Roi J. Tamkin
My girlfriend tells me it’s time to grow up. I’m thirty years old, and I remain uncommitted to anything in my life. She included. I counter that commitment is not a sign of growing up but merely one of the many burdens grown-ups bear. Now, she won’t talk to me.
But I don’t believe any one person just grows up all at once. I think there are defining moments in one’s life where a change in attitude and worldview take place. You add up all these moments and one day you realize you are all grown up. Or maybe you hit upon the knowledge that you are in the process of growing up. A process that for me started when I was ten and living in Cranston, Rhode Island.
I have never been afraid of crossing the Pontiac Avenue Bridge. A bridge that linked my neighborhood of Friendly Community with the school grounds of the illustrious and stately William R. Dutemple Grammar School. A bridge that spanned the four lanes of Route 10 connecting Cranston with Route I-95. As grade-schoolers, my friends and I invented little games to play on the bridge as we trotted home from school. One game was to cross the bridge only when there were no cars passing underneath. If a car passed under the spot on which you stood, you were dead. I had died many times on that bridge, being that I was still a poor runner.
My memory of that bridge is one of games. Games included throwing pebbles over the bridge as cars passed underneath. Once a neighbor caught me throwing a whole pumpkin over the bridge onto the highway below. It smashed beautifully into so many little pumpkin pieces. But I got whipped for it at home. And a scolding from my mother that to this day gives me reservations when it comes to eating her Thanksgiving pumpkin pie. “Don’t throw pebbles, papers, pumpkins, or snowballs over the bridge,” she warned. “You could hit a car and kill someone.” But that was the object of the game. Well, hitting a car was the object, not killing a person. But I never hit a car, being that I was still a poor pitcher.
But an accident did happen. Not as a result of my games, thankfully. But terrifying, nonetheless. I happened upon it as I was crossing the bridge on my way to school. I looked down on Route 10 to notice there was no traffic on one side of the highway. The police were already on the scene, and a smashed motorcycle lay crippled along the roadside. In the center of the road was a large white sheet. A motorcycle accident. A death. The white sheet covered the body, but did little to hide the river of blood running in thick red lines in all directions from the sheet. I figured the victim must have been riding without a helmet since most of the blood streamed out from under where the white sheet hid his head. I pictured the smashed pumpkin I had thrown over the bridge. I knew the accident was terrible, but my suspicions were confirmed when I, the only person on the bridge looking down upon the scene, got a chance to see the body. A policeman lifted the white curtain for another to photograph the body. I learned what happens when a speeding motorcycle throws its unprotected rider from its control. The image imprinted a clear message in my brain. When the white sheet was again thrown over the body, I resumed my walk to school telling no one what I had seen. But on the way home, my best friend asked what game I wanted to play before crossing the bridge. His hand was already full of pebbles ready for tossing. I stared at him for a moment calculating what I should say to him. Still not able to share what I had seen that morning, I just shook my head and told my friend I would never throw pebbles, papers, or snowballs over any bridge again.
I think he understood. The pebbles slipped out of his hands.
And I took the first step towards growing up.