My husband and I were at a wine tasting when it happened. The expert wine blogger — pompous and fuller of himself than the chardonnay — was pontificating at such great length we began to get restless and a little disruptive.
A wine tasting. You’re always doing something else, something not terribly serious or important, aren’t you, maybe even acting inappropriately, when another human being decides she can’t go on. She took off her shoes, climbed up on a bucket, and jumped off the balcony of a high floor in our building. She hit the ground so hard she shattered a metal grate on the sidewalk.
We have a new community in our building, the beginnings of a vertical neighborhood. The woman, we quickly learned, didn’t live here. She’d been staying at the nearby hotel. She was looking for a new place to live. She’d liked a condo on one of the high floors and asked if she could stay there alone to enjoy the sunset. She had paused only a few minutes before she jumped.
Everyone who lives and works here was horrified and shaken. A few were angry. Why here? Why our new neighborhood? We talked, we shook our heads, we shrugged, we asked questions that couldn’t be answered.
Days passed and a shadowy outline emerged. She was 60, a doctor from another state. She had three grown children. She had told the man who showed her the condo the story of her life, her hopes to start anew. Then she’d hugged him when he left. He realized, when he identified her body, that he’d been the last person she ever touched or spoke to. Unlike some of the others, he wasn’t angry. Just sad and philosophical. Your life touches other people’s, he shrugged. You just never know, do you?
Most of us Googled her name. Once I’d seen her photograph, I kept seeing her face. She was similar to me — a professional woman, roughly the same age, a mother of grown children. If I’d glimpsed her, could I have seen what she had in mind? Of course, I couldn’t have. I recalled a good friend who killed himself a few years ago. I thought I’d known him well — but I’d missed the depth of his anguish and depression. I thought I was so sensitive and perceptive, but I was wrong. I was like the townspeople in “Richard Cory”, oblivious and easily fooled.
I’ve been depressed enough at times in my life to understand why someone would want to kill herself. It didn’t make me angry, it simply made me sad to think of how much torment she must have been in. I’ve also come to believe that a person intent on suicide will complete the act, one way or another, that you can’t always save another person.
More than anything, what I didn’t understand was why she had come so far to kill herself and why she had chosen such a public venue. Weren’t women usually more private and discreet? Did she realize how much her act might upset the young storepeople on the ground who witnessed her death?
Oh, hell, I knew nothing. But I keep seeing her face. When did she make up her mind, finally? And did she regret it in those brief seconds she had left once she jumped?
(Copyright 2011 by Ruth Pennebaker)
See another post on the maddening impermanence of enlightenment