Five people died building the Mackinaw Bridge.
Spanning over four miles, the bridge attempts to connect the two halves of Michigan: the Upper and Lower Peninsula. The assembly of cables and steel helped create one of Michigan’s most iconic landmarks. It marks the transition between the rural, desolate Upper Peninsula to the urban Lower.
The bridge is as dangerous as it is exciting. There are four lanes of traffic, two going each way. The middle two lanes are grating, meaning you can see the water 500 feet below. This also means that while driving over the Grating Lane From Hell you can hear it. And I mean hear it. It sounds like what you’d expect driving over metal grating to sound like if it was just about to break. So not only can you hear the bridge breaking, but you can see the water you’re about to plunge into.
These fears are overdramatic, I get that. But there are actual concerns: snow and wind. If it’s too snowy or too windy (even during summer months), the bridge shuts down. This is the only way to traverse between Peninsulas. If the bridge closes, even for fifteen minutes, that can mean a traffic jam that goes back miles. (Remember, once you get to the UP you can say goodbye to freeways and roads with more than two lanes, so traffic jams grow exponentially.)
Whenever I went on road trips from my hometown of Negaunee, the bridge marked the halfway point. It served as a signal that we were that much closer to cities with cuisine options fancier than Applebee’s and clothing stores more luxurious than Maurice’s. (Note: Negaunee (KNEE-GONE-EE) is a city near Marquette. Don’t make the mistake in thinking it’s some exotic zoo animal.)
The most memorable trip across the bridge was none other than when I drove down to begin my freshman year at Michigan. It was painfully symbolic. As I was driving across the bridge, it started raining. Naturally, I turned on the windshield wipers. Naturally, the windshield wipes broke. Naturally, it started raining harder. Naturally, I was in the middle of the bridge and still had two (long) miles to go with zero visibility.
You’d think two miles is nothing, especially if you’re used to the speeds on a freeway. But, please don’t be mistaken. Two miles in the U.P. translates to at least 10 miles downstate. Going, maybe, 10 mph, a distance of two miles takes 12 minutes. (Ty physics 140.) So there I was: driving in heavy rain, on a busy, windy bridge, with no functional windshield wipers, no visibility, for 12 minutes. Love my crazy, beautiful life.
After we (somehow) crossed the bridge, my nerves were shot. We pulled off at the first exit and tried to find a car shop to fix the one functionality we actually needed. Fortunately, it was Sunday and all the car shops were closed! So not only was I forced to drive 12 minutes over a dangerous bridge in the rain, but I was forced to drive five hours to Ann Arbor through mixed showers. Thankfully, it only rained maybe five times, but each time, it poured. A trip that normally would have taken 7.5 hours took 11.
The trip changed me: I’m always thankful when the windshield wipers work in the car I’m driving and I freak out whenever they break.
Anecdote: The windshield wiper on the passenger side of my boyfriend’s old 2001 Mustang broke and stayed broken for an entire month. It wasn’t worth it to replace because we were going to be getting a new car the following month. So I suffered through weeks of no-visibility, but at least now I have some symmetry with this story in regard to its symbolism (i.e. broken windshield wipers both starting and ending college, just really great writing material, IMO).
These major life events have (for some reason) always featured broken windshield wipers. The severity of these literal rites of passage mirror the severity of the changes I’ve gone through the past five years. I know it’s a cliché to say “college changed me completely and I don’t recognize who I was in high school!” but college changed me completely and I don’t recognize who I was in high school. 2019 is in one week, I turn 23 in five days, and I was last in high school four years ago. It’s equally far away as it is close. I vividly remember high school, I have memories. But I can’t remember the person the memories belong to. (Yes, that sentence ends with a preposition. It sounds organic, Professor Koutmou, how dare you mark my grade down for that! It’s called voice! Look it up, sis!)
In all seriousness, every aspect of my life has changed:
- I’ve gained a two-year relationship and 35 pounds (both are related, probably).
- I’ve gained a degree in Biochemistry (although I still don’t know glycolysis… ugh, whatever).
- I’ve learned more scientific concepts and protocols that I ever have in my life. (I haven’t done a Western blot in easily two months but I could outline the entire protocol for you in excruciating detail.)
- Even though I haven’t brushed up on my Spanish in two years, it’s still lightyears better than it was in high school. (The only Spanish I retained from high school was how to say “My pants are cheese” and “The dolphins are on fire”, clearly two essential phrases for when I travel abroad.)
- I have a fucking cat. I hated cats. (Maple, don’t read this.)
- I eagerly watch the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. I never would have watched such (seemingly) vapid reality television in high school. (And another thing: On season six, when Lisa Rinna was genuinely concerned about Kim Richards, Kim was 100% in the wrong. If you’re familiar with iconic moments such as “Have a piece of bread, and maybe you’ll calm down”, and “I’ve had enough of you, you beast”, you know how intense it got. Wine was thrown, glasses were broken, people relapsed, fighting was almost constant. I get it, Lisa totally overreacted when Kim insinuated she had dirt on her husband (which was a complete, immature bluff), but can you blame her? She spent the entire season trying to help Kim, coming from a genuinely good place (which is rare on RHOBH), and Kim retaliates by mocking her weight (many people joke about Rinna’s weight and if she has an eating disorder or not) right after Lisa opens up about her sister dying from drug overdose and then explains the THREE addiction-related deaths in her family were what motivated her to so strongly make sure Kim was already (it goes down in history as in the best apology the RH franchise has ever seen). It also goes without saying that Kim did relapse. She took a sleeping pill that made her actually seem, well, fucking drunk at a party. And then she smoked a cigar in front of everyone (?). Yes, definitions of sobriety can change over time and it isn’t my place to define that for someone. But things get messy once you realize how Kim defined her sobriety the previous season. Lisa Vanderpump asked if Kim had taken a sleeping pill (because she was acting non-sober after a plane ride), and Kim was offended because that would have meant she relapsed. So, by her own definition, Kim had actually relapsed. Op!) Yeah, Real Housewives is so much fun.
- I can actually cook? I have seven different cooking oils? (Olive, Canola, Peanut, Vegetable, Stir-fry, Sesame, Sunflower, bitch!) I hated olive oil in high school and religiously used canola oil in everything.
- I don’t let people say gay slurs in front of me anymore. (This one is embarrassing. In an attempt to seem cool with my straight friends after coming out in high school, I said ‘yeah, it’s totally okay for you guys to still call things gay in front of me, haha, I love that’)
- I used to be the token gay friend. All my friends would try and set me up on blind dates with guys just because they were gay and so was I. Now whenever I go back to the UP, I cringe at the things I hear when I go to the occasional party. One girl proudly called herself a “fag hag”, which is just a girl with a lot of gay friends. Now, it’s one thing for a queer to reclaim the slur “fag” and use it ironically. (Even though it’s almost always coming from a negative place, I’m not really interested in spending my energy right now trying to stop them.) But when it’s a straight person? She literally wanted to be my friend just because I was gay. It’s incredibly offensive and ignorant.
- I can solve a 2×2 Rubik’s cube in less than one minute from memory. (A few things: I also know how to spell Rubik’s cube. Isn’t it kind of weird how it’s a “k” at the end? I always thought it should be an “x”. Anyway. I was so adamant about procrastinating my last finals week of college, I memorized the algorithm to solve a Rubik’s Cube. Also, if you’re scoffing at the fact it’s a 2×2 cube and not a 3×3, honey, let me tell you something: you’ll never solve it on your own.)
- I have logged 170 hours on Minecraft for the Switch. In one month. Now it isn’t new that I played a video game for a ridiculous amount of time (e.g. Skyrim, Simpson’s Tapped Out), but the fact it’s Minecraft, of all games, is crazy to me. I can actually remember multiple times during high school when my friends would play or mention Minecraft and I was embarrassed for them. Now I can’t look my boyfriend in the eye. (Also, if you’re wondering, you know I killed that Ender Dragon! You know I have that Diamond Pick Axe with Silk Touch 1, honey!)
I look back at pre-Minecraft Zach and I see a guy who was not only complicit but culpable for his tokenization. I see a guy who had no authentic, legitimate plan for the future. I see a guy who surrounded himself with friends who not only didn’t understand the queer experience but didn’t even want to. I see a guy who couldn’t survive on his own. I see a guy who wasn’t fully formed. I see a guy who was still too scarred from previous experiences to openly love someone. I see a guy who was still too scarred to show affection. I see a guy who was too terrified to hug his friends and family. I see a guy who I am not.
I sometimes wonder what a Venn Diagram of myself, these two halves, would look like. On one side would be the Metro-Detroit Zach, and the other would be Marquette. This entire essay clearly illustrates all of our differences, but what about our similarities? Are there even any? What bonds connect us, what scissors threaten to cut the cord?
I’m reminded of nature and running. While I haven’t actually gone on a run in months (no, actually, years), I still yearn for the point where I’ve reclaimed my body from late night binging and lethargy and I can run through the woods again. Someday I hope to have a dog again. I still read, write, and obsess over the Oscar’s.
Though my body has transformed, bulged, and softened, there are small aspects I recognize. A piece of hair, a fingernail. Though hidden, the old me still remains, whispering to me. Reminding me of a fragmented past, a past that no longer belongs to me.
Both versions of me influence each other. The old me pushes me to go towards nature, while the new me pushes me the other way. Regardless of how these versions compare, they have to be connected for a relationship to exist in the first place. Aside from memory, few relationships connect me to the UP on an emotional level. There are (maybe) two people I still talk to from the UP. While some friendships are still healthy, others have turned toxic, favoring gaslighting and abuse. The gaslighting was so rampant, I have a hard time even admitting it happened, and that yes, I am sane, I was disrespected, and I was right.
Even family relationships have suffered. While most of my family remains outside of Michigan, a select few still reside in Marquette County. Never resolving troubling interactions in the past, one relationship, in particular, has dissolved to be completely one-sided. Which side do I belong to? Well, let’s just say I have a string of unread, unacknowledged text messages that I plan to continue ignoring.
These thinning relationships are distracting and push me towards dark places, places where I will never be good enough, never respected, and never taken seriously. Places I cannot afford to go. The journey to these places is something that happens without me realizing it. Much like traversing across a bridge without a windshield wiper, I find myself struggling for reasons outside of my control. I find myself blind, arriving at a destination I had no places on going to.
But sometimes enough is enough. Sometimes you have to admit you owe no single person, no landmass anything. You have to admit you owe yourself the freedom to owe them nothing. Sadly, the only resolution in sight is no resolution at all. And under the carpet, things must go.
I miss Lake Superior. I miss running through the woods. I miss letting my dogs out into our property, where they have an infinite amount of land to chase squirrels, deer, and birds. I miss how colorful fall is. I miss it all.
I miss who I was and who I thought I was going to be. I really do. But I am content, I am content with these two halves. Meeting but never touching. Watching but never being seen. The old me was ignorant, naive, and overconfident. He was not healthy, he did not let friends in. There is some speck of him within me, reminding me of what I had to do to get here. Reminding me of what will never be. Reminding me of what I must remember.