The query came as I was still getting my morning bearings, without the benefit of coffee, I might add.
“Have you heard about The Girl, Hook? She killed herself. She jumped over the Falls”
(Out of respect for the memory of a fallen colleague, I’ll be using “The Girl” instead of an actual name.)
The words were cutting and brutal. The reality, even moreso. Naturally, I was floored. The Girl wasn’t someone I was close to, but she was ridiculously-friendly, chipper and bright. She always had a kind word or a joke at the ready. She worked tirelessly as a lobby cleaner in the hotel.
She was 23 years old.
She was far too young to end her life in any manner, never mind the one she chose. Then again, every life is precious and should never be forsaken. But I refuse to judge The Girl or any of the souls who plunge into the icy depths of Niagara Falls every week.
After all, I’ve stood at the brink of the Falls, gripping the handrail until my knuckles turned white, contemplating what could have been the final contemplation of my young life. The tears rolled down my eyes. My heart beat so hard against my chest there was a bruise.
All I wanted from life that night was to be free of the burden of it.
Don’t ask me why I didn’t do it; to this day, I don’t have an answer. My life certainly didn’t turn around after that night. It would be months before I began to move past those suicidal thoughts.
Years later, I met a young lady named Jackie and the boy who desperately wanted to die did just that. I became someone new, someone who had something to live for.
Decades later, I’m a happy man but my demons are have never left. To be alive is to be plagued by self-doubt and despair; this is the truth of our existence.
I’ve become, in my admittedly biased opinion, a good and loving spouse. I’ve failed as a writer. My daughter appears to be pleased with my parenting performance so far (most of the time). I’ve never been able to break through with the blog. I have a rewarding career that is never boring and manages to pay the bills. It seems like every a schmuck with a concept is on some form of television platform these days but I remain untouchable to the CBC and every network in existence.
There are days I hate myself.
But I’ll never hate myself enough to stop being myself.
I don’t know what happened to The Girl that made her end her young life. I didn’t know her well enough to be able to offer a glimpse into her tortured psyche. I do know this: The Girl is not alone. As I’ve said already, every week some poor soul jumps over the rail separating the Falls from the earth. In fact, this summer a man parked his car in the parking lot across from the Table Rock complex at the base of the Canadian falls and sat there all night. At some point the man pulled out a gun, put it in his mouth and pulled the trigger.
The postmortem examination revealed the bullet did not kill him. Instead it rattled around in his head. And so he slit his throat, covering the interior of his car with his own blood.
Again, this is a brutal fact, one I refuse to shy away from. I live in a city where this truth is hidden. I’ve mentioned this before but now it’s hit home. Jumpers are Niagara’s dirty little secret. You won’t see them discussed in the local papers or online. However, I was recently informed that the only place with more jumpers is San Francisco.
The truth is, while I know there are some city officials who fear publicizing these acts would inspire copycats, a great truth always wins out.
Death is bad for business.
And so life goes on in Niagara.
And so do the poor souls who wait for cover of night to end their suffering.
And that’s it. I don’t have any clever words or a snappy send-off for you today. I’m sad, frustrated and angry, among other emotions raging in my soul. But at the same time, I’m happy and content – to a point.
I can only imagine the maelstrom must have been unfolding in The Girl’s mind.
Wherever she is, I hope she is at peace at last.