“Women and Bridges” by Patrick Riedy

It was clear by the end of the conversation that Truth no longer existed.

He was not completely sure how this made him feel, maybe he knew it all along, maybe this is what he was really circling around the whole time; the way someone diagnosed with terminal cancer continues to get up an out of bed every morning, putting on a happy face, brushing their teeth, taking a shower (which is quicker without the necessity of shampooing), just to do it all again the next day. In fact, it is safe to say that he was circling around, attempting to avoid, shifting his eyes away from his inconvenient conclusion.

Where did this leave him?

What more was there to do?

At first, he thought of bridges. Short bridges. Long and tall bridges— the longest and tallest ones ever built. The longest bridges in Buffalo; the tallest ones in New York State; the longest and tallest bridge in the United States. Bridges made of concrete, bridges made of steel, and even those made of wood, wide bridges and narrow bridges. His ideal bridge was over water, a bridge in which the width was not proportionate to height.

He began thinking for some reason that his best bet to find this bridge would be somewhere in the Northwest, a place where it rains all the time and people feel like the weather. He was certain of Seattle. Much like him, Seattle once had a future ahead of itself. At the turn of the last decade, back in the 20th century, Seattle was the center of a small cultural turn, but at the end of the first decade in the 21st century, most of the country had forgotten.

But why bridges, why not buildings? He pondered the question for some time and realized that bridges are more romantic. He knew buildings too well, they’re too pedestrian, too bland. People can bother you in a building, they always do. On a bridge it’s different. Cars go by fast and most people wouldn’t even notice.

 

Most people wouldn’t even notice.

Bridges were beautiful and useful; they had form, function and fashion.  He thought that they were more connected to the outer world, the one that exists beyond buildings, beyond the body, beyond the brain. He thought of how silly it was to come back to Heidegger and the fourfold. All of those seemingly useless discussions in an introduction to critical theory class were now, at one of the most difficult moments, enlightening. The fourfold suddenly made sense. He found this simultaneously comical and disturbing in an unconventional manner.

Nevertheless, he became more and more enchanted with bridges: pictures of them, blueprints, and coffee table books. He visited them. He walked, biked, drove a car, and occasionally ran over bridges.

He felt the increasing need to visit Seattle, to find his bridge. He endlessly researched the visit. He spent his free time, on the weekends, studying different types of bridges, their uses, and their histories. He searched for bridges in and around Seattle, he came across a few that seemed suitable, he even fell in love with a few if love is the word to properly describe his relationship with the bridges of Seattle. He never made the trip.

He stopped four times on less suitable bridges in Buffalo.

Four times in total, he stopped. He thought of how quick it could be, and became obsessed with the possibility of any answers he may find in actualization. The fourth time he decided against it, he was unsure how he arrived at that conclusion. Something stopped him, and no, it was not family, friends, his job, and certainly was not Woman. It was something, that is all that matters, isn’t it?

He looked at his time with bridges as wasted time, time that could have been better spent reading or writing or creating lasting relationships with new people. He thought of how he could have had both his bridges and new people, how he could have taken action and moved to Seattle rather than settle for the less than suitable bridges of Buffalo. He was ultimately upset at himself for not being more progressive in his relationship with bridges, he felt that rather than make a life that revolves around the bridges he simply treated it like an affair. He could not comprehend how he could have done so little in so much time.

After the bridges were subdued with complacency, he began lying to himself again, telling himself that there were Truths. He subsequently started accepting half-truths, somewhat unintelligible and intangible, as Truths; anything to fill the void left behind by the bridges, even if it meant settling for less, for a lie. He found shelter in reasons, not the silly reasons you see in movies like love and friendship and laughter and wisdom, not even the ‘nobler’ reasons you may read in novels and poems; reasons that were once again unknown.

He fought back. He equipped himself with the past (but not the way in which it occurred) in order to combat the void that absolute Truth left behind. He filled it with lies; his route to Truth became a set of little white lies, therapeutic fibs, enough to span the country from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

He was not going to make the same mistake he made with bridges, this time he would produce something. His work ethic was strong, he functioned at a high level, always reaching for better and bigger things; he was never satisfied. His work reflected this insatiability.

There was something in self-portraits that was appealing. This was surely affected, once again, by his schooling. Reading Barthes’ was his intellectual development; it was his brief introduction on how to not only critically read photographs, but also how to be critical of everything. It was in reading Barthes that led him to embrace the self-portrait, because he distinctly remembered how the self-portrait made Barthes feel like an object, an other. His curiousness in how it would feel to objectify himself (our protagonist) was great motivation and inspiration. He knew that photographs were, perhaps, the most obvious lies. Each artifact he held in his hand was a painless step towards an end, the end. Each composition full of false, each time he saw his face in the photograph it pushed him to create better fabrications.

He reached deep into the past to identify and embrace more half-truths. He began thinking of his father and his father’s father more and more. He used them. They were available to shape and mold. Histories were built to suit, and he constructed an ancestral half-truth in order to breathe easy. Approaching his patriarchs in such a manner gave him the opportunity to make other people objects as well. He wanted to not only to know he had the power to make himself Other, but also the ability to make others Other.

It was important for him that family; ancestors, fathers and grandfathers were much easier to put Trust and Hope and Truth into than, say, Woman.  His relationship with the patriarchs was functional and productive— it could be controlled. Woman, on the other hand, was erratic and unpredictable; the variables were too numerous. His expectations for Woman were too high.  He was mostly afraid of belittling them, but felt disgusted for feeling he had such a power. When he thought about Woman he felt too much like a Man. He felt too emblematic of society and the documented criticisms of gender relationships. His fabrication of a romanticized past was meant to benefit our protagonist, and Woman, for him, still held some autonomy, he felt that he must leave Woman alone if there was any chance that he may develop a relationship, discover Love, Harmony, even Truth.

It came clear; just as many other things have come clear. He seemed to locate a problem; he equated Truth with Woman. Both have long been partnered in his mind, interchangeable with one another. If only he had a Woman who ‘really’ loved him, then he would possess Truth. If only he had a tangible Truth, as in an artifact, even in the form of a photograph, then he would find a Woman. This was a problem that he felt ill equipped to meet head-on, Woman made him feel insignificant, unnecessary, and much of his life was an attempt to be in control, to understand that he alone has the ability to change the course of events. How this simple desire to control drove him in circles, how much he hated that he wanted control, but to have control seemed to be against his nature. He refused to submit to either side; he demanded answers, yet all of the answers he found were unsettling. He wished that there were a happy medium between feeling righteous in his quest at one moment and hideous at his overabundance of Pride and Ego at the next.

He began to understand just how dangerous this train of thought was, yet also began feeling as though his identification of the problem was a step in the right direction. He experienced overwhelming fear with each contradiction he uncovered. He continually wondered how he could possibly harvest new relationships with people once you consider the one, absolute, unfortunate Truth, for Truth did exist for him again, the Truth that life is disappointing and will always be; the unfortunate Truth everyone hears so much of but rarely contemplate outside of death. He hated that Truth was out of his control. He hated how simple this answer was, how fruitless his life seemed. He hated that life was contradicted by death, he hated balance, he wanted to embrace imbalance yet that felt so wrong, and when he told those close to him about this on a smaller scale, such as a discussion he once had with a close friend about the positives of capitalism over socialism, he felt dirty for defending capitalism, he hoped for nothing more than to not be so sensitive. He hated defining himself as sensitive; he detested becoming comfortable calling himself sensitive. He wished he had the strength he gave his romanticized father and grandfather.

He realized at a young age that there were some things that you could not divorce, such as biological family, certain childhood memories, and he would argue basic personality. He thought back to when first turned to criticism (something that would always be humorous and unsettling), to Walter Benjamin and what he was attempting to recreate in Berlin Childhood. He remembered reading the collection and thinking how beautifully Benjamin wrote trying to make things novel again, yet all he felt was how sad it is to grow, how sad it is to put faith in location, in home, yet be disappointed with the realization that ultimately, it is up to yourself to make the old seem new again. The idea of having things that could only be changed or created with manipulation of thought was not satisfying, but rather unsettling. The revelation that Truth was relative could now be traced back to Benjamin, now, as an adult, our protagonist began seeing how much of what he read in Benjamin affected the rest of his life and led him to the bridges and beyond.

What was so disconcerting to him at this vulnerable stage of development was how things like location and environment came to define us. The mystery of it all, the uncertainty was frightening. He was deeply moved by “The Otter” in particular; as if to make it real he said it aloud— “The Otter”, being fooled for a moment in thinking this speech-act would act. He, like the young Walter, was waiting to see the Otter, hoping it would materialize from a name alone, hoping to see its wet and black coat or nose; he blindly put his faith in words, in their ability to create. The Otter was his first crude experiment in fabrication, and it was a surprising success. He saw the Otter, if only in his mind. He imagined standing there with young Walter Benjamin, he imagined the zoo and the garden, the cage of the Otter, the green, murky rainwater, and the beautiful black coat of the Otter, the way he glided, he imagined where the Otter went to, just as Benjamin had. This was our protagonist’s most powerful lesson in words, in both the written and spoken word, in the abilities of the mind and how art compliments those abilities. The Otter was at once a reason to celebrate, because through imagination and words alone he saw the Otter in all of it’s beauty, as well as a reason to mourn, for now, the Otter was a symbol of corruption, it was as if nothing, no Object or thing was incorruptible after the Otter was created.

The Otter in the rainwater, too busy to be viewed, so similar to its surrounding that the cage did not constrict him but rather defined him in a positive fashion. The Otter, first and foremost, took care of his all-important affairs, and he now realized this was what he strived toward, he understood now that his attraction towards Woman stemmed from the mysteriousness of the Otter. He was waiting for the Woman just as he was waiting for the Otter. He now imagined her just as he imagined the Otter at that impressionable age. Although now he was no longer so impressionable and he presently knew power of imagination, and this, for him, was too much to handle, to comprehend, to process, to critique, and most importantly to change. The Otter unleashed something violent over the course of his life, it was a slowly developing cancer, and Woman was the most vital organ that was now under attack.

He was so unintentionally confident in his ability to fool himself, he consistently fashioned the old, new again; the ugly, now beautiful; the boring or annoying, suddenly delightful. He felt as if he grew and learned nothing more than how to cheat himself. He felt guilty for being cheated as well as cheating. He felt guilty for being a Man. He felt guilty for feeling guilty. He found this hilariously devilish, as if somewhere, someone or something was getting intense pleasure watching him from a distance, seeing his awkwardness and uncomfortable nature. Finding ecstasy in his trivial problems. He felt disappointed because now he realized he was his own object; the photographs had no necessity, all he needed was a mirror. He was privileged being a Man, and he felt as if he had an overwhelming responsibility to use his opportunity for something productive and all he could do was reel in his unfortunate ‘nature’, this being the ability to do ‘good’ but not knowing how to do anything well. He never asked for opportunity, for privilege, it simply sought him out; privilege, responsibility, and guild could not be divorced from our narrator. He thought that maybe this was what it now meant to be a Man— to be crippled by privilege and experience the guilt from the inadequate reaction.

He felt typical with too much time to think. The convenience that technology and capitalism brought was more time to consider, more time to evaluate, more time to be less productive and instead be self-involved.

His life was full of lies, half-truths, words, the want of Truth and its Female form, his father, his father’s father, self-portraits, and somewhere way back was the bridge.

With this skewed perspective, this alternate, and grim outlook on the world and relationships and his lack of adequate response, he still found the strength to give one last push; if he was going the win this fight he needed to clean his slate from these thoughts of Women and Bridges, from Truth and Honesty.

Where did this leave him?

What more was there to do?

He grew older, he continued to lie, and he accumulated. He made more realizations, more connections, and these led him to harbor contempt for the human race, the hideousness of men, and the elusiveness of Woman.

On a need to know basis, he simply grew old.

He died, the how is unimportant.

Profile: Patrick Riedy

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