All We Can Do Is Wait

All We Can Do Is Wait

Richard Lawson


    The Bridge

IT WAS CLOUDY when the bridge gave way, about a hundred cars crossing the Mystic River on the Tobin. People who saw it said it just suddenly happened, but how sudden could something like this be? It must have been years of bad maintenance, years of some important part being worn away by rust or stress or time. Really, the only sudden part was the very end.

From far away, it seemed to go softly, one section dropping down, and then another, splashing into the river, dust falling like snow after it. Up close, of course, it was a different matter: a terrible, quick quaking and then the horror of plummeting. It was hard to say who was less lucky, the ones who fell into the water or the ones who fell onto Charlestown, debris tumbling on top of them. Was it better to be swiftly crushed or to slowly drown in your car?

It’s easy to forget, seeing a stream of cars on the highway or stuck in city traffic, that each of them represents a person, or several people, all trying to get somewhere of their own, home or to a meeting or to a funeral or starting out a trip. When the police and rescue teams arrived on the scene of the Tobin Bridge collapse, one of their first jobs was to determine how many people were involved. They needed to know who to look for, how many cars had gone in the water, how many had crashed down onto land and been buried by metal and cement. They needed some idea of the lives involved, of all the people they were searching for.

Kate Vong was driving back from a morning shift at the restaurant where she worked, tired and stressed about school, racing to make an afternoon class, worried about finding parking, thinking she’d love to quit her job and be a full-time student like so many of her friends. She was on the phone with her younger sister, who was complaining about wanting to use the car, a fight they had often. Kate honked at a car that cut her off, and was almost across the bridge when it juddered and broke. The last thing she saw before her car tipped toward the ground and everything went black was a few spatters of rain on her windshield, and she wondered if she had an umbrella.

Theo and Linda Elsing were on the other side, heading to their daughter’s school for a meeting. Theo was on the phone with his office, annoyed that he’d been pulled away in the middle of the day. His wife was reading e-mails on her phone, gently putting her hand on Theo’s arm and telling him to slow down, that they weren’t going to be late. They’d had to take a detour because of traffic, and weren’t even supposed to be on the bridge. Theo slowed the car and told work he had to hang up. He gave his wife an apologetic look, and then the road cracked underneath them, the car sliding to the edge and toppling over the side, Linda saying, “Theo . . .” and grabbing the dash as the car fell.

Aimee Peck was a few cars ahead, out over the water, heading north to Salem on a sort of field trip with her friends, their favorite song blaring. They were laughing about something that had happened at play rehearsal the day before, Aimee’s friend Taissa driving fast, saying she couldn’t believe the show was going up in only a few weeks. Aimee was excited about the trip, and about the play, but she was distracted. She was staring out the passenger seat window when she felt the car shake, heard Taissa screaming as she twisted the wheel and the car went flipping down toward the river. Aimee closed her eyes.

There were many others, nearly two hundred in all. A mother taking her children to her parents’ place in Portland. A lawyer headed home after a frustrating morning in court. A newlywed couple on their way to the airport, suitcases in the trunk packed with warm-weather clothes. There was a woman fighting on the phone with her daughter in Arizona, a man crying about the dog he’d just put to sleep. There were three babies, there was a taxi driver taking a long fare to Revere, there were truck drivers heading north, others heading into the city. There were more.

That’s what they—the paramedics, the police—found when they went looking in the rubble of the bridge, once they’d determined it was safe enough to do so. A whole panorama of lives—people trapped or injured or killed together. They dug people out as carefully and as quickly as they could. They set up triage onsite; they put the direst cases in a phalanx of ambulances, sending them off to the closest hospitals. They sent divers into the water, afraid of what they would find. The attention of the city, the great eye of Boston, swooped down and watched with grief and concern, helicopters whirring overhead, news crews trying to get the best angles.

Slowly, all across Greater Boston, the phone calls began. Loved ones getting word, rushing out of offices and homes and classrooms to make their way to the hospitals, reeling with panic and fear, tearing through a city once again roiling with tragedy. They descended on emergency rooms, pleading for answers, but instead were forced to wait for word of parents and sisters and girlfriends. To find out who, exactly, had just been lost.

Chapter One


THOUGH HIS PARENTS could be dead, lost to him forever, there was only one voice Jason wanted to hear just then. As he stood outside the hospital, the day darkening and surreal around him, Jason reached for the familiar, comforting talisman of his phone and opened a voice mail.

“Hey, you. I’m driving to Laurie’s, wanted to say hi. I know you hate voice mail, so I don’t know why I’m leaving you one. But—” There was a little pause, the rumble of the car going over a pothole, a faint bit of melody from whatever song had been turned down to make the call. “This is corny, but I think about you all the time. And right now is part of ‘all the time,’ right? So, I’m thinking about you now. Does that make sense? I hope it does. Anyway, as Carly Rae says, I really like you. O.K.? O.K. This is embarrassing. Goodbye! I like you! Goodbye.”

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