Often in our lives we must cross over “troubled waters” and need a bridge to get us there. At two defining moments during my youth, my metaphorical bridge was also a real one: the Paradise Island Bridge in the Bahamas.
As I was researching background for my story, exploring my past, I realized I had not seen this bridge since I was a teenager in the 1980s. Thanks to the internet, I could confirm not only that it was still there, but also that it looked exactly as I remembered it. Google Maps and YouTube were especially wonderful, because they allowed me to vividly re-experience the two specific times in my life that I saw the bridge. It was an incredible feeling to put images to memories and to realize that what I had held so long in my mind alone was reflected in reality.
I first encountered my “bridge over troubled waters” when I was about four years old, but I would neither know nor understand the meaning of that bridge until it came into sight again almost twelve years later. At that time in my early childhood, I was leaving a comfortable life in Nassau, where I was born. My parents had decided to move us back to Haiti; being only a small child, I realized that my parents were making big plans, but of course I did not have the cognitive ability to comprehend the changes that would come with moving to another country. What I did understand, for the first time, was that I was not a good “friend” to change.
I can still remember the bleak, gray weather as we approached the dock, as if the world were inside an old black-and-white television with a grainy picture. Then something sharpened into view: a massive structure which stretched across the water from island to island. Later I learned that this was the Paradise Island Bridge, which connects several of the Bahamas islands together. On one end lies Paradise Island, less charmingly known as Hog Island until a wealthy developer decided to turn it into the Atlantis resort. But this was only May 1972, and the vacationer’s dream that Paradise Island would become was still under construction.
Twelve years later, I had been living in Haiti for quite some time and was fast growing into a young man. My father was long dead, and I had not seen my mother since she had moved to the United States seven years before. By this point, I had all but forgotten about my time in the Bahamas. My life was in Haiti; I had compartmentalized the Bahamas as some different, distant world under another Caribbean sky.
Then when I was fifteen, my uncle sent me to join my mother in Florida. I was already reluctant to leave my home; and on the way to America, our boat encountered one of the fiercest tropical storms ever to hit the southern Bahamas. The storm was so strong and I was so inexperienced with seafaring that I was convinced we weren’t going to make it out alive.
I remember the feeling when the storm’s rage finally gave way to the calm Caribbean Sea again just as the sun was setting. I stood on the side of the boat, watching for glimpses of silver-backed flying fish above the sea and starfish below. I could feel the warmth of the ocean. I listened to the soothing buzz of the engine, which only a short while earlier had terrified me with the prospect that it would be lost. It was hard for me to believe that the boat was still right-side up!
My daydream was interrupted by a crew member who announced that he had caught sight of the Bahamas. The flood and danger of the storm had in no way prepared me for the flood of emotions which hit me then. As I looked ahead, I saw a big white structure like a long, curving snake with feet dangling toward the ocean. It was then that I remembered the bridge I had seen over a decade earlier. It now had two bridges, as they had built a second parallel bridge in the years since I had left, but it was unmistakably the same bridge that I had associated with a time of great change.
As the structure rose in front of me, solid and strong, I was certain the storm was behind us—and that I would make it to Miami and see my mother again.
Is there a physical structure or particular location that you associate with certain childhood memories? What does it represent for your life?