Community Projects:
Bridges Contest Entries

The Bridges of Cobb County
by Ben Mayer

Roll tape.

Madison County, you pale in comparison. When I crossed my Rubicon, I had no footbridge. No gothic iron girders stretching across a mist. My voyage across my Delaware was far less structured and certain than the solace to be found in a sprawling steel cage. Washington didn’t need a bridge. Neither did I. A bridge is a crutch, and I have never broken a bone.

The fact of the matter is that I didn’t leave Epstein for any good reason other than the fact that I didn’t want to finish my summer reading. After all, it had been my safe haven from the throes of public school ever since I was in kindergarten. I can safely say that the whole problem of my moving from school to school emanated out of fear. It’s the timeless story of the boy in the traditional Catholic school, small and scared, unsure and slow to make friends. Except for the fact that I weighed a healthy 60 pounds and was a chin above the other kids and that it was at a Jewish school. Other than that, it’s the same story.


I moved from public school mid-kindergarten year. I was diagnosed with a case of reflux; it’s the strung-out-on-drugs, older brother of acid reflux, the condition treatable with Maalox. Mine was not nearly as easy to pacify. Mid passing a hula-hoop around a circle, with hands linked, or a comparable activity, I would become consumed by anxiety and vomit all over the carpet. It’s hard to be friends with the kid who threw up all over the alphabet rug. It’s even harder to clean up after him. Yet, the most difficult part was getting by. Every morning on the way to school I assured myself until it rang in my ears that I could get through the day. I would walk into school, paralyzed by fear. Soon, I was among friends. We would sing "These Are the Months of the Year," first in English, and then in Spanish for Thomas (toe-Moss’). Then the day started and I would complain of phantom illnesses to go home. That was my day. And then I stopped. I refused. And I left. I left before I could even get my yearbook.

That’s when I entered Epstein. An old, run-down Atlanta city public school purchased and somewhat refurbished and a member of the Solomon Schechter group. It was different. The kids wore funny hats, always, except at recess. My first teacher, Ms. Aronson, introduced me to the class. The kids were nice. She was stringent but nice. She was the kind of lady that was a happy mix between nice and Stalin. So I thrived. And I made friends. Not many. But I made friends. I was never in the cool group, but I fared well with most of the kids. I brought my G.I. Joes to school and my Starting Lineup action figures as well to play with during recess. Then one day they told me that I couldn’t bring them anymore. I was no longer the kid with all the toys, but I was able to make enough friends. Richard Marcus and David Ames would be my closest. Richard, skinny and dark, and David, short and freckled with a bowl cut; we spent most of our time together. On Friday nights we would watch TGIF and play Street Fighter until it was dark and then light again.

And the time went by.

Times were good. We had parties and Field Days; we had fun-runs and carnivals. We had spend-the-nights, though I never slept out until I was well into the third grade. But we thrived, which is all you can ever hope for. In the fourth grade, rather than join chorus, I decided to play the violin. Not because I particularly liked the violin, but because it was better than singing for an hour, on top of all of the other prayers we had to recite in class once a day. David, Richard and I all played the violin. Richard stopped in the 5th grade, though. He wanted to play piano instead.

Times were bad. Everything mattered; the clothes you wore, the shoes you laced up, the cars your parents drove. It was all a competition. And rich Jewish kids are mostly spoiled anyways. It seemed like it was always us against them, not just in sports, even though we mostly wanted to be on their side for football and basketball.

It was the summer following my 5th grade year that I decided that a little change might be in order. I had to read a stack of books that verged on impossible. One of them, Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, which I read just last year for British Literature, was on the required reading list. And so, August rolled around, and I said, very nonchalantly, that I wanted to go see what public school looked like again. And I did.

I sat down with an administrator. Her name was Mrs. Butterworth but she did not look like Aunt Jemimah or any other maple-syrup-bottle-ladies. Her skin was Crayola orange and her hair was Barbie blonde. She showed me around the school. It was old too. It seemed like it needed a giant bath for all of the 30 years that it had its doors open for to see, but it was different from Epstein.

"How many students go here?" I asked.

"About 1,500," she said.

There were 750 kids at Epstein for Pre-school through eighth grade.

So I decided to change. And my parents supported me. My sister was already planning to leave Epstein too. She was in third grade, skinny and stringy, she was quiet but had moxy and liked to fight a lot. So, between the two of us leaving, they would be saving about $14,000 a year. They seemed fine with the idea.

So, on the first day of school, I showed up. I didn’t have to wear my skullcap or pray each day, even though they gave us about 30 seconds each morning to do so if we wanted. And it was like I was dropped into a boat in "It’s a Small World" at Disney World. They all sang a song that made a mosaic, like the ones of runners and basketball players in tiles on the outside of the gym. Yellow and black and white and orange and purple, and they were all there. It was amazing. They were normal. And funny. And not Jewish. It was mind-boggling.

I crossed my bridge for no reason. I had no reason to do it. No guide wires to lead, no harness or grapple for protection, just a whim and a will. It was time for a change. And I made the change. And in later life I remark upon this as a miracle, in a calculated and manufactured world. I think how smart of me it was to be so stupid to be so spontaneous. But then I remember that that’s what I like most about me now, my spontaneity. I like feeling a wind in life on my face, even if it may mess up my hair. I’ve realized, I can always comb it back into place, but that I should enjoy the wind over the bridge and the water as it passes below.

Fade to Black.



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