A CRISIS INTERVENTION SPECIALIST STRUGGLES TO SAVE A WOMAN'S LIFE.
Some people simply grow old through their days. Some pass the years in regret but never change the circumstances that created their misery. But the ones that pull at the heartstrings are those people who end their lives without understanding their value or purpose. They cry out so often those around them cease to hear their moaning.
For the past two years, I’ve been involved with “Jumpers”, those poor citizens who leap off buildings and bridges to facilitate their longed-for release. They’re the ones that others grow weary of because, in their anguish, they cry out in this wilderness of plastic and seek a human embrace.
It was rush hour when the familiar call came through: A Jumper on the Lee Bridge. I gathered what little information was available and hurried out the door of the station. I felt strangely guilty as I started my car and placed the blue bubble on top. The flashing light would allow me to use the emergency lanes, which would provide quicker access to the lost soul threatening to jump into some secret abyss.
My heart was racing, and my palms were sweaty. “Why rush hour?” I mumbled to the cars choking the highway as I flew past them. Rush hour made this job a lot harder. After working all day, the impatient, angry drivers on the busy highway would have little sympathy for this person who dared disrupt their journey home. I jumped when my cell phone rang—I knew it was Jean. She always called to give me a profile before I arrived, if one was available.
“Do you have your headset on?” she asked, her words sounding oddly metallic.
“Yeah, give me a bead on this person,” I mumbled.
“Her name is Angela Johnson. She parked her car in the ER lane so a trooper was able to call in the plate number.”
“Forty-nine. No history of depression or record of any kind. She’s single, no children.”
“From around here?” If the Jumper was local then we could usually locate a family member or friend.
“No, she’s from a rural place in West Virginia.”
“How long on the rail?”
“Hard to say, but it couldn’t be more then an hour. I know you hate rush hour, but when Jumpers time it like that, the responding officer has more time to talk them down.”
“Yeah, like they’re pros,” I answered, sarcastically. “I’ll be there in a couple of minutes.” Jean didn’t prolong the conversation. She understood that I needed that brief time to mentally prepare myself for the intervention.
As I approached the barricade, an overwhelming sense of remorse reverberated through me. I’d been very lucky with the last one, but nothing is ever taken for granted when a person is a step away from a very long drop into a murky tomb. A road department employee wearing a large orange vest waved me through. The late afternoon sun made her glow like an amber light. The State Trooper waiting for me was visibly relieved when I pulled up.
“Looks like a serious one,” he said, with a slow drawl, as he hiked up his pants. The weight of a thick black belt with a pistol snapped into its leather holster simply dropped them down again, allowing his bulging stomach to proclaim its freedom.
Slowly I opened the car door, took a long, deep breath, and forced my mind to focus on Angela Johnson. “Has she spoken?” I asked, softly, as if my reverence could somehow reach her.
“Not a word. She told us if we came any closer, she’d jump. I immediately sent everyone away and waited for you. You want me to back off?” he asked, hopefully.
“That’s a good idea, Officer,” I replied, closing the car door behind me. “Give me plenty of room. I don’t want to crowd her.”
“One thing more. Before we could get the lane cleared, some very angry drivers were shouting at her.”
“What were they saying?” I asked, as if I didn’t already know. People no longer surprised me with their cruelty.
“To go ahead and jump,” he said, quietly, his sad eyes and weary face betraying how deeply that had affected him.
“Alright then, I’ll take it from here.” Slowly I walked towards the woman, clearly visible sitting on the bridge rail a short distance away, holding on with one hand. Warily she watched me approach.
I’d made it within ten feet of her when she cried, “Stop! Don’t come any closer!”
“Angela?” Watching me carefully, she nodded, so I continued, “My name is Nicole. I work for a crisis intervention center and I’d really like to help you—if you’ll let me.” I paused and waited. She didn’t look away nor did she attempt to hide her tears. This was a hopeful sign, but she looked so dejected, I feared she’d already made up her mind to jump and was only waiting for the proper moment.
“You know my name,” she said, matter-of-factly. She now had both hands on the rail.
“You must have gotten the information from my tags. It doesn’t matter,” she said, with a slight shrug of her thin shoulders. “It’s good the poor bastards will know.”
“Angela, won’t you tell me what’s happened?”
“Can’t you see?” she said.
“I see a sad, attractive woman who is hurting, and I would like to help her.”
“You’re good,” she said, taking her right hand off the rail to quickly wipe the tears away. “But if I don’t jump then they’ll lock me up in a nut house.”
“It’s called observation, and the reason they do that is so you’ll be safe. There are those that care.”
“What would you know about it!” she cried.
“I know a lot. I was once where you are now.” I didn’t blink an eye as she carefully studied me, wondering if I was telling the truth.
“You’re trained to say that. Yeah, I bet they have you memorize pat answers so that poor, suffering slobs like me won’t mess up the traffic flow any longer then necessary! That’s why I chose to do it this time of day! People are crap,” she added, before easing backwards.
“I couldn’t agree more,” I answered, which caused her to freeze for a moment. I had an opening so I took it. “Most people don’t care. They’re indifferent to others, and they can cause pain through their callousness.”
“Heartless bastards! I’m tired of taking it!”
“Talk to me! Let me help! That’s why I’m here—give me something!” I cried, my voice cracking. I sincerely felt for this woman, and I wanted her to embrace my empathy.
“What do I look like to you? Am I some ugly creature! Do you pity me?” she asked, looking down.
I waited a moment before answering and took the opportunity to look at her more closely. I saw the long, dingy brown hair, the oval face scarred by acne, the crooked teeth, but I also saw eyes that glowed with intelligence. No, I thought, she’s not ugly. There is beauty in her very being, but what cut so deep that all hope was gone?
“I see a lovely woman who has a heart,” I answered, sincerely, while taking a few steps forward.
“Don’t come any closer! I’m not stupid! You’ll tell me anything!”
Sadly I shook my head and said nothing as I weighed my options. I could hear horns blowing, angry voices floating towards us on cool, crisp air, and through it all, the early autumn chat of another season’s death. It was Angela that broke the silence.
“I always get so depressed this time of year. The night seems to remind me that I’ve accomplished nothing—that it’s all been a waste. I was so lonely back home all I could think of was getting away. I was never noticed in school or at home. Even the teachers ignored me! I was just there,” she added, tearfully.
“And now you’re here talking to me and, believe me, I do notice! I see a woman who can walk away from this and turn her life around.”
“Bullshit! Turn my life around from what? If I don’t jump then it’s only another failure—another humiliation! I really have nothing to live for,” she said, abruptly dropping her hands from the rail.
“Then tell me your story,” I pleaded, praying she wouldn’t lose her balance. “Let me at least know you—even if it’s just for a short time! Give yourself that much!”
Angela shrugged and smiled, “You are good. I’ll give you that much. Hell, why shouldn’t I keep those idiots tied up in traffic for a while! They don’t care about me anyway!” Firmly she grasped the rail and asked, “What do you want to know?”
I swallowed hard and sighed, my heart rapidly beating in my chest. For the first time since we started our chat, I sensed that she’d already decided the outcome, but I had to keep trying.
“What’s your line of work?” I asked.
She laughed and said, “I clean houses. I have a degree in business, but I clean the homes of the affluent! They’re such pigs! You wouldn’t believe the mess they leave for the maids to clean up.”
“Why not get a job in business?”
“Because they don’t want old, ugly women! I lost my job because I wasn’t—let me see…” She took a deep breath, as if to stop herself from crying, and added, with a sniffle, “…the right look.”
“You could’ve fought that one in court.”
“Yeah, I could’ve, and then they would’ve brought in some fictitious story that I was incompetent. I still would have lost in the end.”
“What would you like to do? You’re not old,” I whispered, forcing her to lean forward to hear me. I was close enough where all I needed was a few more steps, and I could grab her by the arms, believing that was the only option I had left. We were both the same size so there was a chance I could hang on to her until the police came storming up. I’d noticed that they were just itching to do something.
“I would like peace,” she said, sadly. “I would like to not feel so alone and so different. I would like to be able to look at myself and not feel so ugly. Can you change things for me? No, you can’t.” Shaking her head in despair, she leaned away from the rail. My heart leaped into my throat. But she kept her balance. Her head was bowed as she thoughtfully took in all that lay below.
“I can listen,” I said, taking another step. “You can get this baggage out in the open. You can let your anger out, and I won’t judge. I’ll only offer support.”
“Like you mean it,” she said, wearily, skeptically. “That’s only a ploy to get me off the rail. You shouldn’t lie to people. It’s not good ethics.”
Boldly I stepped forward, my hands held out. “I do mean it. I can be there for you, and others can, too. Please give us a chance!” I was close enough to take her hand but before I could, she suddenly reached out and grabbed both of mine, grasping them firmly. I smiled, in relief, and said, “Thank you.”
“No. Thank you,” she hissed, with such hatred that I frantically tried to pull away. “Tell me something, will you? Is this how my Henry felt the night they sent you scum bags out to save him? Too bad I didn’t give you enough time to check me out more thoroughly! Looks like we have a journey to take, dearie!” Laughing hysterically, she pulled me over the rail with her, and we plunged into the depths.
Perhaps I’m still in a dream because all I can see before me is the rapidly approaching river, and all I can feel is someone tightly holding my hands.