Black and White Bridges

Thursday, 4 April 2013

As we drove across the Fremont Bridge, Jana says, “see this is great, what did I tell you, lots of bridges for you to work with”.


I had never been to Portland, Oregon.  Not until that summer for a job interview it was 1996.   Three years earlier before she and Bill had left Kansas City for Portland, I had given her one of my prints for her birthday.  It was a night shot of a bridge in Kansas City crossing the Missouri river.  One of my many photo assignments second year at art school was night photography.  We were all usually up all night anyway and this didn’t take time out of the day away from other studio work.


I thought to myself as I remembered that assignment and how it was probably one of only a couple photographs of bridges I had ever taken.  Eddie was the one that was into bridges.   I met Eddie first year.


“It’s not art, it’s foundations”!  That’s what was penned on the ceiling of our foundations studio.  Foundations was four hours of class 4 days a week and at least 8 hours a day homework, on top of art history, literature and a part-time job.  Eddie was in another studio.  I remember the first time I saw him.  It was orientation.   He was tall, dark hair and green eyes.   How perfect was that?  He had this comfortable rumpled look about him.  I didn’t think much about him after that first day.  I didn’t see him much, just in passing here or there.  Second year was a different story.


I didn’t allow myself think about him very often.  Sometimes I never knew what would trigger the deep ache of missing him.  Today it was those bridges.  It almost always was bridges.  It was many things, but so often I would be alone in car crossing a bridge somewhere and a rush of him would come over me.


As we headed downtown to park for my first visit to Saturday Market memories of 1987 overwhelmed me. Almost ten years.  For some reason I couldn’t escape it that day.  Jana bringing up the bridge print, and the bridges period.   I rarely let myself even think about that year; it wasn’t easy, so much of life happened that year so quickly.


I think I thought that by giving her that picture it was somehow giving away another visual memory I had of that year.  Not that I had it out or that it was part of a portfolio I carried.  It just wouldn’t be there.  I guess I also thought that by moving to Portland, maybe that time in Kansas City finally would be put to rest and behind me.   Although, one of my favorite lines in a movie is, “just because you leave, doesn’t mean your not still in the same god damn place”.  I meet Jana and Bill after graduation.  They were great friends and completely outside of that circle in school.  There was no history, no reminders.  It was fresh and new.


As Jana and I walked through the market, seeing the other bridges, their structure, their grace and age, all I could see were the hundreds of prints and negatives of Eddie’s.  Bridge after bridge after bridge.


The market was a great mix of old and new.  Flee market finds, sitting next to new shiny steel sculptures.  We left the market full of color, craft, leather, steel, and wax.  And a menagerie of characters.  The smell of popcorn and Bento was fading, as walked toward the river to the large sidewalk, or boardwalk.  It was a great day people where everywhere.  We passed people going every direction on foot and all kinds of wheels.  Small ones under their feet, larger ones under their assess.  Today there was no escaping the bridges, no escaping who and what odd connection those structure held for me.


I stopped and walked to a bench near the underneath of the Steele Bridge.  As I looked out at the river I felt the water start to come from the bottom of my eyes, filling my lower lids.  It was warm and familiar, but not welcome.  At any moment, if I didn’t gain control, they were ready to empty.  I needed to let out more than tears.  Jana was a good friend; we had become friends long after Eddie.


Looking out at the water I said, “Eddie was the one who was into bridges”.  Jana says, “who, Eddie?”  “No”, I said, “Eddie Edward’s” At this point, my eyelids could no longer hold the water that was welling up.  As some of it escaped and I looked in Jana’s direction.  “OK, who is Eddie Edwards?” she says.  “The love of my life, he was the father of the child I lost strangely at almost the moment he died”, I said.  I new that for the first time, to anyone, except my therapist; I was going to tell this story.  One that I had kept to myself for almost ten years.  “All right, start at the beginning”, Jana said.


It was sophomore year in school. After several years of failing at traditional college and working jobs that I hated.  I went back to school, art school.   It was a new beginning for me; it was where I wanted to be.  Second year was a little like boot camp.  First year was definitely boot camp.  Second, a little more focused.   About 20 of you are all thrown together in studio class.  Hopefully you learn and fine-tune your talent.  At the time you just think you are making mistakes, crying, laughing, eating bad food, drinking too much, smoking too much and not sleeping.   You are defining yourself as an artist.  You explore emotions and concepts until the moment they surface are foreign to you.  And sometimes, buried deep, you uncover things you never imagined.


As the weeks past, from this group of 20 there were about 8 of us who clicked.  I mean really clicked.  We worked hard and played hard, ate meals together and spent many sleepless nights in one studio or another either behind the camera, in front of the camera, with our fingers in Dektol or shuffling tapes in the edit room.  They called us the “night pass gang”.  You had to have a pass to work in the building after it had been locked at night.  So there we were there every night.  Pushing our selves, pushing each other.  We would be in class everyday about 6 hours.  Most days we would spend another 10 in studio.  Sleep?  Nope, didn’t know what that was.  But it was ok.


Besides that giddy, slaphappy moment you get after a week or so of burning it at both ends, was great fun.  One night we were in the video studio.  I don’t even remember now what we were working on.  But we decided to set up the lights, the camera and three chairs.  Katie, Sara Jane and I took the chairs and dug in.  All I remember is that we were on a roll, and in a matter of a few minutes we had an audience and they were laughing harder than we were.  We went on for at least 20 minutes.  If she didn’t get rid of it, Katie still has that tape.


Anyway, I don’t really know how it happened, but as the semester went by, Eddie and I started spending time alone.  We didn’t plan it, it just happened.  One night in the darkroom it was just he and I.  We found ourselves talking instead of working.  He was rumpled and comfortable. I was really interested in who he was.  What was so damn appealing about him besides the dark hair and green eyes, I had captivated him.  Somehow?  We were glued to each other for hours.  He listened to every word and knew just when to ask for more.  No one had ever listened to me that way.  No one!


The attraction grew past being just friends; I wanted to be with him. And he felt the same.  A relationship was not what I was looking for at the time.  As my brother always says, “when you least expect it, expect it”.


Somehow amongst all the craziness, the long hours in studio, studying and many part-time jobs, no one in the group noticed that we had become more than friends.  As a group we were getting closer, helping each other out with all kinds of things.  Sleeping at each other’s houses, cooking, studying, and hanging out.  I lived in the dorm that year as an RA to save money.  It was fun, but I was 8 years older than most everyone, so I needed out occasionally.  We had all became very close, so it wasn’t unusual for of us to be affectionate with each other.  No one gave a second thought to a hug or even a gentle kiss.


These people were the friends that my Mom had told me about.  “Friends that you will have for the rest of your life”.  She was right about that.  The mystery to me still today is that as close as I was with these people, I have not told any of them this.  In that environment you were vulnerable and exposed.  As the semester moved along the comfort level increased, so did your confidence.  The work that you were doing traveled a little deeper.  As it deepened so did your conviction in what you were doing. But putting my feelings out there were really foreign to me.  Growing up I wasn’t given much of an opportunity to ever say what I was feeling or what I wanted.  That was reserved for my Mother.  So when I got older and tried to stand up for myself it was a disaster.  I didn’t know how to do it without major ramifications.


Art school was for me a cathartic experience.  I was writing and saying things that I had never said or expressed.  I was dealing with death in my family.  I was dealing with a devastating fight that had unfolded between my favorite Aunt, my Mom and me, and my response to that.   I started dealing with these things in my work.  I had nowhere else to sort them out.  Emotionally I was really lost.  The people who I thought supported me the most were battling about me, over me?  I’m not actually sure?


At least at school, such as it was I had an audience.  So I wrote, told stories and tried to define it all by myself.  As the group grew and critique came along the criticism became constructive and respectful, and helpful.  An odd sort of therapy.   It no longer cut to the quick when someone questioned your idea or delivery.  It wasn’t personal anymore.  It was a way of moving through all of it.  Sometimes that objective outside perspective from someone in class who really only knows your name is a godsend.


School was hard and we were so busy, the moments Eddie and I did have alone were the best part.  Christmas break rolled around and we had been together almost 2 months.  We were still a secret.   In school, you were an open book everyday in critique.  You put yourself out there and someone would usually test your resolve.  Test how strong you were getting in dealing with the rejection of your work by peers or the faculty.  So to have this thing, this little secret that no one could comment on was a great balance and exactly what each of us needed.


We never talked about the future. We lived in the moment.  It wasn’t reckless; we just took it as it came.  We didn’t have conditions on each other.  No expectations that we would see each other every day, or call everyday or be together a certain amount of time.


Eddie came back from Christmas break early and we spent 4 days together, just the two of us.  We brought in 1988 alone together in his apartment in bed.  It was the first time he said, “I love you”.   The stolen moments before break between classes and on the weekends just were, but this was different.  This felt right.  The relationship had certainly upgraded.  We had the discussion again.  Do we tell everyone that we are together, let them figure it out or continue to keep it our secret.  It wasn’t that we were obvious, but we also didn’t really hide it.  Maybe because of how it happened, it was just known.  It all seemed so natural.   I wasn’t ready to let go.  Personally, I thought how can they not know, but no one ever asked or questioned us.  I do think Darcy knew though.  He was a little more ready than I was, but we agreed to enjoy the secret a while longer.


Even in high school I wasn’t one to talk about whom I dated or whom I was with.  I had friends who wouldn’t shut up about it.  I just wasn’t that way.  I was never one for having much confidence in sustaining much of a relationship.  I wasn’t even really sure that I knew how to have a real relationship.  So I also wasn’t one to want to talk about it, especially after it ended.   The few that I had.


Growing up I always felt safe and protected, but I did feel like I was the one responsible for taking care of myself emotionally.  So for me even though it was a relationship, it was a solitary thing.


Second semester went fast and all of a sudden it was Spring Break.  I needed to work and make money.  Eddie was off to Arizona to see how much film he could expose.  He offered to take me with him and pay for it.  I needed the money from the work, more than I needed for him to pay my way to Arizona.  Something he could afford to do.


I was so busy over break working that I didn’t even have time to think that we didn’t talk the whole week.  Most of his trip he was camping.  Probably not near a phone.  I was working so much; the week went by pretty fast.  We didn’t talk everyday when we were in school but we hadn’t gone more than two days without at least talking on the phone.  As the week came to an end and I lay in my bed in the dorm I started to get that sinking feeling. You know that heavy feeling where your heart is. That maybe it was over and that maybe it was a good thing that we hadn’t told anyone.  There was that confidence thing again.  This way their wouldn’t be anyone taking sides defending the others feelings.  It was nice while it lasted, it would be all right, but I started to cry.  Then I heard my door open and in a second he was in bed with me…we were OK, better than O.K.  I just adored him. I was totally in love.


The end of the semester is always crazy.  Final exams, final crit and a half a semesters worth of work to get ready, and seven months of the best relationship I had ever had still a secret.   As the semester ended, we all ended up a Eddie’s apartment for a goodbye party.  Everyone was going home for the summer.  The party ended late or early as the case may be.


We wondered what next year be like?  Eddie decided that we needed to live together; we would spend the next week before he went home to Colorado looking for a place.  We would tell everyone at the first party of the year next fall, that we had gotten married and we wanted gifts.  I laughed and thought about what some of them would look like when they found out and then stopped laughing as Eddie got down on one knee.  “Marry me, marry me now”, he said.  I knew he was serious because he had tears in his eyes.  I said, “yes”, kissed him, we made love on the living room floor.


We spent the week sleeping, making love, sleeping and looking for a house or an apartment.  We decided that we wanted a house.  When we found the little house on Jefferson it was perfect.  It was small but it had three bedrooms.  I loved him like crazy but space was important.  His room, my room and our room.  It had a great little back yard with a patio and fence. Eddie signed the papers for the lease saying his parents would pay the rent until school started, we couldn’t lose the house by taking a chance waiting for it to still be available in August.  His plan for months had been to be in Colorado that summer working and traveling.  He needed to go back long enough to tell his parents and he would come back.


My parents had meet Eddie several times, but it was always with some or part of the group.  And at the time the level of communication between my Mom and I wasn’t the greatest.


He was leaving the next day and was going completely out of his way to make the evening special.  Wine, flowers, dinner.  “I’m leaving tomorrow”, he said, “but not unless you marry me before I leave.  We can go downtown, whatever we have to do…marry me tomorrow”.


I woke up the next morning feeling nauseous.  It must have been the wine.  We were married at 10:00 and he left for Colorado at 8:00.  As he drove away I felt content.  It didn’t seem odd that we had just gotten married and he was leaving, he would be back in a week or so to move things into the new house.  He hoped to bring his parents with him then but he wasn’t sure of his Dad’s schedule. Eddie’s Dad was the President and CEO of a very successful brokerage firm in Denver.  I went back to his apartment, cleaned up the dishes, and started to pack his things.  I looked through Eddie’s contact sheets that were out in his studio, hundreds of pages…of bridges, black and white bridges.  It was almost an obsession with him.


I woke up the next morning about 11, got up went to the bathroom and threw up?  That was odd, I thought?  It must be the flu.  I hadn’t allowed myself to be sick all year.  Now that I had the time, guess I could have the flu…great.  I was kind of surprised that Eddie hadn’t called, but with what he had told me about the Edwards household anything could be happening.  I had lots of stuff to do to get myself packed and out of the dorm and still work on getting Eddie’s stuff together.


The day passed, no call, no message.  I went back to Eddie’s house that night, it was after ten.  The house was dark it seemed really empty.  Now that I think about it, I felt awkward, out of place. It was early May so the heat or humidity hadn’t settled in yet.  It was warm but there was this great breeze blowing through the house.  I smelled like summer.  I packed a few more boxes, more bridges.  I stopped, turned on the TV, curled up on the bed and fell asleep.  I wasn’t sure how long I had really been asleep, but I woke to this unbelievable pain ripping through me.  This had to be food poison.  I had never felt such pain.  But if this was food poison, what was the blood about?  I went to the bathroom, cleaned up, put on clean clothes, and drove a few blocks to the emergency room.  It was about three or four when Doctor told me that I had a miscarriage.  It was very early in the pregnancy so I would be fine.  A day or two of rest would be a good idea.  Did I want them to call anyone?  “No. (Pregnant”?).    My heart ached, I wanted Eddie.  I drove back to his apartment.  Soaked the sheets and waited until about 8 and called his house in Colorado; it would be 7 not to early.  I don’t know who answered the phone, but when I asked to speak with Eddie she started crying.  My heart sank, this pain was higher than the last, but as it escalated it rivaled the other.  Someone else came onto the phone, “hello”.  “Hi, is Eddie there, this is Mickey a friend of his from school”.  There was a pause; the woman said, “Eddie was in an accident on his way home from school yesterday…he died early this morning.


All I could get out was o.k. I’m so sorry.  My world had collectively ended.  What I thought would be my future was gone, every little piece of it, gone.  How was I going to deal with this, would I deal with this?


I don’t think I moved or left his house for two or three days.  Then I realized; what did I have?  I had this incredible story, but no one I wanted to tell it to.  Nor did I really think I could tell it.  It was mine.  Selfish I know.  I had an internship and three jobs lined up over the summer.  That would keep me busy.  All of our friends were elsewhere and by now gone.  I would have the entire summer to recover, heal, and get ready for next year.




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