I saw a man commit suicide yesterday. I cannot believe that is a sentence I can write. He jumped off the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. It was raining, and I saw a car off to the side in the northbound lane. I was driving home from getting some random thing in Alexandria. The car was all the way to the right on the shoulder with its flashers on. I thought, 'they must not want to drive in the rain.' Which I can understand, I often pull over when it's raining. Then I saw this man. I guess I should say young man. He couldn't have been more than 25. He was standing there in blue boxer shorts in the rain looking over the edge. God. I wish I could go back to that moment. Right when I saw him. Because I thought, 'he must want to go swimming.' I can't believe that was what I thought. He must want to go swimming. The chaplain said that it was my innocence that made me think that. I always used to think my innocence was a good thing. With all of the horrible things that have happened in my life, to me and to others that I love. I thought it was a wonderful quality that I could keep my innocence in the face of major depression, post traumatic concussive disorder, abuse, and just life in general. But now I see that if I didn't cling to that, I might have immediately thought, that person is in pain. Maybe then I could have done something? I'll never know, because I thought he was going to swim. All of this went through my head, 'oh he's pulling over because of the rain,' then, 'oh he's just going for a swim,' in the seconds it took for me to pull up along side him. Then, as I got closer, I realized. No. This is someone who is going to jump off a bridge. By the time I realized what was happening, I saw his legs going over. The whole thing took maybe 20 seconds. Just his legs. And he was gone. And I can't stop seeing it. Over and over in my head, I see his legs. That poor man. He was so alone. I pulled out my phone, called 911, but I just couldn't stop. It was so rainy, and there were so many other cars, it wasn't safe. When Ben came home about a half hour later, the car was still there, the lane was closed, and there were several police officers looking over the edge. Up until that moment, I really thought that maybe I had just imagined it. Maybe he was a bungee jumper? I really didn't know. Again, my stupid innocence. But when he told me that the car was still there, I knew there was no hope. It had been a half an hour. If he had still been alive, they would've towed his car, and there's no way the police would have still been looking over the edge.
I know this isn't about me. A family lost someone yesterday. A man lost his life. But I guess it's normal to personalize things. The people I've talked to say its normal to be sad. "It's traumatic," they all say. And everyone says that if I had tried to stop him, he might have hurt me, or I might have tried to help, and he might have still done it and that would be horrible. But I keep coming back to that place in my heart that is yelling, 'WHAT IF YOU HAD STOPPED AND HE KNEW HE WASN'T ALONE.' And I really don't know if I will ever forgive myself. I hope I will. People who have lost close friends and family to suicide tell me that the self-blame goes away in time. And I didn't even know him. It's not in the news, so the chances are I will never know his name. I will never know his name, and I was the last person to see him alive.
Ben says that he wasn't alone. He might not have known it, but he wasn't alone. I was the person who noticed him. And because of that, I called it in, and his family doesn't have to wonder what happened. I mean, the man jumped into the Potomac. If the police hadn't been notified when it happened, they might have just thought the car was abandoned, and the family would always wonder what happened. So I guess there's that.
I hope his family can heal. I know time will help. And knowing what happened will help too. So on the very small chance that you're reading this, I hope you know that someone was with him for the last moment. And that I'm so very sorry for your loss.