wake up at 8am. By 8:15, I’m reading news online and sipping some Earl Grey tea with milk. By 9am I’m researching which bridge I’ll jump off in order to kill myself. My suicide seems like a casual inevitability these days. Not unlike Christmas, an approaching birthday, or a storm you can smell coming.
I’m able to focus my attention on bridges because I am unemployed. I’d been between jobs before, but true unemployment was a state of being I had previously not even understood. Those were the people I heard about on the radio — a nameless, shadowy statistic that might upset the President’s approval rating.
I quit my job over eight months ago, long before things got really out of hand with the whole suicide/bridge jumping stuff. When I made up my mind to quit, I told myself that this was all so that I could focus on my writing. Without the job, I’d have enough time to write modest articles that I could sell to any one of the successful print magazines in the greater DC area. The fact that I had never paid for a newspaper in my life, subscribed to no magazines, and read all my news online did not dissuade me.
In the end, I did not face rejection: I didn’t write anything. Not so much as a sentence. Instead of striking out to follow my heart, I sent out a series of half-hearted applications to jobs that were essentially the same as the one I’d just left. On the rare occasions I got a callback, or an interview, I’d catch myself attempting to sabotage my own efforts.
Once, while working on a particularly tedious writing sample for a communications firm on K Street, I realized I had alternately written “disarming shrugs” and “studly munchkins” over 6,000 times. At first, I moved quickly to delete all this and start from scratch but ended up turning it in with a smile and a handshake. They said they’d call.
Bills began piling up. I had the money to pay them, but I only paid up when the red envelops with frowny faces printed directly on them arrived. I’d done this at least six times and, as a result, developed a furtive if one-sided romance with Román, the man who works the late shift at the water company’s call center. Every time my bill lapsed, which had become rather frequent by now, I had to call him and explain myself.
I imagined him as a wiry young man, brilliantly mustachioed, wearing a peach cowboy shirt and standing out like a sore but beautiful thumb in the windowless call center. In my mind, he sat amongst hundreds of dreary drones, laboring away under harsh fluorescent lights high overhead. He sat resplendent, perfect, oblivious to the hopelessness of it all. From his voice, I imagine it is Mexico City. I’ve never had these feelings for a man, but Román is special.
In between bouts of financial truancy, I spent most of my time lying in bed and streaming movies through my Netflix account. It was a chain-smoking-like behavior. For at least a week my movements became automatic: I queued a film, watched it impassively, and then queued the next film. Repeat, ad infinitum.
I knew that this behavior was not healthy, but like a worker on a Detroit assembly line I was hesitant to halt my repetitive motion. It had kept me afloat for this long, and if I stopped the works a foreman might suspect me of sloth or union organizing and have me shot in the head — metaphorically speaking. So the movies played on, and on, and on. At some point in this haze, I noticed that Amadeus (1984, starring F. Murry Abraham) started to crop up more and more often amidst the endless parade of films.
Though the idea of halting my behavior was unimaginable, I was aware that things were amiss. I tried to keep a grip on it all by making hash-marks on the wall with a now quite grubby fingernail every time Salieri’s anti-Mozart scheming swam into my consciousness. I suspected I was not awake or fully in control of myself during this period. As such, the number could not be considered “accurate,” but I felt that even a rough count would be useful.
Salieri, grim-faced, watches as Mozart cavorts around a party casually dispensing genius in the jealous Italian’s face.
Make a hash-mark.
Salieri looks rapturously pained reading the sheet music he’s purloined from Mozart, acutely aware of his own mediocrity in the face of perfection.
Make a hash-mark.
Salieri beams aboard the Enterprise and takes control of the spaceship, slamming it headlong into the mobster’s blimp before they can release deadly poison over a Prince concert ca. 1991.
Hesitate, then make a hash-mark. Just to be sure.
This particular train of insanity was finally derailed one night when the power went out and I was forced from my prone position in front of the TV. There were over 70 hashmarks on the wall. I staggered toward the window to gauge the extent of the blackout, which seemed fairly large.
Huge swaths of the surrounding high rises were dark. It was dark through the trees where the Masonic Temple usually stood, boldly illuminated. Perhaps it was a hot night and this was a brownout from millions of air conditioners working night and day. Any thoughts about the weather were purely speculative on my part, as I had not left the apartment in days and was comfortably climate controlled.
But then I saw it. To the right. Far, far to the right, and almost out of view. The bridge. I didn’t know which one it was; it hopped with modest arches across the Potomac in the direction of the National Harbor. It was glittering gold in the dark, lit up by the eerily orange industrial lighting used only in street lamps. Against the dark river, it glowed like a dream. I wanted to be on that bridge. More than that I wanted to be one with that beautiful bridge.
The idea that I should jump off it followed so naturally that I didn’t notice at first. It was just there, and it kept going straight through my mind. Then: Why that one? It’s desperately beautiful, but there might be other, better bridges. Then: Would it have to be a tall bridge, or would a low bridge work? The questions rolled on, and on, and soon Salieri was forgotten. That night, I Googled “bridges + ‘tall ones.’”
My slate of possible leaping points shrank and widened in the course of my investigation. At first, I looked internationally. Anywhere that boasted the very tallest and the very best bridges was fair game. I eventually limited myself to bridges within the US. I was unemployed, after all. I wasn’t about to blow the rest of my cash just to kill myself.
For a while, I shrank from the prospect of possibly drowning should I survive the fall and focused on purely over-land bridges. Most of these “bridges” turned out to be little more than glorified overpasses. And besides, the idea of smooshing into pavement was not much more pleasant than drowning.
My last potential over-land bridge was the so-called “Bunnyman Bridge,” which had the advantages of being local, and having a bizarre story attached. Wikipedia wasn’t clear on the details, but at some point in the recent past a series of sightings involving a ghostly man in a menacing rabbit costume had amassed themselves around the bridge. In one story, he’s a vengeful specter packing a double-barreled shotgun. In another, a crazed, demonic murderer with an axe and glowing red eyes. In still another, a strange, old, bunny-suited man that yells insults at people but disappears under the misty bridge before he can be caught or rebutted.
This seemed ideal. I’d be adding to the legend and, in case I failed to die on impact, I could be murdered by a maddened bunnyman with either axe or shotgun. However, the actual bridge was barely seven feet tall, making it more likely that my broken but stubbornly alive body would just be mocked by the old guy in the rabbit suit.
“Can’t even fuckin’ die, eh?” He would snarl as he takes a raspy bite off his carrot. “Fuckin’ pussy.”
I immediately removed the Bunnyman Bridge from my shortlist.
“It’s been a while since we talked, and I’m sorry for that,” I said, only a little surprised at the calm in my voice. “It’s not because I don’t care for you, it’s just that things have been really strange lately.”
“It’s all right,” says the phone. “I figured it was something like that.” The voice is so smooth, so understanding. I smile, wondering why I had waited so long.
“Well, I’m sort of through that right now and I think everything is going to be better…more stable from here on.”
“Ah, sí. I’m so glad to hear that.”
“The downside is that I don’t think I’ll be talking to you again for, you know, a while or something.”
“Ah! Well, that is good, no? As long as your life is together and you’re taking care of what matters it’s ok, yah?”
I laugh. “Yeah, you’re right, of course. Thanks, Román. I’ll see you around.”
“Buenas noches, mi amigo.” Oh, Román.
Barely a week after, I got a call from my cable company. Or rather, 17 calls from my cable company, the last of which I finally answered when it dawned on me that without internet I can neither search for bridges nor watch Netflix (Amadeus, now only 3x per week). The woman curtly informed me that my bill has lapsed with such frequency that no form of payment by mail or electronic transfer will be accepted. If I want to continue receiving their services, I have to appear at their primary office and make at least 30% of the payment in cash.
I ask where their office is and she tells me: Ocean City, Maryland. I jot down the address and she hangs up. Well, at last there are some bridges out that way.
And such bridges. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge is nearly five miles long, composed of seemingly separate and distinctly designed sections. Immediately, I am in love. I’d been eyeing some overpasses and historical bridges closer to D.C. (convenient, greater chance of disrupting presidential motorcade) but nothing compares to this.
The Bay Bridge sits impossibly high off the water, swooping and turning as it winds its way from shore to shore. On one side, the widening bay with placid, sparkling waters. On the other side, spots of emerald greenery embrace the waterline. Angelic white cranes cruise lazily through the wetlands, their preposterous bodies only making them more beautiful.
I’m driving slowly, taking in all aspects of the bridge. The high, vaulted pillars that anchor thick cables, the light blue metal. Cars are passing me on the left side, honking angrily. I don’t notice, partly from the view and being lost in thought, but mostly because music is playing at the highest possible volume my Pontiac allows. It’s a mix CD I made, comprised entirely of Mozart’s arias, Salieri’s chamber compositions, and the sound of F. Murry Abraham walking across polished marble in Viennese shoes.
I don’t even see the Suburban swerve around me, the driver making a series of gestures, pull in front me, and slam on his brakes. I turn my head placidly, perhaps attracted by the red tail lamps in front of me that are growing larger at a worrying pace. I try to brake but hit the accelerator instead and surge forward in a way that Pontiac had never done in the six years I’d owned it.
Salieri’s shoes are going “click, click, click, squeeeeeek, click, click…” but I am screaming and swerving wildly. My evasion is far from graceful and I clip the Suburban sending me into a spin. Nothing is making sense, and I am still screaming, and I see the horrified faces in the Suburban, and I see the glittering watery horizon growing larger on the other side of some very insubstantial looking guard rails. The images repeat, spin zoetrope fashion, and I can’t hear anymore.
Clarity, for a moment, and I consider how, unlike Salieri, I won’t have a fall from grace, just fall. Into the Chesapeake no less, which is still dreadfully polluted — a fact that will surely hinder the recovery of my tragic remains.
There is a crunch, the sound of cement breaking, and everything goes black with a bang.
Sometime later, I hear music. Beautiful flowing music that flowers and grows gently under the direction of an oboe. My eyes open on their own and I can see quite plainly that my car is still very much safe on the bridge; my collision with the barricades doing little more than cosmetic damage to the bridge. Inside my car, everything is covered with white powder from the ejection of the airbag. I have little doubt about the airbag’s successful deployment, as my nose is broken and bleeding fiercely.
I stumble out of the car, but the Suburban with it’s fright-faced occupants is long gone. Though they were thoughtful enough to leave their insurance information clipped under my wiper blade. The old man in the bunnysuit isn’t even here. It’s easy to slip into the groove of having nothing to do and no direction to follow after these months, and I do so. But I keep the car between me and the water.
I must be bleeding down my leg — probably a major artery dribbling my vital fluids across my upper thighs. No, wait, it’s just my cellphone vibrating. The much-touted touchscreen is shattered, but still usable.
“Hello?” I say, uncertainly.
“¡Señor!” The voice is belovedly familiar. “How are you doing today?”
“¡Sí! My friend, I am calling to tell you something fantastic!”
“Román, I’m not going to be paying that bill. I’m hoping I’m about to be arrested or, barring that, walking to Delaware.”
“Delaware? Are you close by?”
“Well, I’m on the Bay Bridge. I was going to jump off but then I almost died so I don’t think that’s really in the cards anymore.” I have to hold the phone from my ear to avoid the slivers of glass, but I can still hear Román’s thickly accented, silky smooth words.
“Señor, do not go anywhere. I am turning around right now to come and get you.” There was some distant mechanical commotion and the sound of voices on his end.
“Get me? How the hell are you going to get me from the Mexico City call center?!”
“México?” Brilliantly pronounced. “Call center? You’re crazy. I’m coming to get you. Stay there.”
Eventually, the police come and try to connect me to the unpleasantness with the Pontiac. I lie quietly. I say I’m a vagrant and that I’d been punched in the face by this angry guy who lurched out of the Pontiac and then sped off in a waiting Suburban. “I think,” I tell the cop, “that he left his insurance information on the windshield.” I can tell they’re not buying it, so I add: “got a buck?” because I need to be convincing.
The cops want to keep laying into me, but EMS are quite insistent that I be looked at. They hustle me back to the ambulance where my nose is “corrected.” I have to assume that act of breaking my nose was the worst pain my body had ever experienced, but I have no memory of that happening. With that in mind, having my nose “corrected” was the worst and most unimaginable pain I have ever experienced. For a brief moment, I like to imagine that my screams are the loudest thing on the bridge.
I’m looking angry and indignant, and more than a bit confused. I’ve whined the whole way and deafened the formally good natured EMS woman who fixed my nose. I can see the police milling around my car. They at least have heard me scream, and I can see that they’re going to come over here and start talking to me again.
The thought makes me shrink. I don’t know what I’ll say, if I’ll lie or just come clean and say it’s my car and I banged up the bridge. I don’t even know why I would think about lying, I just don’t want them or anyone else near me. I just want to get this over with, my eyes flickering back to the water’s edge. Get this over with or go back to my apartment far and away from all this reality.
Cops have made up their minds before I had, and one of them is coming this way. He’s tall, lean, and probably has a history dealing with morons like me. When his gaze trails away from me and a look of shock cover his face, I’m just as confused. And then I hear the sound of the loudest horn on the road.
It’s Román. He’s executing an illegal U-turn out of oncoming traffic in a huge green John Deere combine harvester with yellow trim. Against the grey of the sky, the grey-blue of the bridge, and the blurred lines of cars, the combine gleams like bright green godsend. Up in the cab I see a heavy-set man in a leather jacket and cowboy hat — Román. He’s smiling and waving at me, as is the little girl next to him and the young men on the back of the combine’s cab.
In a flash, I’m away from the EMS. Everyone’s too flatfooted to stop me, but I’ve seen enough movies to know a rescue when I see one. A flurry of strong brown hands are lifting me up and into the cab. The little girl is deposited in my lap; it’s his daughter. He’s laughing, a thick belly laugh that shakes the two seater cab.
Suddenly, we’re in gear and driving away. The young men clinging to the back of the combine — his brothers, Román says — are smiling, looking curiously at me. I can’t see past them to the police and ambulances circled around the wreck of my car, but we’re not stopped so I only assumed they’re cutting their losses. The little girl kisses my cheek.
Román tells me that he’s never worked at a call center in Mexico. He drives the combine at his family farm in the cornbelt region of Delaware and takes calls for the water company on his bluetooth headset to hedge out the hours. He’s not at all like imagined him. He’s big, warm, fatherly. The mustache is far larger, and far more luxurious than I could have imagined.
When he called me earlier, it was because he wanted to share part of the $600 million book deal he’d landed for his memoirs, “On The Phone With Román.” Apparently, I’m a big part of it and he thought it was only fair that I get some of the money.
He looks me up and down, and then says that maybe instead of money, I need a job. He asks me if I would like to work on the farm with him. He’s thinking of expanding, now that he has the money to do so. Maybe some wine grapes. Maybe a particular variety of orange that’s part of a popular bullshit celebrity diet. He says he could use my help.
His brothers, on the back of the combine, smile and wave at me. Román sends the combine hurtling down the road and the sun in our eyes.
I didn’t give him an answer, but I do stay. I learn Spanish. I learn grapes and goats. The farm is large, and so is the family. Somehow, in this place I am both the center of attention and lost in the crowd. There are days, up on the hill where the new orange trees are taking root, that I don’t speak to anyone at all.
The heart of the family is the house, which did not exist before Román
Max has been writing and drawing for a while now and is extremely happy to say that this is the first time his work has been published. He currently lives in New York and is much more interested in jumping out windows than off bridges. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his webite www.wmeddy.com.