Twenty-five years ago – my God, a quarter of a century – December 14 fell on a Friday, and I was a sophomore at Bowling Green. The next day, I wrote this in a spiral notebook which I still have:
Tobi had a hair appointment back in Bryan that night, so her mom came and picked us up from BG. After dark, Tobi and I drove out to this place she called Five Mile Bridge and waited for a train to come rushing beneath while we stood there and leaned on the railing.
For some reason, that night mattered to me. Maybe because I was barely 20 and everything like that mattered to me. Maybe because it was a strange sort of fluxing time in my life, when my closest friends had moved away and I felt oddly on my own. It grew to matter even more when Tobi died a few years later.
It still feels like it matters. My own daughter is a freshman in college – almost the age I was when I met Tobi.
Five Mile Bridge was closed to traffic by the time Tobi died. I took Jenn there in June 1996. It was a little odd, being there in the daytime, but we waited for a train, and we got one.
I stood on that bridge four times in all, but not since a couple weeks before Christmas 1999, and never again after dark.
Two summers back, in 2013, my daughter and I took a train across the country, and we travelled the tracks that had once gone beneath Five Mile Bridge. It’s not there anymore:
Tobi and Five Mile Bridge helped inspire Crossing Decembers, which, while a work of fiction, has very real roots out there in the vast fields of Northwest Ohio. It’s funny: I started writing the notes that grew into the book in 1999, and finished it the following year, which means the book itself is now about 15 years old. Although I’ve never managed to sell it to a publisher, I remain intensely proud of and attached to it, and I’ll keep sharing it any way I can.
Once again, winter is a week away, and I’m marking the anniversary of two goofy college kids standing on a cold bridge in the middle of nowhere. And as always, the train whistles I hear this time of year cut a little deeper than during the other seasons.
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