M: Hi, do you have cell phone reception?
Me: No, there’s no reception up here for miles.
When Chris asked what I wanted to see in Big Sur I had only one thing: the Bixby Bridge. Blame it on Tupac Shakur barreling over it in his mail truck in Poetic Justice circa 1993. I just had to see for myself.
We set out up the coast on a cold and windy day that turned to pure sunshine and warm breezes. Perfectly clear, perfectly beautiful, perfectly perfect. I gasped when we came around the curve and I saw the bridge. It really is that majestic.
Instead of stopping, Chris drove a little further (while I screamed HEY WHAT ARE YOU DOING THERE’S THE BRIDGE?!!) to turn around and come back up the other side of the road for the best views. As we went down the hill I blurted out, ‘Hey, heads up for that kid over there!’ as he craned his neck out the window trying to catch a glimpse of the surf. The road was pretty narrow and we both wondered what the hell that kid was doing out there walking alone, head down, slinging a reusable grocery bag in the middle of nowhere. When we got out at the bottom to take a look, Chris was still looking back up the road at the kid. He watched him get into a car, ‘He must have been taking pictures and ran to catch up with his friends? Or maybe he’s hitching a ride?’. I’ll be honest, I barely glanced back because I was staring at the view. I remember saying that whatever it was, it was a good thing he was off the road. I also remembered he had a really nice sweater on, a grandpa one.
When we finally (I mean really Chris) got up to the bridge I, of course, had an anxiety attack. What do you mean there’s no railing on that lookout? What in the actual effballs?? Chris tried to get a picture of me looking serene while I repeatedly asked if I could lay down in the dirt. This was wildly hysterical to some guy whose wife looked on from the front seat of their parked car. She was having no part of it. HAHA!
Eventually I managed to teeter out a little closer to the edge while people skipped around me carefree as could be. I didn’t care, it was enough just to be there (Chris, get away from the edge FFS). While I was looking out I let my mind fill up with every thought: dang I’m queasy, I love it here, no picture could capture it, I have to remember this, whew my knees are weak, it’s so beautiful, look at those birds swooping around, hey there’s that kid with his green bag on the bridge, I can’t believe I’m here, man that chick is brave standing so close to the edge, it looks a lot shorter than in the movie, where’s Chris?, did he fall over?, oh there he is, am I in someone’s way?, holy frig I really am here. And then I heard someone ask if I had cell reception. When I turned around it was that same kid. The one from the road, the one I had just seen on the bridge. Puzzled I told him no, there’s no cell phone reception here for miles. Shouldn’t he know that, I thought to myself?
When I turned to walk away, he followed behind asking if I knew where he could get reception. I shrugged and told him I didn’t know, sorry. If you want the truth, I was a little nervous. I wanted to get away, to get back in the car and on with the day but he seemed a little lost and I felt a little torn. When he asked where I was from, I decided to sit down and talk to him for awhile. Maybe he was waiting for his friends to come back and didn’t want to wait alone. I could deal with that. No one wants to be alone, right?
Me: What do you have in that bag?
M: My dog.
Me: A live dog. You have a live dog in that bag?
M: No. My dog’s ashes.
Me: Oh I’m sorry. Is that what you’re doing here? Looking for a place to bury your dog?
M: Yeah. I just need more time.
Me: I get that.
Me: I saw you over there, on the bridge. Were you going to sprinkle the ashes?
M: Yeah. I thought about it, but I’m not ready.
Me: Dude, it’s really windy. I wouldn’t advise because if the wind blows up, you’ll end up with your dog all over your face.
Both of us staring straight ahead, burst out laughing like hyenas.
What transpired over the following 8 or 9 hours was the most intense situation I have ever been in with another person. We talked about movies and music, depression and pills. We took pictures together on a cliff (or as close as I could get). We talked about how hard it is to love your family, but hate them at the same time; how easy it is to be on the right track and then one day wake up and realize you don’t even know where the track is. If it sounds crazy, not to worry: it was. Midway through, before it got too far, Chris mentioned the sun would be setting soon and we should head back. When we turned to say goodbye, the kid asked if he could come with us to get something to eat. By this time we knew there were no friends coming back for him, so we decided to take him for lunch (after Chris patted him down) at a place where he could call for a cab home.
When we got there, it hit the fan.
M: When we get back in the car, I want to tell you something.
Me: Okay we’re not getting back in the car so why don’t you tell me now?
M: I’d rather tell you in the car.
Me: M, did you come to the Bixby Bridge to fling yourself off the Bixby Bridge?
M: <whispers> Yeah.
How do you convince someone, much less someone you’ve just met, that they have value as a human being? How do you, without knowing all the pieces of their puzzle, know you’re saying the right thing? I guess you just show up. It doesn’t sound like much, but I think it’s right.
M: <pause> I was on the bridge and I looked over and saw you, and you just looked like a nice person. So I decided to go over and talk to you and if you were nice, then I wouldn’t do it. And you were nice so….. I just didn’t know if I could do it.
You have no idea how the blood drained out of my face while my heart dropped like a rock into my stomach. What if I hadn’t sat down to talk to him? What if I had turned and left him there after the cell phone comment? What if I had watched him jump from the side view mirror as we drove away? WHAT IF? WHAT IF? WHAT.FREAKING.IF? I can’t get away from it. Thankfully, I don’t have to.
A few years ago my friend Rosamond and I made a pact that we were going to be faithful to whatever it was God put in our paths. At the time we were referring to feral cats, but both agreed we wanted to be open to embracing our overall circumstances rather than railing against them. Little did I know I’d have a stroke. Little did I know I’d meet a kid who was thinking about jumping off a bridge. Little do I know.
Let’s just say I don’t need to see the Bixby Bridge again anytime soon.