Authors: Ann Aguirre
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For the survivors: That which did not kill us made us stronger.
I was supposed to die at 5:57 a.m.
At least, I had been planning it for months. First I read up on the best ways to do it, then I learned the warning signs and made sure not to reveal any of them. People who wanted to be saved gave away their possessions and said their good-byes. I’d passed so far beyond that point; I just wanted it all to stop.
There was no light at the end of this tunnel.
So two days after the school year ended, I left my house for what I intended to be the last time. I wrote no note of explanation. In my opinion, it never offered closure and it only made the survivors feel guilty. Better to let my parents think I suffered from some undiagnosed mental illness than to have them carry the knowledge that maybe they could’ve saved me; that burden could drive my parents to the ledge behind me, and I didn’t want that. I only wanted an ending.
Earlier I had walked toward the BU T station I used for other errands, like shopping and school. There was plenty of time for me to change my mind, but I’d done all the research, and it was meticulous. I’d considered all sorts of methods, but in the end, I preferred water because it would be tidy and quick. I hated the idea of leaving a mess at home for my parents to clean up. This early—or late, depending on your perspective—the city was relatively quiet.
Just as well.
I’d gotten off at North Station and trudged the last mile or so.
Jumpers loved this place, but if you picked the wrong time, somebody would notice, call the authorities, and then you’d have cars honking, lanes shutting down, police cars … pretty much the whole media circus. I was smart enough to choose my opportunity carefully; in fact, I’d studied the success stories and compared the times when the most deaths occurred. Constrained by public transport hours, I arrived a bit later than the majority of those who died here, but my leap would still be feasible.
At this hour, there wasn’t as much traffic. The bridge was a monster, but I didn’t have to go all the way to the other side. Predawn murk threw shadows over the metal pylons as I faced my fate. I felt nothing in particular. No joy, but no sadness either.
The last three years had been the worst. I’d seen the well-meant
It Gets Better
videos, but I wasn’t tough enough to make it through another year, when there was no assurance college would be better. The constant jokes, endless harrassment—if this was all I could look forward to, then I was ready to check out. I didn’t know why people at school hated me so much. To my knowledge, I’d never done anything except exist, but that was enough. At Blackbriar Academy—an expensive, private school that my parents thought guaranteed a bright future—it wasn’t okay to be ugly, weird, or different. I was all of the above. And not in the movie way, either, where the geek girl took down her hair and swapped her horn rims for contacts, then suddenly, she was a hottie.
When I was little, it didn’t bother me. But the older I got, the meaner the kids became, particularly the beautiful ones. To get in with their crowd, you needed a certain look, and money didn’t hurt. Teachers fell in with whatever the Teflon crew told them, and most adults had enough secret cruelty to believe somebody like me had it coming—that if I tried harder, I could stop stuttering, get a nose job, dye my hair, and join a gym. So clearly it was my fault that I’d rather read than try to bring myself up to the standards of people I hated.
Over the years, the pranks got worse and worse. They stole my clothes from my gym locker, so I had to go to class all stinky in my PE uniform. Not a day went by that they didn’t do something, even as simple as a kick or a shove or a word that dug deep as a knife. I used to tell myself I could survive it—I quoted Nietzsche in my head and I pretended I was a fearless heroine. But I was as strong as my tormentors could make me, and it wasn’t enough. Four months ago, the last day before winter break, they broke me.
I pushed the memory down like the bile I swallowed on a daily basis. The shame was the worst, as if I’d done something to deserve this. Being smart and ugly wasn’t reason enough for what they did to me. Nothing was. At that point, I implemented plan B. I had no friends. Nobody would miss me. At best, my parents—oblivious academic types—would see me as ruined potential. Sometimes I thought they had me as a sociology experiment. Afterward, they’d retrieve my body and mark my file with a big red
The sky was gray and pearly, mist hanging over the river. Drawing in a deep breath, I gathered my courage. To my amusement, I’d passed a sign that read,
Then it listed a number. I’d ignored that, along with a massive heap of pigeon shit, and continued across until I was far enough out that the water would drown me fast, provided the fall didn’t kill me on impact. Now I only had to climb over quietly and let go.
A jagged shard tore loose in my chest; tears burned in my eyes.
Why didn’t anyone notice? Why didn’t anyone
So, maybe I was like the other lost souls, after all. I wanted a hand on my shoulder, somebody to stop me. Shaking, I put my foot on the guardrail and swung my leg over. On the other side, metal at my back, the dark river spread before me as if it led to the underworld. For me, it did. My muscles coiled, but I didn’t need to jump. All I had to do was lean into space. There would be a few seconds of freefall, and then I’d hit the water. If the impact didn’t kill me, the stones in my pockets would.
I’d planned for all contingencies.
I stepped forward.
A hand on my shoulder stopped me. The touch radiated heat, shocking me nearly to death. I couldn’t remember the last time anyone had touched me, except to hurt. My parents weren’t huggers. So long as I got straight As, they had little to do with me. They said they were rearing me to be self-sufficient. It felt more like they were raising me to self-destruct.
I turned, expecting a corporate drone jonesing to start his cubicle time early, and on target to screw up my careful plans. In that case, I’d have to talk fast to avoid police involvement and incarceration in a mental facility. They’d put me on death watch and stare at me for three days in case I relapsed with the urge to kill myself. The lie hovered on the tip of my tongue—how I was researching suicide to make a sociology essay more compelling—but the guy who’d interrupted my exit also stole my ability to form a coherent thought. His hand remained on my shoulder, steadying me, but he didn’t speak.
I didn’t either.
He had the kind of face you saw in magazines, sculpted and airbrushed to perfection. Sharp cheekbones eased into a strong jaw and a kissable mouth. His chin was just firm enough. He had a long, aquiline nose and jade eyes with a feline slant. His face was … haunting, unsettling, even. His layered mop of dark hair gained coppery streaks in the halo of passing headlights that limned us both. In a minute or two, somebody would see us. Though traffic was light, it wasn’t nonexistent, and eventually some concerned motorist would pull over or make a call. I saw my window of opportunity narrowing.
“What?” I managed to get the word out without stammering.
“You don’t have to do this. There are other options.”
I didn’t try to bullshit. His direct, gold-sparked gaze made me feel that would be a waste of time. Part of me thought I might have already jumped, and he was my afterlife. Or maybe I was on a ventilator after they fished me out of the river, which made this a coma dream. I’d read studies where doctors posited that people experienced incredibly vivid dreamscapes during catatonia.
“Yeah? Like what?”
I figured he’d mention therapy. Group sessions. Medication. Anything to get my butt off this bridge. Right then, only the strength of his biceps kept me from flinging myself backward. Well, that … and curiosity.
“You can let me help you.”
“I don’t see how that’s possible.” My tone sounded bleak, and it gave away more than I wanted.
I didn’t mean to tell a random stranger my problems, no matter how pretty he was. In fact, that appeal made me trust him less. Beautiful people treated me well only when they were setting me up for something worse. In hindsight, I should’ve been wary that day, but I was just so tired, and I wanted so bad to believe they intended to stop tormenting me. I was ready to accept the apology and move on.
Everybody grows up, right?
“Here’s the deal. We’ll get something to drink, and I’ll make my proposal. If you don’t like what you hear, I’ll escort you back here and this time, I won’t stop you. I’ll even stand guard so nobody else does.”
“Why should I? You could be a murdering weirdo.”
“You intended to kill yourself anyway.”
“I was going to be quick. You might not be. Being suicidal doesn’t mean I’m stupid.”
He laughed. “See, this is why I didn’t bring my car. I
you wouldn’t get in.”
That sounded like we were old friends, but I’d remember someone like him. “You got that right.”
“You can walk five feet behind me if it makes you feel better.”
I wasn’t sure it did, but with his help, I climbed back over the guardrail. His argument made sense, and I was curious. What did I have to lose? He might try to recruit me into a cult. Nervous and wary, I trudged behind him, my eyes on his back at all times. I was ready to end things on my terms, not wind up living in a hole in somebody’s basement. That would definitely be worse. I shivered, wondering if this was the best idea. Yet curiosity refused to let me back out.
He led the way off the bridge, quite a long walk the second time around; the rocks in my pockets gained weight with each step. Eventually, we reached the street, passing a number of closed restaurants, Italian places mostly. He stopped at a twenty-four-hour diner called Cuppa Joe. The place had a giant mug out front, outlined in red neon. Inside, the vinyl booths were cracked and sealed over with silver duct tape. On the wall, a neon blue-and-pink clock buzzed, a low drone just inside my range of hearing. According to the position of the hands, it was 6:05 a.m., and I’d missed my deadline.
A couple of waitresses wore the ultimate in polyester chic, while old women sat nursing coffee with lipstick imprints on chipped cups, makeup caked into their wrinkles. There were elderly couples as well; men in plaid trousers and white belts, ladies in shirtwaists. Everyone in the diner had an odd look, like they were players on a set, and some otherworldly director was saying,
is what a diner looked like in 1955.
I also counted too many customers for this hour. Finally, there was an expectant air, as if they had all been awaiting our arrival. I dismissed the thought as symptomatic of how surreal the day had become.