The Bridge of Sighs

by Crane-Station

I wrote this essay while I was in prison. I entered it in the 2009 Metroversity Creative Writing Contest. Since I was enrolled in college courses, I qualified to enter the contest. However, I was technically not allowed computer use to do this, because computer use was strictly limited to classroom assignment word processing. After several discussions with me pointing out that the school itself had posted the contest notice, making it school-related, I was allowed to enter.

The Bridge of Sighs won the 2009 Metroversity contest for creative nonfiction essay, but the essay was then lost in my notes. I found it recently and so here is the original version, with a couple of minor changes.

For anyone who does not know me, I do have a drug and alcohol history. I shared this history with the judge in my case, and presented bed dates and proposals for short and long-term treatment, as well as a five-year monitoring plan to follow. He denied it. He also denied drug court.

When I was locked up I wrote. I wrote to keep my sanity.

Bridges are, I think, wonderful metaphors for a lot of things.

The Bridge Of Sighs

In the stockyards of 1920s Chicago, even the business of killing was engineered for maximum efficiency. From Upton Sinclair, we know that animals, mostly pigs, were herded by the millions up wooden ramps, never to return. At the top of the ramp, they were hoisted and killed in a manner such that their own weight would carry them through the butchering process, a process that claimed the lives and souls of animals and immigrant workers alike.

The ramp was called the Bridge of Sighs.

Its namesake is in Europe and is, in fact a bridge that once connected a castle to a prison. For condemned prisoners crossing the bridge, the view was breathtaking and final. So, unlike most real and symbolic bridges that begin journeys and lead to new places, the Bridge of Sighs was both a real and figurative bridge of sorrow.

I walked on such a bridge for a while before I even realized I was on it. As if in a grandiose daydream about fulfilling the immense potential I just knew I had, I awakened one day to realize that I was old. And stuck on this one-way bridge.

My husband was with me, walking beside me, our respective addictions different, mutually maddening, and conveniently symbiotic. He would spend eighteen hours in his; I would spend eighteen hours in mine. Or, alternatively, I would spend eighteen hours looking for what he was looking for. On the internet.

I deemed my addiction to be more mysterious, exciting, and therefore glamorous. Heroin has a rich history, I reasoned, and since its users often included artists and writers, the arrogance of its associated culture is justified. My husband’s internet pornography addiction, on the other hand, is relatively new to the addiction scene, and therefore undeserving of its newfound stature. Plus, I had a solid justification: what woman wouldn’t drink or use when her husband is constantly looking at other women on the internet.

Upon settling into our respective comfort zones on the bridge of doom together, my husband and I began to experience, gradually and almost imperceptibly, what they call in physics an increase in entropy. Our lives were disordered and falling apart in increments that carried significant additive impact.

For example, we never seemed to have a clean pair of matching socks that had been neatly placed in the sock drawer, fresh from the dryer. At some point it was apparent that we would never have clean, matching, folded socks. We settled for this. We bought new socks.

In similar senseless fashion, we tried to compensate for our increasing and irreversible disorganization. We would pay our heat bill but the water would be turned off. We would pay our water and the lights would be turned off. There was never any gas in the car. We were always looking for loose change. Our phone was turned off more than it was on. The trash and dirty clothes piled up. Weeds grew. One entire winter, we had no hot water. We could never completely fix the car. For some reason, everything seemed to cost a thousand dollars that we did not have. Fines. Late fees. Twenty-nine percent interest payday loans. Each time we were on the verge of eviction we would throw a hail Mary pass and hawk something. Together, we moved more and more to society’s outer margins, to survival mode. Both of us were exhausted all the time. Making love took too much energy anymore.

Just when we thought life could not get any worse, it always did.

We continued to dream about all of the massively important things we would do someday. It was lost on us that we were on a bridge. Going nowhere. Without socks.

My parents walked patiently and lovingly beside me on the bridge, because that is what parents do when they love their children.

Brothers and sisters at times assumed an active role in pushing, pulling, shoving or kicking me off the bridge, knowing what was best for me. The solution for them was simple, jump off and swim away, but the more they pushed, the more I pushed back. Inevitibly, a part of me wanted to stay.

I tried a myriad of delay tactics on the bridge. I would use drugs so I would not drink. I would drink so I would not use drugs. I would work more jobs. Exercise more. Cut my hair. Plan a move. I quit using drugs and began drinking heavily. Liquor store hours determined my schedule. I never felt well. I never slept. I felt sick, worthless and ashamed all of the time. I was afraid to answer the phone, the door, the mail.

My debt to everyone was too great ever to make things right with anyone. My mantra was this: Tomorrow will be different. It never was.

My son walked beside me on the bridge. He cried, tugged, and begged me to leave. All he ever wanted was to see his mother happy, so he loved me and walked with me.

That I was on the bridge at one time only became apparent or important when I was no longer on it. In retrospect, the bridge was a journey of dying while living, of beating the odds, and existing. But it was not the fear, or pain, or screaming or struggling that gently lifted me to safety.

Perhaps it was the silence. The silence at the end of the Bridge of Sighs.

17 Responses to The Bridge of Sighs

  1. fauxmccoy says:

    beautiful, powerful words, crane. thank you for sharing them with us.

  2. ay2z says:

    Crane, I have seen the cattle walking the ramp, unplanned but it’s a sight that is normally away from public view, as the animals walk up to the top floor to the kill floor. I was on a train that had just arrived and was being shunted around for arrival at the station when I looked out the window. It was dusk, a haunting vision. So too, watching the ponies being herded into the processing plant next to the highway I travelled. A small grey pony in the mixed herd stood out, some child’s pet in the mix. The fear in the prey-flight species means terror and inaccueracy in a quick humane kill as the animals slip and struggle as they hear and smell what is ahead and processors have been urged to alter conditions to manage better, the animal’s stress so they do not suffer emotional and then physical torture.

    It’s well hidden away at night, the activity, and the smells, the lights and the steam from the modern plant, still haunting. Many animals are processed from purpose raised animals, others travel broken and in distress, from the big USA driven need to dispose of animals for profit, and iwhere US regulation does not permit horse slaughter for food. The position of these plants are mid-way from the US border, to the waiting cargo planes in the major city to the north. Most passengers unaware that their flight delay overseas, may be awaiting the fresh horsemeat headed for European dinner plates. That was a plant in plain view, but others pop up in smaller rural communities and were targeted by the night trucks from the states where no one would notice the treatment of injured, sick, unfed and unwatered animals for their trip north.

    The conditions for slaughter of horses is different from non-flight animals. Using simple steps. not giving horses a line sight to what is ahead, by putting a right angle in the entry way, and giving the horses sure footing surfaces so they do not slip and increase panic in the kill box. Keeping the animals calm by not using stocks for cattle that are too low to block a horses view, and keeping them calm so they do no panic and cause the stun to miss.

    IF it must be, watchdogs and whistleblowers must be protected and enough inspection by veterinarians in the plants to ensure humane conditions exist.

    If the bridge of sighs must exist, it must not be a bridge of terror.

    And this takes Crane’s point away from topic, sorry. I found this for you, Crane, never heard of this artist before, and your title has inspired a listen.

    • Oh, thank you for the haunting comment. I often wonder why we have lost our humanity so.

      I have been a fan of Robin Trower since I was a kid, and his song, The Bridge of Sighs, inspired the essay. He says, “Why so lonely why so cold, been a long time passing, the bridge of sighs.”

      My Trower favorite back in the day was Day of the Eagle. He still plays today, I think, came from the Clapton era.

      Day of the Eagle is from the album, Bridge of Sighs:

  3. colin black says:

    Crane you answered a comment on a previous frog gravy essay

    Cant remember witch one.

    Witch is on purpose b t y don’t want to violate Gramma or grammar.

    Tn essence you said you had it easy compared to me.

    Not so an au contraire an all that good shit.

    I never done a hard days time in my life as unlike you I wasn’t a civilian.

    Profesinal crooks see incaseration as a possible outcome for the choices we make.Hence the very true saying.

    If you cant do the time then don’t do the crime.

    I grew up in childrens homes from age 12 .

    I absconded.legged it.

    Commited crimes an ended up in apoved schools/juvie.

    I lived amongs the criminal element and was educated about prison an its culture long before I arrived behind bars.

    So prison was a breeze to me to do easy time you must be extremely selfish an able to disconnect from the outside world..

    Easy to say but hard to do .

    If you have loved ones an Family that you care about its immpossable.
    An your doomed to do hard time .
    Constantly fretting an thinking of life on the out.

    Unable to settle in a routine as you cannot cut the bonds with freedom.

    Luckily I was a selfish bastard an had no loved ones much.

    An certainly no Familly that cared about me an ditto me for them.

    So I was able to put my jail head on an get down an become the semi instituinalsed frame of mind you need to do easy time.

    That’s when the only thing that registars is the first week an the last week.

    An everything else is a blur the days speed up the months fly by as if by will an then your out an chill.

    Civilians tend to do hard time an even worse they carry the scars of there confeinment into the outside world .

    Traffic frightens them crowds frighten them an for some reason time seems to have stopped or slowed down.

    So used to the boredom an inactivity of incaseration.

    To go out for a coffee visit a libray perhaps bump into an old friend an have a chat.

    So much avtivity to them they are conviced an entire day must have ocoured
    An are shocked to find out that barely two hours has passed.

    Think of it this way Crane Prison is an unpleasant experience.

    But none the less its an experience .

    An experience that few as elerquent as you get to experience .

    An the best way to deal with an unjust expriance of the negative is to turn it into a positive.

    You have been into the belly of the beast an defecated out.

    Seen an heard things you would have not thought possssable if not for your arrest an incaseration.

    Remember no confinement dreamed up by others
    No concrete no steel bars can match the prisons we make for ourselves.

    An theres no release date from self imposed prisons unless we smash the walls down our selfs.

    • Fair enough, I’ll give you that then, because it was prison. It was not jail. The problem in this country is, they are caging America into county jails for years at a time. They are turning jails into prisons. The hardest time ever is the county jail hole or cell. The irony is, the most harmless, peaceful people are doing the hardest time- county jail time. People are serving years like that. I never dreamed there would be a day in my life when I would beg to get to prison, but I did.

    • 2dogsonly says:

      Colin black, that is some of the most beautiful and poignant prose I have ever read. Do you have a blog because you clearly have a gift. The 2nd language or typos just adds to it. Reads like old English.

  4. ed nelson says:

    I am sorry I really went off the point, Just to realign it… well… Like nobody will see Violin Ole again, much less see me, but what you said is key… Crane/Rache


    Sorry I went off on my own personall toot there.
    My Grampa is big stuff to me!

  5. ed nelson says:

    Well that’s fine, and dandy… I am the onliest drunk in my family since Grandpa… the orphan from Norway cum sailor/longshoreman/fisherman!! Where would I be without old Ole?

    He was known as “Violin Ole” when he sailed. He played a fiddle, the guy had some huge hands.

    Gramps was a mensche… He played Grieg’s ”Song of Norway”.
    Da dee da dee da da dee da dee… da da dee da deeeeee etc.

  6. You all have thoughtful comments says:

    Thank you for sharing your story, Crane.

    I am so sorry that you fell into that cocaine trap that has harmed so many.

    I have learned so much this year about you, but most importantly, I have learned that your experiences have strengthened your concern and empathy for others, and this you have been using effectively in seeking justice and equality for all.

    I really believe these words that Joan Baez sings:

    • Funny, but it wasn’t cocaine! It was a different drug- heroin. Not that it makes any difference to those in passing, but cocaine was a pet peeve of mine. I hated the folks who were involved with that drug. So, it was overly ironic that I would be charged with possession of crack!

  7. Judy75201 says:

    You are both very intelligent and very flawed people. Like us all. Drugs make decent people become monsters.

  8. Two sides to a story says:

    Ah. Must be very cathartic to write about this. You’re very courageous.

    And socks are the same the world over! : /

  9. renah says:

    Amazing, Crane. Just… well i am at a loss for words.

    No socks!

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