Two weeks ago today, our worlds intersected on the 12th Street Bridge. It was just the two of us. I was on my way home. You were seconds away from ending everything. I was unwitting. You were despondent. You climbed on the railing. I wondered what…but before I could even finish the thought, you jumped. Life had its way with you, dear one, and gravity finished the job. I was the sole witness to your final tortured moments.
I was somehow able to call 9-1-1, to spit out the critical information. “It was on the west side of the bridge,” I told the dispatcher, “He was wearing beige.” I was still on the phone with her when the sirens started. She told me to wait for the police. I was frantic. I was scared. I was shaking. I couldn’t stop pacing and pulling on my hands. I couldn’t breathe. Some people passing by saw my distress and pulled over to offer help. I couldn’t form the words. It took mammoth concentration to complete a short sentence to let them know what had happened. When the police arrived, I wanted them to tell me that I had imagined it all and that there was no body beneath the bridge. But that wasn’t the case. An officer asked me some questions. He told me I was in shock and had me sit on the curb. He asked if there was someone who could come pick me up. I couldn’t think of anyone or anything. My mind was too scrambled. So I called my sister in New Mexico and talked to her until I could breath again.
All the police told me about you was that you were around 50-years old and possibly homeless. I can think of little else but you, dear one. I want to know about this life that I glimpsed so briefly. My head is spinning with questions. Who are your people? Where did you come from? What was your childhood like? Did you sit at the table every morning and have breakfast with your siblings? Was it that kind of a family? Were you ever in love? Did you have children? Did you travel? What were your passions? Was there ever a time when you were happy?
Why did you do it?
My sister once read an article about a man who survived a jump from the Golden Gate Bridge. He says that the instant he leapt, he regretted it. Was it the same for you, dear one? Were the final beats of your life filled with regret? You jumped off the bridge at 5:41pm on a sunny Friday afternoon. The city was pulsing with activity and busy people, any of whom could have seen your angry exit. You chose an enormous stage but had an audience of one. Was this all a colossal “fuck you?” If so, for whom?
It has been two weeks now. I carry you with me everywhere: in my knotted stomach, in my hands as they tremble over the keyboard, in every sore and weary muscle. I see you on the bridge, climbing up on that rail and jumping. I relive those few seconds again and again. They run continuously through my mind like a film clip. It invades my days and tramples my concentration. It keeps me up night after sleepless night. This is what you’ve left me with, dear one. Part of me is angry. But mostly, I just ache for you.
I’m flailing around in an ocean of hurt and tenderness. I’m not adrift but I’m not exactly clear either. An incident that happened months ago keeps coming to mind. I was shopping at Trader Joe’s and accidentally bumped the cart of the woman next to me. When I turned to apologize, she said, “It’s all right, honey. We’re all in this together.” This is what I think of when I think of you. I believe that humans are innately compassionate. On a fundamental level, we care about each other. Did we fail you, dear one, or did you simply refuse our outstretched hand? I will never get that answer. But either way, you life and your passing mattered.
The irony in all of this is that I get that sense of futility. Over the years, I’ve wrestled with my own demons. I know that bottomless anguish. I’ve peered over that edge myself. But when you jumped, the horror and despair that I felt were instantaneous. I would never want to inflict that on anyone else. I would never want to infuse such darkness into our collective spirit. I will never make that choice, dear one. Every morning when I wake up, before I’ve even crawled out of bed, I will remember all the lifelines that keep me tethered to this beautiful world and I will seize them.
I hope that your suffering is over now and that you’ve finally found the peace that so eluded you in this life. I’m still here, with feet planted, trying to sort through it all. You’ve left me with this giant thing that I don’t know what to do with. My friend Sally gently reminds me that your death has nothing to do with me and that the day-to-day reality of my life hasn’t changed. I know she’s right. But the problem is that I still feel you, dear one. You’ll be with me forever. But I can only carry a nugget of your pain with me– because I’m still here. In order to regain my equilibrium, I need to fill the space between the two of us with as many life-affirming things as I can. Autumn is on its way. I can see the early bits of red and gold on the tips of the trees. I can stand on my front deck and take in the thick salty air coming in off the sound. I can feel the cool of the yoga mat beneath my feet. I can savor every sweet note of the music that my friends make. I can laugh as if it’s the last joke I’ll ever hear. I can pull my loved ones closer and leave no doubt as to the depth of my caring for them. I can do all of these things because I have the chance. Thank you, dear one, for reminding me.
Before I go, I want to leave you with something. I want you to know that I saw you. I bore witness to your despair and your last miserable moments. I was there, dear one. You were not invisible.
We’re all free-falling here.
For whatever it’s worth, you didn’t die alone.
Photographer Reid Wolcott has graciously allowed me to use his image of the 12th Street Bridge for this post.
To view more of Reid’s work, please visit: http://reidwolcott.zenfolio.com/