Sunday, October 3, 2010

Dark and Rainy. Alone. Together.

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The dark and rainy Sunday followed the week of tornadoes. It was also the week Tyler Clementi jumped off the George Washington Bridge and I couldn't get him off my mind.

My apartment in Manhattan is 30 blocks from the GWB and you can see the span from my roof. I used to go up there in the early in the morning, around 6 AM just to close my eyes and feel the G-forces of the 40 thousand vehicles that pass over it into Manhattan at rush hour. My friend, the Argentine painter Daniela Mizrahi lived for years almost underneath the GWB in her little studio apartment which always smelled of paint, bread, smoke and car exhaust. The building, which clung like a bat to the black cliffs over the Hudson River, had a perfect view of the terrible and awesome Bridge, all lit up and roaring 24 hours a day.

I remember one particularly emotional night with Danu when we burnt some love letters on the pavement in the street. It was a necessary act, the act of destroying the component parts of a sadness. This is the kind of thing one needs friends to help with: Identify the formerly beloved object as poisonous and dispose of it.

The pages of the letters caught on fire quickly but then, not yet incinerated, were swept down the street by the wind and we ran after them yelling, trying to get them back so that we didn't set a building or car on fire by mistake. Slowly we captured the smoldering pages, ripped them up into smaller pieces and then burned them again (yes, some love letters take forever to burn, especially when written by depressing people.) The small orange embers were taken by the updrafts and swirled into the black sky, disappearing high into the great vacio beneath the GWB where they were extinguished in the nothingness. I thought, that is where love dies, in the darkness, under a bridge. I thought too that this neighborhood was too oversized for my diminutive friend, too cold and too lonely. That place was as lonely as a lost glove on a wet sidewalk, and I always felt afraid to leave her there.

Photo by Karol Du Clos
Perhaps because of that I cannot stop thinking of Tyler, standing on the bridge, hearing the interminable low drone of the traffic, breathing in the intoxicating gasses of the traffic and gazing into the great black vacio below the Bridge. So high, so very high, and so very cold. Did he hear any music in the low drone of the traffic, in the roar of the singing metal? Or did he only hear the beating of his own disappointed heart?

The suicide rate tells a depressing tale:  "Throughout the world, about 2000 people kill themselves each day. That's about 80 per hour, three quarters of a million a year. In the U.S., there are more than 80 deaths from suicide every day, 30,000 every year. This is the equivalent of a fully loaded jumbo jet crash every fifth day. From another perspective, you are more likely to kill yourself than be killed by someone else." (Geo Stone, Suicide and Attempted Suicide).  

It does not comfort me at all to know that I am more likely to kill myself than to be killed by someone else. Not at all. Such facts are odd and cruel and I am not sure that they even matter.

It does matter, though,  that when I sat down on the sofa and told FF that I felt sad, he put his arm around me and understood. Man, do I feel lucky in those moments that I know how to go and say that I feel sad to my husband, and I feel lucky that he is there to wrap his big, strong arms around me. Later that night, FF told me that one of his former tennis students who was a father and husband once parked his car near a bridge, a bridge that FF crossed every day on the way to work in those days; the man took of his shoes and socks, folding his socks neatly inside the shoes, and he jumped to his death. He folded his socks neatly.  These are the things we do, even in our desperation. As if somehow a folded sock might leave a quiet fragment of order behind in the onrushing chaos of self-annihilation.

It also matters that Tyler was only 18, in his first month at Rutgers. It matters that he was a talented musician, and that his room mate had been torturing him by spying on his intimate encounters in his dorm room. It matters that Tyler was gay, because if he had been heterosexual instead these encounters would have more likely entitled him to bragging rights than to shame.

"No one can make you inferior without your consent," wrote the fabulous and heroic Eleanor Roosevelt. Why did Tyler consent? Why couldn't he get mad as hell at his torturers, at society and at the people at the school who didn't respond to his call for help? Why did he instead turn his anger in on himself? No one gets to know now, and that is the thing about suicide: It ends the conversation.

1 comment:

Liz in Ypsilanti said...

During a two-and-a-half-year period, roughly ages 20-22, I tried killing myself five different times. I think there is something about that age, when you're leaving childhood behind and not sure that you can succeed in adulthood, that can bring on incredibly deep despair. I was fortunate in that I had wise and caring people around me who kept saying that things would get better.

About two months after the fifth attempt, my brother threw me the lifeline that brought me to Washtenaw County. Little step by little step, I was able to make my way. Three years after the first attempt (ironically, brought on by bullying by the same brother), I was able to start thinking that I had tried suicide for the last time. It was another two years before I really felt safe.

When I hear of young people committing suicide, I just wish that their phone had rung at the moment before the final step (as happened in the midst of my fifth attempt) and someone had said, "Let's do something fun tomorrow," so that they could hang on to that thought and make it one more day.

I was really taken with your imagery of the sounds on the bridge. I can certainly see where there would be a certain level of comfort in hearing those sounds on the way down.

Sorry it's taken me so long to get caught up here.