The heat had been oppressive—nothing record setting, but relentless and without relief, day or night, rain or shine. The West Palm Beach basin, my adopted summer homestead, had lost a little of its glimmer as I looked out through the heat at the same boats and the same skyline day after day. Ave del Mar and I needed a change of scene, and late on a summer Wednesday we weighed anchor and made south for the city of Lake Worth and the relative calm of its anchorage.
I settled into my new spot and went to take a swim in the clear and cool Atlantic Ocean. Walking back to the boat I passed a young woman of maybe 25 who was sitting on the grass by the sidewalk off of Florida A1A. I made the slightest of eye contact, offered the slightest of nods, and kept my pace. An abrupt “Hey! Mister!” came bulleting my way as she sprung to her feet and scampered across perhaps half of the ground that separated us, where she skidded to a stop and I readied myself for the impending request for money that I was sure was coming. What I got instead was, “Do you know where Federal Highway is?” and a bit of a death stare. She did not look happy.
“I do,” I replied, pointing west across the Lake Avenue drawbridge. “It’s that way.”
“OVER the bridge? Like on the other side?”
“Like on the other side. Dixie Highway and Federal Highway. I get them mixed up—I’m not from here—but they’re both close.”
She closed another chunk of the gap that stood between us, an odd mixture of pensive and focused. Her words spilled out, one on top of the next, like a rock pile. “Me either. I’m from south Philly and I’m like FUCK this place I don’t know where ANYTHING fucking is—I was in Boynton and now I’m here and I need to fucking just get to Federal Highway.”
“It is definitely in that direction,” I assured her, smiling, “maybe four or five lights after the bridge.” I left her and went on about my way. In a flash she was by my side, in sync with my pace stride for stride. Her concert t-shirt was obscured by a rather dingy hoodie, and the freckles on her face suggested that she sees a lot of sunshine. A small backpack hung heavily off one shoulder.
“You’re walking that way, I’m walking with you.” This was 100% statement, 0% request. She walked with me. She also spoke, her South Philly charm rather free-flowing. “FUCK. Like I have NEVER FUCKING walked over a fucking bridge before. This is fucking CRAZY.”
I pondered that for just a second. “You scared of bridges?” I was serious.
She laughed at me. ”God, no. I just HATE fucking walking.”
I smiled. I nodded. I walked. She kept pace.
“So you’re from South Philly but you’re here now?” I asked.
“Just till the end of June. Then I can leave.”
“And what brought you to Lake Worth, of all places? Unless that’s too personal a question…” I added.
“No. FUCK, no. I don’t mind. I might have gotten into some drugs,” blank stare, “then I went to rehab but the DOCS there sent me here because I still have my mom’s insurance so they SCHOLARSHIPPED my ass because the FUCKING doctor—who my mother thinks is a goddamned GENIUS—‘Oh, honey, he’s going to save you!’—gets FIVE GRAND for shipping me to another rehab but she can’t see what a FUCKING scam it is. Oh my GOD I am WALKING on a FUCKING bridge. Why are you here if you don’t live here?” Every thought rear ended the next, like the thoughts-and-questions version of a 50-car pileup.
“I live on a sailboat. I was in Annapolis but then I sailed it down the east coast and now I live wherever the boat happens to be, which right now is here.”
“Oh.” She processed this. “So you’re like…,” pause, “a hippie! ” Then a big, big smile. “That is really cool. I like the Dead!”
“I don’t,” I replied honestly.
“Oh it’s cool I’m not like INTO them or anything but I like them. OH my god we are in the MIDDLE of the bridge. Like, this is the middle, right?!”
“So now I’m in this lame-ass halfway house and all my housemates are dudes which is cool but isn’t really cool and I’m like FUCK I gotta get OUTTA here but I have to stay until the end of the month. I mean my BOYS from South Philly are dudes but they’re my BOYS so that’s different. This just sucks.”
“That sounds hard,” I said.
“Ehh it’ll be alright it just SUCKS right now. Do you live alone?”
“I do,” I smiled.
“As soon as I’m done with this SHIT I am flying back to Philly. I saw tickets online from like 190 bucks so I’m gonna try to get my homies to get that together for me and then I am OUT.”
“Nice,” I said. “You can take Tri-Rail to the airport from here.”
I told her about the train system. “It’ll get you there for like five bucks.”
“FUCK that. I will fucking HITCHHIKE to the airport. I will! I don’t care.”
“Is your boat big?”
“Oh.” Pause. “And you fucking SAILED it here?”
“Perhaps,” I said. We walked.
“I don’t like PHISH, though,” she added. “I like the Dead but I never liked Phish.”
“Fair enough,” I said. “I don’t either.”
We walked on.
“I’m Rosa,” she offered, I think just because I hadn’t asked.
“R-O-S-A Rosa? Nice to meet you, Rosa,” I said. “I’m John.”
She turned towards me, smiled big, and shook my hand without missing a step. “Nice to meet you John.” Another pause. “I fucking hate this place,” she added, to no one in particular.
“I can tell,” I said.
As we neared the bottom of the bridge I pointed towards the docks and said, “This is where I veer off this way and you keep walking that way.”
Rosa turned towards me, sweaty and young and troubled and confident and angry but in that moment oddly proud and a little happy, I think, and said through her big smile, “I WALKED over a fucking BRIDGE. That deserves a high five!”
So I high-fived her. Then she held up her left hand so I high-fived her again with my left. Then she insisted on one more, my right to her left.
“That’s really awkward,” I said.
“I know, right?” She grinned a big, freckly grin and turned towards the west and Federal Highway and walked, alone again, the bridge behind her and everything else still ahead.