William Henderson drove his car out to a bridge in the middle of the night and prepared to jump. This excerpt from his memoir Second Person, Possessive is the story of what happened after, and why he didn’t.
The Tobin Bridge spans more than two miles, connects Charlestown to Chelsea, and is the easiest and fastest way to drive into Boston from where my wife, Holly, and I live. Dozens of people have jumped off of the bridge since it opened in 1950, including Charles Stuart, the prime suspect in his pregnant wife’s murder. Dozens of others have been convinced not to jump.
I’ve avoided the bridge since the night—second night, really—I tried to kill myself, the night after I came out to my wife and confessed an affair I was having with a man who lived nearby. But a four-car accident has snarled traffic on the road I take into Boston to get to St. Elizabeth’s, and I’m running late enough that I have no choice but to drive into Boston via the bridge. Bumper-to-bumper this morning on the bridge, and for every few feet I move forward, I’m stuck not moving for at least a minute, long enough to recognize the part of the bridge on which I had been standing, close to the edge.
I had recorded a suicide video before leaving for the bridge. Holly and Avery had been playing ball in the hallway outside our front door.
That night, I waited for Holly and our son, Avery, to fall asleep, and I snuck out. Walking to the elevator seemed to take longer than usual. Outside, I looked at the sky, and I looked at the stars, and I thought that Jay was under these same stars, probably with someone, probably high, probably on his way to being consoled and happy. His moving on guaranteed. Less than forty-eight hours after the end of our relationship.
When I reached the highest part of the Tobin Bridge that night, I stopped, turned off the car, undid my seatbelt, opened my door, and got out of the car. I looked at the four or five feet I’d have to walk to reach the edge of the bridge, and I thought about taking the first step, when I saw three cars approaching. I got back into my car.
No one stopped to find out why I was standing on the bridge.
I drove a few feet further, and got out of the car again. This time, I left on the hazard lights.
On the passenger seat, I left the necklace with the key to Jay’s childhood bedroom, my phone, and a note asking Holly to watch the video on it.
Nothing made sense. Everything was ruined. Holly hated me. Jay hated me. I hated me. In time, Avery would hate me. Gravity held me to the bridge. I was trying to fight gravity. I no longer wanted to fight gravity. If this was love, then love was like falling, and my heart was gone, and I was gone, and everything was broken, and I was broken, and I was going out altogether like a candle. Have you seen what the flame of a candle looks like after the candle has been blown out? I wondered what would be left, once I was gone.
I was depressed. I had lost what I thought defined me. The mania that Kathy thinks began the day of the party had become depression. If in the hospital I felt like the color gray, that night on the bridge I felt translucent.
Just jump. It will all be over. You will jump, and you will fall, and if you get lucky you will be dead before you hit the water, and if you are still alive, you won’t be for long since you will drown. Four minutes. I read somewhere that you can last four minutes without oxygen. I wouldn’t wait four minutes. I’d fall into the water, and the water would be cold, and I’d open my mouth and drink until I felt like I had swallowed the entire river, and then I would be gone, the hazards on my car blinking, the note on the passenger seat waiting to be read.
The bridge under my feet swaying.
I took one step, then a second. I’d jump and I’d close my eyes and I’d hit the water and then everything would mostly be over. I wish something noble kept me from taking a third step, something related to Avery or to owing Holly more than another mess to clean up, but I didn’t take a third step because I didn’t think I would die. I thought I would jump, someone would rescue me, and I’d end up paralyzed or worse, unable to take care of myself, maybe confined to a hospital bed.
There’s no one who will take care of me.
That’s why I didn’t take a third step, why I got back into my car, and why I drove over the bridge and into Boston, past a playground where Jay and I often took Avery.
My thoughts were faster than how long I needed to think my thoughts, and the cars I had seen on the bridge were there and then they weren’t, and maybe I had invented the cars, and the headlights, and how much I wanted to die.
I called Holly.
“I need help,” I said, when Holly answered the phone.
“You’re not here. Where are you?”
“I’m at the Tobin Bridge. I was going to jump.”
“Come home. We can get you help. Come home.”
“Do you need me to stay on the line with you until you get here?”
“Just come home,” she said. “Everything is going to be okay.”
You can find out more about William Henderson and his memoir at hendersonhouseofcards.com.