Image courtesy of Jun Takeuchi

Suicidal Empathy

“On my way here,” she said, “there was an accident on the Chuo Line.”

“Another? A suicide?”

She shrugged.

“I guess so?”

It’s not so much that they’re frequent. It’s that they’re consistent.

I thought for a moment.

“You ever think about it?” I said.

“About what?”

“You know, what goes through a person’s head when they decide to do that?”

“Jump, you mean?”

I nodded.

“Right, like if you have it in you to make that decision?”

She laughed.

“What? No! Of course not. Where did that come from? Why would I…” she paused. Looked at me. “Wait… have you? Is this something that’s gone through your head since… well, that?”


Not strange to think she’d see a connection between my curiosity and… that. Given everything that’s happened, it’s perhaps only logical.

But the truth of it, the core of it, goes further back.

When I first heard about suicides on the train lines — and the sheer number of them — I began looking at trains differently. I watched the people waiting for them, and I wondered.

I searched my soul for reasons a person would make that choice. Motivations for blackout. Long held desires for an ending. A conclusion.

And it surprised me when I found it.


“No, no,” I said. “I mean, there are just so many. Too many. So often, you know? I can’t really get my head around it, sometimes.”


Standing on the Hamadayama platform, watching the express train go by, I thought of how wonderful it might feel to experience a moment of complete release. The simple erasure of everything that was, is, and could be. I put my head in the heart of a stranger, hopeless and broken, and I thought of that single moment of weightlessness.

I could wrap my head around that. There was an element of comfort.

A comfort I was uncomfortable with.

And so I found myself leaning back ever so slightly as I waited at platforms. As trains pulled into stations, or passed them by. I didn’t know if I could trust myself.

Curiosity, cats, that kind of thing.


“I can’t really get my head around you, sometimes,” she said.

“What does that mean?”

“It means I don’t know what you’re thinking a lot of the time. Most of the time, even. You never tell me what’s on your mind, or how you’re feeling.” She looked out at the street. “I worry.”

“Sometimes I find it hard to find the words.”

“You don’t seem to be at a loss for them when you write.”

“But that’s why I do it,” I said. “That’s why I write.”


Writing means placing my head and my heart in those of others. It’s about empathy, perhaps. Exploring feelings. Looking for their core.

Searching for them, finding them, or creating them.

I look deep into hate, mistrust, love, lies, depression, joy, remorse, loneliness, hope, longing, lust, pity, jealousy, despair, rage.

I dig, and dig, and dig, until I find something.

I find it in others, or I find it in me.

And I always find something.


“Don’t you ever feel like, you know, just talking to someone?”

“I do,” I said. “I do. But…”


But digging makes you dirty, and some stains don’t wash out.

Stains like falling in love with the wrong people. The wrong things. Like succumbing to romance with bottles. Syringes. False hope. Lies.

Stains like the lust for a body that will never be yours; like a loneliness and regret that distorts and warps in the shadows — in the quiet — until it becomes a weapon.

Stains like the theft and peddling of innocence; the sharing of fallen angels through cameras and the lost souls of other men; throwing them out with dirty tissues and sheets soaked in sorrow.

Stains like lives we were sure were supposed to be more; like the promises that never were and the lies that took their place.

And somewhere in all of those stains, imaginary or otherwise, a dull sense that the beating of my heart might no longer be my own.

In the waves of faces and feelings, amongst that sea of souls, I lose touch with my own.

I don’t know which emotions are correct. Expected. Real. Imaginary.

I don’t know which are mine.


“But what?”

“But… I’m just rarely thinking anything important,” I said. “Look, I don’t even know why I brought it up. There’s nothing to worry about.”

She watched me. Carefully. Like a friend would.

“Really,” I said. “Really. I’m alright. Besides, this is no way to kickstart an evening of revelry and catching up. Let me get you a drink, yeah?”

Something like an invisible shrug in the air.

“Gin tonic, please,” she said.


I saw people talking and laughing, flirting and joking.

I saw them clink glasses and lose long days to the bottoms of drinks.

I watched, and I wondered.

What sits beneath those masks? In the minds and hearts of the actors of the everyday? What fears and insecurities lurk beneath the surface? What passions and joys? What anger? What fetishes make them tick?

I wondered about the ones that go home dreaming of train lines and train tracks. Of steel screams bringing metal juggernauts to stops too late.

I wondered which ones were kindred spirits. Wandering hearts. Lost souls.

The displaced, dislodged, and deserted.

Gathered together, and hidden in plain sight.

And as I stared at the drinks that sat on the counter, I realized that we might all be kindred spirits. Wandering hearts and lost souls, hidden behind masks.

And I wondered, what is that silence, that binds us all from speaking?

A silence so intense, and powerful, and overwhelming, that we’ll throw ourselves in front of trains before speaking against it.

I didn’t have an answer.

I’d have to keep digging.

— -

Music