Stuff gets pounded into your genes with repetition and you don’t even notice. Mom was full of the old-time caveats. I’d heard them since childhood. Like a dusty box of doilies she’d inherited them from Grandma. Mom could Frisbee-toss a cornball doily-homily with a flick of her tongue. It didn’t bother me much. Running with scissors wasn’t that important to me, and I didn’t mind wearing hats in bad weather to avoid head colds—and the harping.
I said, “I’m going to meet some friends at the festival, Mom.”
“Norther coming. Take your cap. You don’t want….” I held up my hand like a traffic cop. She hung the cap on it and I shoved it into my back pocket.
I saw Howard Coster, my best friend, jumping off the bridge as I drove up. You couldn’t miss Howard’s long red hair flailing over the collar of his letterman’s jacket. The New River Gorge Bridge Day Festival drew practically everyone I knew from my graduating class of ’93 at nearby Fayetteville High School in West Virginia.
I couldn’t believe how much the festival had grown over the last few years. There were familiar cars in the parking lot of the visitor’s center at the North end. I parked right next to Howard’s blue, GMC pickup. He was even more proud of that truck because GMC was making a commercial today where they actually were going to drive a brand new truck off the bridge to show how tough it was. Their shiny truck was attached to a bungee cord as big around as my thigh. We all wanted to see the spectacle; maybe we’d be on TV.
In the chilly air New River’s smell, spiced with decaying autumn leaves, met me when I opened my door. My baseball cap blew off and sailed under Howard’s truck. I crawled after it and put it in my pocket. Alice Fay Roule’s Corvette was there in the lot, too; RCH BTCH, on her personalized tag; Principal Donner’s rust and some other color VW Rabbit right next to it.
“Hey, Bob. You going to jump?” It was Teddy Whitmore getting out of his car.
“I said, “Dunno.”
He said, “I am.” After my salute he waved back and headed for the bridge. It was windy. My hair fluttered, and nerves in my gut did as well, as if they knew something. Maybe the strong gusts would affect the events. I pulled my binoculars out of the glove box, locked my car and leaned against the door. I tried to find Howard bobbing on his bungee cord. My breath sucked in when I saw there was no cord. Howard was in the water—floating face down!
I focused on the bridge. What was going on! There were four lines of people formed waiting at the edge. My girlfriend, Linda Frost, with an impossibly calm expression on her face, was there at the front of one line.
“Linda, Linda!” On a signal—she jumped. Her dress whipped over her head; white panties revealed. No bungee cord, no chute. I reached out to her with my free hand.
What madness was this! Behind her Doug Davis, the captain of the football team, Pete Vester and Lacy Potter, all class of ’93, jumped! Linda hit a rocky slope with a sickening melon-thump and the others made loud splashes and floated downriver like unwanted kittens in a pillow case.
More splashes followed in quick succession. I couldn’t watch and staggered in the parking lot, my knees liquid, my mind numb, my head cold. I put the cap on. It suddenly came to me, Mom had always predicted this day, and had asked me what I’d do.