(Continued from previous entry)
Him: “I’m at the river”....
Before my mind could catch up with my body, I’d already swung my legs over the side of the bed and was haphazardly pulling clothes out of the laundry basket on the floor, pulling them on as I dialed his number and held my phone to my ear, hearing it ring hollow and empty on his end, finally disconnecting. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t woken up 8 minutes earlier when his text came in. I had intentionally fallen asleep with my phone in my hand, and now he wasn’t responding.
I forced my eyes to open and my brain to focus, defying the drowsiness from the Benedryl coursing through my veins that I’d taken to help me sleep earlier. I slipped shoes on my feet and fumbled around for my purse and keys. I was slightly disoriented, but made it out the door into my car within minutes, even quicker than I’d been the night before last - when he’d only mentioned going to the river, but hadn’t left yet.
1:06 AM - I’m driving towards his house, as fast as I dared to - a split second decision made to take a detour to make sure his car wasn’t home, just in case. I continued calling him, messaging him via speech-to-text, trying to get some kind of response,
Me: I will drive down there to find you.
Me: I’m going to drive there. You know I’m not joking.
Me: Talk to me.
Me: If you are just going there to have a smoke by the river like you said you were going to do, then just let me know. Please. I need to know you’re safe.
Me: I love you, R. I love you. You are so loved.
When I arrived at his house minutes later, it was 1:11 AM. My heart dropped. His car wasn’t there. That meant he really did leave this time… I parked quickly and jumped out of my car, slipping past his font gate and peering in his curtains that were slightly open, checking to see if he was inside. Just to be sure before I did anything drastic. He wasn’t. I felt sick. I called again, no answer. I called through messenger too, but still no answer.
I got back in my car and realized that I was over 10 miles away from the river, and I’d wasted time stopping at his house! It had been 17 long minutes since he texted me. I hit the gas pedal, racing down empty back streets, trying to blink the drowsy sleeping-pill tracers from my eyes. Trying to get in contact with him every minute or so the entire way downtown.
I drove in silence, alone on the deserted streets. I felt numb. All of the times I put myself in these types of hypothetical scenarios in my head, I’d imagined myself more hysterical - With tears streaming down my face, screaming his name as I tried to get to him, knowing EXACTLY what to say to help him. But it wasn’t like that in reality. It was a morbid silence. A deafening silence. All I could hear was the pavement crunching under my tires and the wind whipping through my open windows as I raced towards the bridge that has haunted my dreams for the past several years… As I got closer and closer, I could hear my heart pounding in my ears as I tried to pray to a god I don’t even believe in out of desperation.
1:27 AM I crest a small hill and see the bridge looming ahead. I’d grabbed the prescription glasses I rarely wear out of my purse, and already felt my suddenly-alert eyes scanning the distance in front of me, looking for his car, for the outline of a man in the shadows, for anything but cracked concrete and nothingness.
My heart was hammering, my stomach lurching, my hands shaking, my mind racing…What if I DON’T see him there?? But, what if I DO see him there? Would I be able to change his mind? Would I be able to talk him down? Would I be able to jump with him? Would I be able to go over the side after him? I’d always thought it was so poetic in The Princess Bride when Buttercup saw Westley tumbling down the cliffside, and threw herself down after him. Oh my dear Westley, what have I done? Could I be brave like her? Because, like her, If I lose him I will never love again.
My mind is wandering now, absolutely racing, I text him when I’m at a stoplight less than a block away -
Me: Where are you at?
Me: I am here. I am close.
The light turns green and somehow I’m on the deserted bridge now, slowing to a crawl… My eyes darting from one side of the bridge to the next, to the tip top of the ornate cement columns and railings, to the dirty sidewalk, making sure I don’t overlook an inch. The bridge is lined with streetlights every 10 feet or so, illuminating everything on the ground, but disappearing quickly over the sides into an inky blackness. I shudder thinking of the low river and the jagged rocks below when I don’t see him anywhere. I try not to think about what happens if I’m too late. I don’t know what I expected, but until now the realities of the situation hadn’t really sunk in. My mind races with “what if’s” as I cross over the far side of the bridge, having seen no sign of him.
I call again, but it goes straight to voicemail now. I send him my iPhone location as I drive back around the bridge in a loop, then to an area which has a “scenic” overlook, where you can park and see the river and the bridge and the city skyline from another angle. I thought maybe he’d be there, to sit and smoke as I’d done a few times in the past. But, he wasn’t. I could see the bridge itself from this view, but nothing below it, the darkness blacker than anything I’d ever seen before, like a gaping black hole to hell. I panic.
1:48 AM It’s been about 20 minutes since I’d arrived at the bridge, and I’d driven over it twice, visited the scenic overlook, drove through the surrounding streets trying to spot his car, without any success, I decided to drive down to the river itself, to an area where there’s a public park with lots of picnic tables, and big rocks at the edge of the river underneath the bridge that you can sit on top of. When R and I were teenagers, we’d drive down there and park my car, making out in the backseat while rain pattered on the roof and the river roared beside us. We’d sometimes walk hand-in-hand to the edge of the river, and sit on the rocks, his arms around me protectively, as we gazed out at the rippling dark water or up at the looming bridge, which no longer looked as beautiful and ornate as it had in the daylight, but instead haunting and cold and eerie and dark. One time we sat there at dusk, trying to have a serious conversation, and bats started swirling over our heads, swooping down low, making me shriek as we ducked down, laughing as I hid under the protection of his body. We always said it must have been a sign or an omen, but we never knew for what…
Now, as I drove along the river all these years later, it was so dark that I could barely make out the bridge towering overhead. I could faintly hear the water, and I could see the flicker of streetlights on top of the bridge, but it only made me shiver and cringe, thinking how far that drop down is. I started to choke back tears at this point, not knowing if I should park and get out of my car, maybe he’s sitting on a rock, maybe he’s swatting away bats from circling his head as he smokes, maybe he’s laying there in need of help, maybe he’s… maybe… maybe… I don’t know what to do. I know it’s too dark, I know it’s too dangerous. I am alone, I don’t know what’s down there, it’s not a safe part of town… I’m out of ideas, and I am afraid.
2:04 AM I drive back up the steep incline of the road leading away from the river, towards the downtown area and the bridge. It’s a winding, dark, twisty road and my mind is filled with memories of him, of us, making this same drive 16 years ago, never knowing this is where we’d be now, in our 30’s. I’m starting to cry now, not knowing if I should go home, go back over the bridge, get out of my car and walk, go back to his house, contact someone? My mind is racing and I’m so exhausted and sad and terrified and broken and helpless and suddenly my phone is ringing… his face on my phone screen illuminating the dark car, temporarily blinding me as I slam on the breaks and fumble to answer.
Him: Hey you
Me: *Where are you? *
I hear noise in the background. I can’t make out what it is. The rush of a river? A crowded room? Wind through a car window?
Him: Where are YOU?
Me: I’m downtown, near the river. I’m.... Looking for you. Are you okay?!
Him: Yeah, I’m okay.
Me: WHERE ARE YOU?
Him: I’m downtown too. In front of a coffee shop. With a new friend.
My head swims. It’s past 2 AM, even most bars would be closed at this point, much less coffee shops. I didn’t see anyone else in my half-hour or more of driving around, looking for him.
Me: Well… I’m really close to there. Are you sure you’re OK?
Do you want me to meet you there?
Him: Sure, you can come if you want to.... wait, no. No don’t come.
Me: Are you sure? I’m going to park and wait down here for a bit. I was really worried about you.
Him: I’ll call you back.
Me: Okay… well, hey, listen - I… I love you.
Him: I love you too.
When the line went dead I decided to drive past the coffee shop he said he was outside of. Something like this is a huge trigger for my anxiety but fuck it, I didn’t care at this point, I just needed to know. But when I drove by, of course I didn’t see him. I didn’t really see anyone or any cars at all. So, I parked up the road at a meter in a well-lit area and switch off my car, trying to process what had just happened…
He is okay. He is not at the bridge. He’s not at, or in, the river. He is with someone. Someone he says is a friend. He’s not alone. He’s alive. He’s okay. He sounded fine. He sounded TOO fine. He sounded like nothing was wrong at all…
I switch from panic and anxiety to a seething confusion. I don’t know if I can be upset, angry, or scared, or relieved. I don’t know what to think. I pull out a joint to smoke. I don’t care at this point. I’d come this far, so I decided to wait.
He calls back around 20 minutes later as it was creeping towards 2:30 AM. I’d lost track of time in my thoughts. I’d seen a few homeless people wandering back and forth in the park, talking to themselves or yelling at someone or looking in garbage cans or under benches. At one point, I swear it sounded like one of them was yelling R‘s name. I knew I was sleep deprived and delusional - The whole night felt like a fever-dream.
When he tells me where he is, it turns out he’s only a block away. Nearly within view of where I’m parked. So he asks me to come to where he’s at, to see him and say “hi”.
So I do, of course. A sense of anxiety plus relief and even a little embarrassment running through my body. I felt like I’d just been on every roller coaster at Six-Flags and my emotions were upside down and inside out. I felt like the ground was wobbly and my head was spinning, making me queasy and unbalanced. Despite this, I drove down to the next block on emotional auto-pilot and parked next to him, putting on a million dollar smile as he smiled back at me from his rolled-down window.
We both get out of our cars then, and I rush to hug him. That’s when I notice another guy I didn’t recognize getting out of his passenger seat… He introduces himself, but I don’t even register what his name is. R asks me what I have been doing, and instead of launching into the diatribe over my night circling the bridge, I tell him that I was smoking near the park, people-watching. Of course he has to know that it’s not a mere coincidence that I am there, but we say nothing of it.
He says that he is going to drop this guy off at home, and if I want to, I can meet him at his house and we can talk. I think this is a good idea, but this new friend wants to tag along - and so he does. I still opt to go to his house, not knowing what was going on, and wanting to see for myself that everything was okay.
When we’re back at his house, we all stand around on the back porch and smoke - a joint for me, a cigarette for our “new friend”, and a ‘black & mild’ for R. I mostly listen to them as they exchange stories of their lives and take turns swigging from of a flask of whiskey. I observe. Try to gauge what exactly happened that night.
I didn’t have to wonder long, because the new friend ended up telling me the night from his perspective, and I’m surprised by what I hear:
He and his friends were walking down the bridge, when they spotted R sitting there, in quiet contemplation. One of the guys in the group said that R would be an easy target to rob, just sitting there alone and melancholy on the bridge like that. The two friends disagree, and that is when this “new friend” had decided to defend R. He approached him to see if he needed help of some kind to see if he was okay. This guy had tears in his eyes as he told me that the thought of jumping off that bridge had appealed to him too at times, and he could sense the pain that someone sitting atop it may be feeling. So, they talked. Apparently, he convinced R to hang out for a while, to leave the bridge and go get something to eat - so that is what they did.
All of this happened just before I arrived. Had I been there sooner, had I not stopped at his house, I may have seen him there. I may have seen them all there.... But In reality, I was too late, and the thought devastated me. Still, listening to this stranger’s story about his chance encounter on the bridge with the love of my life, I am grateful. I am thankful. I am relieved that even if I was too late, someone showed up.
At least he is okay. At least he is here. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought those same words before… but this time, I mean them more than ever. I’d never been so scared.
The sun starts to come up and the new friend needs a ride home, but R tells me that I should wait there at his house, make myself at home, and he will come back and we can spend some time together and talk… I offer to drive, saying we can all go, but he is adamant he will “be right back”, and I know how stubborn he is, so I don’t press the issue.
I wander inside and go to the bathroom, catching my reflection in the mirror and grimacing. I’d rolled out of bed half-asleep, not even running a comb through my hair or putting any makeup on my worn out, sleep-deprived face. I usually never let him see me this way, and now he was going to. I didn’t bring anything with me, not even a rogue lip gloss to be found in my purse - So, I splash my face with some water, try to brush my hair a bit, put some of his mousse in it, and gargle with his mouthwash, because I’d also not had a chance to brush my teeth. I was a mess.
I sit down to wait for him to get home, wondering what to say when he got back, wondering how he will act. I peruse his bookshelf, find a poetry book, make myself comfortable on his couch, and pour myself a drink. I’m nervous, so I can’t focus on the book. My mind wanders. I replay the night and my emotions. I write him a little note on a sticky pad on his table and place it near his work desk, out of plain view, for him to maybe see later. I pace & look out the window 20 times. I try to arrange myself “casually” on the couch. I want to see him alone but I’m still on edge.
He comes back and seems burdened… He sits next to me on the couch, sighing, his head in his hands, and nearly starts to cry before spilling his guts. It was a mixture between hopeless and hurt and frustrated and angry. I had no idea what he was about to say, no idea what I was in for, what things I was about to learn. I thought I was prepared for anything after the rollercoaster of emotions I’d been through that night - but I wasn’t, not at all. I felt panic rise in my chest as he started to confess like a sinner in church…
(to be continued, again)
Last updated August 01, 2020