City of Bridges
The Sixth Street Bridge in Pittsburgh is going through renovation this year. Known around Pittsburgh and the baseball world as the Roberto Clemente Bridge, it rests as the third in line of three sister bridges spanning the Allegheny confluence. The steel girders and suspension cables have endured ninety-three winters with little more than patchwork and coats of paint as armor against the cold. In a city of bridges, this one was ours.
June was from France, in a roundabout way. She was Russian and Persian on the maternal and paternal side, respectively. When we first met in job training, I could not nail down her accent. She was well spoken but with an obvious accent and trouble with some American English words. I found this endearing.
She had long hair to the small of her back, deep brown that matched her eyes. She towered over me when she wore heels and had a slightly pigeon-toed walk to accompany her long gate. And her real smile, though deeply hidden and protected, was enough to melt anyone in a room.
I got the nerve to ask her out to coffee over the ether of a text message after job training. She agreed but we ended up just making laps around a shopping mall.
One of the oddities that I noticed while we were walking through the commercial neon lights, was that she did not have her ears pierced. Not an issue for me, but surprising for a girl in her mid-twenties. She said it was part of her culture that she did not have them pierced yet. To not make her feel like more of an outsider, I walked to one of the kiosks that offered free ear piercings. With the quick click that sounded like and old-style sticker price gun, I had a small stud in my ear lobe.
She covered her mouth with surprise and blushed. When she removed her hands from her face, I saw the real smile for the first time. We could not help but giggle and laugh as we walked around the mall with a small band-aid and gauze on my ear. After a few miles around the commercial paradise, she reached over and pulled my hand into hers. It was like a Beatles song when she did that. It was innocent and lollipop, but it made me blush right along with her.
One evening, June came by after work. I was watching the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball game. She knew I was a fan, but she had no idea what the game was. We decided that we should go watch a game live and made a date.
A few weeks later, I surprised her with a brand-new Pirates baseball hat that I had in a bag by the door. She surprised me as well with a small red paper bag. Inside was a large brass lock and key. My reaction gave away my confusion as she laughed.
June told me the tradition of the lock bridge over the river Seine in Paris. The two persons in a relationship would clasp a lock on the bridge and throw the key over the railing into the water. The story goes that, as long as the lock stays, the relationship is sealed and the only way to break it apart is to retrieve the key, which is near impossible.
I liked the idea and explained that the superstition was new to me. Whenever I would see a fence dotted with the occasional lock, I would assume someone with a bicycle was keeping a spot where they would park occasionally.
I wrote June in cursive letters on one side, and she wrote my name on the other with a heart.
We parked on the north shore of Pittsburgh and followed the river walk to the stadium. Among a sea of baseball fans, we held hands as the river traffic grew greater and the sun began to turn from yellow to orange. As we were walking, the lock in my pocket, we decided that the Roberto Clemente Bridge would be the best. There is a nice sidewalk, lined with hanging plants and navy-blue lights that cast a shimmer of light on the yellow bridge at night.
We made it to the center of the bridge, where the lowest point of the span is bolted to the road deck. Parallel to the cable span, we knelt and found a spot among the links. I opened the lock and we clasped it together. I held one key and she the other and we tossed them into the Allegheny. We leaned over the edge to see the splash in the glass pane of water below. We looked at each other and her real smile came out again, we kissed and walked to the game.
Our relationship had been going strong. We got a place together in a few months and lived together for four years. But there was a secret I did not know. Being a poor apartment renter with low-level job was not enough for her family and our relationship was the victim of this circumstance. She was subservient to the patriarchal wing of her heritage and bucking that trend was not part of her docile nature.
She claimed she needed to return to her family because of an illness, I did not protest. I haven’t heard her voice or seen her smile since. She broke the news to me over email and that was the end of us.
A wave of pity and sadness washed over me, spiked with bitterness and anger. I have been drowning in a fog of disbelief and sadness since she left.
Today, I read an article about the Clemente Bridge. About halfway through the text, a short sentence summed up my path, it read, ‘the locks that are secured along the walkway must be removed in order for restoration to begin.’
M Patrick Riggin is a Pittsburgh born writer, artist and musician. While attending college for journalism and history, he worked as a musician and painter. His work has been featured in several publications and he continues to evolve his form and function of artistic expression. To follow him on his artistic journey, M Patrick Riggin can be reached at mpatrickriggin.com.