My name is Eamon Bridge and I am a broken man. I did not start out that way but who does. The elements of a life are what we become, what defines us as we get to an age where the sum of our experiences becomes apparent. I can tell you this, I’ve done my best but life deals you cards you never saw coming. Like a wild hurricane or an all-consuming fire, it happens all at once and leaves you bereft, incredulous, bewildered in the aftermath. There’s nothing you can do. Sometimes.
Walking across the land of my Texas spread with my dog Jericho – my Rhodesian Ridgeback who’s been my constant companion for ten years, and these ten years I’ve needed him by my side, believe me, I gaze upon all that I built for this family and wonder, how might it have all worked out differently. If I had just gone left instead of right, said no instead of yes, been more alert, looked up at that moment instead of away. Where would we all be now. Hindsight twenty-twenty, and all that. Can’t un-ring the bell, no you can’t, you can only consider the path forward. The lessons learned so you don’t make the same mistakes again.
Don’t get me wrong, some great things have happened and I have much more than most, that is not lost on me. What is lost is unbearable to me, though, I can tell you that. The day Nalda left – she’s my wife, or my ex-wife I guess – I just knew I would never be the same. She’d talked about it a lot, leaving that is. But I just shrugged it off as her way of dealing with the pain as though an escape from here would erase it all, make it vanish on the wind.
“There is no better than here, Nalda. You’ll just eventually wonder about another ‘there’ and then what? Keep moving from one edge to the other?” I said to her, explaining that we would just take it all with us no matter where we ended up. The day I woke up and realized she was really gone, I mean, she didn’t leave a note but I just knew, I felt it in my core that everything had changed and would never be like it was ever again. Her red pick-up was gone, a suitcase. The fruit that had been on the kitchen table the night before. All gone. And the photograph, too.
You see, we lost our middle daughter, Tierra, when she was just seven at the county fair. One minute she was there, the next she was gone, swept away in the wind by some stranger in a blustering crowd while I was in line buying her an ice cream. I let go of her hand for just a minute to get the bills out of my wallet. Nalda, she was with the other girls, our other two girls, at the petting farm not twenty feet away but between the two of us, we just had a split-second loss of awareness and that’s all it took to blow us all into a dirty mess in the corner of a room, a dark, dark room that felt always dark, without so much as a crack to let in the light of day. It was as though a tornado came through that room of our lives and disrupted the air around us. Destroying everything in its path.
We were a happy family once. Full of light. And joy and laughter. My other two girls, Delta – she’s the oldest, she’s twenty three now and Phoenix is eighteen – they tried to wipe away the dust and ash of that destruction as best they could but the residue remained, just couldn’t be cleaned. Now, those two girls, they couldn’t be more different. Tierra sort of brought the balance to the equation and without her, things were, well, it just felt like we were never gonna recalibrate.
Fire and Water. That’s what we called those two girls, Delta and Phoenix. Couldn’t be more different. Delta was the calm one, she was mostly “go with the flow” and very Zen. She tried her damnedest to soothe her mother’s soul but she finally gave up and took on a cooler disposition, detached you might say. With her sister, she had her stormy moments. Torrential emotion could come out of nowhere as she tried to tame the flame in Phoenix that would eventually leave them both exhausted. Phoenix? Now, she has an energy to her that is unpredictable, impulsive and fast-moving. She’s dynamic and always looking to grow bigger and broader in her knowledge and grasp of the world.
Delta was our first born, came into this world during a thunderstorm, the kind that rarely comes through these parts, longer and wetter and more electric than I can put words to. We needed the water, too, things can get dry as a bone around here. We were ecstatic, relieved, overjoyed with her arrival. She gave us the fresh start we needed, a rejuvenation washed over our marriage and life together. We felt buoyant and alive again!
Tierra came next, Nalda’s easiest birthing. She was strong and sturdy right out of the womb and grew into her old soul so quickly, we often forgot she was a child. She was brown haired, like Nalda, with hazel eyes and a sweet smile. She was content to play on her own like no child I’ve ever seen while very social and friendly with everyone she met, young or old. She was possessive of an understanding of the natural world around her, often joining me in the garden to pull weeds or dig a hole to sow some seeds. “I’m giving them a drink, Daddy,” she would say, barely able to lift the watering can, determined to have her hand in the bounty of our vegetable patch.
Phoenix was the unexpected baby. She was born the morning the Twin Towers went down in New York City, coming into this world at the same time that brilliant blue sky turned dark with smoke and ash. She was a fussy baby and we knew she would be a handful but she also gave us hope for the future, I can’t explain it, she just did. We knew she would be our last child and our last chance to bring a new warmth into our lives. While the whole country needed to rise up that day and see how to begin again, we too felt how this child could weld us together into the strong, united family we had always dreamt of being. Phoenix, she was like a sign that we could begin anew, succeed where we had failed, be changed, yes, but stronger than ever before.
I think Delta and Phoenix, really take after me and Nalda in their own ways and it’s more obvious, the genetics at play, than with Tierra. I’m of Irish descent yet American through and through. Delta has my cooler temperament while Phoenix, she’s in possession of Nalda’s Spanish heat. Hot. Wild. Explosive at times. Volatile. I’ve heard that word used about her by many over the years. Tierra somehow was less definitive one way or another, a perfect earthy blend of all of our different elements, one-part Nalda and one-part me.
It was 2006 when Nalda left me here to raise the girls on my own, never thinking – well, that I know of anyway because how could I know – never thinking about how that might be for me. The girls were still pretty young then, aged eleven and five, so there was a lot, I mean A LOT for me to explain and smooth over with them. Gaining their complete trust was a long time coming, what with trying to understand why their sister was gone and now their mom, too. There were a lot of tears and heated arguments over the years, I had that coming but it was still hard.
I understand Nalda. I mean, just a little bit anyway, why she left. Tierra was her special child, born into our family when all seemed right and good. She was easy; a happy girl who liked to sing and dance and make us laugh. The middle child is often the special one, they see things from a unique perspective that comes from the very center of love. Without her there to fine tune our lives, everything was either too hot or too cold. She had provided a gentle breeze that blew across our family landscape – not so strong that she fanned the flames into conflagration but just enough to leave a poetic ripple imprinted across our life stream. She influenced and determined everything before dissolving suddenly into the ether.
I’m alone on the land now. Except for Jericho and a couple cats that come and go as they please. Days can be long, I’m way too young for that I think, but I can sit on the porch and watch the sunset with Jericho, play my guitar and settle in with a book and a shot of whiskey pretty regular. I stay up late most nights but still manage to get up early and get my work done before noon. Time was, Nalda did too, cooking and baking and sewing up pretty things for the girls. We’d sit around the piano after supper and Nalda would teach us all songs in Spanish until it was time for the girls to go to bed. Sounds like we’re from some older time, I know, but that’s kind of how we were as a family, out of some more innocent time when the world spun on its axis without too much trouble.
I hardly see the girls, these days. I’m giving them breathing room to find themselves, carve out their own lives. And I don’t think they see much of each other either, being that they are on opposite sides of the country. I guess Texas just wasn’t their place and I respect it, we all gravitate to the place that resonates and helps us become our true selves. Me, I’ll never leave my land. I like the expansiveness here, the open sweep, the big sky. It feels aligned with a solitary and introspective life ample with time. I have friends, sure, Tuesday poker night at Samuel’s, a movie or dinner out with a lady friend every now and again.
I’ve been told I’m a handsome and generous man more than once and should settle again with the right woman with a strong heart. Someone who can be the yang to my yin, I’ve heard. But I like my solitude. Too much of it, though, isn’t a good thing. I’d hate to be locked inside without any social outlet unable to be out on my land, out in the world. Now that would be tough on me. The contrast of my own time with or without others suits me just fine, as long as I get to decide. My choice, my way.
Nowadays, there’s so much calamity in the world, not just natural disasters, I mean people doing crazy things and believing all kinds of conspiracies and paranoid plots. But it’s those climate change deniers, now they are the worst to me. Infuriating and hard to understand. I mean, how can you, if you’re in your right mind, think for one second humanity isn’t on a short road to absolute disaster if we don’t stop doing what we’re doing. We can’t hit the karmic undo button but we can at least take responsibility for what we’ve done and try to make things right. For our kids and their kids and on like that. Don’t think for a minute I don’t know about this concept first hand. I do. Deeply.
Just a year ago this fall, both my girls experienced it in their own way, up close and personal, and I’m here to tell you we have got to pay attention. I know a thing or two about letting your awareness slip for one moment and the horrible consequences of that. We can’t let go of our grip, our handhold on precious life, and have things taken away never to return again. My daughters, opposites that they are, lived through their own tragic days within a month of each other in an uncommon – at least for now – contrasting alignment of events.
Last October, Delta, who lives in the Florida Panhandle, witnessed the destruction of her town when Hurricane Michael brought havoc and destruction to Panama City and the surrounding area. It was the third most powerful hurricane in recorded history to lash mainland USA and Delta just barely got out of its way! The walls of the middle school where she teaches were ripped apart and shredded to pieces. “Buildings all over town look like soup cans with their lids peeled open, Dad!” she told me on the phone the next day. Debris was everywhere, carried along down flooded streets, homes without power for days. And people lost power, too, in themselves, left to deal with the aftermath of an unpredictable future.
Less than a month later, Phoenix lost everything when she and her boyfriend Dylan barely escaped with their lives in the massive fires of Paradise, California. The whole town was decimated faster than you can blink. Go ahead and blame forest management if you want, but there’s so much more to it than that. There is for certain the wilderness urban interface – or WUI to those who study it – that contributes to it. I mean we keep moving farther out of the cities and deeper into the woods and most likely we’re not designing and planning it very well.
But climate change is the real culprit. You can’t, I mean how can you, deny that hotter, longer stretches of time aren’t upping the ante for those fire-nados to occur! We’re tipping the scales with everything we do and acting like things will just bounce back miraculously. Well, I can tell you, things disappear in an instant and we have to at least take some responsibility for that, right?
My girls both lost their homes within weeks of each other in fire and water. The irony is not lost on me, nor on you, neither, I’m guessing. If only Tierra were here to help them find the middle ground again. I keep hoping Nalda will resurface one day, too, and put some of our missing pieces back together. My cousin Dee calls her a recreant, but I know she just had to process things her own way. The love is still there for all of us, just buried under a heavy blanket of grief. That happens. Some just can’t tackle things face to face but have to walk the other way. Pretend it’s not happening. For me, I can’t ignore it, I have to look a thing square in the eye and be proactive to make it better. There is no other choice. And our personal lives are an echo of the world at large, I know that much.
I’m wishing our governing people would take that approach in the midst of all these climate crises. I just don’t know if things can get crazier than they are right now in 2019 but as winter approaches I can only have hope. I mean, surely, we will get our act together and stop this train from running off the tracks? We can’t let things get any worse than they are, we must change direction, turn right instead of left, look up instead of away, become more aware, wake up. I have hope that the world doesn’t find itself in global catastrophe one day that can’t be undone. I have faith that we will and can do the right thing. I have to or I won’t be able to get through the day with peace and grace. I mean, what more could possibly happen, what will it take?
The photograph Nalda took with her that morning she left us was the one of all of us sitting on the front porch after a steady, early summer rain passed through all gentle-like and cooled things down to the perfect temperature. My friend Nate pulled up in our driveway that afternoon, yelled to us that we were picture-perfect from the open door of his Volvo. He told us to sit still as he reached across to his passenger seat to grab his camera. He was a buff of sorts, liked capturing nature in its many faces and moods, often pulling off down a dirt road for a rainbow, or a tree or rock formation against the sky in a certain kind of light. He had a beautiful eye for composition.
“Now this is a perfect moment, one for the ages!” he laughed as he took three or four snapshots of us gathered lazily across the porch. Me with my banjo sitting in my favorite rocker, Nalda leaning against the door with her arms crossed, dish towel slung over the shoulder of her polka-dot dress, a spot of flour across her cheek from the pie crust she’d been working on just moments before. The girls were on the steps of the porch, directly in the center of Nalda and me, just below and between. Delta and Phoenix were perched on the top step together facing each other playing cards.
And there sat little Tierra, just days before she disappeared, our new kitten Smalley on her lap. She was the only one to look directly into the camera, front and center, as if knowing in that old soul of hers that it would preserve her through all of eternity. Sitting absolutely in the middle – our middle ground, our common, solid, once green earth ground, she was. With a sweet and knowing smile of contentment, she exuded purity. Picture perfect harmony of all our elements. A world in balance.
© 2020, Mary Corbin
Fire and Water is from the “Ephemerata” collection. Featured artwork: “Abrazos #3” – color drawing by Mary Corbin. No reprints without permission
This story was also published in Disclaimer Magazine-London, Tenderly, and Noteworthy, online publications of Medium.com. See this, along with other stories and more information on my Published Stories page.