Free Fall

You push off the Golden Gate bridge to end it all but as you break contact, realize you’ve made a horrible mistake…

Free Fall

When I scored the last parking space in the big lot on the south side of the Golden Gate Bridge, I knew my suicide plans were falling into place. My emotions had bled out long ago, and I was numb. Numb, but resolute. How had it come to this, I kept asking? But I knew the answer. Tomorrow I’d begin a five-year prison term for sexually assaulting a fifteen year old girl. But prison time wasn’t the half of it. My marriage was shattered, my friends gone and as a registered sex offender, I’d never teach and coach again, which is all I ever wanted to do with my life.

I left the keys in the ignition along with my wallet, my cell phone, my wedding band and a paper bag containing what was left of my savings, six thousand seven hundred and fifty two dollars and some change. No note. I had nothing left to say, and the world wouldn’t listen anyway.

The sun was low and patches of fog had begun drifting in. I knew I had better than an hour before the bridge closed to pedestrian traffic, and I’d kept my watch on to keep track of time. I passed a couple strolling hand in hand and thought of my wife, Chloe. I was past caring now, but at one time I felt more deeply betrayed by her than by Jennifer, the young girl who’d falsely accused me. Jennifer was a mixed up kid, but Chloe was my wife, and I’d given her no reason to doubt me. Ever. But our relationship had always been one sided. You know that when the woman of your dreams takes a week to accept your proposal and insists on at least one separate vacation a year. So, after the verdict came down, I wasn’t that surprised when she averted her eyes and said, “I’m sorry Larry, I’ve decided to move on with my life.” Not surprised, but cut to the quick.

I stopped at the half-way point on the bridge and pretended to take in what view the fog gave me. I didn’t want to alarm anyone with my intentions, which burned in my heart like a cold flame. A young girl jogged by and I thought of Jennifer. Like the jogger, Jennifer was tall and pretty, and she had the biggest doe eyes you’ve ever seen. I didn’t see it coming. Her mother suddenly became unreliable in picking her up after practice. The recurrence of a drinking problem, it turned out. Their house wasn’t that far out of my way, so I began covering for her mom when the need arose. I had no idea how emotionally disturbed Jennifer was. We didn’t find out until later that she’d been preyed upon by a succession of her mother’s boyfriends. We tried to use that at my trial, but the jury read it as an attempt to attack an innocent young girl.

The fog hid the sun again, reminding me of that rainy day when she made her move on me. I pulled into her driveway. It was dark and there were no lights on in her house. Instead of getting out of the car, she took my hand and placed it on her breast. I pulled back like I’d touched a bed of hot coals and told her to get out. Later she would tell her mother we had made love that day and on several other occasions to boot. Something had snapped in Jennifer’s mind, and I became the lightening rod for all the pain she’d been subjected to. I gazed down at the bay between swirls of fog and thought about the look she’d given me after the verdict was read. It was agony, not vindication. She’d wrecked my life, but I couldn’t find it in my heart to hate her for it.

I checked my watch. It was time. I let an elderly man and two young women pass before I scrambled over the railing. I heard one of the women scream, and the last thing I saw were my hands pushing me clear of the bridge. I saw every detail, my skin pores and freckles, twists of hair and ridges of tendons, even the luster and striations in my fingernails. I saw hands that had served me well, beloved hands that had held warm cups of coffee, a razor against my cheek, Chloe’s face, and hands that were connected to the rest of me. A primal urge welled up. Wait, my mind screamed, I don’t want to die! But it was too late. I clawed at the fog for a second or two then straightened out and fell like a dart.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that I was the twenty-fifth jumper so far that year. Three of the bodies hadn’t been recovered, including mine. The story went on to say they’d found my car along with my belongings, but there was no mention of the bag of money.

The little bakery in Bangor, Maine, was cozy and smelled of cinnamon and apples. I had a hand wrapped around a warm coffee mug, and every once in a while I’d stretch out my other hand and study it. It was a fine hand, indeed. I was meeting a man to buy a social security card. It’s surprisingly easy to forge a new identity, especially if you have the cash.

The fisherman didn’t see me hit the water that day because of the fog, but he heard the splash. He said I must have been the first ever to survive a fall like that. He was wrong. Actually, twenty six out of some fourteen hundred jumpers have survived. I would have been the twenty seventh had they known, but after I poured my heart out to the fisherman, he agreed not to tell a soul.

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2 Responses to Free Fall

  1. Karen says:

    Very interesting story. I really liked To Catch a Wolf much better. I hope to write children’s books when I retire. Karen

    • warrenea says:

      Thanks for the comment, Karen! The story was based on a short piece I heard on NPR, told by a man who had jumped and lived. It really stuck with me…

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