On Dec. 2, 2017, I accomplished something awe-mazing.
I drove over the New River Gorge Bridge. That may seem like no big deal to you, but, to me, it’s huge.
Honestly, my phobia is a bit picky.
My personal panic button only goes berserk on bridges where a fall over the side would mean certain tragedy.
Bridges a few feet over water — the one en route to the Outer Banks, for instance — don’t faze me. I figure once I hit the water, I could swim to safety or cling to a bridge piling and wait for a first responder.
Narrow bridges run a close second in my scaredy-cat mind. Like the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge to Staten Island, New York. For crying out loud, it even has “narrow” in its name. We crossed that bridge whenever we visited Sandwich-Child at college.
Skinny bridges bug me because I’m slightly claustrophobic. With a sturdy barrier to the right, and no berm whatsoever, if there’s a tractor-trailer on our left, I feel like I can’t breathe.
If the truck driver scratched an itch or checked Facebook on his phone, it’d probably be “Ciao” for the Tarantinis.
And then there are bridges with a low safety rating. Years ago, when we visited friends in the other Charleston, the one in South Carolina, several times they drove us over one bridge they claimed scored a four out of 10, safety-wise.
Each time we crossed that bridge, I held my breath from start to finish so I could make a wish. The wish was always that we’d survive until the other side.
So what exactly went down on Dec. 2, 2017?
That Sunday I was driving home from our ACC Championship Game weekend in Charlotte, because Tony had fallen sick with hot and cold flashes, aches, and a monster headache.
The night before, the game had started around 8 p.m., but Tony Bear felt so miserable, he walked back to the hotel at 9:15. Not that he missed much. Clemson clobbered Miami, 38-3.
The trip home was uneventful. Until I missed the turn from I-77 to U.S. 19.
Somehow, I almost always miss it. Junior-Man, though, using his favorite app for directions — Waze — quickly got us back on track.
“Way to go, dude,” I told him in the rear-view mirror. “We missed the bridge I despise.”
But then I saw the sign saying we were on U.S. 19. Which meant we did not miss the dang bridge.
No worries, I thought. There’s a pull-off right before the bridge. We could switch drivers there.
Tony Bear woke up then, feverish, thrashing his arms like propellers. “Where are we?”
“I missed the turn-off.”
“Don’t be grumpy. We’re good now. And, thanks to Junior-Man, we missed the bridge I detest. Well, sort of. I just need to…”
Suddenly, traffic slowed way down. On all four sides, I was pinned in, a tractor-trailer practically kissing the rear bumper of our rental car.
And I saw the sign: “New River … Western Hemisphere’s Longest Arch Bridge.”
“Oh, no! Oh, no! I have to pull off!” My head whipped right, then left. Where could I go?
“Just drive,” Tony Bear growled.
“You can do it, Mom,” Junior-Man assured me.
Just like in driver’s-ed class, decades ago, I trained my sight just past the edge of our car’s hood. Just like in the Bible, I set my face like flint.
I also chanted my favorite motivational phrase:
“I think I can. I think I can. Mr. Truck-Driver, please get off my butt. I think I can.”
In my chest, my heart pounded. Clenched on the steering wheel, my hands were slick with sweat. My eyeballs ached from not blinking. But I was doing it! Driving over the New River Gorge Bridge, by golly.
“Quick! Someone take a picture of me to prove I did this. And text the girls to tell them I am not a sissy after all.”
Less than a minute later, we reached the other side. In a whoosh, I released the breath I was holding. Relief washed over me as my guys told me how proud they were. I was proud of me, too.
“Way to go, Sunshine,” Tony said. “Now you don’t have to go the long way through Charleston when you drive south alone.”