I hadn’t been here in so long. I didn’t want to be here then, either. A dreary part of the world it seemed to me back then.
I remember being 16 and finding out this place was soon to be my future. Google was just becoming an integral part of life then. So what’s the first thing it told me when I punched in my search? Alton, Illinois.. the most haunted place in America. While I never did get a good ghost story out of my time there it surely haunted me for many years.
Yet there was something different about it now. Not so much in that Alton had changed. I knew it was more in the way I was now perceiving it. I chalked this up to finding my great passion in life. Photography. And how joyously, drunkenly, divinely awake it seems to make me. Not to mention what the ability to leave can do to a situation.
Being back here this time though, in one of the many places of my childhood, I found myself eager to see Alton again. This time in my awakened state.
I ended up, camera in hand and family by my side, at one of my most traveled spots in the Illinois of my past. The Clark bridge. I had crossed it often to see my sister in Alton during my short stint in Florissant, Missouri. Then one day I landed right there with her.
Somehow I managed to cross The Clark Bridge, or drive next to it, nearly everyday back then. Gas was cheap and so were the cigarettes. And back then thats what I needed. Finding myself beneath it all these years later left me besottedly soaking in every bit of my spare 15 minutes. This time with clean lungs.
Having my family with me made it seem surreal. Watching them walk ahead I got a heady feeling. As if I was walking in a daydream.
Seeing my husband and children walk in the footsteps of my lonely years long past put a lump in my throat and filled my chest with a breath I didn’t want to lose.
As we wandered out to the pier to take in the scenery I was stunned at the beauty I had missed all those years ago. Had I really not noticed how lovely these silky waters were? How had I not stood in this spot and seen my dreams on the hazy horizon.
I did now.
Watching my son and daughters stand there I was filled with aspiration. A yearning took me then. A longing to see into the future. Would they too come back to this place. Stand here and feel these childhood days deep in their being?
My son may. He is more sensitive to himself in his surroundings than his sisters. He has pieces of my own personality that scare me. Much too perceptive for his own good. I often catch him standing still with eyes far away.
To meet him you would never believe me. He is wild and full of an energy that seems inextinguishable. And most will probably only ever know him as a wildling. Yet, if watched long enough… One would notice him wander from the crowd. Take a moment of separation where he would seem to take on some profound internalization.
I asked myself for the thousandth time, watching him there on the rocks. What thoughts are dancing about behind my sons ocean eyes?
What a mystery a young man is.
I followed his line of sight and became myself enthralled. The architecture of the bridge reflecting upon itself in the smooth waters was an ethereal image.
Taking in the scene left me enchanted and I started to focus my camera on my surroundings.
From underneath the bridge the lines, shadows and reflections were simply mesmerizing.
I let everything else fall away. It seemed I was incapable of taking in anything other than what my roving eyes beheld. They gravitated to the lines and contrasts of the bridge and its dark reflections on the water.
Looking through my lens I walked. Stumbling over rocks and balancing along the precarious curb I took in the Clark Bridge. Seeing the bridge like I had never seen it before. Full of history, mystery, and striking in its simple magnificence.
And just like that it was over.
Abruptly I was called from my musing. My family was waiting and our 15 minutes were over. As I ran to my husband and the sound of our babies screams I felt the feeling of this place start to flitter away. Before it could disappear entirely I turned. There I stole a final memory.
A glorious sunset. Setting on a bridge of many memories.