When my brother was 10 and I was about to move to Berkeley for school, he painted me a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge for my birthday. I remembered being astounded by how long he must have spent on it, and listened patiently as he explained to me how he swirled the colors for the water and why he chose purple for my name.
The painting was always so important to me. I had it displayed everywhere I’ve lived up to four years ago. 🌁 When we moved into our last home, we were preparing to have our daughter, and I put it in the closet, thinking I’d find a perfect place for it later.
But that never happened.
The day the doctors told us Tim wasn’t going to live, I went home and ripped the house apart looking for the painting. I had a sickening feeling that I had parted with it.
Let me explain. A year ago, I went through a big purge in my home with the help of friends. Our house was cluttered and out of control. Unlike hoarders, when I get overwhelmed by stuff, my inclination is to just throw everything away.
I remember a conversation about the painting, and feeling pulled to keep it, and my friend saying, “When was the last time you hung this? Is it just going to live in every closet of every home you own?”
That’s the last thing I remember. I couldn’t recall if I had actually parted with it, just that I hadn’t wanted to.
But crushingly, whatever reason, I discovered on that day in November that I don’t have the painting anymore. In my grief, it was all I wanted of my brother and it devastated me not to have it. I looked around the messy house I’d just torn apart and burst into guilty tears.
Between sobs, I silently begged Tim to forgive me and to send me a Golden Gate Bridge as a sign if he wasn’t mad at me.
Days passed. On the following Tuesday, my mom was texting me photos to include in the slideshow for Tim’s celebration of life. At the end, she sent me a blurry photo of our family at Golden Gate Park. I had just pulled into the parking lot at the hospital and my mouth completely fell open.
I didn’t even remember that we had been there or that the photo had been taken. I had to search my memory to recall that when my family moved me into my Berkeley apartment, we took a trip to Golden Gate Park on a very cold and windy evening, and my boyfriend at the time had snapped the photo. That was in 2004 (no wonder I didn’t remember). It was such weird timing for her to text it to me, especially as it wasn’t a very high quality photo. “Where did you find this?” I texted back. “On my phone,” she said simply.
It made me feel a little better. Strangely, the very next day, THAT EXACT PHOTO appeared on my Timehop app. 🌁 The same photo that I had no memory of, two days in a row?! Maybe it was still a coincidence, but I took it to hopefully mean that it was Tim telling me he wasn’t mad at me about the painting.
Since then, I’ve seen a lot of GGBs. I got flooded with them for a while, actually.
My sister-in-law bought a coloring mat for my daughter that is the GGB.
It’s come up in those “Click every photo that has a bridge in it to prove you’re not a robot” things. My friends started running into them everywhere and sending me photos.
And I get it; I’m not delusional. The GGB is a national landmark and photos of it aren’t rare. But it was showing up in my life in an almost spooky way. Call it what you will — a grieving person looking for signs of something that’s not too hard to find, or something else.
Coupled with how often I was running into 143, I began to take a soft comfort in finding bridges popping up everywhere.
So when two of my close friends, Matt and James, invited me to get tattoos with them last month, I knew what I’d be getting. When the tattoo artist heard the story of why I wanted the Golden Gate Bridge, he cleared his schedule so that he could be the one to ink me.
The morning after I got the tattoo, I looked at the Timehop app like I always do. It’s the first thing I do every morning, but I am definitely doing it more obsessively now, looking for comments or pictures of my brother. Anything.
That day, literally the day after I got the tattoo, Timehop let me know that exactly seven years ago, I had hung Tim’s painting in the kitchen of my new apartment. And for whatever reason, I took a picture of it.
The morning after I got this tattoo, there was the painting. Not a random picture of the GGB, but the ACTUAL painting he made me. I was completely blown away.
If that wasn’t a sign, then I don’t know what is. Even my logical/atheist/non-woowoo husband said “That is really, really weird, and I have no explanation for it.”
If the story ended there, it would be a beautiful story, wouldn’t it?
But of course, it doesn’t end there.
My friend Marianne works with someone whose side gig is being a painter. She showed him this photo of the painting on my wall, and asked him if he could recreate it, since I don’t have the original anymore.
“I can’t paint it,” he said. “I wouldn’t feel right about it. But let me see if I can pull it into Photoshop and restore it.”
And a few days before Christmas, she came to my house with it.
When she handed it to me, I fully leaned my head into her shoulder and sobbed. I whispered, “I will never forget this for the rest of my life.”
And when I look at it each day, I have the same feeling I had when I looked at the original. I can see the little swirls he made in the ocean with his paintbrush. I remember his explanation of what took the longest when he painted it, and which parts he was proud of. And mostly, I feel grateful beyond what I can articulate: for the friends who love me enough to do this, for a stranger’s kindness, for my brother reaching through the veil.
I miss you, Tim. Thank you for sending all the bridges. 🌉