The world was in the midst of fighting against the coronavirus pandemic and he had been out of work for three months. He had never been unemployed that long. He had saved a little money and still had some left, enough to last him at least a year if he managed well. And he could do it, but the better part of him counseled that it made sense to start looking for another job instead of waiting till he was completely out.
Still, for reasons he wasn’t clear about, he didn’t want to listen to his better part. Why would that be?
Every morning, he set out on his long walk. He’d walk and walk, almost 7 miles till he got to where the bridge spanned across the river. It was a tall bridge.
He’d go up to the highest point and lean against the railing and look down at the motorboats going under it. Sometimes there would be people on deck and he’d wave at them. Sometimes they would wave back or simply look.
He’d done manual labor all his life. Pulling and tugging, lifting, hauling, sorting, climbing. He was physically agile and enjoyed what he did. At 39, he had never been sick a day in his life.
He had been together with Rosalind and they had 2 kids, but they had broken up two years before when she found out he had cheated on her. She had kept the kids and, unlike him, had kept her job through the pandemic. He saw the children every weekend. A girl and a boy, 14 and 11. Nice kids. Both doing well in school and headed for better things.
A year after their breakup, Rosalind had gone on to pair up with another man, a move that had been painful for him, but he always knew she would have little trouble finding someone. She was good looking, smart, motivated.
Why had he cheated on her? It was puzzling. To this day he didn’t really know. Or maybe he did and wasn’t owning up.
Like with Rosalind, there were other things he had not stopped to think on. At least not for long. That was part of the reason he had taken up walking. When he walked he gave himself time to think.
It had taken the coronavirus pandemic for him to begin to discover his mind. His work had earned him a living ever since he left high school, but it was all physical. And while he still had to use his brain, he had not reflected on what other unexplored possibilities there might be in store for him. Why hadn’t he challenged himself?
Rosalind, on the other hand, had started as a cashier at a bakery shop and now was getting ready to open her own. Driven and ambitious, she had learned the business. They were the same age and had got together when they were 20. She had chosen not to go to college because both her parents struggled financially and there was a disabled brother to support, but that hadn’t stopped her from wanting to move up the ladder.
He knew she had loved him, maybe still did, but he also knew that she had grown impatient with him. Impatient with his lack of ambition.
‘You have to commit to something,’ she’d say to him in their heated arguments.
‘We can’t get everything we want in this life. I would have liked to be this or that, but I didn’t think I had it in me, so I committed to what I do have. And I’ve provided for those who depended on me and kept moving, and as I have I’ve discovered other possibilities, and I will keep moving on and on, up and up.’
It had rankled him to hear her speak that way but he understood that she was impatient and he forgave her. Still, for all her passion, the words had failed to stir him. Eventually he did have the affair and then she had found out and that had been it.
‘Why did you cheat on me?’
He didn’t have a reply. It was embarrassing.
‘You can’t even tell me that?’ she had pressed.
‘What are you waiting for? You could’ve talked to me but chose not to. I had to find out. If I hadn’t you would’ve kept lying to me. Who are you?’
And he didn’t answer.
‘You and me are through. That’s it. We’re done.’ She had shaken her head as he simply stared back at her. Then she continued calmly, ‘Theo… I wish you the best… see if you can figure out what’s going on with you. No one is going to solve the problem for you. You have to do it yourself. No one figured it out for me, I did. And I’ll keep doing what I have to do and move on. And yes, make money.’
Money. That was a good part of what got her going. And yet she would say to him,
‘I’m not expecting you to be making tons of money, it’s okay if I make more than you do, but I am expecting you to be more adventurous.’
That was the part that really hurt him. And she knew it. And he would lower his head, feeling wounded, all the while wondering what it was that was wrong with him.
Eventually, her saying it time after time, became a factor in him finding the other woman and having the affair. But that hadn’t solved the problem. So maybe Rosalind was right. And the idea that she was made him feel small. Small in his everything.
All of this went through his mind as he stood on top of the bridge, seeing the motorboats and other sailing craft cruise smoothly under it. How did they feel about their lives?
Maybe he should talk to others that felt as he did. Maybe that would help.
He thought of climbing over the railing and jumping into the water below. It was probably a 300-foot fall. Not enough to kill him right away but he didn’t know how to swim so, between being dazed by the impact and his not knowing how to swim, that would be enough to seal his fate.
He gripped the railing with both hands. It wouldn’t take much, just one quick leap and it would be over.
Would his children miss him? Probably, for a while anyway, so that was a factor to consider. Although Rosalind was capable enough to be both mother and father to them.
Theo looked out into the horizon, still gripping the top rail. Cars whizzed by behind him, one way and the other. He was facing West and the sun was behind him. He liked walking early in the morning.
One of the things about physical work was that it helped him not think too much. And he acknowledged that thinking, for all its potential, made him uncomfortable.
Some days he wished the virus would just go away, other days he wished it would stay for a while longer, that way he could keep walking and walking, and perhaps one day he would find himself.
He gazed out into the horizon and wondered about distant lands. What if he travelled, ventured out into foreign lands, learned a new language? He knew a fellow who had gone to China, found a job with an American company and stayed. Now he knew Chinese. What an adventure that must be.
It didn’t have to be China. It could be Taiwan, Vietnam – they were up and coming – it could be Thailand, maybe the islands below, Indonesia, Malaysia. And then there was Africa, Latin America. He and Rosalind had gone to Europe once, to Spain, but that had been years ago, before they had kids. They had saved for it and had a great time.
He now wished he could recover those moments. Was it possible?
He thought of their trip to Spain, travelling in the train to Barcelona, seeing the Mediterranean coast, walking on the beach… and as he did his grip on the railing had loosened. Did he still want to take the leap into the river?
A gentle breeze came in from the sea. He turned around and leaned against the railing.
He could always just push himself off and fall backwards into the river. Who knows how he would land on the water, whether on his feet, his head, his side. But it was a good distance falling so, for sure, he would get hit pretty hard, enough to take him out.
Of course, there was always a chance he’d survive. Maybe.
Cars kept passing by. A woman driver glanced in his direction as she passed. She seemed familiar. She had driven by on other days and had looked at him. Yes. He remembered now.
Maybe that’s what he needed. A woman.
This was the first time he had contemplated killing himself. He had had passing thoughts but he had never dwelled on the details while at the site where he would do it.
He felt uneasy. The possibility of actually doing it was staring him, tempting him. It was so close. Just an impulse away. But dammit, it was so final. It would be giving up on so many possibilities.
Was he depressed? His energy was down and he thought it had to do with missing his work routine. But there was something else. Doing the same thing again and again while at work, year after year, had bummed him out. He needed something different.
Now he remembered seeing a notice up on the marquee of a cinema that had closed because of Covid and which said, ‘After the Plague, the Renaissance.’ Maybe that was it. He was missing excitement in his life. Excitement? Or human warmth? Did he get them confused?
A fellow he knew at work had a history of drug use, and he remembered the man telling him that drugs had a strong pick up effect. But Theo had no interest in drugs. As a youth he had tried marijuana a couple of times but got sick on it both times and never did it again. Alcohol didn’t have a positive effect on him, either. In fact, it was a downer.
Everyone was at risk of using drugs, he thought. He had seen a documentary on World War II and had learned that in the final stages of his life, Hitler had pumped himself up with Cocaine, under the watchful eye of his personal physician, who provided it. And Churchill loved his alcohol and his cigars.
Theo pushed off from the railing and started on his way back home. It was Friday and he’d have the children with him for the weekend. Having the kids with him got him out of the self destructive thoughts he’d been mulling over. The kids were full of energy and it was contagious. They made him smile. They were on summer vacation so he drove them around and took them out to eat. They watched movies at home and played games.
The distraction was welcome. They played a game where they imagined what each would be doing in 10-15 years. They had all these plans for themselves. He thought it was the spirit of Rosalind filling up their minds. He appreciated that. But then he was touched when listening to their predictions for their future and both of them included him. His son talked of picking him up after work and going for a drink together, and his daughter spoke of taking him out to a baseball game. And she said that when she had her children, he would be a great grandpa. But first she would start a business, like her mother was now doing, and he would help her with it.
And Theo thought he just needed to stick around, didn’t he? Just stick around.
He dropped the kids off at Rosalind who was waiting for them at the door. The kids hugged him goodbye, hugged their mother and then went inside.
Rosalind had greeted him as usual but today asked to have a word with him in private. They walked off for a short distance outside her home. Then she told him she was pregnant again. The children didn’t know yet. She seemed happy.
‘It’s a new adventure,’ he said as he smiled.
She didn’t expect him to say that and she smiled, too, relieved. ‘I wasn’t sure how you’d react?’ she said.
‘I am very glad. For you. For the kids – they get to have another sibling – and for your partner.’
She still seemed a bit surprised with his attitude.
‘Have you been looking for work?’
‘Not yet… but I’m thinking of new things… like changing my life around.’
She laughed loudly. ‘For real?’
“Oh, yes. I’m getting some ideas…’
‘Like what?’ She didn’t think he was really serious.
‘That I can, if I want to, change my life. All I need is to want to. That’s all.’
‘I have been saying that all along,’ Rosalind replied, a bit warily with the sudden change.
‘I know… and I’ve finally done my own thinking,’ he said.
‘I’ll tell you more later.’
‘Can you give me a hint?’
‘Not yet… but whatever I do next will be something different… something that makes me laugh when I wake up in the morning… and makes my heart smile when I go to bed at night.’
‘I’ve never heard you speak this way,’ she said.
‘Death,’ he started…
‘Death?’ She frowned.
‘The fact that I can choose to die today if I wish, has given me a new burst of energy.’
She was puzzled.
‘If I can end my life today, I can restart my life today also.’
‘Who have you been talking to?’ pressed Rosalind, clearly concerned.
‘No one. Or better, I’ve been thinking.’
‘There’s something odd about all of this…’
‘But I am an odd person. Entitled to my oddness,’ he said.
She stepped back, a note of alarm in her expression, ‘I’m not sure what’s going on with you… but for the sake of the kids, maybe you should get some help. This being idle has not been good for you.’
He looked her in the eye. ‘Rosalind… we all have different paths… you blossomed early, maybe I needed extra time.’
‘Something different is going on with you… even the words you’re using…’
‘They’re my words… and there you are getting pushy with me like you always have.’
‘Yes, you. So shove off.’
‘Oh, dear.’ She looked him in the eye for a moment. ‘Are you picking up the kids next week or are you going off in an adventure?’
He smiled with a hint of mischief. ‘Ah, yes, adventure. Are you envious?’
She narrowed her eyes. ‘I’ve made my choices.’
‘Mine are just beginning. Have a good week, Rosalind.’
And he turned, got in his car and drove off. She looked after him, still puzzled. She had never heard him speak that way.
The next day, Monday, he headed out in his usual walk. Seven miles later he arrived at the bridge. He strode up confidently to his usual place at the top.
No one else was around. Except for the cars moving back and forth.
He leaned on the railing and looked out into the horizon. Vietnam, Cambodia… Thailand… India… all beckoned. He gripped the top railing… pushed up on the balls of his feet… Then a slight breeze came in to caress his face and he closed his eyes for an instant. He then looked down at the river. He could do it if he wanted. Right that moment. He could push off the balls of his feet and fly into the air. He would spread his arms wide as he fell… like an eagle in flight… daringly… proud…
Then he heard footsteps behind him.
He turned and it was the same woman who had driven by many times before. What was she doing walking up to him?
‘Hi,’ she said as she approached.
‘I’ve seen you before,’ she replied as she stopped next to him, then gripped the top railing as he had and looked out into the mouth of the river as it opened unto the ocean beyond.
‘I recognize you,’ he said.
‘I’ve seen you,’ she continued, ‘and wondered if you had been contemplating jumping.’
He looked at her for a moment, ‘I have’.
‘Because I wanted to be sure it was a choice.’
He turned to take in her lovely face, the lines of her lips, her jaw. He thought her eyes seemed a little sad. Then he said, ‘You would be a much better choice.’
She was now looking him directly and he thought he saw a sparkle in her eyes.
She leaned forward, placed her elbows on the railing. ‘I have thought of jumping too… but didn’t have the courage to walk up to the edge, so every time I passed by, I thought of joining you so we could have this conversation… on the edge.’
She was wearing a white skirt with a red vest.
‘It occurred to me that doing it with someone would be easier,’ she said.
‘That’s one way…’ he said softly, ‘but now that I know I can do it… the urge has passed. I don’t want to do it anymore.’
He thought her attractive, about his same age too, and he wondered if their lives had been similar in other respects.
‘Knowing I can do it gives me a sense of freedom… but the finality of it bothers me… it’s an act of destruction, not of creation.’
She nodded slightly as she kept looking out into the ocean.
‘I wouldn’t want to hold your hand as we jumped into certain death… with no tomorrow,’ he said. ‘Instead, I’d like to hold your hand as we head off on an adventure.’
‘Life is your choice?’ she said as she turned to him.
He assented with his eyes. ‘Knowing it gives me new energies…’
She let his words trail off, then said, ‘You ever tried it?’
‘Tomorrow is another day… but today… belongs to life.’
They looked into each other’s eyes.
‘Would you like to have coffee?’
And they both turned and started walking down the bridge.
Oscar Valdes oscarvaldes.net