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Met a kid on a bridge last night...

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Main Street in Skidmore, Missouri, the notorious bully Ken Rex McElroy was gunned down in broad daylight in front of nearly fifty witnesses after a town meeting, but yet not a single person could provide any information as to who fired the shots. A paramilitary compound near Smithville, Arkansas, where federal agents killed Posse Comitatus member Gordon Kahl at the conclusion of an extensive manhunt after a shootout in Montana left two US Marshals dead. And the old Chain of Rocks Bridge near St. Louis, Missouri, the site of a brutal murder of two teenage girls that were tossed off the bridge into the murky waters below as easily as one discards a paper cup after draining the contents on hot summer day. These are some of the stories with which I grew up as a teenager in southern Missouri. As an adult I've felt compelled to visit such sites over the years. I've never really understood why... almost like paying respect to those who've been immortalized by the stories, regardless of whether they deserved such recognition or not. In preparation for my visit to the Chain of Rocks Bridge, I preserved a rose. I decided to leave the rose on the rail where the bridge makes a twenty-two degree turn... the site where the two girls had been thrown to their deaths. A token of love and lost opportunities to two people I'd never met. A preserved rose that would last forever, for two people who'd been dead for twenty-five years. I assumed the compulsion was the result of yet another destroyed relationship in my own life. Some sick fantasy or delusion that perhaps one of these two girls would have been someone with whom I could have built a relationship that would have weathered the rough waters as the old bridge had weather all the Mississippi River had to offer. The bridge has long been closed to traffic, but has been opened to pedestrians and bicyclists as a point of interest due to it's unique features. I arrived long after dark on a muggy August evening in which thunderstorms loomed in all directions making the air thick and heavy... normal for this time of year in this part of the country. I parked my van in the empty parking lot, took the rose off the passenger seat, and began my short walk out onto the bridge. The old yellow lights on the bridge illuminated the haze in all directions, but did a relatively poor job of lighting the bridge itself. As I walked in silence, listening to the sounds of the Mississippi River below me, I heard the sound of an aluminum can striking the concrete. I noticed someone sitting on the rail at the bend in the bridge. As I grew closer, I noticed it was a young man, most likely in his early twenties. He was large and thick... like a lineman for a large high school or small college football team. He wore an old pair of faded denim jeans, ratty tennis shoes, and a red and white football jersey with the sleeves tight around his biceps... number 72. He was seated straddling the rail right at the twenty-two degree bend facing out towards the water. On the rail in front of him were five unopened beer cans lined up like little soldiers awaiting orders that they would blindly follow to their deaths. On the surface of the bridge below him were their six fallen comrades... not thrown, crushed, or tossed, but simply drained and dropped without any thought or purpose. The twelfth was wrapped in the young man's massive right hand as he drained the can of it's contents in silence. He'd yet to even acknowledge my presence and I could tell by the look of his face that he'd been crying. I asked him if everything was alright and he responded with three questions in succession without hesitating for an answer. His speech was slow and deliberate. He wanted to know who I was, why I was there, and if "she" had sent me. I told him I was a lonely traveler who'd come to the bridge to pay my respects to lost friends and that I didn't even know who "she" was. I placed the rose on the rail a few feet in front of him and looked out over the water. Perhaps my approach made him feel at ease or the amount of beer consumed was beginning to wear away on his emotions... whatever the cause, he began to talk. He talked about his girlfriend... her long black hair, big brown eyes, and a smile that could move mountains. He talked about how they'd met in high school and all the things they used to do together... how she'd drift off to sleep in his arms while they stayed up late watching movies on the couch at her mother's house. He talked about how she'd stayed home after high school and taken a job at a daycare while he went away to college to play football on scholarship. He talked about how he'd just found out she was pregnant, but instead of it being the beginning of their life together, she was getting an abortion and told him she didn't want to see him anymore. He talked about his parents, with whom he still lived while home from college, and how he argued with them over his girlfriend. Apparently they disapproved of his girlfriend, but I never found out why as I didn't want to interrupt him and the only sounds I made were the occasional "uh-huh" and "yeah" to let him know I was still listening. I doubt my gestures would have made any difference as I felt he'd have had this conversation at this particular point in time regardless of whether or not I'd been present. He talked and drank and drank and talked. He emptied one can after another and dropped them effortlessly to join the ranks of fallen soldiers below him. His mood waffled back and forth like a soccer ball between anger at one goal and sorrow at the other. He was very intimidating when angry. His muscles would tense and his cold blue eyes would disappear as he scrunched his face in anger. His thick lips would all but disappear as they were pulled tightly against his teeth as he talked. Then moments later he'd be sobbing like a child who'd just discovered his dog had been hit by a car, limp and helpless, snot running down his nose, and convulsing as he took deep inward breaths. I'd never met this young man before, but I knew him and I knew his story. I knew his pain and sorrow. I knew his anger and frustration. I knew him better than he knew himself. I also knew that he'd just opened the last little soldier and the beer remaining within that can was the last bit of sand in the hourglass of his life. I knew what had brought him there and I knew it was time for me to talk. I told him I knew why he was there and that he couldn't carry out his plans. I told him about the two women that had lost their lives on that bridge and how the many lives they'd been meant to touch had gone on untouched in their absence. I told him his life had a greater purpose and that he was on this earth to help his fellow man... that if he could touch one person and bring meaning to their life everything would make sense. I told him the things that had happened to him were what shaped him, formed him, and made him who he was... although painful, they made him a better man. I talked and talked and talked... and he listened silently. He wiped the tears from his eyes with his club-like hands and set the half empty beer on the rail. He swung his left leg over the rail onto the bridge as if dismounting a horse and walked towards me as I stood there frozen in time... half in fear of what he might do when he reached me and half in awe that he'd left the rail, and the beer, on the side of the bridge and not the side of the river. He was bigger than I thought... more like a lineman from a large college football team. He held his massive arms out, wrapped them around me, and began to sob again. I stood there dwarfed in his arms as his giant tears fell to my shoulder. After a few moments, he regained his composure and said, "thank you, sir." He then turned back towards the beer and reached out to pick it up. Without thinking, I grabbed his arm and somehow stopped it's forward progress prior to his giant hand reaching the beer. I told him I thought we should just let that one stand. We left the half empty beer and the rose on the rail and turned to walk back towards the parking lot. Both of us looking down at the surface of the old weathered bridge beneath the yellow lights with our hands stuffed deep into our pants pockets. Lightening from distant thunderstorms illuminated the horizon, but I barely even noticed. As we reached the parking lot, he spoke again... firing off three more questions without waiting for a response. I could sense "buyer's remorse" in his voice. He wanted to know how I knew he had a purpose, how I knew he would be able to help someone else, and how I could be so sure when I didn't even know him. We stood there motionless at the edge of the dimly lit bridge. Two complete strangers who's paths had crossed at the perfect moment in time. I took a deep breath, looked him straight in the eyes and told him I knew because my wife had left me a few months ago and HE had just saved MY life.

Posted on Aug 28, 2006 at 08:39 PM Like Reply / Add Comments Quote Report
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very touching, it was a pleasure reading this. shelly

Posted on Aug 29, 2006 at 07:01 PM Reply / Add Comments Quote Report
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Posted on Aug 29, 2006 at 04:55 PM Reply / Add Comments Quote Report
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Thank you all for the comments. I'm not a writer per se, but I enjoy writing. I seem to come up with my best ideas while driving from state to state on business trips... then it's just a matter of finding the time to put them on paper, or on the computer in this case. Most of my writing is taken from my own life, with things added or changed to make them more interesting. Much of this story is unfortunately true, but the extent to which it is so is only known by the two people involved... and I'm not talking. I'm hoping for something a little more light hearted next... I've got a couple of ideas in the works from a recent road trip to Denver.

Posted on Aug 29, 2006 at 04:05 PM Like Reply / Add Comments Quote Report
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EXCELLENT I have "GOOSEBUMPS!!!" That was an awesome story!!! THANKS! Suz~branwencarryl

Posted on Aug 29, 2006 at 03:23 PM Like Reply / Add Comments Quote Report
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I thank you for your story from the bottom of my heart. It has touched me in a way that I can never explain. I do believe you have been an integral part of helping me to realize that no matter what happens, our life is precious and we should not do anything to interfere with the plan that has been mapped out for us.

Posted on Aug 29, 2006 at 07:28 AM Like Reply / Add Comments Quote Report
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Botar..That's just beautiful! I can hardly see the keys as I type this heart felt message to you for the tears in my eyes make it almost imposable. I hope you are going to become writer if aren't already,you have the most compelling way of expressing your feeling . Thank you for a reminding me that everyone goes through the hardships a lot better when there is someone to care...Sher

Posted on Aug 29, 2006 at 06:54 AM Like Reply / Add Comments Quote Report