshop when he was trying so hard not to be seen. I wouldn’t let him hide because Ellen and therapy taught me everyone deserved to be seen.

              But what had started out as a basic mission of humanitarianism had gone a step further. If I hadn’t come upon him that morning…I shuddered to think what might have happened. I was hopelessly involved.

              I stood at the bridge. Thinking about the moment I had learned not only of Kevin’s betrayal, but that he was dying from AIDS.  It was the lowest point of my life. In that pitch black moment of despair, when my life seemed over I had to decide whether or not I was going to lay down and die or get up and fight, only Ellen stepped up to the plate and reached out her hand and said, I will stand with you. No matter how hard the road gets. No matter how scary the path may seem. I will be here to hold you up when you cannot stand.

              Seeing James on the bridge I saw me.

              And I’d had a choice to make.

              Be Ellen. Or join him in going off the bridge.

              I had decided to be Ellen.

              It was a slippery slope I stepped upon. I had to be careful. I had to make sure I did trip and slide down into the pit where James currently resided. I had to make sure that I was grabbing the next rung on the ladder while stretching out a helping hand to him so that he might begin the steep climb out.

              I took a deep breath. I crossed the bridge once I could do it again.

              Carefully staring straight ahead I took one step at a time. Gingerly planting one foot in front of the other. For the rest of my life this would never get any easier. Each time I would have to steel myself against the anxiety and panic that threatened to choke the life out of me. The bridge would become a metaphor for many things. At moment it represented fear of failure and the unknown. In a way it always would.

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