“Dark Side of the Moon” was playing on the 8-track in your car and we were well on our way to achieving homeostasis, which for us was a nice warm buzz. We’d been smoking pot and drinking beer since we left Roanoke a little over an hour ago, and had been listening to Pink Floyd at deafening volume for the last twenty minutes or so when you suddenly turned the music down to tell me something.
“We’re getting close,” you said, “I think it’s just up this road.” It was dark as hell and I remember thinking that we hadn’t seen a car in a long time. The night outside was getting cold, definitely close to freezing. We were deep in the mountains on some desolate country road out in the middle of nowhere. If you didn’t know this area you’d be lucky to find your way out, and even though I was lost, I had grown up in these hills dense with woods, so I had a general idea of where we were.
“So where the fuck are we going?” I said laughing, vaguely remembering something about a bridge. I’d almost forgotten the purpose of our little trip – when we were hanging out, half the time we didn’t know where we were going anyway. In those days, gas was cheap, so we’d just get in your car and drive. “The Question Mark Bridge” you said. “You told me you’d never been there.”
I didn’t get the full story until later, but it turns out there was this old wooden bridge, way out in the Blue Ridge Mountains in a holler high over the James River, that had been built sometime in the late nineteenth century before there were cars. Somehow it had survived until 1974, and apparently it was open for traffic until two weeks ago when the state closed it down for repairs. Apparently, some dilapidated wooden guard rails on one the side of the bridge had fallen into the James almost a thousand feet below.
It was known as the Question Mark Bridge by the locals for one very peculiar reason. Sometime in the distant past, a long, long time ago (no one could seem to remember when), it had been covered with multi-colored painted question marks. All sizes, all colors. So you had this rickety old bridge out in the middle of nowhere covered in faded question marks that looked like they might have been painted a hundred years ago. Now it was barely standing and closed, so of course you thought this would be a perfect place for us to hang out and get fucked up.
As we were winding around the mountain, I thought I could make something out in the distance. “What the fuck?” I said, pointing at what looked like the shell of some structure between two mountains a few miles up ahead. You slowed the car down, stopped, and we both got out to look. The moon was clear and bright, the air cold and crisp, and all we could hear was the freezing water of the James rushing far below us.
“That’s it,” you said. “We’ll be there in ten minutes.” We jumped back in the warm car, sparked up a joint, and headed off on our rendezvous with destiny.
Reality was about to take a sharp left turn, as if life was placing us in this particular location to ask its own questions of us.
Sometimes all it takes is answering to define who you really are.