The railing I was clutching with both hands vibrated with every car that passed behind me.
The bridge beneath my feet swayed gently.
My head throbbed with that dull, aching pain that you feel the instant you wake up after a night of heavy drinking. The kind of pain you know is going to lead you directly into a crippling hangover if you open your eyes and allow it to.
I looked at the water several hundred feet below me, with its churning peaks and white caps whipped up by the wind that blew across the surface. The urge to vomit came rushing forward and then subsided just as quickly. I abated the urge by spitting over the side and watching it float downwards towards the water before it disappeared from sight.
I took a step back and released my grip. Looking down at my palms, I noticed that they had turned an alarming shade of eggshell white. I hastily shook them at my sides to get the blood flowing again.
The morning had started off like most of them do, which is odd considering where I now stood. The sun was shining and everyone in line at the Starbucks on 6th Ave seemed happier than they should have been.
With a half-empty Vente mocha-whatever-the-fuck, I’d set out on my walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, my usual destination – my desk at Mitchell and Stern – waiting on the other side.
Except on this morning, I’d had no intention of getting there.
The back of the Starbucks receipt was taken up by a hastily scribbled message that I didn’t really expect anyone to read once they fished my lifeless body out of the East River. Actually, there wasn’t really much to read anyway. In the bathroom at Starbucks, with a pen I had swiped from the counter, I hunched over the sink, desperately trying to come up with something, anything, that I could put on paper to let friends and loved ones (the few that there were) know why I did what I was about to do.
But I had nothing.
“Ummm…there’s $150 above the microwave…and the end of Lost sucked.”
I’d laughed silently to myself as I wrote the second part, and then folded the receipt and flushed the toilet for no reason, before walking out.
Now, as I tried to get my hands working again, the second part of that note was less funny.
Most people would say I had some hope for the future, but I couldn’t help but think about all the hope I didn’t have. For example, Samantha, the girl I had been in love with for the better part of the last year, had chosen to ignore me since our night of drunken sex two weeks ago after my best friend Dave’s 30th birthday party, and my job was about as unstable as the political environment in Libya. I had no way of knowing from one day to the next if I would be getting a paycheck or a handshake and a “nice to know ya.”
I had dreams, sure, but what the fuck are dreams unless you’re 6’9” and can shoot a 25-foot jumper? They’re just that – dreams. I stared out over the East River, shielding my eyes with my hand, hating everything.
The fake fucks who trudged into work every morning with the same corporate bullshit ass-kissing routine, my neighbor for mowing his fucking lawn at 7:30 in the morning on Saturdays, my indecisiveness in situations like these (although in my defense, this particular “situation” was a first for me).
Ah yes, decisions. The way I figured it. I could either, a) look for another job and endure another months-long process of interview after interview where I’m asked the same useless questions over and over again like “where do you see yourself in 10 years,” and “have you ever been convicted of any felonies,” b) call up Samantha and just have the fucking guts to tell her how I feel instead of settling for drunken hook-ups and awkward conversations, or c) jump.
Cars whizzed by on my right as I looked down at the East River, passing indifferently beneath my feet. I took one last swig from my cup of coffee (maybe there’ll be a Starbucks in hell) and placed it on the ground next to my feet. Grabbing the railing with both hands, I put one foot up, then the next foot, until I was standing on the first rung.
As I stood there for what seemed like hours, contemplating my situation and mulling over my dim prospects, nobody had noticed me or even bothered to ask if I needed the number to a hotline – suicide hotline, sex hotline, anything. But as I put my feet up on the bottom rail, a passing cab honked twice. Maybe it was at me, maybe it was because it’s New York fucking City and that’s what cabbies do, but nevertheless, my heart began to race.
I dropped the top half of my body down over the side and let myself dangle for just a second. At that moment, the wind blew my $8 Kohl’s tie directly up into my face and I was temporarily blinded. My feet landed back on the deck with a hollow, metallic thud.
Suddenly, I wasn’t so sure I wanted to do this after all. I mean, shit, I still had some prospects for the future. There was that important deadline at work on Tuesday and killing myself now after all the work I’d already put into the project would be such a waste, wouldn’t it?
And then there was Samantha. There was always Samantha.
“Hey Sam, I just wanted to let you know that you’re the reason I stopped myself from swan-diving off of the Brooklyn Bridge last Wednesday!”
“OH RAY, HOW FLATTERING! LET’S MAKE LOVE!”
Sounds reasonable, right?
I had already been standing there for over five minutes and I feared that I would begin drawing suspicion from onlookers and passerby who weren’t completely consumed by their iPhone, Blackberry, or trying to imagine what their secretary looks like naked.
And that’s when the panic attack began. The only other time in my life I could ever remember having one was sophomore year at Northwestern when my macroeconomics professor began handing out exam booklets for an exam I completely forgot we were having.
You know the deal though, everything goes white, your stomach starts to flip upside down, and every breath of air you inhale rattles your insides like a tin can in washing machine.
Having a panic attack while you’re in the middle of deciding whether or not to take a leap off of the Brooklyn Bridge is not in the playbook of life for most people. It doesn’t come in the tiny fine print you get when you hit adulthood and it sure as hell wasn’t dealt with in any books I had read or movies I had watched. But here I was, 29 years old, contemplating suicide, and having a fucking panic attack.
Do you really want to end it like this? Jumping off of the Brooklyn Bridge? It’s literally impossible to pick a more cliché way to kill yourself. If you just want to be another faceless tragedy that delays the morning commute for a few hours then you might as well hop in front of an Amtrak – it’s more dramatic. But this? This is a little pathetic.
You know what else is pathetic? Not even being able to pull off the simple act of jumping off of a national landmark because of a panic attack. I guess this was just something else I’d have to cross off my list of things I’m incapable of doing.
At that moment, I heard a car screech to a halt on the bridge behind me.
I turned around to look, and in the far left lane on the Brooklyn-bound side, an NYPD cruiser was stopped and emerging from the passenger side was a heavy-set cop with dark brown hair who sprinted towards the railing where I was teetering.
And I planned on doing just that, but there was a problem. You see, one of the main symptoms of a panic attack is feeling dizzy and lightheaded, and turning my head around quickly at the frantic cop running towards me was enough to throw everything off balance.
I stumbled backwards momentarily, and the cop, sensing that this was getting really fucking bad, really fucking fast, dove towards the railing with his arms outstretched, hoping that he could close the distance through the air faster than he could on the ground.
The diving cop landed a foot and a half short of the railing, hitting the grating below with a thud and his arms outstretched, grasping for nothing but air. Then he looked up at me.
“What the fuck are you doing up there?”
I looked at him in confusion for a half beat before I realized what he was asking.
“N-nothing,” I stammered. “Well, I mean I was gonna jump, but then I had second thoughts and now I think I just want to—“
“Okay don’t move. You hear me? Stay right there. I’m gonna call for some back-up and they’re gonna talk you through this. Just whatever you do, don’t jump.”
“I don’t think that’s really necessary. I’m getting a little lightheaded and I think I’m just gonna get down now.”
“DON’T FUCKING MOVE!” He was struggling to his feet, straightening out his uniform which was bunching up in all the wrong places from his dive.
And then, I fainted, in perhaps the worst possible place a person can lose consciousness – standing on the top railing of the Brooklyn Bridge. My legs gave out and collapsed underneath me like two toothpicks and I crumpled over the side of the railing, falling like a sack of laundry.
In the front right pocket of my khakis, my phone vibrated with a text message. Maybe it was Samantha. Maybe it was my boss wondering why I was late again. I fell backwards, my arms limp at my sides. The arrival of three more NYPD cruisers caused some rubbernecking and major traffic began to build up on the Brooklyn-bound side.
Somewhere on the bridge, a cab honked its horn twice. After all, it is New York fucking City.
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