I am on a bridge, crossing a wide river. The bridge is very high above the water, which is deep and running strong. I must walk across the bridge, and as I do it becomes clear to me that the bridge is swaying. There are wide gaps between the planks that make my crossing difficult. People are falling.
I’ve had some version of this dream all of my life, usually in times of anxiety. (Armchair psychologists, fire away — a few dream interpretation websites I’ve consulted seem to suggest that the bridge in the dream symbolizes some sort of a transition, the water, emotions. And the fact that the bridge is collapsing? A clear symbol that I’m all sorts of f*d up.)
Perhaps this dream started due to those diabolical jiggly bridges you see in playgrounds. (They’re called “buckle bridges”, by the way, an accurate moniker and one totally in need of a happy euphemism.) But the dreams have continued because I occasionally confront this type of bridges in my waking life travels. They haven’t been collapsing, but they are ominously shaky in a way that makes me feel the same.
The first time I was on my nightmare dream bridge was in Honduras, near a hot springs in Copan. I hesitated a long moment before walking across; it held just fine. I was a little more primed for danger that day — we were going to sit in agua caliente, after all — but the Arroyo Grande Swinging Bridge came at me out of nowhere during a perfectly fine visit to California that was primarily dedicated to tasting wine.
Okay, so the bridge has actually been there since 1875, so it didn’t really sneak up on anyone, least of all me. It was built to connect two sides of certain family’s land that was divided by a creek just under 200 feet across. The family’s name? Short.
So, for some reason, these Short people decided not to build a nice normal solid bridge, but instead built it swinging. In 1912, the city of Arroyo Grande declared in a nuisance. In 1933, a “cross at your own risk” sign was erected. Years passed. The bridge was vandalized, then it was damaged by a tree. In 1995, it was removed and restored, where it swings to this day.
I traversed this perfectly safe bridge without incident, but not before I read a sign that still haunts my mind. Apparently when this swaying bridge was first constructed, it did not have sides! No sides! Nothing to hang on to, in other words. Am I making myself clear? Nothing to keep a person from plunging down 40 fatal feet into that creek past those pretty marigolds, which, I hardly need to tell you, are the traditional flower of the dead in Latin America.
Yes, the bridge has sides today. Probably the marigolds weren’t there when it didn’t. But my subconscious doesn’t care. It’s been busily incorporating all of this into the plot of my next bridge collapse nightmare.
Sweet dreams to me.
Alison J. Stein
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