My novel, Crossing the Bridge, is in some ways about an event that affected the life of my protagonist Hugh so completely that ten years later he still hasn’t been able to move on from it. The event -- the death of his brother in a car accident -- was a deeply traumatic one. However, the real impact of the event came from how he dealt with it. Choosing to run from the pain, he took to an itinerant life, never staying in one town or in one relationship for more than a year. As the years of rootlessness added up, Hugh found himself less and less able to connect with his life, virtually resigned to living an untethered existence -- at least until he found the other person as dramatically shifted by his brother’s death as Hugh had been.
I chose to make Hugh twenty when the accident happened because I think this is one of the true nexus ages in one’s life. At twenty, you are well on the way to becoming the person you will be, but you are still rich with possibility. At this point, the introduction of a tremendously positive event, say meeting a mentor, starting a powerful relationship, or discovering a passion, can catapult you forward in your life with great velocity. It’s as though all of the promise that has been building inside of you ignites. At the same time, though, the introduction of a traumatic event can be particularly devastating. At twenty, one tends to feel especially invulnerable because you’re old enough to do nearly everything for yourself but young enough to feel that you have a limitless amount left to do. If something terrible happens at this stage, it tends to teach you how dangerous, random, and merciless the world can be, snuffing out the possibility that was so ripe before the event. While traumatic events are, by definition, difficult to endure at all ages, I think they are especially difficult at this age. When you’re younger, your sense of fullness isn’t as completely developed. When you’re older, you’re better equipped to understand that life can be horribly difficult at times.
In Crossing the Bridge, my goal was to chart the journey of recovery from such an event. As would be the case with any of us, Hugh needs help to make this journey. At twenty, he had his vision of life altered dramatically. But, as I believe is true for all of us, the promise of twenty didn’t die. Twenty is a remarkable age of possibility, and I think we can all benefit from learning to access it throughout our lives.