We Are Bridges by Cassandra Lane
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
We Are Bridges by Cassandra Lane is a moving story. Can’t call it a memoir because it’s not. Can’t call it fiction because it’s not. By Lane’s own admission during May 2021’s Well-Read Black Girl Book Club meeting via zoom, it’s a hybrid of fiction and nonfiction.
You see, the memoir (nonfiction) part comes from Lane’s own family stories of growing up in Louisiana with her mother, great-grandmother Mary Magdelene Magee, and several siblings in a dilapidated house. Despite the presence of roaches and rats, Mary was proud of their home. It was hers, owned outright. A very big deal now, never mind back then. Lane includes vivid descriptions of hearing rats moving in the walls, finding their “raisin feces” and translucent roach eggs.
The fiction, as in historical fiction, part is the more heartbreaking aspect of the narrative. These are Lane’s imagined accounts of what must’ve happened to her great-grandfather Burt Bridges, who was lynched in the early 1900s. As one can imagine, it was uncommon for anyone to care enough to create official records of the who, what, where, why, and how of a Black man murdered at the hands of white folks, especially during those times. Bridges was hung from an oak tree. He was defending himself, but in the eyes of whites he committed the most heinous crime of having the audacity to touch a white man. At the time of Burt’s death, his wife was pregnant with his son, Lane’s grandfather. Lane recalls hearing her grandfather grieve the loss of the father he never knew well into his 80s. Burt Bridges is a mystery to his own son and great-granddaughter, yet he’s a huge and invisible part of their identities. His absence loomed over the family for generations.
Along with the unhealed trauma, I’m haunted by the mentionings of trees in the book. Of the oak tree from which Bridges was hung, Lane calls an “unwilling accomplice” in the murder. Years later, her first kiss was under an acorn tree. Switches from trees were used as tools of discipline (abuse?) when the children misbehaved. There’s ever-present tension between the author and her mother. In one scene, her mother says she can see the sass in her eyes, even though she didn’t verbally talk back to her mother.
We Are Bridges is complex hybrid story that deals with ancestral trauma, and the beginning of generational healing. It also deals with motherhood, being Black in America, especially a Black woman feeling unprotected, undervalued, yet bearing many expectations. I love when the storytelling hopscotches between the present day and the past, building tension and keeping me intrigued. There’s no linear line of learning about Lane’s great-grandparents and her own growing pain experiences from her first kiss, an abortion, two marriages and finally the birth of her first child in her mid-30s. It’s weird to say that the story of trauma, ghosts, and absence is sweet but in some ways it is. The family name is “Bridges” but so are the members of the family who connect the past to the present. “We are bridges made of blood and water, soil and skin.”
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