Last week a young man (it’s strange to me I’ve made it long enough to legitimately refer to someone as a “young man”) suicided off a building on campus.
Some people from my office were out walking and saw the cluster of emergency vehicles and what might have been a shrouded body at what the state calls the scene of even that kind of death a “crime scene.”
They weren’t sure what had happened or even if they had seen what they had seen.
But I was.
I knew immediately.
Many years ago I stood exactly where he stood, heart pounding in my chest and ears and fingertips and my thighs, tensed and knotted for the step over the ledge.
Years before Ben Folds wrote it, I was feeling it: I was having a son who I knew would feel the same things, who I knew would be like me, and I was so sorry and so tired of fighting it.
There was no one around at 4:22a, Tuesday morning, February 4, 1992.
“Perfect Blue Buildings” — another song I’d nearly sung years before it was written.
It was about -20F and I imagined the low temperature somehow made the concrete harder.
I had a note in my pocket too.
I had my note in a sandwich bag so it wouldn’t become unreadable if there was (too much) blood.
I could smell the cold ozone of old cigarette smoke.
I could squeeze through the gap and drop head-first.
No one could miss me because no one really knew me any more than my not-quite-eight-months-old daughter knew me, just another ugly giant she wouldn’t remember.
It was silent in the striped shadows of the amber orange lights.
Routine things I’d done the day before and that sleepless night included: forgetting my clothes in the communal dryer, eating what I didn’t think of as my last meal at the time, a bacon cheeseburger with extra mustard and pickles, abandoning writing a poem—and poetry altogether, sneaking into a study carrel and reading when I was supposed to be working.
I wrote the note that night, four lines on a legal pad, pausing only to decide how to sign—how to end–it in the apartment where my wife and daughter weren’t.
Not too long ago a friend who became an acquaintance and then a stranger would shoot himself at desk not a dozen feet—two lengths of my foreign body—from that study carrel where I malingered, drowning in the collected poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins.
It was only later, so much later, maybe not yet, that I heard what the heart heard and guessed what the ghost guessed.