I wrote in an earlier post about the view from my boarding school: the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Today is its 45th birthday. Three years after it opened, this bridge took on a particular meaning for me–the structure that separated me from the rest of the world.

Here’s an article about marking the bridge’s anniversary: “The bridge that forever changed Staten Island turns 45 today.” Be sure to check out the wonderful slide show.

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Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Historic American Buildings Survey or Historic American Engineering Record, Reproduction Number (HAER NY,24-BROK,57-7)One of the enduring images for SJVA boarders was the tollbooth plaza of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. We could see it from the back fence outside our dorm. Every Sunday afternoon, my mother’s husband drove his Impala through those booths. I sat in the backseat of the smoke-filled car, my stomach churning, the lump in my throat growing, with each landmark we passed. I felt so small back there—even tinier than I was then. At 7 years old, I weighed barely 35 pounds or so.

Every Sunday during the school year, our journey began in Ozone Park, Queens, where my mother and I lived in an apartment next to the elevated “A” train. I came home on Friday nights, always relieved to be back. By Saturday night, I was dreading the next day: my departure once again. Our route to school took us from Queens through Brooklyn to the Verrazano. The bridge was new, opened to traffic three years before, in 1964. Named after Giovanni da Verrazano, an Italian explorer who was the first European to sail through the Narrows in 1524, the bridge is an imposing light grey span with 693-foot towers. Unlike New York City’s grander bridges, the Verrazano looked cold, a spare feat of engineering. A sum of bolts, steel and asphalt.

When we reached the bridge, I could feel my world—or what could be my world had I been like other kids, a day student, with two parents, maybe some just-baked cookies to greet me after school—shrink away behind me. Although the bridge connected two boroughs, I viewed it more as something that was a boundary—disconnected from home, from my mother. Cross that bridge, and I was deposited into the charge of Sr. Claire. She oversaw the boarders who were attending elementary school. At that moment, passing through the tollbooths, I felt abandoned and isolated. I was thrust into a place where I had even less control than any child could have.

I’d try my best not to cry. After my freshly washed uniforms, white blouses and gloves, knee socks and underwear with little white tags bearing my name sewn in at the waist by my mother, and my shoes were placed into my closet, and after my bed was re-made with clean linens, my mother and her boyfriend would leave. And I would run out to the back of the dorm, embraced only by the chilly autumn dusk,to glimpse their car passing through the tollbooth and watch until the Impala became too small to see.