Come three o’clock Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, we are driving our rental car over this new 21st century bridge — leaving Illinois Rte 146, crossing over the Mississippi River, connecting to Missouri Rte 34/74. Bridge and sky look exactly like this. Cloudless, blue, bright. Brand new. Spectacular. The future.
Missouri is not part of our plan.
This story begins in Kentucky, where my husband Rex and I are visiting our son.
On Monday night at a Residence Inn, we watch the “no indictment” announcement in the Darren Wilson case. I watch as Ferguson burns. I turn up the volume on the remote control, wiping any germs off the buttons with a wash cloth, as if all that wiping will make a difference. I keep refreshing my Twitter feed and looking for photos of National Guard Troops. Every time I spot a line of the Guard holding automatic weapons, I enlarge the photo and zero in tight on every face, looking for my baby brother who is in the Missouri National Guard. Is that him? Is that?? I’ve heard he’s been deployed to Ferguson; I’ve heard this 3rd hand because we have not spoken in 4 years; I do not want to see my baby brother — the giggling little boy I knew, with freckles — holding a gun.
The conversation Friday morning, in the spare bedroom at my in-laws’ house, goes something like this. We’re kinda done here. Wanna drive over to Missouri and see my family? And the next thing we know we’ve said our goodbyes and we are in our Hundai rental car and driving 3 hours until we cross the new bridge. Look at this! I say. The new bridge has been here a decade, but it is my first time to cross. How shiny and modern and nothing like the scary old bridge I grew up with.
At my step-parents’ house, they’ve called everyone. My stepsister and her husband and son and daughter; even the daughter’s boyfriend, who was out hunting deer this morning when she called him out in the field and said, Come back in! Aunt Teri and Uncle Rex are coming! They have to change work schedules and pile into a car and drive an hour and a half to see us. Next, my stepbrother and his wife walk in the back door and the next think I know there’s a full house. A full house, even with one brother, long absent but living right here in this tiny town, so close I said to Rex as we cruised into town, There’s his house, right over there. You can see it from the highway. A full house, even with our baby brother in the Missouri National Guard, deployed to Ferguson. And I think we are all trying our best not to notice.
At my stepparents’ house we drag in dining room chairs for more places to sit, and we talk nonstop, trying to drown out the sound of my stepmother’s oxygen generator. We show each other photos of our dogs; we are all “dog people.” We talk about sports. We talk about holidays back when we were little. My stepdad says something about a colored boy, and though I haven’t heard the word “colored” in eons it is so much better than what I expect that I feel relieved. I think about the Grand Jury No-Indictment and hope no one brings it up. My little brother, National Guard in Ferguson, is never once mentioned. I wonder if he has the same giggle, the same freckles. I wonder if I would even recognize him if I saw him on TV.
Later that evening, Rex and I are in a taxi. The dispatcher comes on, screaming too loud on the radio, telling her drivers to avoid Broadway, that there’s trouble, that there are Ferguson protestors. And yet we take Broadway all the way downtown, and there is no one. The heat blasts on high in the taxi and I feel like I’m suffocating as I stare out the windows, looking for someone, anyone. I refuse to take my jacket off, refuse to move. I’d rather sweat. I want to grab the taxi driver’s mic and call dispatch and scream, What protest? There’s no one here! No one!
The next morning, we drive back across the bridge, leaving Missouri to reconnect with Illnois Rte 146. The new bridge looks the same going as it did coming in, it’s modern cables stark and bright white against the sky. I’m only 2 hours from Ferguson and yet nothing feels urgent here. It’s like my brother who lives off the highway — I can see his house, but there’s no connection. Like my baby brother in Ferguson, 3rd hand news. I recall the old bridge, the bridge of my childhood, built in 1928, and as we cross the river I tell Rex about how we only had 2 narrow lanes back then, no shoulder, no forgiveness, nowhere to stop for an emergency, no way out if something went wrong. How dangerous it felt, crossing that old bridge back in the day, hoping we would make it.
He nods. I don’t think he understands, but I feel like I can’t say whatever it is that I’m trying to say. And we drive on.
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