SIPA Magazine

The Bridge

By Kevin Brunelli MPA ’23
Posted Oct 03 2023
Photo courtesy of Kevin Brunelli MPA ’23
Photos courtesy of Kevin Brunelli MPA ’23

“Your father is a different person when he goes over the Bridge.” My mom used to tell us this when we were headed towards the Cape when I was young. Her mom used to say the same thing about my grandfather. I was too busy trying to spot the Bridge or power plant before my brothers could, to understand what she meant.

The “Bridge” is actually two bridges—the Bourne and the Sagamore. They go over the Cape Cod Canal connecting mainland Massachusetts to the Cape. Once over the Bridge, 45 minutes or so later, depending on if you get stuck behind a slow car in the one-lane section of Route 6, you get to Eastham.

Eastham is part of the Outer Cape, the forearm of the flexing arm–shaped peninsula. It is quieter and less populated than the Lower Cape, thanks in part to one of Massachusetts and Cape Cod’s favorite sons. In 1961, Presi- dent John F. Kennedy established the Cape Cod National Seashore and protected 43,000 acres of land and 40 miles of coastline. The federal government is now the largest landowner on the Outer Cape. The beaches and forests are pristine. And there is no boardwalk or carnival ride to distract from the beauty like in other coastal areas along the East Coast. Around the same time, my mom and her family began visiting Eastham. It was a small fishing town. From middle school through college, she spent every summer working there. It is where my parents went on their first date as my dad chased my mom there. My dad fell in love—with my mom and the Cape. They raised three sons to love the Cape as much as they do.

Every July we loaded up the car and headed to Eastham for two weeks. And as we got to the Bridge, I would look at my dad quizzically to see if anything about him changed as we crossed it.

Cancer is a dark cloud. Always there, hovering ominously. Each day, you don’t know if it will just make your path gloomier for a bit before the sun quickly shines again or if today is the day that brings a storm that will shake you and everything around you. In the spring of 2021, out of nowhere, my dad was diagnosed with neuroendocrine can- cer. It is rare and currently not curable. Storm clouds quickly enveloped everything. It was less than four years after my mom was diagnosed and beat breast cancer. But this was different. Even in my late 20s, my dad was superhuman to me. He never even caught a cold. There was no way this was possible. Everything went dark.

Once I got to college, trips to the Cape seemed boring. I wanted to travel elsewhere and see the world. Why do I want to go to Eastham again when I could travel through Europe? For five years after school, I was constantly on the road for work, crisscrossing the United States, covering major news stories. Through work and vacations, I traveled everywhere and anywhere except the Cape. Even when travel stopped in 2020 for most people, I kept traveling as I had to report on COVID. Travel for me meant learning and becoming someone new in a place I had never been before; it wasn’t the familiarity of going to the Cape again with my family. I would always have time for that. But as vaccines were rolled out in 2021 and people started planning their first trips, I moved home and headed towards the Cape.

At the start, my dad had chemotherapy in Boston every three weeks, for three consecutive days. Later in the week, instead of sticking around home we would head to the Cape, across the Bridge, and to Eastham for a few days. Around the rotary, past the pizza shop my mom worked at in college, and eventually a left on Rolling Lane. The same places I had been to a thousand times. And yet those trips became the best trips I’ve ever made. Between a mixture of the salt air, sand, and quiet, the dark clouds faded away. We were reminded that my dad was still superhuman as we had to tell him to stop shoveling or working out because he was only two days off chemo.

Massachusetts and Cape Cod’s favorite son said when we go to the ocean, “We are going back to from whence we came.” Every time we went to the Cape, it felt like going back to the world before cancer, before the clouds came in. But each trip gave me hope and made me smile more as it allowed my parents to relax again and gain strength. They crossed the Bridge and became different people.

And each trip showed me that you don’t need to travel far or someplace new to be a different person.

Follow the dirt road near my parents’ house to the end, walk up the small boardwalk, and you get to the top of the dunes overlooking Cape Cod Bay. From here the power plant next to the Sagamore Bridge is barely visible on clear days. Life in Massachusetts prior to the Bridge and everything taking place there seems like a world away. During the summer, standing on top of the dunes you see the jet-black clouds of a summer storm move in from the west and the bolts of lightning as they shake the rest of Massachusetts. But here in Eastham, the storm clouds remain off in the distance. Here, across the Bridge, the clouds are kept at bay, and you become a different person.

About The Raphael Smith Memorial Prize

The Raphael Smith Memorial Prize is given in memory of Raphael Smith, a member of the Class of 1994 who died in a motorcycle accident while retracing his stepfather’s adventure of motorcycling from Paris to Tokyo. The prize, established by his family and friends, is awarded annually to two second-year SIPA students for travel articles that exemplify the adventurism and spirit of SIPA. The winners of this year’s contest are Kevin Brunelli MPA ’23 and Audrey Hatfield MPA ’23.