The Perfectly Wrong Thing

Without a doubt, the absolute worst part about being a bridgetender is the jumpers. When I see someone attempting suicide, it leaves me feeling sick at heart. I truly believe that life is precious, and that no matter how awful it can sometimes be, the pendulum is bound to swing back the other way sooner or later.

But you can’t work on a drawbridge without seeing someone standing on a railing at some point. I have a theory that people who choose manned drawbridges as their place to end it all are doing so as a cry for help. After all, there are plenty of fixed and unoccupied bridges out there, and they’re usually higher. Why choose one that comes with a bridgetender?

This happens a lot more often than the public realizes. Fortunately, in the vast majority of cases, help arrives in time and they’re able to talk the person out of making this final, irreversible decision. Because the first thing I do, of course, is dial 911.

You see, I’m not a trained first responder. I’m not a mental health professional. And even though I have given it a great deal of thought, and have even written a post about what I’d say to a jumper, it’s the most important moment in that person’s life. Here’s someone who has decided that he or she feels completely out of control, and the only power left is to choose to stop living. That’s the last person on earth who needs to hear my ham-handed opinions.

So generally I call 911 and then gaze out the window, saying “Don’t do it… don’t do it… don’t do it” under my breath, like a prayer. I leave it to the professionals, and hope for a happy ending. And then I feel sick and jumpy until the end of my shift, and often vomit out the adrenaline when I get home. Talk about a bad day at the office.

But there was this one time. A time when I did everything wrong. I still have very mixed emotions about that incident.

I had been having a really bad day. I mean, one for the record books. I can’t even remember what the situation was, but I was kind of at the end of my rope myself. And then I looked out and saw a guy on the railing. Great. Just great.

And all of a sudden I got really, really angry. I guess it all became too much. And I thought of someone I loved who had died recently, and I know if he had been given a chance to live he’d have grabbed it with both hands and never let go. And yet here was this guy on the railing, about to throw it all away.

The last thing you should do when someone is contemplating suicide is yell at them. But I was seeing red. My ears were ringing. And before I even knew what I was doing, I threw open the window and shouted, “Do I need to call 911, or are you going to get your ASS off my RAILING???”

This could have ended very, very badly. This could have turned into something I would regret for the rest of my life. This was an extremely stupid thing for me to do. I still can’t believe I did it.

But just like that, he looked at me, meekly said, “Yes, ma’am,” hopped back down to the sidewalk and left. (When did I become a ma’am?)

All’s well that ends well, I suppose. But I guarantee you I will never, ever do something like that again. It was the wrong thing to do. It just happened to turn out all right that time. The bridge gods must have been watching over both of us.

I hope he got the help he needed.


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6 thoughts on “The Perfectly Wrong Thing

  1. On the other hand, you didn’t try to “handle” him—and you gave him a choice that did not involve killing himself. You noticed him. Clearly, that was enough.

  2. Elaine

    I became a “ma’am” at age 23. I had my brother’s daughters aged 9 and 10 visiting in the summer. I was not yet a mother. We went to the local grocery and there it was.. I suppose a woman of uncertain age towing 2 children through a grocery becomes a person who should be a ma’am.
    As to persons in crisis, I was a nurse for a very long time. I had the care of many such persons.. people who could not cope with their lives for whatever reason. I was not trained in therapy but we did the 72 hour holds, constant supervision and medication delivery. A lot of the time, they just needed to know there were, information, and just that someone would listen without dismissing their problems.
    Your interaction may have just been that ..that someone did notice and cared enough to engage meaningfully even though it was short. Perhaps someday he will write a blog and note that the turning point in his life was when “that lady up in the office on the bridge told me to get off the I did”.

  3. Sam Ramirez

    Hi Barb: I don’t think you did anything wrong. I believe tough love is sometimes necessary in emergency situations. You yelling out the window probably jolted the poor guys back to reality. I think God placed you in the right place at the right time. You saved his life. As for being called “Ma’am”….I think we need to hear “Sir” and “Ma’am” more often. I was first called “Sir” when I was performing in the South as a traveling actor years ago. I was in my late 20’s. It didn’t bother me until I got to NYC years later and still believed I was a youngster. A 20-something year old kid asked me for directions saying, “Excuse me Sir…” I think I was in my late 30’s at the time, but thought I was still a young whipper-snapper. It made me feel old at the time. However, I’d love to hear young people (especially my students) called me “Sir” today. Now I see it more as a sign of respect…and not a reflection of my age. P.S. I’m proud of you Barb. You saved a life…You inspire others with your words and kindness…and I’m proud to know you….Ma’am. God bless you. Love your old friend, Sam 11/29/16

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