Content Warning: suicide
The warm summer wind whipped through my open car windows as I cruised across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge towards home. My hand was out the window, cutting through the air and gliding like a fish in such a carefree way. All at once, my senses pricked, and the cars in front of me screeched to a halt out of nowhere on the highest point halfway across the bridge. I assumed someone had been rear-ended, and slowly crept up as the cars in front of me peeled away slowly. Something felt strange to me. My hands tightened on the wheel instinctively, an involuntary preparatory response for what was to come, and my knuckles turned white from the pressure.
The last car merged over, and I found myself behind, not a car accident, but a small car stopped in the lane with the hazard lights flickering and the driver’s door ajar. As I write this, I find myself transported back, sucked through a vortex that spits me back out into this horrible moment, as if it is happening all over again. My mouth went dry as I scanned the bridge in search of the car’s missing driver. I found her standing on top of the concrete guard rail with one hand raised above her head to grip the massive steel beam that lattices over the bridge for support. I can see her now in my head perfectly, even over a year and a half later. She wasn’t very tall, maybe five foot four, with black pants and a simple bright pink t-shirt. Her chocolate brown hair was lopped off right below her shoulders. Her clothes looked brand new without a single wrinkle or stain, her hair was clean and shiny, and she stood on the guard rail confidently. She was someone I feel like I could have passed in the grocery store without a second glance because she looked so strikingly normal. She seemed put together by her clean-cut appearance and that was so eerie to me, because there she was, leaning forward and sizing up the186-foot drop to the water beneath her. This was a wake-up call to me because I realized absolutely anyone could be struggling with mental illness or depression, no matter how they may look from the outside.
The next less than 30 seconds felt like they transpired over the course of 10 minutes. I opened my mouth to scream, but I’m not sure that any noise even came out. My body betrayed me, and I froze. I made eye contact briefly with the man in the car next to me and our eyes screamed to each other in absolute desperation. I tore my gaze back to the woman in pink, her life dangling in a deadly balance between life and death. In the time it took me to contemplate my next actions, she bent her knees slightly and propelled herself off the edge, vanishing into the abyss that was obscured from my view. I felt like someone punched me in the chest. I could not breathe. I could not move. I was horrified. In those seconds that I was safe in my car, she was freefalling to her death, and it was so twisted that I mentally could not comprehend it.
So much time has passed, yet I think about this woman every day. I have tried forcing myself into her shoes in those moments before she made her decision to jump. I want to understand, to feel what she felt, to see what she saw. As I close my eyes and become her, will I feel terror course through my veins? Will I be conflicted in my decision to stand on that ledge or feel sure of myself? Will I feel nothing at all? How did it get to this point? Who will I be leaving behind? Was there any part of me that would have reconsidered, or was this decision as concrete as human destiny in my mind? Was there pain written all over my face or was there serenity?
I snap back to reality and feel so much sadness and guilt. I feel like such an imposter, having never met this woman, yet I was present during the most vulnerable act when she chose to take her own life that day. These 30 seconds have led to me question everything I ever thought I knew. I think about her all the time, especially when I fall asleep. My brain runs through all kinds of different scenarios when I dream, but they all end the same way: me looking over as I watch her disappear over the edge of the bridge. I desperately wish her fate could have been different. The Woman in Pink is a part of me, and she always will be.
This is a phenomenal story
So well written!
Thank you for the beautiful words.
Emily. This is your old neighbor Rusty. I experienced a very similar incident, December, 2017 or 18, where I watched a young man pull over in an early 2000 Toyota with a low air in his front right tire, cracked windshield and a Pennsylvania tag. I watched him jump up on the concrete wall without hesitation and he disappeared. I got out of my car ran over to the edge and could see him floating face up. To my surprise it was eerily quiet and I could see a guy fishing under the bridge 100 yards away. I whistled and he saw the body floating and drove his boat over and picked him up beneath his armpits and held him above the water. He was too wet and heavy to pull in the boat I stayed there for at least seven minutes yelling to him from the top of the bridge, to “hold on. Help was on the way”. At that point I was urged to get back in my car and leave by an off duty police officer. So I did. I called in what I saw and gave a report.
It shook me for a long time. What I can offer is that, although you will never forget the visual
or details, the frequency of the thoughts will subside with time.
Wow! This is a very powerful piece. You bring us right into that moment in time with you.