This essay first appeared in Black Hut’s Expressing Bridges, a retrospective on the Golden Gate Bridge.
Late one night, deep into the summer of 1978, my boyfriend decided to climb to the top of the Golden Gate Bridge. He didn’t bother with safety ropes or security nets. He didn’t worry about the ever-present police. The challenge to reach the top, like some siren’s call, drove him to risk his life.
“The wind sounds different up there,” he told me a few days later as we celebrated my sixteenth birthday. “It doesn’t howl or shout. It whispers. And the fog? It’s as thick as the wings of an angel. I swear I could have stepped into the air and it would have held me.”
I don’t know how he did it but my birthday gift was a bolt pried loose from his heavenly perch. As I opened the gift box, he said it was proof. I thought then he meant proof of his love. I remember giggling at the drama of it all. I realized much later, long after we had broken up and were well into our separate lives, he meant proof of his decision to climb back down. Heavy to hold, the bolt has travelled with me all these years. Rust-red paint, the golden that gives the bridge its name, still clings to the metal.
Years after that summer, my boyfriend decided on another adventure. His lips circled a double barrel shotgun and this time his decision was final. A different kind of red clung to that metal.
I wonder now about his climb to the top. Was he challenging God? Pushing his luck? Rising above the chaos below and finally deciding, not tonight? I’ll never know. The bolt he gave me sits on my bookshelf, a reminder of that summer of sixteen and of a man who reveled in dramatic gestures, the kind that make a school girl giggle and woman cry for her lost youth.