To the man on Bryant Street
Note: This post discusses themes that some readers may find upsetting, including suicide. Please take care.
You don’t know me. I doubt our paths have ever crossed, although in this city it’s completely possible. Maybe I’ve seen you on the bus, or walking down 2nd Street. We’ve never met. But today, I was there on what may have been the worst day of your life.
My day was a little different than usual; rather than working from home like I usually do, this morning I woke up early and began an old, familiar trek to the office — an office just blocks from almost every office I’ve worked in since I moved to San Francisco eight years ago. I was pleased with myself because I managed to catch the express bus, and I was set to arrive at the office with enough time to grab coffee before my 10am meeting.
The meeting itself was uneventful, but chipper. In the back of my mind I was beaming at the thought of it — four tech women in a meeting, two of us remote and two of us together in the office, all of us strong forces fighting back the tech industry’s rampant patriarchy, one meeting at a time.
It was a good meeting, until I saw you.
I never saw your face. I don’t know what you look like. Do you have a beard? I feel like you might, but I’m not sure. You are a white man, and that’s all I know.
We were wrapping up our meeting when I saw a commotion outside the window — a bunch of construction workers scurrying around, looking up at the top of a building. Probably just a loose wire or something, I thought. But then, my coworker and I heard the snap as you hit a power line, or maybe a telephone cable, and we saw you fall, landing face down and naked on the street, between two parked cars.
I don’t know you, but I was there, a witness to one of the absolute worst moments of your life, the intimate, painful moment when you tried to end it.
I don’t know what happened after the sheriff’s car pulled up, seemingly out of nowhere just a few seconds after you jumped. I knew I had to get out of that room, away from that window, away from the sight of you.
My coworkers, the ones who didn’t see you jump, who weren’t there in those few seconds, say an ambulance came for you, that you survived.
Little did I know, you wouldn’t so easily leave my mind. I spent the next few hours trying to distract myself from what had happened, but even now, more than twelve hours later, you still keep popping up in my thoughts, stealing my attention from anything and everything else.
When you jumped, or maybe when you hit the ground, your pain was no longer just your own. It scattered amongst everyone who was there — the construction workers, the people in the office across the street, two of my coworkers, and me.
I know that pain, that desperation. I’ve felt it too. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt it, but the sting is still familiar. It’s always there, beneath the surface, even if it hasn’t seen the light of day in years. It’s not a disease that has a cure, although the sweet relief of remission buys us some happy moments.
I’ve fought, in the past and even to a certain extent still today, to convince myself that I belong in this world, that there is a place for me here. I surround myself with mantras: “even the smallest piece has its place” on a card I keep on my desk; “you have a right to be here” tattooed on my forearm.
Today, you forgot that, if you ever knew it. And my heart aches for you, that you would feel that alone, afraid, desperate, overwhelmed.
Another tattoo of mine is of Guan Yin, the East Asian goddess of mercy, compassion, protection. She has a prayer, called Prayer for the Abuser. These are the last few lines:
For those who have forgotten the tender mercy of a mother’s embrace,
I send a gentle breeze to caress your brow.
To those who still feel somehow incomplete,
I offer the perfect sanctity of this very moment.
I haven’t been able to get these lines out of my head tonight, as I thought about the sort of pain you must have been feeling to make such a choice. I don’t know what caused the pain, I’m sure I’ll never know. But, like Guan Yin, I wish you the comfort you need now to heal and recover. Every moment, in its perfect sanctity, is here for you, another chance to make things better, to push forward, to get help, to get stronger.
This fight is not easy. It is never-ending and sometimes more painful than we think we can endure. I can only hope that after your experience today you will be able to find help — someone who can show you your worth and bring the light back to you. This is not a fight we can take on alone, but, as today highlighted for me, we are never truly alone.
You don’t know who I am, and we may never cross paths again, but today I was there, and you were not alone.
If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts or you think is at risk of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1–800–273-TALK (8255), a 24-hour toll-free confidential hotline.