I wasn’t much of a delinquent as a kid.
Somehow, I kept my crazy ideas to myself, spending my days in the barely existent library of Columbia Independent School.
But, every once in a while, the teachers would open the doors and my friends and I would pour outside.
When I was a scrawny, awkward seventh grader with wavy hair and crooked teeth, CIS rested in Hickman Hall on the Stephen’s College campus. Said campus was (and still is) sprinkled with bridges that connected the buildings above the bustling streets, and each one led to a new venture.
The bridges always tempted my semi-controlled “wild side.” My friends jumped on my back and we would have races back and forth across a bridge, trying to see who had the most strength and endurance.
My buddies would squeal in surprise and excitement as they tipped precariously close to the edge of the bridge, staring down at the passing cars below. Then our P.E. teacher would catch us, sending us giggling back to the cafeteria across the street.
Every crossing was a different story. There was one man who gained infamy among my friend group, simply because he was a Stephen’s Bridge crosser. We would see him every day, right before P.E., leaned against the stone and bricks. He was always holding a Rt44 slushie from Sonic, usually cherry, and a baseball cap rested atop his ginger hair. Standing on the Stephen’s Bridge, he would stare us down as we passed. Sometimes, he was even muttering into an old-fashioned flip-phone.
Thus, we immediately deemed him, “The Stephen’s Stalker.”
The “Stalker” helped us pass time, in the weird way only inside jokes can. We spent our winters, springs and autumns running across the bridges, sprinting from cafeteria to school, school to park, park to college center. We passed the “Stalker” and carefully averted our eyes, squeaking silly things like, “What if he follows us?” or “That slushie has to be twice the size of his head!”
We would make “dessert runs” in the early afternoon, skipping across the bridges with brown napkins in hand. Oatmeal raisin cookies, sometimes up to four per person, were hoarded from the cafeteria, and we carried them back to Algebra as the older boys told us jokes and the girls traded fashion tips. Not that we knew the first thing about fashion. We were fourteen, for goodness’ sake.
The bridges, in those early years of my life, were an obscure symbol of freedom, of taking the first steps towards adult responsibility. It was along those railings that I discovered the world around me, as taught by emerald green grass, dirty sidewalk pavement, and trash tossed onto screeching trucks below. I raced the rain and helped dry my best friend’s tears, as she and I braved the traumas that come with the unknown.
I didn’t know it then, but the bridges weren’t just a literal connection from one street to another. They were a tunnel from childhood to adolescence, and they made the rocky road just a little bit smoother.
By Lauren Puckett