Deep in sleep, Lindsay Walz dreamed recently that water was gushing into her car again, pouring through the cracks in the doors, rising from the gas pedal, bubbling up past her head.
But unlike the panicked reality of five years ago, when she punched and kicked at every surface before somehow busting free from her Volkswagen, this time, in her dream, she was calm. In the sunken car of her subconscious, she was confident she would escape.
"I have this idea that I'll be OK if I fall into the river," Walz said. She paused and rolled her eyes. "It's all delusional, and it's all crazy, but it's the stuff that keeps me living in the world."
Walz has poured herself into trying to make something positive from her trauma on the bridge. After shedding the hard plastic shell that for months contained her injured back, she tried all manner of therapy.
Exposure sessions reacclimated her to water, helping her to breathe in the shower and feel more comfortable swimming.
A "soul painting" class elicited a green, one-eyed beast on her canvas. She called it her "trauma monster" -- the emotional invader that would occasionally reveal itself in a quick temper and sour demeanor that even Walz didn't recognize. Over the course of six weeks, bit by bit, she painted over most of it, replacing it with a wavy-haired woman whose arms outstretched to a butterfly.
The bridge collapse has prompted Walz to live with more of a mission. In the past year and a half, she married her longtime boyfriend, lost 70 pounds and had owls tattooed on the inside of her wrists, reminding her to be wise in balancing her emotions with her rational mind.
She is also putting the collapse to work in her career. A youth worker who counsels children and teens, Walz discovered her trauma wasn't so different than that of her clients. She felt insecure in the world, wondering whether infrastructure would hold up around her. Homeless teens felt insecure wondering where they would sleep each night.
Walz plans to use part of her bridge collapse settlement money to start a youth center -- a goal since her high school days.
She spends little time thinking about why fate put her on the bridge five years ago, she said. She can't wish it away, so she doesn't try.
"I can either accept it and move forward with more knowledge or more insight and have it inform my life in a positive way, or I can move forward with bitterness and anger and resentment and wishing it wasn't the way it is. But that's not helping me, and it's not helping anybody else," she said. "If I have to have gone through it, I want it to help somebody else in the process."
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