I was a boy of fifteen, escaping my suburban neighborhood on foot and braving a highway to reach a neglected steel bridge that stretched over the Schuylkill River just outside Philadelphia. The twilight bled over the riveted beams, concealing the rusted green-painted angles. I walked over the water, pulling a plaque out of my pants where I’d hidden it, convinced I was finally far enough away to not be caught. I looked at this gift from my parents in the haze beneath a bug-shrouded spotlight. There was a silver medallion with a profile of Jesus and the host in relief. Below was a gold plate commemorating my First Holy Communion and bearing my delicately scratched name: Robert Francis Allen, Jr. Night was complete and upon me; I could no longer see where the bridge met the land on either side.
Three years prior, I had walked upstairs to the second floor of my home, responding to an odd moan I’d barely heard over the jabber of the television. I found my older sister in the corner where she had fallen, shivering violently. I repeatedly begged her to tell me what was wrong, screaming louder each time. Frothing spit ran down her chin; her eyelids were fluttering over her white eyes.