The Bridge Of Sighs
In the 1920s Chicago stockyards, even the business of killing was engineered for maximum efficiency.
A ramp leading to slaughter was designed such that an animal’s own dead weight at the top would carry the body through a butchering process culminating on the floor. This ramp was called the Bridge of Sighs.
The ramp’s namesake, the actual iconic Venition Il Ponte dei Sospiri, or Bridge of Sighs, was constructed in Venice in 1602, and it was in fact a bridge that connected a castle to a prison. For condemned prisoners crossing the bridge, the view from the bridge was breathtaking and final. So, unlike real or symbolic bridges that begin journeys or lead to new places, the Bridge of Sighs was a real and figurative one-way bridge of sorrow.
I walked on such a one-way bridge of doom for a while at one time in my life, but I was unaware that to be free I had to realize that I was not, in fact, free. I was on the Bridge of Sighs.
Having fulfilled none of the potential that I always just knew I had, and having started many things but never finished any of them, I was living an unreality of grandiosity and wonderful ideas that I constantly undermined with procrastination.
One day I realized that I was old. And stuck on this one-way bridge.
My husband walked beside me on the bridge, our respective ‘addictions’ different, mutually maddening, and conveniently symbiotic. He would spend eighteen hours in his; I would spend eighteen hours in mine. Alternatively, I would spend eighteen hours looking for what he was looking for, because if I found it, I could deride him while being secretly glad he was engaged in something that kept him out of my business.
I deemed my ‘addiction-of-choice’ a valuable cultural experience that, since shared by accomplished writers and artists justified its cliquish arrogance, even though at the time, I had never written even a single chapter of anything I always dreamed of finishing. Rationalizing my constant writer’s block, I reasoned that at least I was gathering first-hand information for future writing.
Upon settling into our respective comfort zones on the bridge of spiritual decay together, we gradually and almost imperceptibly began what physics calls an increase in entropy: our lives were becoming disordered and falling apart in increments that carried additive impact.
For example, we never had a fresh pair of matching socks neatly placed into the sock drawer fresh from the dryer. At some point we knew that we would never have clean, matching socks. We settled for this. We bought new socks.
In similar senseless fashion we tried to compensate for our increasing and irreversible disorganization. We would pay our heat bill, but the water would be turned off. We would pay our water bill and the lights would be turned off. There was never enough gas in the car. We were always looking for loose change. Our phone was off more than it was on. Trash and dirty clothes piled up. Weeds grew. One entire winter we had no heat, no hot water and no refrigerator. We could never completely fix the car. Unexpected problems seemed always to cost a thousand dollars. Fines. Late fees. Twenty-nine percent interest loans. Each time we were on the verge of eviction, we would throw a hail Mary pass and hawk something. Together, we moved more and more to society’s outer margins. Both of us were exhausted all of the time.
Just when we thought our bottom could get no lower, it always did.
My son walked beside me and begged me to jump off the bridge and swim, because he loved me.
Finally I turned around on the bridge and walked back to see the view. And now I feel as though we are on a different bridge altogether. We are are more alive than ever. We meet genuine, caring and generous people. Sure, we all struggle a bit, but we are able to have fun at it, for the most part.
I often wonder, was it the screaming and the chaos on the bridge that turned us away?
Perhaps it was the silence. The silence at the end of the Bridge of Sighs.
Information on the real Bridge of Sighs:
Book referencing Chicago stockyards ramp:
The Devil in the White City by Erik Larsen
Book about corruption in early 20th-century American meatpacking industry:
The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
Wiki summary of The Jungle:
Lyrics, Robin Trower, Bridge of Sighs: