The sign announcing Last Exit Before Bridge, does so with a certainty, that I too felt until the moment it appeared. Beads of sweat, trembling, and ragged breathing – Are you kidding me? Looking for a replacement to panic, I gaze at the braid of Manatoulin sweetgrass hanging around my rearview mirror. This ever-present reminder of my Anishnaabekwe moon sisters in Northern Ontario causes a quick sip of breath. Clear green eyes framed by the proof of many blessings, deepens relief, with with one full inhalation.
In my mind, a few remaining crumbs on a pale peach tablecloth that once belonged to my grandmother. I breathe in again and this time, the slow exhale scatters them away. You know you’re ready. You can do this.
As if to prove a point, my foot squeezes down causing my car to lurch towards a tangle of vehicles that lead to the lower deck of the George Washington. Judging by the degree of disorder in front of the bridge, it’s a good thing I gassed up before leaving. Beads of condensation hint at the refreshment contained in the bottle of raspberry iced tea in my cup holder. I opt for some sugar-free Juicy Fruit instead. The sound of gum popping out of the blister pack, is accompanied by a bubble of laughter at an unpleasant memory of playing the odds with a fifty three year old bladder in standstill traffic.
With all senses now fully alert, a sustained syncopation stands out from the more random car horns. Stalking the sound, I spy a middle-aged man in a dark green Jaguar. He is repeatedly slamming the caramel colored steering wheel with one hand, as the other leans steadily on and off the horn. Intrigued, I am unable to look away from the slightly obscene intersection, between the intricately patterned detail of fine leatherwork, and the manicured hand striking it. As he continues to do so, he is yelling something repeatedly, which thankfully I can’t hear. I wonder if he is aware that his clearly moisturized, red, and contorted face is, sending projectiles of spit from his mouth. My response to him is oddly sad. I thank him for the reminder to ‘accept the things we can’t control’, and offer the slightest prayer of safety for his love ones, before moving my attention instead to a late model, metallic grey Chevy Malibu.
Inside, a woman with luxurious black hair, and skin the color of golden flaxseeds is fully engaged with two gregarious brown-eyed boys. We smile at each other as the curly haired youngsters, who look a lot like her, continue to take turns tapping their small fists playfully on the back of the front seat. Each time she laughs, the diamond in her nose twinkles in the sun, giving the impression that they are lighting her up with knock-knock jokes.
We make our way forward. The laughing woman with the boys waves, as they move into the line in front of me before traffic comes to a standstill once again. The man in the Jaguar, who’s honking seems to have lost some steam, is no longer visible.
When I first returned to this area after living in Canada for so many years, sitting in this level of noise filled frustration would have completely unnerved me. Now, I simply stretch my arms up over my head and pull forward on the headrest to release a single knot of tension along with a sigh. My left foot holds the brake, while my right ankle circles clockwise then counterclockwise before relieving its stand in. The congestion clears just enough to create an influx of uplift.
I had recognized those cake crumbs that blew away. They were remnants from a lemon infused pound cake drizzled with white icing. That was one beautiful cake. Having passed by the recipe several times, there was something that kept drawing me back. The picture held a hint, like a wink, or a nudge that seemed to suggest all the extra steps would be worth the effort.
The whole house smelled wonderful as it cooled provocatively on the counter, announcing a perfect balance of sweet, and tart. I was insanely happy every time I passed by, thinking about where it was headed, and why. The next day, once unwrapped, sliced, and eaten, it fulfilled every promise it had ever made. The texture was moist, the flavor divine. Of course, it had been made all the more special by the fact that it was the first cake we had eaten together in twenty-five years.
After all that time, thinking I would never see him again except in my dreams, and there he was. Even now, years later, I can still see his deep mocha hand holding the fork as it brought that first golden bite to his lips. The sight of his nails, which had always reminded me of open paper fans hugging those elegant fingers, connected to me through that cake … well, it was so intimate. It had brought tears to my eyes and made it impossible to breathe.
The bottleneck broke suddenly for no apparent reason. Quit stalling. It’s now or never! I place the Bluetooth in my ear and press one on speed dial. Hearing the sound of the familiar recording reminds me it has been four years since I sat atop this particular bridge the first time. Of course, back then I had been coming from the opposite side, and headed in an entirely different direction.
The realization that I am about to cross over far more than the Hudson River causes me to miss the beep. I press redial. The blue light blinks expectantly. One quarter of a century. Just speak from the heart. You are exactly where you are meant to be. Quit stalling!
“Hey. It’s me. It’s December thirty first and I’m stuck in traffic on the GWB.”