Bridging past and future
I slow down through the toll booth just long enough for my EZ Pass to trigger the bar to lift and the light to blink from red to green. My car picks up speed on the ramp’s incline. The road rises higher and higher, over the mammoth concrete bridge piers and toward the first suspension tower soaring skyward. The land on either side of the roadway falls quickly beneath me. In my peripheral vision, I sense the navy blue of the bay’s deep waters, which sparkle brightly at this time of the day.
This part of the bridge always makes me feel like I am taking off on an airplane, hurtling toward the sky. On my way somewhere far, far away, but exciting nonetheless. Worries are left behind, replaced momentarily by a sense of adventure.
In reality, my trip is only a few miles. From our house to the navy base that sits on the other side of the bay. And my adventure is grocery shopping.
But as my car reaches the bridge’s apex, I have a view of the whole world.
My island town is behind me on my right, its marinas dotted with clusters of boat masts that look like sewing pins at this distance. It seems as though I can see the entire east passage of the Narragansett Bay, shimmering 200 feet below me. I see the hazy outline of remote Block Island, 13 miles beyond the point where the protective bay meets the wild ocean. I see my destination, Newport, chockablock with colonial houses, buildings, bars, restaurants, supermarkets, museums, church steeples, boats, schools, beaches and tourists. I see the military base where we lived before my husband retired from the Navy two years ago, with its familiar mishmash of buildings, base housing and marching grounds decorated with glossy painted cannons, torpedoes and ships’ anchors.
As I pass under the second tower, I remember why we stayed here. After many PCS moves, we wanted to settle in a place where we could finally buy a permanent home, find new jobs, integrate into the community and try to become locals. But we knew transitioning to civilian life wouldn’t be easy. Twenty-eight years of military life seeps into one’s blood. We picked a home only a bridge away from the Navy base where, when we sip our morning coffee on the front porch, we can hear the national anthem floating over the bay.
To stay connected to the military culture that was still dear to us, my husband joined our town’s posts of the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars. We started a local social group of Navy veteran couples we dubbed “The Old Salts.” We keep in touch with the friends we made at old duty stations. We support military causes. I write about military issues. We shop at the commissary. We bank at Navy Federal. My husband uses the VA Clinic. We drop by the O’ Club for a drink every now and again.
The periodic rumble of the expansion joints rouses me from my thoughts. I realize that this bridge to the Navy base is not the only link we’ve relied upon to ease our transition from active duty to civilian life. When leaving the military, one can easily become an island unto oneself, cut off from what was once so familiar. It’s important to find the bridges that span the distances between the military community, the civilian community, and family and friends.
The suspension cables flash by as my car coasts down the final slope toward Aquidneck Island and the Navy base. One day soon, this bridge will take us on a trip to London to see our daughter who is studying there, to our favorite summer vacation spot in North Carolina, to Providence to go to an Italian restaurant, to New York City to deliver our daughter for a summer internship, to the train station to pick up my mother, to Boston to see my husband’s best friend, to Pittsburgh to see mine.
And, when my errands are done today, my car will climb to the top of my world again, where this bridge will take me home.