December 5, 2016 • Sarah Jean Gosney
I never had been afraid of heights, but I thought now might be a good time to start.
I was looking up at the train bridge where my friend stood, waiting for me to climb up so we could walk across. She’d already decided that we were going to cross it, or at least walk out on it, but I was having trouble complying. She grinned at me in her characteristic Cheshire Cat smile, and I realized she wasn’t going to relent. I reminded myself that I’d brought my camera. The view was bound to be amazing.
I looked nervously out onto the four lanes of Cumberland Avenue and then across the river. In moonlight its surface looked glassy and cold. My heart began to pound.I took a deep breath, grabbed her outstretched hand, and climbed up. Trying not to look to either side, I placed one booted foot carefully in front of the other. I focused on each wooden beam as I took steps, but I couldn’t help glimpsing the slits of ground I could see between them. We walked farther onto the bridge, out past the grass and above the road.
My heart leaped into my throat. It was scary walking above the grass, I could still fall over the side and tumble down the hill, but it was a different story entirely walking above the road. This was Cumberland Avenue, a six lane road that started at downtown and made its way through the entire city of Knoxville. Suddenly I felt less sure of my step.
“I don’t know, are you sure it’s safe up here?”
“Come on, it’s fine. If it can support a train it can support a few little girls,” she said.
We kept walking until we reached the part of the bridge above the yellow dividing lines on the road.
“Maybe we should stop here,” I called to my friend.
“Uh, yeah okay,” she said.
I could tell by the strain in her voice that her confidence was starting to falter too. We both walked a few steps farther and then sat down where we stood.
I felt much calmer and more stable the moment my butt touched the wooden slats. We both dangled our legs over the metal tracks out above the road. I looked over to my friend, and we both burst into giggles.
“I can’t believe you convinced me to do this,” I said. “I don’t know why I’m so freaked out. I’m not even afraid of heights.”
“Yeah? This…this is something else. What do you think?” she asked.
“It’s…incredible. And terrifying.” I looked up and saw a smile on her face.
“You know, I’m afraid of heights,” she said.
“No way! Are you serious?”
“Terrified of them. That’s why I wanted to come out here.”
“What, are you crazy? I’m not afraid of heights, and I’m still about to lose my lunch up here.”
I looked out over the road with its yellow glow from the streetlights. There was almost no traffic since it was a week night. She reached into her backpack and produced two beers.
“You know Andrew walks across this bridge every day to get to class,” she said, handing me one of the bottles.
“You’re kidding,” I said, twisting off the cap.
“Nope. Completely serious. And he does it with those beat up shoes in the rain, in the ice, in the snow. You know he’s crazy.”
“Well at least there are no trains crossing it.”
“No, it’s still active actually.”
“Wait, what?” I asked.
“Yeah, trains still use this bridge all the time.”
“You’re not serious! Why the hell are we on here?” I asked, looking down the tracks, expecting to see a train barreling toward us. Luckily I was disappointed. I took a sip of beer.
“Eh calm down, calm down. There are no trains coming now. And if one does we have plenty of time to run back.”
“Run? You expect me to run across this thing?!”
“Only if you’re about to get crushed by a train,” she said.
We sat in silenec for awhile, watching cars pass beneath us. After about a dozen passed, I looked up at her.
“It’s so weird looking down on all these cars knowing they have no idea that we’re up here.”
“It is strange, isn’t it?” she said.
“They have no idea. It makes me want to throw a paper airplane at them or something. Not that they’d know where it came from,” I said and shrugged.
“Hey, you want to walk out above the river?” she asked.
“Are you kidding? Hell no I don’t!” I said.
She laughed. “Good, me neither.”
The walk back off the bridge was even more terrifying than walking onto the tracks the first time. Instead of getting used to the height and the threat of falling, I seemed to have gotten more aware of the danger. Once we made it safely to solid ground, we both let out a sigh of relief. She then pulled me into a bear hug.
“I can’t believe we just did that!” she said.
“It was your idea!” I said and laughed. “It was pretty crazy though.”
“I’m a madwoman,” she said, widening her eyes and baring her teeth in a half smile, half grimace.
“And I’m lucky that you are,” I said as we started walking back toward campus.
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