He told me the story of the bridge collapsing. It was stretched across a gorge in Washington state. He described the suspension bridge moving in high winds funneled and amplified by the valley walls, until the asphalt deck shifted like sine or cosine waves, wavelengths growing larger and more infrequent. I remembered these waves from high school math class, and thought then about the bridge’s motion like pencil lines across notebook pages, each separate x and y axis snaking off the page while I sat in a hot city classroom, tapping an eraser end on the laminate desk. As he told me the story, I recalled these lines were related to equations, but couldn’t remember exactly how. They used to please me, those equations, more so than the graphs, as if by rearranging the numbers and unknown values I had completed some neat event. Open and shut.
Eventually the bridge’s motion grew so varied and so violent that one of the suspension wires snapped, and then the rest began to collapse, the deck shearing off in large pieces. It took a full thirty seconds before it stopped existing, he said, wrenching itself apart with its own movement. I asked if anyone died. No, he said, the bridge was closed a while before it fell, by an engineer who was monitoring the sway and saw it pass above the projected maximum for structural integrity. Why was he there? I mean, was he stationed there or something all the time? I asked. I don’t know, he said, and frowned slightly.
We were sitting in the car then, the car itself in motion and us bucketed within it, and I watched him palm the steering wheel around the corners. We drove past the golf course at the local country club, the trimmed green gleaming under early morning sprinklers, here and there a sandtrap lying in the turf like a pale fingernail end. Houses and traffic thinned as we approached the airport. This was months ago, perhaps half a year.
I live in a small town now. I don’t really know how I got here. I mean, the greater equation at work with certain constants like school, job, time zones, air travel I acknowledge, but I couldn’t really tell you how I came to be here. The cities I’ve been in have probably funneled me here, pushing and narrowing my route, with each move another variable shifted.
There’s a TV suspended in the corner of my local laundromat, its sound backed with the raised voice of the small child of the proprietress, and all around a deeper background of soak, spin, tumble dry. Beyond this motion, another layer of scent, washing powder plus shifting damp fabric, some melded smell of turning milk beneath it. The local news here is advising us how to choose a good pair of sneakers. Most of the people in here probably watch it simply because it has images that move. I watch my clothes dampen and suds in the machine, and try to think of all the cities I have only been in for a few hours. It’s not a long list, no place coastal: St. Louis, Atlanta, Dallas, Minneapolis, Phoenix. It takes me a good two minutes to finish the list. I wonder where this funnel came from. How it got here. If it’s over yet.
After the cycles are done I pack the clothes into my car and drive back across town, taking a different route than I used to get from my apartment to the laundromat. Postwar bungalows scroll by on either side of the narrow street. After he told me about the bridge, we said hardly anything until we reached the airport. I thought about how the bridge had failed, and taken so long failing. I stared at the mountainous horizon as we waited for our ticket into the parking lot. The color on the trees was just beginning to turn. Nothing was on the radio. This is only my most recent move laterally. Once up in the air, I managed to forget I was the one in motion, not the objects out the window screen.
Here now it’s spring and pink trees are blooming everywhere. I see a black dog escape its leash and run around a yard, I see a heavyset man on a bicycle pedal across the next intersection, I see a starling alight and bend to look at something. The sky’s clouded over and the wind has picked up. Petals from the blooming trees have started to fall all over the parked cars. I hear a helicopter. When I think about the past, what’s past already or passing right now, it is quadratic, a mix of symbols representing values, a notation to rearrange, components used to make something else, something out of itself.
How We Met