The Bridge

Printer-friendly version

Author’s note: This is a companion piece to Wittgenstein’s Illusion, which I intended to be a stand-alone story. But when it was done, I had an uncharacteristic urge to try writing it from the other PV. That was the whole premise of Duet, of course, but that was planned from the outset. This just kind of happened.

The two stories could be read as stand-alone pieces or together. Because I didn’t want to simply repeat the characters’ dialogue from Wittgenstein’s Illusion, it’s probably better to read that one first. But if someone happens to do it the other way ‘round, please let me know how well that works! – Emma T.

The Bridge

There are days when you can see your whole life in a coffee cup, I guess. I certainly could, today. Sixteen fluid ounces of reasonable effort – Sabrina was new, and not yet up Lord Kitchener’s standards of excellence. But I had no problem drinking coffee that was merely pretty good.

It was her little joke that left me feeling like I’d been kicked by a horse. Rather than spelling my name in its boring, conventional and normally masculine way, she wrote “Teri” on the cup, and added a heart above the “i” rather than a dot. Just on the off chance that I missed the gut punch line.

It was nothing new. I’d been getting jokes like that as far back as I could remember. Even when I was in grade school, a formless blob not much different from any of the other formless blobs that inhabit the youngest grades. All scrawny arms and legs and faces just losing their baby fat.

But there’s a world of difference, in those early years, between “not much different” and “no different.” Children who are ferociously learning to label and categorize everything in their small worlds pounce on every difference, however nuanced. I was different from the other boys. How much different didn’t matter; in a binary world, “different” is sufficient to sever you from the pack. To leave you open to attack. I was culled.

I didn’t know why I was different, back then. How could I? I, too, was simply processing external data, trying to come to grips with why I didn’t feel like I fit in this world I was in. That I didn’t fit had been made clear to me, but deep down I knew the other kids were right. Not in their actions; I never understood the cruelty. But in their perception. I was different, and I knew I was different.

I don’t know when it first dawned on me that the source of the difference was that, in my heart, I knew I was in the wrong pack. I wasn’t a boy at all; I was a little girl with the wrong set of equipment. But I knew that the little girl’s pack wouldn’t take me either. Whatever my heart said, I wasn’t a little girl on the outside, and that difference was a barrier I could not even conceive of breaching.

I remember trying to process that, to figure out where that left me. There were a few girls in my school who, by their words, actions and attitudes, rejected the rigidity of their assigned gender roles. They played rough and they talked tough. They gave no apparent thought to their appearance. Some kids were mean and called them dykes. I had to google that. But most kids – and adults – called them tomboys. The ones who excelled at the things that measured excellence in boys were admired. Girls, it seems, could transgress onto the playing fields of boys. Not without risk, but under certain circumscribed conditions, without loss of status. There was a place for them.

But boys who were insufficiently masculine? Oh, that was a different story. They were despised. Given a million nicknames designed to wound, to demean. Degrade. Told, in ways subtle and very much not, that they were lesser beings, outcasts. Unworthy and contemptible.

And, as we got older, as the formless blobs grew taller and stronger, as they lost their body fat and put on muscle, the ostracism became harsher, more physical. The girls grew and developed and became interested in boys, but they, too, observed the code. The boys who did not exhibit the classic markers of masculinity were pitied at best, despised at worst. To be seen with the outcasts was to risk becoming one, and there weren’t many who would do that. Altogether, it was a hard life and a cruel world.

There were ways to escape. One found meaning somehow. Most, I guess, lost themselves in video games. I knew a lot like that. Some chose drugs, and checked out. Others – the smart ones – found meaning in their mastery of academics, climbing to a perch from which they could, at least on some measures, look down on their tormentors. I wished I could do that, and I tried. But I didn’t have the horsepower. The only subject where I truly excelled was art.

I started drawing when I was young. I used pencils and crayons at first, but as I got older I graduated to colored pencils, charcoal, watercolors, oil. I did digital art too, but wasn’t really attracted to it. There’s something about the feel of a brush in your hand. The smell of oil paint. Or the resistance you feel through your fingers as charcoal pushes across the pages of a sketchpad. I could lose myself, drawing and painting.

Often I did just that.

I didn’t have the grades to go to college and I was, in any event, eager to be done with formal education. School had most definitely not been a pleasant experience. Instead, by sheer luck I got connected with an electrician who took me on as an apprentice. I did have to take classes at night to get a certificate, but most of the people there were pretty focused, as I was, on getting their certificates and getting out. The trades can be pretty rough places, but Alan was a quiet guy who didn’t give me any trouble so long as I was reliable and worked hard. Those were things I could certainly do.

Alan wasn’t based in my home city, and that was another big plus. I was as eager to leave it behind as I was eager to stop attending schools. I never wanted to see the kids I had grown up with and I hoped – with every fiber of my being, I hoped – that in a new town, I could have a fresh start. Build a new life. And I did, sort of.

School and work provide structures that can facilitate social interaction of both the positive and negative kind. For me, school had been uniformly negative. But working for a solitary guy who was older than my parents provided no real social interaction at all. After three years, the only people who even knew my name, apart from my boss, were the baristas at Lord Kitchener’s, and that’s only because they wrote it on my to-go cups.

The coffee shop provided the bulk of my human interaction, such as it was. The baristas all knew who I was and I knew all of them. Sometimes I would sit on the patio sketching people while I had my coffee. I would see a woman wearing a top that flowed just . . . so. And I would try to capture the movement of the fabric, how it gathered to showcase the swell of her breast, the narrowness of her waist. I would see a man laughing, and try to capture the sparkle of his eyes, the flash of sunlight off the pearl of his teeth.

I had sketches of the owner, Mr. Kitchener. He was hard to draw – a small, intense man who somehow filled a room with his oversized personality. How do you capture that? I had sketches of the guy everyone called Prince, the Barista who made the absolute best coffee – a tall, spare Moroccan with immense dignity. Carmen and Jen, nice girls who tended to work the lunch shifts. Carmen had amazingly fluffy black hair that was fun to draw; Jen had interesting hands with graceful, tapered fingers. Fingers are a challenge, and Jen made me better.

My favorite subject was Jack, a good-looking, sandy-haired guy with a warm smile and incredibly kind eyes. Jack was always nice to me when I came in. Sometimes we even struck up a conversation, but I made sure not to talk for too long. I didn’t want to interfere with his work, but mostly I didn’t want to let on how starved I was for human interaction of any kind. Desperation isn’t pretty.

I had fantasies about Jack from time to time. Stupid, I know. But he was nice to me, and that was so rare. There wasn’t really anything personal about it of course; Jack was genuinely nice to everyone. In my imagination, Jack knew that I was a girl inside and had no trouble accepting me. He didn’t stop being nice. Maybe . . . maybe I was even special? In my fantasies, we were even friends outside of Lord Kitchener’s. It would be so nice to have a real friend.

One positive thing about my isolation was that, in the privacy of my own apartment, I could finally let my inner woman slip out. I started to acquire my own wardrobe, with clothes that no-one ever saw me wear. I made my own breast forms with cut-off nylons stuffed with dry rice. I bought padded gaffs, some lingerie and heels, a couple skirts, tops and dresses. Not many. I wasn’t rich. But I also had no debts and few expenses. And Amazon, mercifully, allowed me to shop with a minimum of embarrassment. Someone could track my purchases, of course. But who would bother? Who cared about me? Swole Jeff Bezos? Please.

I taught myself how to use makeup from watching videos that were posted – just free for the taking! – on YouTube. And I loved it – combining my love of drawing and painting with my intense desire to look as feminine as I felt inside.

In the privacy of my apartment, I finished my sketches and I did my painting. The painting that I spent the most time on was the one that I called, “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Woman.” The name was a riff off of something I’d been forced to read in high school and hadn’t cared for, but it fit. I painted in oil, in a style that was inspired by Renoir, a self-portrait that showed me as I might be at my very best. The way that I wished nature had made me. In the painting, I was wearing something long and flowing, feminine and pretty. My hair was soft, my lips were moist and my smile welcoming. I painted, and I longed, and I dreamed.

No-one ever saw the fruits of my efforts. Not my drawings, not my paintings, and most definitely not me in my feminine style. It’s not that I thought I did a bad job. Really, I thought I did well – maybe even very well. But fear held me back. What if I were found out? What if I gave myself away? A lifetime of taunting, of mockery, held me back. No one mocked me in this town, and I didn’t want that to change. Even if that meant – as it did – that no-one knew me in this town.

But it seemed I had not been careful enough. Or maybe there just wasn’t any way to really hide who I was. Sabrina had seen it right away, and like all of the people I had left behind, she could not wait to show her scorn. As I saw the name on the cup and saw the mockery in her eyes, in her cruel smile, I could hear the playground taunts all over again. See the contempt of my classmates in high school. Feel the judgment, again and again and again: You do not belong. You are not worthy. There is no place for you.

I found myself walking rapidly down the street. Away, just as fast as I could go at a walk, without ever having made a conscious decision to leave. I needed to escape. To leave people behind. To be alone with the wind and the trees and the grasses and rocks, the things that are and were and would always be, perfect and without judgment. I had no place in a world of people.

I hadn’t gotten very many blocks when Jack caught up with me, making apologies and insisting that Sabrina would pay a price. He was outraged. I wasn’t quite sure why. I kept walking, needing – viscerally needing – to put distance between me and the coffee shop, and the town. And people.

But Jack followed. I wasn’t sure why he did that either. I didn’t want to tell him to go away; Jack was a nice guy. But it was clear that he was outraged for his boss. Didn’t want to be the kind of person who would let Sabrina-like behavior take place at his workplace and stay silent. Admirable, really. Like I say, Jack’s a nice guy. He’s nice to everyone. It’s got nothing to do with me.

I took the path that led to the footbridge over Durling Creek. I wanted to stand in the shadows, in the dappled sunlight cast by the tall oaks. To feel the wind ruffle my hair and hear the water bubbling along. To let the sounds of people fade behind me. But Jack didn’t leave. I wasn’t sure what to do about Jack.

He wanted to know why I didn’t care what happened with Sabrina. Why it didn’t have anything to do with me. I tried to explain. I don’t think he got it. But at least he was quiet for a bit, letting me think. Letting me be.

But then he wasn’t. He asked me to look at him, which, honestly, I had been avoiding. I like Jack. Everyone likes Jack, and Jack likes everyone. I didn’t want him to see that, somehow, I wanted more than that. I didn’t want him to read my daydreams on my face; catch some hint of my fantasies in my eyes. But he’d always been nice to me, and it wasn’t so very much to ask. I faced him. Forced myself to look in his eyes.

And, amazingly, Jack apologized. To me!!! For . . . for not telling me that he had come after me because I mattered. Me. Terry. That he cared about me. That was so novel I had trouble processing it. It was almost like my fantasy.

But then, he had to go and say that he cared about me because I was a “nice guy” that he “wanted to know better.” And I groaned inside, thinking, Oh, Jack! Why is it that only the vicious can see clearly? What would it take for nice guy Jack to actually see me?

I had never, in my whole life, told a single person my secret. The words had never left my mouth. I stood there on the bridge, looking at Jack, and wondering what, after all, I still had to lose. I couldn’t go back to the coffee shop now. What Sabrina had done would be common knowledge already; I couldn’t face it. And however unsatisfactory, that had been my sole connection to humanity. That and my taciturn boss, the guy who gave me a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work, asking and giving no more than that.

I was so very tired of being alone. Tired of being ostracized. Longing for simple human warmth, for acceptance as a person and as a woman, overwhelmed me. And I knew, somehow, that I had reached the end. I would take a chance. One, last chance.

I told him.

I waited for the judgment. What would it be? Would he even believe me? Would he still want to be friends, if he knew that I was trans? Or would he reject me, like everyone else had rejected me? I tried not to care, but I failed. I could not help caring.

But what came was so unlooked for, so unexpected, that it literally took my breath. He said, “I’ve been attracted to you for a long time, and I’ve been lying to myself about that. Lying, because I’m not gay, and I thought you were a guy.”

What? Jack was attracted to me – as a woman? I had feared his judgment like I was facing Torquemada. What if it was, instead, the Judgment of Paris?

I could not believe it. Did not dare allow myself to believe it. I studied his kind face, his amazing eyes, for some hint, some clue, that might suggest that he was teasing me. That he was going to wait for my response, then destroy me more thoroughly than an entire army corps of Sabrinas ever could. Part of me wanted to run, but I was literally petrified. I couldn’t even move. And, there was a part of me . . . a tiny, battered, mustard-seed sized part, that still dared, after all these years, to hope.

He reached out a hand, slowly, carefully. Put it out there, for me to take it. But he made no other move, no other sound. Could I trust what I thought I was seeing in his eyes? What I thought I knew about him? Had I, in the end, been just as blind as he had been?

Between the pregnant now and a future barely imagined lay the chasm of my fears. Could I cross it with nothing more than faith, hope and love? Would so fragile, so vulnerable, a bridge bear the weight of my dreams? My desires?

I didn’t know. I only knew, with a sudden certainty, that I would not hold back. I would trust love, and I would give it my heart and soul and the very breath of my body.

Accepting my blindness, accepting my vulnerability, finally allowing my eyes to reveal all of my terror, my hope, my deepest longing, I reached across the chasm and took his hand.

We came together, shyly. Tentatively. And he kissed me, so softly. So sweetly. It was kind, and tender, and hinted – just hinted – at more. Maybe much more. And in that kiss, I felt a touch, at long, long last, of redemption. Of spring after a brutal winter, or morning after a sleepless night.

Maybe he would run one day. Maybe I would. But in that beautiful morning on the footbridge over Durling Creek, my heart sang with the joy of love finally seen, finally recognized, and I saw that love reflected in his matchless eyes. And the world, in that moment, was a magical place.

The end.

For information about my other stories, please check out my author's page.

145 users have voted.
If you liked this post, you can leave a comment and/or a kudos! Click the "Thumbs Up!" button above to leave a Kudos


Building up to Romance

Sabrina G Langton's picture

Very nice, and so romantic at the end. I love Teri's internal monologue, it was so beautiful, I wish the world was similar to this when I was younger. Thanks for sharing...

Thanks, Sabrina!

Emma Anne Tate's picture

So glad you enjoyed it. As Max points out, the world’s still not like this, for so many. Sadly.



Dee Sylvan's picture

What a beautiful backstory to 'Wittgenstein’s Illusion'. Seriously Emma, Torquemada? I am in awe of the intellectual and emotional depth of your writings. Teri's courage to take a longshot of a chance and follow her heart is something not many of us would dare, but then regret for our whole life. I'm glad she was rewarded after a life of heartbreak and disappointment. Your writings reach our hearts like few other authors. Thank you.


No one expects

Julia Miller's picture

The Spanish Inquisition

You can’t Torquemada anything!

Emma Anne Tate's picture

I’ll have to confess that Mel Brooks was my introduction to Torquemada, but Dostoyevsky’s Grand Inquisitor story, in The Brothers Karamazov, was what really fixed him in my mind . . . .

Thank you for your kind words, Dee. I am touched.


This story was the perfect counterpoint

Julia Miller's picture

To your original story. I found it was more touching as well since Terry seems to be a more emotional person than Jack, but we find that these two shared something by the end of the story and they may have a future together. With any luck and maybe with Jack's encouragement, Terry will finally crack her shell and become Teri for good. Great story!

A different voice . . . .

Emma Anne Tate's picture

I’m glad you picked up on the change of voice; I really worked hard to make it unique to her. She is a trans woman, and she is an artist. She sees and experiences the world very differently than Jack, and I wanted to make sure that came through. But the ending was the point in the story where the melody and counter-melody join together . . . .



For one that finds love how many do wallow in despair....


Emma Anne Tate's picture

I find I can’t write that reality in a solo, Max. I was able to put episodes in Aria — the clueless shopper, the ice skater, the father, the law school friend — that showcase the hard reality so many face. But only because I intended a good ending. So many people on this site have been beaten down by reality too many times. If I can’t write in hope, I can’t bring myself to write.



I wasn't all that excited about the first one. Possibly the name partially hurt it, I don't know.

But this one? This one sings! Very well done! Terry's pain is one felt by many of us, for various reasons. You showed that ending, wonderfully!

"Life is not measured by the breaths you take, but by the moments that take your breath away.”
George Carlin

Thank you, Karen

Emma Anne Tate's picture

The nice part of writing the two halves of the story is that different people connect to different stories. Based on preliminary results, I’d say more people had a positive reaction to “Illusion,” but that’s okay. No reason why everyone shouldn’t get a story they like!


A perfect Counterpoint

Lucy Perkins's picture

Oh my goodness.
This is a wonderful compliment to the other half of the story, rich in emotional depth and longing.
Just as Terri ( I do hope that she picks another name, one that she and not that vile, crass and soon to be jobless bully Sabrina chooses) is a talented artist, so are you Emma, and this is a very fine work.
Lucy xx

"Lately it occurs to me..
what a long strange trip its been."

You are too kind, Lucy!

Emma Anne Tate's picture

Thank you. I’m very glad you enjoyed it.


Oh oh, Emma!

I wonder how much of what you write is based on experience (particularly this pair, and "Aria").
It does not matter, because if it is imagination you truly have the ability to use it, if experience, then you know how to spread the information.
I have never felt these pressures, and have only learnt about them after my surfing led to "Closet", but nothing from elsewhere has led me to a belief that gender problems are all imaginary.
Thus my signoff

A world without borders . . . .

Emma Anne Tate's picture

And no-one an outsider. Wouldn’t that be grand? Of course, that’s pretty much what Erin has built here. Near as I can tell, all are welcome, so long as they follow the short set of rules that starts with “keep it friendly.” Imagine if the wider world worked that way too!

Thank you, as always, for your kind words. I treasure them.


Another gem

I actually enjoyed this even more than the original. You have a good imagination and a wonderful way with words.

Again you have jumped the queue of stories I'm trying hard to catch up with.


I think . . .

Emma Anne Tate's picture

I may give you a couple days’ grace to get caught up. Just a couple, though!

Thanks, Alison. I’m delighted that you like my writing which can, I know, get a little complicated. . . .


Oh wow!

Words fail me, this was soooooo good. The first few paragraphs could be my life. I didn't quite fit in, I didn't know why, I simply didn't get stuff the other boys all seemed to know before it was taught. Thanks for sharing this.

>>> Kay

You are very welcome

Emma Anne Tate's picture

I'm glad the story spoke to you, Kay. Hugs,


Different Perspective

Daphne Xu's picture

It's nice to revisit the story from the perspective of a different character.

Such a thing is impossible when a story jumps around from viewpoint character to viewpoint character, unless the viewpoint character is the narrator with his own commentary on the views of the characters.

In this case the two viewpoints are consistent. It's possible for different characters to see and observe different things.

-- Daphne Xu

I've certainly read stories which explore the phenomenon

Emma Anne Tate's picture

Donaldson had a good series that did that, if I remember right. The Real Story, or something like that. I haven't tried writing one myself; it might be interesting. Here and in Duet, the characters' report the seeing the same events, but their internal reaction to them is very different.



Daphne Xu's picture

The title itself, apart from the story, had a particular familiarity to me. :-)

-- Daphne Xu


RachelMnM's picture

This story from beginning to end is flawless! It flows, ebbs, and resonates so deeply within me I wanted more, for it not to end. The writing is beyond silky smooth... Impressively constructed and vivid, like move you to feel every nuanced emotion... Where has this story been all my life! Thank you for capturing something so real, so personal to so many (me). Love, love, loved this story. BTW - I read it first, out of whatever order you'd mentioned, but you can believe I will be reading any and ever word remotely connected to this offshoot.



Rachel M. Moore...

Wittgenstein’s Illusion

Daphne Xu's picture

Have you read the original, the same story from the other guy's PoV?

-- Daphne Xu

Going to now!

RachelMnM's picture

Thank you for this... I've pinged Emma, so will probably get the same direction. Absolutely loved this story! Can't wait to read the reverse and if it's 1/10th as good - it'll be another WOW! :-)




Rachel M. Moore...

Thank-you, Rachel.

Emma Anne Tate's picture

I’m so very glad the story touched you. Thank you for your kind words!


Lifetime of cruelty crushes faith

BarbieLee's picture

Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.
Emma, you told the fate of millions of people, not only those who are trans. So tell me woman, just exactly how old are you?
It's not true he who has the most toys when he dies wins. Worldly possessions become dust in the wind.

Oklahoma born and raised cowgirl

Old enough. . . .

Emma Anne Tate's picture

. . . . to have had my share of sleepless nights, and felt the cold of plenty of brutal winters. And come out the other side, still alive. Still hopeful.

Thanks for your comment, Barb. I love that passage.


In awe

Sunflowerchan's picture

I am in awe of your prose. This is the second story of yours I've read this afternoon and again I find myself at a lost of what to write. The story moved my soul and moved my muse. It's often said we stand upon the shoulders of those who have come before us, if that is the case then your shoulders are stronger than the mightest oak tree. It's also said we must learn from the masters in order to master the craft. Your prose, your pacing, the way you conjure images with words and paint wonderful pictures. Truely amazing. I have so much to learn from you. Again thank you for sharing this wonderful story with us.


Emma Anne Tate's picture

Sunflowerchan, I am blushing! Thank you for the incredibly positive comment — my head may get so big that my cute hat won’t fit!


Then just say

that it’s a fascinator.

So dear to my heart...

Andrea Lena's picture

I was so very tired of being alone. Tired of being ostracized. Longing for simple human warmth, for acceptance as a person and as a woman, overwhelmed me. And I knew, somehow, that I had reached the end. I would take a chance. One, last chance.

Every bit of fear wrapped around a life needing to live? A soul worthy of acceptance! A story that I'm keenly aware that hearkens to a time that demanded my own chance... Thanks seem too small, but I do thank you!


To be alive is to be vulnerable. Madeleine L'Engle
Love, Andrea Lena

Thank you, Drea.

Emma Anne Tate's picture

As you know, there is no better feeling, as an author, then to find that one of your stories has touched another person. Yours have certainly touched me; I'm delighted if, on occasion, I can return the favor.


Thanks, Dot.

Emma Anne Tate's picture



Excellent sequel

Patricia Marie Allen's picture

Or is that "requel"... The same story; different point of view. An in-depth look into the soul of the subject of the story; full of emotion and angst. How many of us have had the same kind of inner quandary facing a relationship with the world outside our internal life.

The what if game played to the nth degree. The same question rehashed with different nuances, all with a negative outcome and yet we want desperately to for there to be some glimmer of hope for a positive outcome, not daring to embrace it.

Excellent work Emma, thank you.


Happiness is being all dressed up and HAVING some place to go.
Semper in femineo gerunt
Ich bin eine Mann


Emma Anne Tate's picture

How often do we find ourselves caught between fear, desperation and hope? Wanting acceptance so badly; fearing rejection that we have met so often. Teri is definitely speaking for me -- and may be speaking for all of us -- when she says, "Between the pregnant now and a future barely imagined [lies] the chasm of my fears."


A lovely look from the other side of the mirror

Iolanthe Portmanteaux's picture

Amazingly good writing... and a very tender telling of the story from the other side. It makes the Wittgenstein story better.


- iolanthe

Thank you

Emma Anne Tate's picture

When I read Wittgenstein’s Illusion now, Teri seems very distant. Almost cold. I’m glad this story gave me an opportunity to show just how deceptive surface appearances can be. She had, after all, spent a lifetime hiding herself from the world.