July 20, 2015
As a kid, I climbed anything, reaching great heights only to become trapped atop by my own fear. Like a kitten, I became treed, paralyzed until my father scaled the heights to rescue me.
Today, my girl had an appointment in the South Side of Pittsburgh. While driving over the bridge, I spotted a kitten trembling among the rusting yellow girders, mouth stretched in a desperate ‘meow.’ The kids and I agreed. The kitten needed a hero. They decided I was that hero.
After struggling to find parking, I set out on this steamy, humid day, conviction in my steps. It would be worth a tardy for the appointment if we saved a life as a result of the mission. The kids’ cheers filled my ears until I strode onto the bridge.
Pittsburgh is the City of Bridges. We have 446 of them, many dating to 1818. Few are in tip-top repair, either, and several received failing safety marks. As Traffic whizzed by on my right and a drop to certain death loomed on my left, the roar of the rain-swollen river filled me with fear. I reached for the divider, wishing the decay didn’t leave clear views of the angry waters below. My knees buckled, but I pressed on. Nausea and dizziness assailed me. I ignored it. Instead, I closed the eye closest to the water with its scant protections of thin metal rods and decaying cables and marched with purpose, a soldier on a rescue mission.
I peeked over the barrier, hoping to find the frightened feline. No luck. My knees turned to jelly as I continued over the Allegheny River, exaggerating the peril of my situation. People walked this bridge all the time. I told myself to pull it together. A little life hung in the balance, and my kids deserved a brave momma, not some wuss. With each step, my head swum. Vertigo, I supposed. Interesting how in such situations our own, fertile minds feed the fears.
At last, I found the little critter huddled in a corner, crying for help. I reached, but the barrier was tall and wide. In order to reach this kitten, I needed to climb atop the beam and stretch at least half my height while cars whooshed by. My breath came in gasps. My jelly-knees ached and threatened to pitch me into the current. I shook, admonishing myself for stupidity and cowardice. “This is what I felt like when I was a kid and climbed trees or hills.” My heart pounded, alarming in its cadence. “Daddy’s not here to rescue me, though.”
I must have looked a sight, because a college girl stopped. “Are you okay?”
“Not really. See, there’s this kitten trapped on the other side of this beam. My kids and I want to rescue it, but I’m a bit scared now that I face this reality.”
She stood on tiptoes to look. The grey tiger stripes blended in with the shadows. “Poor thing. How did you see it?” She looked around. “Where are your kids?”
“Kids are in the car watching a movie.” I pointed to a lot I could no longer see. My heart thumped with renewed urgency. All should be fine with them, though. Alexis recently passed babysitting classes. Still I wanted to hurry. “We saw it when we drove by.”
“What are you going to do with the kitten once you get it?”
Shoot, I didn’t think that far in advance. We couldn’t afford another pet. “I don’t know,” I stammered, “but I can’t leave it here to die.”
She nodded. “I’ll hold your legs.”
I climbed atop. The rivets bit into my knees. Waiting for a break in the traffic, I prayed. “I’m a fool and all, but I’m trying to do your work.” When the light changed, I stretched my arthritic body. The Duquesne student, Katey, held me steady. The kitten avoided my grasp, but since there was nowhere safe to run, succumbed. It weighed nearly nothing, a bit of grey fuzz trembling in my hand. I pushed back with a groan as the breeze from passing cars blew my hair across my face.
“You’re safe,” I whispered into its twitching ear.
Katey helped me down. My joints all ached, and I stood in the middle of a bridge, frightened still by my surroundings, but grateful for the rescue. I wondered if this crazy adrenaline was what my Dad felt when he climbed to my rescue, ignoring his scoliosis. I wondered if he ever feared when rescuing his treed daughter.
I closed my right eye, nestling the kitten close to my collar bone, and held on to the barrier with my left hand to return to my kids. Katey cooed, “She’s so cute. Can I hold her?”
Lunch threatened an unpleasant revisit. “Let me get off this bridge first, please.”
Katey walked beside me, admiring the kitten who anchored to my hand with pointy claws. When we reached solid ground, I embraced her, careful of the cat. “Thank you for your help.”
“I have an idea,” she said. “If you don’t want her, my roommate and I would love a kitten.”
Perfect solution. I kissed the little fuzz ball on the head and handed her to her new “momma.” “I hope you’ll be very happy together.”
Although my kids were pleased the kitten was safe, they were angry we didn’t keep it ourselves. No good deed, I suppose.
Life requires bravery even when we feel unequal to the challenge. Thus, I record this memory to remind myself I can be brave even when I don’t believe myself up to the encounter.
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