… I was a senior in high school when I first drove up to the Marin Headlands by myself. Don’t remember what brought me there. A black Toyota — I know that much. It was night so lights outlined the San Francisco skyline. From there the Golden Gate Bridge was an adrenalized version of itself, blinking with rapture as cars vroomed across; they defined the landscape. And for just a few minutes, these cars were suspended high above water, hung in a sling of in-betweens. Between Marin County and San Francisco, between the Pacific Ocean and the San Francisco Bay. And all I could think about was the space between the bridge and myself at that moment. Space filled with doubt.
Doubt is the fog, a fact of the bridge, of the bay. Doubt is paddling to school in my black Toyota Rav4 and barely being able to see the road in front of me. Sometimes I contemplated closing my eyes, doubting how different blindness would be from fog.
Fog is formed when water droplets collect and suspend themselves in hover state above Earth’s surface. Foggy memories form when we wish to push ourselves away from our past, wish to breathe onwards and never look back. Fog doesn’t, however, let us forget about the jump.
I was a junior when Casey Brooks, a senior I’d never actually met, jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge. It happened early in the morning — she left her car in the information center parking lot at sunrise. The school found out some time mid-morning, an emailed memo was to be read aloud in all classrooms at the same time. I don’t remember if they said her name first or what happened first. I didn’t go to Casey’s funeral — I didn’t know if I should. I borrowed the funeral program afterwards from a friend. On the front was Casey’s pearl-clad senior portrait: allure in memory.
The night that Casey jumped, I tried calling my friend Claire, the most anchored human I know. She didn’t answer. I kept calling and shaking and calling, no answer. She must have jumped too — it was suddenly a possibility, plausibility for everyone in my life to just … leave. She eventually called back — caught up at a flute rehearsal of sorts. I forgot how to talk (we’d never had a moment of silence in our years of wandering jabbering). In the weeks after Casey’s death, I honed in on latent obsessive-compulsive tendencies, retracing my numbers in math class so that they were perfect.
And perfect is how everything looked from the Headlands. But numbers make everything less perfect, less personal. 200 feet to the water. 200 feet and four seconds to the water. Four seconds and then the water. The water like concrete, like sand, cement and water, not a perfect landing, not even close.
By sophomore year of high school, I was close to thinking I’d never get asked on a date. But then Kabir Sikand from Honors Advanced Algebra asked me out by leaving notes in my locker that said I was his “asymptote” (we got close but never touched). “He wanted to take our relationship to T+1” (graph-speak that no longer frequents my brain). I said no. Actually, I’m pretty sure I said, “I think I’d rather our lines stay parallel.” Really we were never that close—graphically or emotionally. Did I make the right choice?
Choice makes me nauseous: dinner menus, pen brands, exams, especially exams. I don’t like to choose sides. I like to linger like fog in hover space, never having to commit, never having to reach resolution, creating space from either end; no choice gives me distance.
I didn’t purposely distance myself from Casey, I just never met her. I could have gotten closer to Kabir but I didn’t want to. I created distance. Perhaps these were missed opportunities, lines parallel. I tried with every glance not to think of the distance linking the water and the bridge.
The bridge took about four years to construct. The highest tower of the bridge is 746 feet. Joseph P. Strauss, the Chief Engineer of the Golden Gate Bridge was just five feet tall. Joseph P. Strauss declared in 1936 that his creation was “practically suicide-proof.” Someone jumps every fifteen days.
Days go by that I don’t think about Casey, weeks go by. Someday I may not think about her for several years, and perhaps her place in my brain will be replaced by new uncomfortable calamities. Yesterday Lake Michigan’s ice started to turn to water.
The water looks like concrete from above. The water will feel like concrete from above. In this water, we’d encounter an array of organisms from this estuary ecosystem — microscopic plankton, worms, shrimp, copepods, an assortment of filter feeders, creatures that call this bay home.
Home is where we are born, born with squeals surrounding and bulging eyes abundant. As we grow, home becomes the place of breath — perhaps a house, perhaps a mountain; home is where it feels good to be alone.
That night alone, I squinted at the bridge but all I saw was light. I thought of Casey and the thousands of others, whose plummeting bodies would look so insanely minute from there. I might not have even seen a figure in the daylight — perhaps a bird in the fog — just a lone shadow against the “International Orange” hue, a lone spit of a silent splash in the distance, between …