I live in San Francisco. There, I said it. You now know where I live. Step 1 of losing my anonymity. Now you can feel very jealous about the fact that I live in America’s most awesome city, and you live somewhere way less cool.
San Francisco is obviously known for many quaint and charming landmarks, like its cable cars, rolling hills, and probably most famously, the Golden Gate Bridge. It is a gorgeous bridge. It’s totally worth the $6 in tolls to drive across it, which if you do it during the summer means that you will leave the fog and arrive in sunny Marin County to sip coffee in Sausalito. I love to bike across the bridge, it’s an experience like none other.
I was so drawn to the bridge that I made a music video for a musician friend of mine that features old archival footage of the opening ceremony for the Golden Gate Bridge. I focus in on this one little kid with blond hair who runs and jumps, he’s so excited by walking across this massive feat of human accomplishment that he can’t help but to literally jump for joy. When I made the movie, that was exactly how I felt about moving to San Francisco in the first place. And yes, this video will show you my name. Step 2. So be it. I’m not yet ready to show this blog to people I actually know, but I’m OK with this step.
Unfortunately, the Golden Gate Bridge is also an internationally recognized suicide destination. Many people come to San Francisco, but some people come here to die, and to throw themselves off of this beautiful bridge. The railings on the bridge are very low, so it’s not at all hard. The official statistic from what I’ve heard is that it’s about 1 suicide every 2 weeks. It’s so well-known that there is a movie called “The Bridge” that talks about suicide and the Golden Gate Bridge. I saw it a few years ago, when the idea of my wife wanting to jump off the bridge was preposterous and unheard of, like an alien landing. I remember it being a really sad movie.
For the many months that my wife was suicidal, she mostly considered jumping off the bridge. She toyed with over-dosing on her medicine, but the bridge was always her preferred way to do it. Obviously, we stayed away from the Golden Gate Bridge when she was immediately out of the hospital, but it’s inevitable that at some point you’re going to have to cross it again to venture north.
I remember when she first saw the bridge after fantasizing about it for many months. We drove across it to visit friends. I didn’t make a big fuss about where we were and what we were doing. We just drove over the bridge in silence. After we were safely back on land, I asked her how she felt about it. “I was mostly looking for which spot I would go to in order to jump.”
I think I need to accept the fact that I am more traumatized by this experience then I often acknolwedge. I just wrote about happy endings and optimism, and that is genuine and it’s good, but I’m also still pretty fucked up by this whole thing. When I first returned to work, I would sometimes have visual hallucinations about my wife trying to kill herself. I’d be in front of the classroom teaching, and then I’d look down at my feet while the kids were reading, but I wouldn’t see the ground below me, but instead it was like I was her, and I was looking down from the ledge, with the bay rushing below me, far far away. I would be in her point of view, seeing what she would likely see if she was to do it. I’d push the image out of my head and try to get back to work, but it would creep up on me again and again. Or I’d see things from another angle, some beautiful, poetic shot where the camera would be held over the railing, but far away, like 100yds away, so you’d just see a long solitary orange rail, with my wife on the wrong side of it, ready to fling herself off.
This morning on the drive into work I must have played the wrong song on my ipod because those images came rushing back to me. I was once again having a full-body experience of a suicide attempt that never actually even happened, just an enactment of a hypothetical, life-shattering nightmare. That to me is a pretty clear sign that I’m traumatized by this. Clearly enough to necessitate the therapy I’m seeking. Enough for me to change my lifetime commitment to be drug and alcohol free in order to take sleep medication so I can rest at night. (Which, by the way, I haven’t taken in about a month.)
She’s getting better, but the memories linger. If you had told me one year ago that I’d spend day after day convincing my own wife of the various reasons to stay alive, I would have punched you in the face. But that’s how it is.
Probably the worst memory that haunts me occurred in my first month of returning to work. To give you a timeline here, we’re talking like mid-February, 2010, I was back to teaching after taking the first semester off. Things went well at school that day, which was a rarity. I was focused, I wasn’t distracted, all was good. I came home jolly and feeling good about my work.
I came home to enthusiastically tell her about how my day had went, all the good that had happened. She mostly just sat there, trying to be happy for me, but not into it at all. My energy dwindled, I started to not care about what I was saying, so I finally asked her “How are you doing? Is everything OK?”
Pause. She didn’t want to talk about what she was thinking about. I encourage her, so she finally got to it.
“No, it’s not OK. I can’t decide. If I go to the bridge, I’ll take the Vespa to get there. So what I can’t decide is what to do with the key. If I jump with the key, then I’m hoping that they’ll find the body, that way you can use the key and still drive the Vespa. But what if they don’t find the body? [Editorial note: she referred to it as the body, not her body.] Then that means the Vespa will be stuck without a key. So maybe I can leave it in the ignition. But that means someone will probably steal it, and I don’t want you to lose the Vespa. So what should I do? Should I leave the key, or bring it with me?”