Live or Die?
by Harmony Kent
Sometimes, you need to accept help. Sometimes, you need to admit that you need it. Sometimes, you need to take the hand that’s offered. You reached out and took my arm. I let you. I took the assistance I needed. I gripped your hand so that you could pull me to my feet. The last thing I needed was for you to slit my wrists. So much blood. All that carnage. My heart ripped right out of my chest.
I did my best.
Though, what kind of an epitaph is that?
Do I want that immortalised on my headstone?
Does that adequately sum up a life?
What about all the rest?
At the end of the day, what’s left to show for all that struggle, all that pain?
Right now, only one thing remains certain, that things can never be the same. That river? Already crossed. That road? Already travelled. That life? Already lived.
No going back. Not ever.
Going forward, though? Now, there’s the question.
For this gal, only one choice remains. Live or die?
Sometimes, you need to accept help. Once bitten, twice shy and all that, though, ya know? Truth be told, I’ve come to the end. Like I said, no going back. The rub is that I can’t go on either. The wind whips my hair into my face and throws cold pellets of rain at me. I shiver and dig deep for the courage. Never did like heights, yet here I stand. To jump or not to jump? That is the question.
The darkness wraps around me and locks the breath in my lungs and my feet in place—leaves me perched here in a daze. The metal burns cold within my death grip. With pulse racing, I edge my left foot forward a couple of centimetres, and then bring the right one up level. Perforce, I have to let go of the steel girders now. I’ve taken a step too far. Sweat breaks free from every pore and soaks this trembling mass of flesh, muscle, and sinew. With a heart this broken, how does it even continue on?
‘Miss? Are you okay? … Miss?’
At the unexpected voice, I twist and startle. A man reaches for me, indistinct in the arc-sodium lights.
‘Miss? Here, take my hand.’
A sudden gust buffets me from behind, and I stumble forward, a scream frozen in my terrified throat. All of a sudden, it hits me, I don’t want to die. Too late, however, as I’m off balance and too close to the edge. Dimly, as I fall, I see that it’s not about living or dying but about having the choice. It seems the wind has finished your job for you. Limp and spent, I plummet to the waiting river below, which sends up cold plumes of spray and waves like open arms welcoming me in and under to die beneath.
Sometimes, you need to admit that you need it. At the first swallow of brackish water, I swallow my pride, and every molecule of this being cries out for help. I should have grabbed his hand. Should have, but could I have? Would I have if given the chance? More ice-cold water pours into my throat and drowns my lungs. All the philosophising ceases as it becomes a fight for life. The cold pierces and stabs like a knife.
Tired and afraid, and no longer quite so numb, I kick, searching for the surface. Already, my limbs have gone stiff. The pressure in my chest has grown unbearable, and I have to take a breath, even though I know it will mean certain death. I just can’t do it. Can’t hold it all in anymore. Bubbles erupt when the life-giving air breaks free of my now open lips.
They show me the way when they float up, up, and up.
For a second, I hesitate. Do I go for it or not? Here is my chance for total surrender. To not have to fight any further. Do I have the energy? The will? At the end of the day, what’s left to show for all that struggle, all that pain?
I did my best, but I don’t want that on my epitaph.
My legs kick and arms stroke, pushing through the murk and trying for air. With this exhaustion and cold, I doubt I’ll get there. By now, the bubbles have long gone, but I’ve come near enough to discern the orange city glow. Not far now. One more kick. One more. That’s it. Just one more.
Sometimes, you need to take the hand that’s offered. I come to, afloat on my back, and the icy waves provide my waterbed. Way up high, atop the bridge, come the blues-and-twos, as the emergency services rush to the scene of my demise. Don’t they realise that I’ve fallen too far from reach? Beyond any assistance or redemption.
It seems as if hours pass me by while I drift in and out and upon. This time, a deafening roar causes me to rouse. A shadow flies through the sky, trailing a bright beam. The search is on. These arctic temperatures have other ideas—so much so that I’ve begun to feel warm. A bad sign. Sleepy too.
Impossibly white light hits me and burns my eyes. I raise a hand to cover them and, immediately, lose my buoyancy and sink back into the dark. The search light now glows dimly above the water. Too tired, too cold, too done to even try and fight, I let the river have its way.
The universe has other ideas, it seems, and once again, I lose the choice. Strong hands grip my armpits and haul me upward. To the artificially lit night and the cold and the air and the despair. Oh, love, what did you do to me? So much blood. All that carnage. All those lies and abuse. What’s the use?
You reached out and took my arm. It all unfolded in a blur and strobe-like snapshots—the winch into the helicopter, the medi-flight, and them getting me here. Trouble is, I think they left my heart there.
A nurse bustles into the private room and pulls apart the drapes. ‘Time to let in some light,’ she says. Oh, how wrong could she be? The last thing I want to do is see. Right now, only one thing remains certain, that things can never be the same. I want to stay in the dark; hide from my shame.
‘You have a visitor.’ Her voice sounds far too bubbly. It hurts. ‘The police officer who tried to help on the bridge.’ A shadow crosses her face. Then she gets busy tidying the bedding and then me. ‘I’ll just go and show him in.’ Once again, I don’t get a choice. No time to find my voice.
The door opens slowly, and I lay with baited breath. A young man eases in, dark hair and chocolate eyes, with a smile that feels like the most glorious sunrise. ‘May I?’
His question gives me pause. Never before did anyone ask my permission. Dumbstruck, I give a mere nod. My visitor edges to the bed and takes a seat on the hard plastic chair that the nurse placed there. We sit in silence for a while, and then his eyes find my scars. So many. Clouds snuff out that beautiful dawn and darken his face.
Now, he’ll make his excuses and take his leave. He’s done his bit. But no. Instead, he takes my hand. Looks into my eyes. Somewhere from the edges, I register that he doesn’t have on his uniform. ‘It’s okay,’ he tells me, fingers rubbing mine. ‘You’re safe now. We’ll make this right.’
Uninvited, a sob brings the elephant right into the room. ‘No one can,’ I croak.
‘It’s okay. He won’t hurt you again.’
‘You know who I am?’
He nods, gives my hand a squeeze. ‘We know everything.’
All I want to do is shrivel up and crawl within.
With both hands, he reaches out and takes my arms. I let him. He seems an angel in human form, and I feel safe within his embrace. Into my hair, he whispers, ‘It’s okay. I’ve got you. I got you now.’
Can I take the leap of faith?
Now, there’s the question.
Live or die?