This is a short story I hurriedly wrote three years ago in San Diego, inspired by a billboard I saw on my way back to the hotel. Included here is its submitted form to a recent writing contest. I haven’t posted in so long, please enjoy this.

I was thirty-six years old when my wife died. Thirty-six, to the day. We met at sixteen, dated at nineteen, and married at twenty. I didn’t realize how impulsive I was until I met her. I proposed to her right here on this bridge, just all of a sudden one night. She took ten breaths, didn’t even move. It scared me to pieces. But then she smiled. Said yes. And I thought I would be happy forever. But tonight, and last night, and every night since she died, I wasn’t. Forever ended thirty years ago.

I stood on the bridge, hands deep in my pockets. Trying to ignore the cold was like trying to stop breathing. Not even my heavy coat could keep me warm. I had been there for hours and I worried that I was too late.

There were footsteps in the distance. They were quiet and nervous. It was her. She moved exactly like she spoke.

She took her time getting to the middle of the bridge, rested on the railing and stared into the darkness below. We stood a stranger’s pace apart and I couldn’t bear to look at her. She was so young, I had no idea what to say. Every word had to be perfect.

“I know who you are. I know why you’re here. Please, don’t do it.”

“You’re the one I talked to, aren’t you?” she asked. I was. Our voices trembled like we were the most timid creatures alive. “Then you already know my problems. Why are you here? Got some magic answer for me now?”

“I can help you,” I said, trying to sound strong, like I could carry her away on these old legs.

“No, you can’t. You have no idea what I’m going through.”

“I’ll listen.”

“I don’t want to talk, okay? We tried that, remember? You didn’t say anything.”

“I’m sorry, I… you hung up.”

“I hung up because you didn’t say anything! For three minutes, I just sat there crying! How long did you think I would wait?”

Nothing that I could say sounded right. I apologized to her, over and over. She was here because of me.

On my thirty-sixth birthday, I was walking around the kitchen when the telephone rang. I ran to it, hoping to tell her how sorry I was. That I made the biggest mistake of my life and that if she could ever forgive me, the rest of our life would be perfect. I expected to hear her voice, but I didn’t. Susan’s car was abandoned by the bridge. They couldn’t find her. I still remember her face exactly as I last saw it. She was so hurt. I’ve seen this face for thirty years and not once have I seen forgiveness in her eyes.

“Have you talked to your parents?” I asked.

“No,” she said, “and I don’t plan to. Mom would kill me.”

“What about your father?”

“I dunno, haven’t seen him in years. He wouldn’t care.”

“What about,” I asked carefully, “the father?”

“Yeah right,” she whimpered. “He doesn’t want me around. His words exactly.”

“He should know. You should tell him.”

“He’ll find out. Maybe it’ll be in my obituary.”

She was saying what I had thought so many times. I wanted to comfort her, tell her everything would get better, but I couldn’t. In thirty years, I’ve learned that there are some kinds of pain that last so much longer than you can stand them. I’ve come here a lot since Susan died, looking for her in the water. There’s something about this view that makes you feel helpless. It grabs you and shakes you until everything good falls over the edge. And you think you can save it. With one sudden impulse, you see something better on the other side.

“Is that the best you’ve got?” she asked.

“I’m sorry…”

She was shaking, staring out into the darkness, looking for something better. I could almost see it too.

“Look, I’m already here! It’s only going to get worse!”

“It won’t. I know it hurts right now, like it’s too much. It feels like it’s everything. But you’re so strong. You’re so strong. Please,” I said, my old legs trembling. “I don’t know what I’ll do.”

I let go of the railing and crumpled to the ground, begging her not to leave me. It was all I could say.

She fell with me, into my arms. I held her as tight as I could to keep both our lives together. She was the last thing I had left in this world and even after we stopped crying I couldn’t let go. I needed her strength. Susan was the only thing holding me up.

We lay there together on the bridge, quietly waiting for the world to change. When it did, she looked at me with something new in her eyes. Something good. She was glowing, and the warmth inside her made me forget everything. She turned and walked away into the world, and I watched her until even the memory of her outline faded. Then with the steadiest voice I could find, I said goodbye to Susan.