I had this great idea for a presentation, a thought invoking idea to create a true urgency in our community. Shoes. Shoes lined up on the bridges in our community that not only connect the ‘island’ but also serve a darker purpose of ending one’s life. The shoes would not serve as reminders of the dead, but reminder of life. The shoes would belong to the people who did not jump from the bridge. There was something that stopped them. The shoes serve a purpose of walking our life around. The last man who committed suicide from the bridge had taken his shoes off first.
This one detail has haunted me from the moment I read about it in our local rag, which to be journalistically honest, they get a lot of details wrong, but this detail still rung out in my head. He took his shoes off. Then stepped up and over the railing as the community watched on. I heard stories of people running out to try to prevent his death, to no avail and to their own trauma. Watching someone die is not pleasant, regardless of circumstance.
So. Shoes. Line em up for who is still here. Ask questions of why, they in particular, decided to stick around. If we can answer this question, maybe we can prevent another life lost. This is a little futile, because suicide is usually done in small increments. Too much drinking, smoking, drugs, sex, all the fun that can literally kill us, and we own those actions. I kept hitting a wall though as to what we are asking for. Do we need fences on our bridges?
Fences turned into a political debate. The city believed the fences to be a cost that was not imminently needed and decided against fences. The community poured out opinion about these fences being erected, and I could see that we could legitimately raise money to have the fences in place. The biggest against argument was that fences will not stop someone from killing themselves; they will just find another way. I was angered by this reduction of human life, and thought the community had an answer; fences.
Then a woman went down to our city’s waterfront and shot herself. Another death, another loss, and no fence would have prevented her death. Observers, good people, tried to prevent her death, to no avail. Our community went into mourning. Facebook filled with sadness and it felt as though this was not just a city community of grief, this was culturally affective to our society. Robin Williams, a pioneer of comedy who shared his talent and history through other characters so incredibly that I think we all knew that you cannot become this character without personal experience of the sadness, the hopelessness. He had access to the best mental health services, Dr’s and chemicals used to stabilize a person, he had the means (I guess money..) to get help for himself in order to be stable. I believe he chose not to because he would lose himself even more. We will never know what could have made the difference in the choice of their own mortality. My opinion comes from my own projection, of course. My shoes belong on that bridge.
My love affair with suicide started when I was young. I did not understand mortality. We were not heavily religious (in my family) but we did go to a Quaker Evangelist church for my younger formidable years. I believe in Heaven as a place of no pain. Mortality did not occur when I turned 14, all I knew is I was a bad person and I was suffering. I felt so much pain. I was also in trouble with my parents for sneaking out, smoking pot, and hanging out with boys. My parents were terrified of my chosen path and were determined to put a stop to all the bad choices I was making by grounding me, complete social isolation. I thought to myself, my pain causes them so much pain, and that pain in turn makes my pain exponential. I could not tell them I had been molested for a decade by multiple family members. I could not explain to them how that molestation was my fault for having an overly developed body that made these predators choose me as their prey. I could not tell them that I hated sex and sexuality and I was meeting with boys for make out sessions, with no regard for myself, to make sexuality a positive action. At 14, I could not tell them I was getting into fights with the predators, fist fights ( the kind where you are fighting for your life) and that the physical violence was a defense from shame. The kind of shame you have when someone makes you do something by convincing you that it is your fault and therefore must follow through on their orders, and they take no accountability because that shame belongs to you for EXISTING. Instead of sharing this pain, I took every pill in our bathroom cabinet.
I think the Benadryl really saved me in a way. The reaction from all those pills was dizzying, and I remember sitting on the family couch and my parents are terrified of who I was and reacting in the only way they know how to, because they did not know the whole story of my shame. I do not remember what they said. I do remember saying “I’m going to throw up”, running downstairs and vomiting all over this 70’s style orange chair that we kept in the sunroom. I threw up pills all over the concrete floor next to the chair. I threw up on the 5 feet path to the bathroom, where I then threw up in the toilet. My mom was frantically cleaning the floor and chair and my parents decided to table the confrontation and grounded me for 6 months. It ended up being a year because I smoked pot after my 6 months, and the silver lining was finding my dad’s guitar under his bed, and learning to channel my focus on learning something that was socially cool. I was fortunate that I had an invitation to life. My neighbors were not so lucky.
The news came the day he was found, dead in his father’s room from a self-inflicted gunshot. My neighbor came to my house, although I was grounded, and my parents allowed her in. She was horribly upset, had rode her horse to my house, and told me that our mutual neighbors older brother had killed himself. I was stunned. It was one of the first moments in my life where I recognized mortality. The permanence of life. I understood his emotion that led up to his ending, that emotion being so overwhelming, the pain so imminent with no control over the situation; he wanted to end his pain emotion. The difference between my attempt and his success was I could see a different perspective, a different solution. But when you are in defense from your own pain, in that very moment the clarity of future is so dim that it seems unrecognizable to you. The clouds of pain, the overstimulation of emotion deeming from your high intelligence…I understood so much know.
Fast forward to being 15, and I was on a nice vacation with my family. I found my dad’s gun in his truck. The gun fascinated me. I snuck it into the bathroom of our vacation rental. I stared at it, felt it in my hands; it was so heavy. It felt so powerful in an absolutely terrifying way. I put the gun in my mouth and looked in the mirror, trying to feel mortality and my power of choice. It tasted greasy, like the kind of grease on a wheel bearing. I took the gun out of my mouth feeling ridiculous. I snuck the gun back into the truck and jumped into the lake off the dock, and let the icy coldness try to kill me. I woke up that day, a little more.
At 17, I moved out after a predator tried to undress me. I punched him in the mouth, he slammed me against the wall by my throat. I thought about death. I kept punching, he lifted me off the ground and slammed me onto the kitchen table where we ate dinner every night. I was kicking now, my feet off the ground, and managed to catch him in the pelvis, shooting him back into the adjoining room. I ran out the door, knowing he would kill me if I stayed. I showed up at my crappy busser job, on my day off, with a busted lip and marks around my neck. I never went home. I slept on couches for a week, not sure if I had to offer sex in trade or if it was safer to sleep in my van. My people never approached me for sex, they just saw a 17 year old girl, beat up, needing a safe place. The lesson learned at this point was that community can care, with no strings attached. Altruism exists.
My next attempts were frequent and unfocused. A knife in the bathroom here, doing drugs that could kill me there. I never tried any drug that was considered the really addictive ones, no heroin no meth. But I would drink and smoke and kill myself in tiny increments. The urge to die had been replaced with the urge to get better but I did not know how. I had kids now, I was a single parent, I had to live. But there were dark moments, when my kids were away mostly, that I felt the need to cut my pain out for everyone else’s sake. This is so backward, I know. Why did I even care about what others thought of me? The judgement? I know I love my kids and I know I never intentionally hurt anyone, why did I feel like the judgement was killing me and that it would be better for them to cope with my loss? I’m an asshole, and I still hold shame here. That focus could have been on making happy memories out of cardboard boxes. I wasted the best part of my life, and the most formidable of theirs. Even worse, I showed them how to hurt.
None of the attempts stand out so much as the last one. I hasten to say attempt. It was more of a walk through. I am ashamed as I write this, and I am searching for courage to say these ugly truths. I wish I could say this was a decade ago, but my story is a little more current. My shoes belong to the bridge.
The summer before my partner and I married was life changing. His community asked him to choose between being their friend or having a family. A lot of times in friendships, we grow together over the rough 20’s when we are learning how to be an adult and still honor ourselves to do the things that make us happy. For both of us, we chose being in bands and forging relationships out of the grit and blood from our mistakes or others mistakes inflicted upon us. We create a community. I left my community when I had cancer, choosing my family and myself over the expectation that playing music brings. Faced with the idea of death, the wind had gone out of my sails as far as ending my own world. I thought, at least. My partner chose us and was kicked out his band in the most cowardly fashion I have ever witnessed. I hated these friends of his who took advantage of his kindness financially and emotionally. The event had just taken place and I was angry with him. I over stepped in my anger, and I found myself being confronted by a new enemy; my partner.
The entire situation escalated quickly and he left without a trace to where he went. I cried all night wondering what I did wrong. I went to work the next day, and my emotions spilled over there as well. I was completely consumed, so when he texted me that he was in a respite center and had terms to come home, I lost my mind.
I told him if he did not come home to talk with me that I would end our relationship. He agreed to meet, but on his terms. I told him I was done, with everything. I hit my pain threshold and I walked out of work, back to an empty house, and crawled inside my emotions. What action could I do to make this pain go away? I walked out of the house and walked the half block to the bridge. I told him where I would be and was giving him a time limit. He said he left immediately. I don’t know his side and cannot represent him here fairly, this is my story. I’m just painting the picture, of a panicked woman (me) on the bridge.
I walked slowly, touching all the cold metal bars in unfailing summer heat. They grounded me, they were so permanent. I knew I did not want to die, but I continued walking, as though I could rationalize mortality. I walked to the scenic area of the bridge, and I looked down at the road below me. I tried to imagine this being my last time on the bridge, either by jumping or by telling this love affair with suicide to fuck off for good. I looked over the railing, keeping myself steady as this was important and fully my own choosing. A car honked from below. I looked, were they honking for me? Another car honked, and this time hands shoot out from a sun roof. They are looking at me, giving me an invitation to living. This goes on for a few moments and I know for certain this is my last time. I must say goodbye to my love affair with death as I have outgrown this paradigm. I see Carlton running towards me. I sneak off below the bridge and look at dirty needles and sad garbage and wait for him to find me.
He does. We fight, he apologizes for leaving. He never knew his leaving would have such an effect on me. I cared that much. He said if he didn’t go to respite he would have died that night. My answer was in the form of yelling and howling “What about me? What am I supposed to do? Where can I run to when I’m in need?” and then I ran away.
I ran to the house, grabbed a notebook, and drove to the beach at Ediz Hook. I sat under the most ironic totem, a bunch of sticks weaved into a massive heart, and I wrote. I wrote about being on the bridge. The people passing by and waving as though to say “WE SEE YOU, YOU ARE VALID, WE WANT YOU HERE IN THE WORLD”. I wrote about how traumatic it must be to a passer-by, and I’m inflicting and displaying openly now my shame, and what that must feel like to them. That’s the true unfairness of suicide. Because we matter, the wake of death is pain inflicted deliberately, though sub consciously, on those around us.
My love affair with the action of suicide ended here. It ended the moment I walked off that bridge. I was done and ready to move on. The police were called for a welfare check and found in amongst the Ediz cats under the big heart, writing in my journal. The officer asked to read it and I obliged because I am a narcissist and wanted him to read my thought provoking mission statement on suicide. I was then arrested, put in the back of a police car, and given the option of jail or the hospital. No charges would be pressed at this point, so the option wasn’t really an option. I was going to the hospital.
They gave me a calmer downer. I fell asleep. The staff forgot I was there, and when I barreled out of that room like a trapped feral animal, I demanded release to go home. The end.
Well. Sort of the end. My partner and I talked and the lesson I learned was vast. The lesson is a blog for another day. I want to tell you what happened next.
I read the newspaper. A man had tried to jump off the bridge next to my house and was tazed into submission. They tazed him as he was trying to jump over the railing. The actions of the officer quite literally saved his life. They did not print his name in the paper, I only found out later when I received a message from a friend I haven’t seen in 5 years. He was thinking of me and just decided to reach out. He disappeared from the band we were in one day, going home to watch Lost, and no one has really seen him since. I knew he struggled with pain and depression, but I did not know the extent. He was, of course, the man on the bridge. He did not know I lived one half of a street block away. I did not know he wanted to die. We talked about it, and he said he didn’t want to really die, he just wanted the pain to die. He wanted to be happy and free, and in death he felt he could find that peace.
Life has an ironic way of showing up, the timing in this situation could not be more perfect. He showed me the other perspective, the same perspective I received when I was 14. This death, this type of death, was meant for control out of fear based emotions. This was not cancer, that took my friends and community members, it was not a car accident with no intention. Suicide was fully intentional, but misdirected in shame.
I write this in hopes of conversation. Conversation leads to solutions. How do find the strength, where do we find the strength, to walk away from that control? I think the answer is community. In that moment on the bridge, the part of life I missed the most was having my people. These people can see me messy and crying and depressed and unable to leave my house, and they still love me. That type of honest soul baring has grown from a handful of close personal friends, to an extension into a community via the internet where we all can be accepted for our truths, no matter how ugly that truth is.