It was one of those hot, dusty days that seem to a 13 year old to last forever. They sat silently on the porch swing sipping lemonade and contemplating how to make the most of their waning summer vacation.
School was scheduled to start in a week. They both knew what they had to do. They had to cross that bridge. It was a tradition. If they were every going to amount to anything in life, they had to cross that bridge before they started the 8th grade.
The bridge in question was an abandoned covered bridge. The county had replaced it with a modern bridge that didn’t look like a bridge at all. The road leading up to the bridge had been abandoned as well. At one time, it was gravel, but the gravel had been ground into the dirt. Now, it was just a dusty trail through the woods.
When they finished their lemonade, they nodded to each other, stuffed their hands deep into their pockets, and solemnly walked toward the bridge. They didn’t speak. Each wondered if they could pass the test. Neither wanted to admit to fear. But, when they found the trail, they instinctively clutched each other’s hand.
Sunshine found the silence deafening. “Billy, do you think we’ll make it?” Billy, pretending to be strong, squeezed her hand to reassure her. He was secretly glad that once again she had been the first to admit fear. He spoke words of courage and comfort and strength. . .words he didn’t believe. . .words that sounded good to Billy.
As they approached the bridge, their hearts began to pound. The bridge crossed a creek swollen with water in the spring and dry in the summer. They had heard stories of previous crossings. Lots of kids had fallen through the rotting planks and gotten bruised and scraped. A few fell through the gaping holes in the floor boards and broke an arm or a leg on the rocks below. One kid had drowned when the spring current pulled him under.
That afternoon, the creek was barely a trickle of water. The bridge was dark inside like a long tunnel. They had to be still awhile to see the light from the other side. The planks on the bridge’s floor resembled a spider’s web ready to trap them and swallow them alive. The rocks below looked like bone-crushing boulders.
They were scared. Deep inside their souls, they knew that by traversing the perils lurking within the darkness of that bridge they would leave their childhood fears behind and find the light.
Bolstered by Billy’s courageous speech, Sunshine ventured first onto the bridge. She trembled with her first cautious step. The plank beneath her foot was solid. She gingerly took another step and was relieved to find another solid plank beneath her foot.
“Come on, Billy. This isn’t so bad,” she urged him to follow her lead. She thought Billy was just a few steps behind. But, Billy was still trying to marshal his courage. As the distance grew between Billy and Sunshine, so did his panic.
About halfway across the bridge, Sunshine discovered Billy wasn’t behind her after all. Billy hadn’t taken his first step onto that bridge! Feeling betrayed, she snarled at him. Billy’s fear turned to anger. He stepped onto the bridge. Luckily, his first few steps landed on solid planks. But, his luck didn’t hold. He stepped onto a rotting plank. The plank gave way a bit. Billy stopped. He was paralyzed by fear. He wanted to cry out for help, but his pride wouldn’t let him.
Sunshine knew it would be no good if she rescued Billy. He had to make it across that bridge on his own. By now, she was almost across the bridge. She wasn’t about to risk the perils of turning back. She desperately wanted him to have the courage to cross that bridge. She needed for him to make it to the other side.
She knew Billy could do it. Hadn’t he made that brave little speech that had given her confidence and courage? She didn’t know, however, that Billy had been bluffing. So, she said all the wrong things trying to encourage Billy. He remained paralyzed by fear. He watched his friend and admired her courage. He knew she was slipping away from him. He didn’t want her to leave him behind.
Finally, she reached the other side. He could see the sunlight on her hair. It looked like a halo. She turned and smiled and tried to cheer him on, “Come on, Billy! I know you can do it! If I can do it, so can you. Please, Billy. Please.” Billy didn’t want her to see him cry so he choked back the tears. He couldn’t hear her whispered pleas for him to keep trying. He didn’t know how lonely and abandoned she felt.
In time, they both knew Billy wouldn’t cross the bridge that afternoon. Billy retreated for home alone down the dusty trail. Sunshine advanced along the trail to the waterfall. Her victory was bittersweet without her pal, her best friend, her confidant. She watched rainbows dancing with the falls, but their omens of good fortune were lost on her.
Billy and Sunshine saw each other from time to time. But, it was never the same again. Before that fateful day at the bridge, they had dreamed of going to law school together. Sunshine got an MBA instead and had a brilliant career as a consultant. Eventually, she married a publisher. Billy went to law school, and became a judge.