At first we are reduced to the make and model of my sister’s rust-laced Camry, which appears on digital screens across the city. The cameras are just far enough away that viewers cannot read our license plate or identify who we are.
I am hungry and unafraid.
Dee pulls at the wheel, unable to move now. She slouches, the car slouches. When a drone camera zooms in, the barrage of Facebook posts about the family on the bridge begins. The world sees us. I uninstall Messenger and open Twitter in one tab and the local news in the other.
The skin around Mom’s eyes looks like bunched up sheets — her face is magnified onscreen; each of our faces are magnified.
She offers me a warm smile and a gentle arm squeeze in real-time. Her skin is like cold butter.
My own face stares up at me, and I put down my phone.
Day-to-day, I am always afraid. I am afraid of making eye contact, of blushing, of panic, of people who watch me eat, of botching my words when I order at Starbucks.
But we are on a crumbling bridge, hugging the edge of life as the other side of the road cracks and crumbles, yawns and growls. The bridge swallows itself slowly, savoring; possibly, it will swallow us, and I am exceedingly calm.
I return the arm squeeze.
We were readying ourselves for a family reunion, and groceries surround me, so I look for a snack.
My phone buzzes, and I can’t help it. “Live load capacity is supposed to be 4,000 lbs. How does this happen?” a commentator writes. The message scrolls across my screen.
“Too many freezes and too many SUVs,” someone Tweets.
I used to wish for natural disasters. I would pray for torrential downpours so that I didn’t have to go outside and play with my cousins. I would watch the weather channel, hoping central Ohio would get just enough of a tornado to scare off our family reunions. Sometimes, I’d hope for such things to avoid school.
My uncles and aunts congratulate me for doing well in school because they don’t realize I often hide in the bathroom at lunch to avoid the other kids. I sometimes hide in the bathroom to avoid my aunts and uncles, too. I wonder how proud that would make them.
Mom’s psychologist says I need to face fears. My avoidance is textbook. Meanwhile, not much has changed in over a year of visits, so maybe she needs to reread the text. She tells me to act despite fear.
Mom points out a helicopter. I ask her what she feels, if it’s hope.
“I don’t feel anything right now, honey.” Her voice, flat, suggests the truth of this statement. My sister is crying; I pat her shoulder.
I upend a bag of dried kale, allowing it to fall into my mouth. Green crumbles race down my shirt, and I look up. Our car tilts toward the middle of the bridge as though in response to my movement. We are all very still.
“Boy looks exceedingly calm,” someone reports.
“Think the boy ate the desiccant,” someone Tweets.
“Ray’s Kale has a new sponsor,” someone responds.
“Too early,” someone responds to the response.
Too early. Fear tickles my palms as I read. I am being watched, closer than ever. Worse, I need to spit.
The helicopter seems to make things worse when it gets too close. The ground sags beneath us as a ladder descends. We are told to move quickly. I feel the small beaded bag in my mouth, bite down accidentally as we are pulled up and the car slides, then falls toward the water below. Cameras abound, invade.
I have no choice, so I look a drone in its blinking green eye, and I spit. I am almost to safety but enchanted by the way the small beads scatter like dull glitter in the air.
I am thirsty and unafraid.
Jen Knox is a community writing program director and the author of After the Gazebo. Her work can be read in The Istanbul Review, Room Magazine and The Saturday Evening Post. Find Knox at www.jenknox.com