"Bridges take my breath away," Betty said as we headed across one Tampa body of water to the next. What took my breath was the jingling of her bracelets and how tight she gripped the steering wheel with her lean brown hands. My son's mother. The bridges were sleek trails against a skyline tense with weather and Betty swore she could feel them moving all the way into the car. I breathed against the window beside me, drew question marks in the steam. "You cool enough in here?" she asked. All I wanted was a steady road speed and the right thing to say, once we reached the airport terminal.
Betty and I were driving toward Tampa to pick up Andrew and Jennie for a family reunion, a reunion for all of us. Andrew, the birth son I'd found a few years back. Jennie, his sweetheart. John, my husband of less than a year, was in the back seat and he patted my shoulder to keep me from letting down the power window in the front seat too often, then letting it up again, so that Betty turned the AC up and down, trying to accommodate my fidgeting.
I loved hearing Betty talk, her delighted stories of where they'd been and when on family vacations. New Zealand. San Francisco. The San Francisco bridge, and she hadn't quite been able to enjoy it. "I [End Page 25] can't even ride from Kentucky into Indiana without getting nervous the bridge will give out."
"I'm just like that," I said, though this wasn't the truth. I liked the sway and give of a good bridge in a windstorm, even the swinging bridges back in Eastern Kentucky, where my mother came from. I even liked the way the suspension cables over this Tampa Bay bridge seemed coiled so tight they were ready to fray as they braced themselves against the rising winds.
Andrew, Betty said, used to lay his child-hands against the car windows as they drove that bridge, the link between states. Bridges made her own heart flutter, but Andrew was different. He loved framing the two worlds, in-car and out, with his two baby thumbs and his flat palms. She often referred, in the time I'd known her, to Andrew in the past tense, as small, a younger, less formed version of whomever it is he now has become, and this usually annoyed me, like it did now, but I didn't say anything.
I surreptitiously laid one of my own palms against the window glass, felt the summer heat, thought about how this thing called family began. Andrew entered my life because of a memoir I'd written, one about the son I surrendered to a state-supported adoption, back in 1973. Because of that book, his girlfriend, Jennie, found me on the internet, and the story I told became history. We'd had two-sentence e-mails and awkward phone calls and I'd found out how little I knew this son I'd given up. We'd had meetings at his mother's and my father's, at his apartment and mine. This time was meant to heal the distance.
At the airport, we all greeted each other with quick kisses, questions about air currents and flight delays. They were as I remembered them. Jennie, red-haired and talkative, the hair cut in smooth layers since I saw her last. She hugged me and shouldered a backpack, looped an arm around Betty's shoulders. Andrew? He lingered, hands in the deep pockets of gray cotton shorts. His eyes, I saw all over again, were pale blue, and all over again, it surprised me, how it felt to [End Page 26] see myself, and not, in someone else's body. When he finally hugged me, it was one of those loose-armed embraces that ended too soon. I held on a little longer than him, eager already for a sign.
When Jennie picked up my trail on the internet in the first place and then wrote to me, she told me Andrew wanted to know about...