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All it took was a quiet tiptoe through the silent house, a couple block jog out of the subdivision, and a peaceful walk through the tramped down path in the woods to get to the bridge. The girl knew the route by heart—growing up, it had always been her favorite place to go and escape from the world. But she hadn’t been there since the day of the accident, four years ago. She’d been just a small, naïve 12 year old when she discovered the car flipped upside-down in the ravine below.

However, it was this fateful middle-of-the-night she decided to return and face her fears, for better or for worse.

The bridge loomed in front of her like a bad omen. The paint on the wrought iron railing was chipped and worn. Everywhere except one spot, where a five foot strip had clearly been replaced in the recent years. This was it. The spot where it had all ended for her mother. Right there, right in front of her. It was real. For all these years she’d hoped— prayed—that it was all a bad, bad dream and she’d wake up from this nightmare to find her mother at the foot of her bed ready to comfort her. Much to the girl’s disappointment, this wasn’t the case.

The girl’s eyes grew weary. Her body shuddered as she struggled to maintain her breathing. She pulled out the inhaler from the pocket of her UCLA hoodie and took a puff before capping it and tucking it away. Her breathing steadied after a few moments and she regained her composure. This was it, it was now or never. She took a deep breath, and took a step onto the bridge.

She was trembling, each step she took feeling like a million miles but in reality moving only an inch. Every forward movement felt like resisting gravity. Her eyes were bleary with tears and suddenly she couldn’t see. She tripped, falling into the fetal position, clawing at the pavement as if it would just crumble away and consume her. Anyone watching the girl would think she was insane.

But they did not know the dark past she kept buried deep inside.

The sky was overcast and a drizzly mist had been set upon the air. The only light was supplied by a bright waning moon that disappeared then reappeared as the rain clouds above moved along in disregard. Down below, the river’s slow trickle sped and the flowing water sloshed side to side like in a shaken bottle. Swish. Slosh. A churning repetition that never halted, not for anything nor anyone.

Still on the ground, legs tucked into her chest, the girl pressed her palms against her temples as if it would block everything out. She hated the noise. Hated it with every bone and muscle in her body. If it were a machine making the noise she would have threw it as far and as hard as possible, hopeful that it would hit a tree or a rock and break into million pieces.

And she couldn’t help the thoughts that flooded her mind. Is this what the water sounded like while her mom plunged into it with her car? Was she knocked unconscious by the impact of hitting the railing? Did it hurt? What did drowning and slowly losing oxygen feel like? How could water be so vital to life yet such a dangerous component at the same time? She became angry with herself, angrier than she had ever been before.  First, because she wasn’t there to save her mom, second because it was her mother who had to suffer, not her, and third because she’d been so selfish all these years for not even being able to visit the last place her mother ever did.

The girl let go of her head and clutched her stomach, rolling over into her side and gasping for the much needed air. In and out, in then out. It hurt so badly. She wished she could’ve stayed there forever, and slowly fade into the pavement before disappearing completely.

Get up, she told herself. She willed her body up and limped over to the railing. Slowly, taking her time. Reluctant to look at the murderous creature that lie below. At the railing, she placed both hands in a wide stance on the replaced section, not looking down. She forced herself, if not to face her fear, then out of respect for her mother, and looked over the edge. The river flowed rapidly yet beautifully. It looked… peaceful. Everything was going to be fine, she told herself.

But it wasn’t. Because her mother was still gone, and there was nothing she could possibly do to bring her back. She pictured the car free falling 50 feet into the water with her mother trapped inside, flailing her body, trying to break free. But she couldn’t. The girl’s breathing constricted and everything went black.

The girl opened her eyes. She woke in bed with her small frame trembling and covered in a blanket of sweat. Except the girl was actually me. I wiped the tears that were dripping down my face and calmed my breathing. It was just a dream.

However, it wasn’t ‘just a dream’ like everyone said. Because it really did happen, and she really did die.

I glanced around my room, looking at the pictures of me at ages 12 and under posing goofily alongside my mother and cracked a smile. The one picture of her that caught my eye the most was of the two of us, midday, leaning on the railing of the bridge. The sun shone down through the trees making my mother look like an angel. And she was. And wherever she is now, she was an angel looking down upon me. Somedays, the good thoughts outweighed the bad, but others days it was the opposite. And those other days scared the life out of me.

This is my reality. The life I’ve lived for four years straight. Except I will never, not ever, go to that bridge. A dream is the closest I’ll get.

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