I was on my way to my doctor’s appointment at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver. Iit was a miserable, rainy day. I had heard that one of the streets was blocked off because of an “incident going on”. It was at Granville and Helmken and that happened to be directly where I was headed. I felt a little uneasy that there might be a gunman or a confrontation of some sort but instead I saw a crowd of people looking up.
My gaze slowly followed them, about eight stories to the top of a building which had definitely seen better days. It had been beautiful when new and people probably ooh-ed and aah-ed over it, but as it aged and the area around it became less appealing, it had fallen into disrepair. Today, it wasn’t something that took your breath away; no one thought of it as anything worth bothering with. It’s strange how the building was still a wonderful piece of architecture but it was harldl noticeable - especially compared to the trendy office buildings around it, where you could see your image reflected in the glass.
Then I saw him, on the roof of the old building, a man pacing backwards and forwards, perilously close to the edge. Who was he?
One man was talking to his friend near me and I heard the term “a jumper”. Police were keeping people back, a tape cordoned off the street and next to me was a TV camera, already set up and filming.
“They brought him a soda”, one spectator remarked to me and I looked again. He had a fast food extra-large soda in his hand and as he talked back to the police on the top of the roof, he tossed the soda into the street. There was a “whack” as it hit the ground and splattered onto the street. I felt uneasy watching it.
“Look, there’s someone up there talking him down”. I couldn’t quite make the policeman out, he was well back, at the rear of the building. Was he good at what he did? Did they usually jump? Did he have a 100% success rate? I’d watched TV shows.
My attention swung back to the man on the ledge. He wasn’t happy and was shouting words, laughing in a maniacal way, shaking his head “no!” His air was contemptuous.
I hadn’t noticed the passerby who had just walked across the street next to me but he quickly caught my attention. “Jump, you coward!” We all turned and some in the crowd giggled. The policewoman rolled her eyes and went over to him. I wondered if the “jumper” or the counsellor on the roof had heard this idiot.
Remembering my phone in my pocket, I started to take photos and a movie. I sent the photo to a couple of people “Vancouver, right now!”.
Then I saw the time on the phone and knew I had to run to my appointment. I took one last glance and saw the roof top man either taking off his pants or peeing off the far corner of the building. Defiant and untouchable.
After my appointment, I walked by again. The crowd had gone; you would never know that anything had taken place. I purposely looked in the distance for a blood stain on the ground below the building but cars were flowing again, life was “back to normal”; everyone was going about their business.
I got home and turned on the news… nothing. No news item. I guess he didn’t jump - or was he just another statistic?
Some days later, the headlines blared that Robin Williams had committed suicide.
At first there was shock, then celebrities tweeted their fond memories of a man who had given them much laughter and had been gentle, kind. Soon the ugly people arrived and said it was a “selfish act”. How could he do this to his family, his children? They said what they felt about his act.
I wondered how many of them had tried to commit suicide. No one knew why Robin Williams did what he did...except for Robin Williams and maybe this says it all.
Three close friends of mine have committed suicide. I was there too, on the edge. Was it selfish? I felt that the world was not a place I wanted to stay in, selfish - but aren’t most people selfish? “What about me? Don’t they care that I would be upset? Why didn’t they call me? He must have known how I would feel”
What many don’t realize is that sometimes it can be one of the most selfless acts you can ever do. You don’t want to see people miserable around you anymore, you feel like you are just bringing them down, life could move on for them if you just removed yourself from the situation.
You aren’t thinking that things could get better. You are living in the now.
At that point in my life, if someone had told me life would change, medication would not mean a painful death, my world would look totally different. I know I wouldn’t have believed them.
What stopped me from climbing the railway bridge, getting a hose in the garage, taking an overdose? I felt that if I died maybe, just maybe, it wouldn’t be the end of it. Maybe my spirit would somehow still live on with this torment and as bad as things were, they would get worse and people would not be happier.
In the depths of my despair, I went to England to tell my father I had HIV and that my daughter, Katie, had really died of AIDS. I loved Shakespeare and he took me to see the Oxford Shakespeare players and a play I had always wanted to see - Hamlet.
In darkness, Hamlet started his soliloquy and I got my answer:
To be, or not to be - -that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them. To die, to sleep--
No more--and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to. 'Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep--
To sleep--perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub,
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause.
Today, I wonder about the man on the roof. I looked for the photograph I had taken of the scene. It was gone. My cell phone had died and I had got a new phone with a new plan; for some reason the photo of the incident was not in the camera roll. The memory had been erased.