Under The Bridge

Art by: Deedee Hampton
Art by: Deedee Hampton

By: Grainne Rhuad

 

Sometimes I feel Like I don’t have a partner Sometimes I feel Like my only friend Is the city I live in The city of Angel Lonely as I am Together we cry

I drive on her streets cause she’s my companion I walk through her hills cause she knows who I am She sees my good deeds And she kisses me windy I never worry Now that is a lie

I don’t ever want to feel Like I did that day Take me to the place I love Take me all the way

Its hard to believe That there’s nobody out there Its hard to believe That I’m all alone At least I have her love The city she loves me Lonely as I am Together we cry

I don’t ever want to feel Like I did that day Take me to the place I love Take me all the way

Under the bridge downtown Is where I drew some blood Under the bridge downtown I could not get enough Under the bridge downtown Forgot about my love Under the bridge downtown I gave my life away- The Red Hot Chili Peppers

 I spent a whole semester under a bridge in Junior High School.  It was an old train trestle not far from my home and while it was in a rural area, the song ‘Under The Bridge’ always reminds me of it. 

Every morning I would wake up and get ready for school as if everything were normal.  I would walk the half mile to the bus stop where the bus that would normally take me to school would pick me up.  After that, I would keep on walking making a circle back around to the tall old bridge.  I did all this play acting because I knew I would be checked on to see if I made it to the bus stop. 

The bridge itself was quite tall but it had trees growing up on both side providing privacy and a sense of being safe.  There was a creek of sorts that ran under it, the drainage from the agricultural ditches that flowed throughout the almond orchard where I lived.  There were in fact many bridges within five miles of my home, but this one I liked best because of its height.  It gave it a cathedral like quality. 

Both sides of the creek sloped up rather steeply, but because this wasn’t the first time someone had found the bridge and hidden out, there were flat areas carved out, almost like large wide steps, or purposeful seating areas. 

Art of all kinds adorned the concrete walls of the bridge.  Graffiti some would call it, and indeed some of it was.  Things like John plus Mary and Ford=Fucked over rebuilt Dodge.  However some of the art was beautiful.  Full pictures of trees, elaborate graphic art.  Things that looked like early attempts at anime.  Every picture told a story, of who had been there, what their feelings had been. 

I would generally spend my day reading.  I read all of Tolkien under the bridge.  I found the children of Lir and read of them from The Mabinogion Tetrology there.  Mark Twain was devoured, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. 

I would nap, I would eat.  Sometimes I would go on a walk through the orchards, exploring old falling over houses.  Lovely turn of the century farm houses gone to ruin, the white paint peeling away as they leaned over, windows broken out like a fighter who has lost his teeth.  I would make up stories about why they were abandoned and commiserate with them over their loneliness.  I always wondered why somebody would want a manufactured home (which was the standard in the orchards) instead of one of these lovely old ladies.  What had happened?  I told myself when I grew up I would restore a house like this. 

I always knew it was time to go home when the mailman came.  He drove over the bridge about fifteen minutes before the bus would come.  I would come out and intercept the mail.  This was in the days before answering machines so schools would contact parents of truant students through the mail. 

Most days I wished I could set up camp and stay under the bridge.  Home was not a comfortable place.  And it was because of home that school became for a while unbearable for me. 

I decided not to return to school one day after a meeting with my counselor.  He was, I suppose a nice enough man, but he was also the vice-principal and as such had to enforce rules.  It always seemed strange to me to make someone whose main job was helping students fit in, be the rule enforcer.  It was unfair to him and to us. 

He also bore an unfortunate resemblance to my step-father, which is how the bridge time began.  My counselor asked me why I was so difficult and why I wouldn’t talk to him.  In a rare moment of teen-age bravery I told him he reminded me too much of my step-father who hurt me and because of this I could not trust him.  

He, my counselor, looked at me with I think sadness in his eyes.  “What are you saying?  Are you being hurt at home?”  This caused me to unload, unburden so much of what had been kept secret for so long.

I told him about what was done to me when my mother was away on business trips.  I told him about drugs given to me, about pornography I was encouraged to watch.  I told him about interrupted baths and nighttime visits.  I told him how special it made me feel to have extra privileges, how I was beginning to feel that it was not so terribly wrong, after all I was becoming a woman, I liked how some things felt, I liked the privileges.

He was, to put it mildly, astounded, shocked, and affronted.  I remember exactly what he said to me next.  “I want to be sure you understand, if you tell me that someone is behaving this way with you, I have to report it to Child Protective Services.  I am legally required to…and I want to help you.”

I imagine I had a look of panic on my face.  I know I felt it.  As any Child of the Secret knows, you never, ever, EVER tell. 

I spent a good amount of blustering and trying to take back my words.  If someone came to my house I was in for it.  I knew from experience my mother wouldn’t even help me. She would be beaten, I would be beaten, and the whole damn family might die.

 He, my counselor said he would like to see me again the next day.   I left the office with an appointment to meet him in third period the following day and a sinking, panicked feeling. 

It was that night I decided to just not go to school.  I went instead to the library and loaded up on books. 

To my knowledge he didn’t call Child Protective Services.  I know he called my house, however my brothers intercepted those calls and I had the mail covered.  I am sure more things came up for Him with other students and one he could not get a hold of was forgotten.  It was a different time and people were less likely to ride out on their white horses to rescue abused children. 

I wish he would have.

It would have saved me not only a semester under a bridge but two years of my life in which things got incrementally worse. 

However there is something that my counselor accomplished for me.  I heard something that I hadn’t even dared to think before.  That I was valuable.  That these abuses weren’t normal and that I deserved more. 

When I decided to leave my self imposed exile under the bridge, I was a stronger person, while the abuses didn’t stop; I knew that I had options.  I knew that there were people who behaved and thought differently and I knew that I could eventually be free. 

 

Author’s note: This is a work of fiction…sort of.  It is really more of a compilation, a greatest hits if you will; of gathered experiences.  It was prompted by the conversation regarding Roman Polanski and whether or not a 13 year old girl was seductive and cognizant and somewhat responsible for her situation.

4 Comments on “Under The Bridge”

  1. I don’t know what to say .. if any of this is true, and I know that it is, my heart breaks for you and your youth and your sense of yourself. That said, the road does matter, and if you or someone else, treated like this can become so wonderful and responsible, it still isn’t worth it, just imagine what someone like you could have accomplished if she had been loved, protected and nurtured … I just hate knowing any of this, but am so glad you shared this … it is/was brave and I hope that acknowledging this, and putting it in it’s place makes you realize just how special and resilient the human heart is …… your heart is …

  2. Rich, Rest assured that this is a work of fiction comprised of many people’s experiences and not about myself. However yes, it is amazing that people move past and beyond. There are trails blazed by these individuals, thankfully that others can follow. The task is to help people see that there are other ways of being, living and growing. Also that those who are weak…and even those who are strong are in need of protection. I would even put forth that those who hurt others are themselves in need of compassion and help.

  3. Grainne, your story was written with such an expression of realism, it was hard to convince myself it was actually fiction. It’s a story of hope for those caught in the quagmire of questioning, “what is the right thing”, and one that clearly describes the dilemma of the child. My qualms, have been and continue to be those who take the plight of victims to oil their political machines and personal ambitions. So many children; so many victims are lost; in the system of bourgeois paperwork, files and procedures of the innocent reluctantly marching through the injustice system. While we demand that people be held accountable for their actions, we should also demand that the courts be held accountable for theirs.

  4. Gripping, painfully sad and hopeful. The range of emotion I felt as I read was enormous. You offer your story at a time when Elizabeth Smart boldly and confidently attempted to confront her abuser (who couldn’t even face her) and the arrest of Roman Palanski. I hope this story encourages others to find thier voice and speak the trueth. My hope is that that voice will land in someones ear who has the humanity, that compasion and the courage to do what is right. Your writing always grabs me Grainne. Thank you so much for sharing. Your contribution here holds more value than words can express.

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