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I walked halfway across this morning, and it made me feel ordinary. Everyone who crosses the Golden Gate thinks of jumping. Even the kid with his skateboard pissing off the pedestrians imagines their reaction if he’d careen down the cable from the south tower and launch himself toward Fort Point. It always depends on savoring a reaction you won’t be there to witness, not so different from writing a letter like this.
The hedge fund broker thinks of jumping in his velour jog suit. The mother herding her three kids drunk on ice cream. The symphony oboist, the bluegrass picker. The dreamer with her long red scarf, the dreamer in his black Giants jacket … but all of them are dreamers.
Better to drink yourself to death with Chartreuse or Benedictine and be found in the morning in tomato vines like an old monk. Better to hang yourself from a beam in the vestry just to have the word vestry in your obituary. I might plan my death just to invoke certain words from the dictionary: coloratura, Reykjavík, cast-iron, longitude, salt. That would be a work of art. Not the swan dive from the span, the term itself a cliché: swans don’t dive. They flap to earth with extraordinary clumsiness, graceful only in flight. Of course, we’re all graceful in flight. It’s not flight that separates the graceful from the clumsy.
The deck is 250 feet above the water: it takes four seconds to hit. We take certain things for granted: gravity, oxygen and, if we’re lucky, sleep. We take for granted the joy of being here to register our pain. But pain eliminates precisely the gap between itself and the one who registers it.
What I fear most is that, while one of those four seconds might be exhilarating, in the last long, split second before I hit, I would realize my stupidity: a soldier hiding in a cave years after the war is over. To kill myself only to be mocked at my funeral, over multicolored bean casserole, as if I’d made a mistake, like when I was a child in the pageant playing one of the three kings and I’d put on my mother’s hat with the green silk grapes instead of my crown because it was the most beautiful thing I knew.
Sometimes I think my whole life has been an attempt to undo that moment, an attempt that has been successful to a disturbing degree. Sometimes I see men, and women too, stop breathing for a moment when they see me because I’m the most beautiful thing they’ve ever seen—my features mean something to them, something real that has nothing to do with me.
What I mean is: I know what Medusa felt like. The snakes of green and white jade intertwined, shining, ecstatic.
Robert Thomas’ latest book, Bridge, is a work of fiction published by BOA Editions, Ltd. His first book, Door to Door, was selected by Yusef Komunyakaa as winner of the Poets Out Loud Prize and published by Fordham University Press, and his second book, Dragging the Lake, was published by Carnegie Mellon University Press. He has received a poetry fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and won a Pushcart Prize.