My friend Daniel took his own life. He jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge in the wee hours of Monday January 8th, 2018. His body washed ashore a dozen days later and 45 miles away, on the rugged San Mateo County coast.
I wanted to share this story with a gentler entry into the topic of suicide but it’s just not possible. There’s no way to smoothly unspool the guilt, the heartbreak, and the mirror-sensory pain I’ve been experiencing without the harrowing revelation that Daniel leapt to his death.
I’ve learned more about the Golden Gate Bridge in the last few weeks than I ever wanted to know:
It was once the world’s most popular structure for suicide; it has since been eclipsed by the Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge in China.
Most people leap from the eastern ledge where the views of the city are staggeringly beautiful.
The deck of the bridge is 220 feet above San Francisco Bay.
The water temperature below hovers around 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
It takes 4 seconds for a leaper to hit the water.
The impact is equivalent to an 80 MPH head-on collision.
Jumpers succumb to massive blunt force trauma
or they die from hypothermia
or they drown.
I’ve also learned that in 2016, the United States Department of Homeland Security installed a 2.1 million dollar surveillance system on the bridge, with high definition cameras that capture the activity on the structure in crisp detail. This data is for security purposes, but it captured Daniel’s suicide. He is positively ID’ed climbing over the railing at 4:15 AM.
I don’t know if this video footage is accessible to the general public, but even if it is, I could never watch it. It doesn’t take bona fide documentation of Daniel’s death for me to have already witnessed it thousands of times in my mind’s eye. I keep seeing my beloved Doodles walking in the dark to the south tower, I keep feeling that morning’s cold rain pelting his face. I feel the slippery and frigid steel railing, the seconds of weightless terror, and the brutal smack of the bay.
I’ve seen these images from every possible angle, contortions my mind has always had a fondness for. And they’ve continuously circled through my brain, another neurological tendency, my capacity to replay and replay and replay. Each time I return to the bridge with Daniel, I am filled with panic, terror, and physical pain.
In the last month, Daniel has made his leap repeatedly, an internalized time loop I can’t shake loose. Sometimes during the day it dissipates, only to replay again and again as I drift to sleep, where I’m shocked awake by gelid water. And while I’ve become familiar with the sensations ~ the wet, cold, horrible journey into the next world ~ I can’t come to terms with the terrible loss of this lovely and vibrant human life. The experience of Daniel’s tragic passing is magnified through the lens of my mirror-touch synaesthesia, and I am desperately sad in an aching, intractable way.
The eternal return is a theory that the universe and all existence and energy have been recurring, and will continue to recur, in a self-similar form an infinite number of times across infinite time and space. I hope that in the coming months, my looping vision of Daniel’s last moments will be replaced by reminiscence of our friendship in its fullness and joy: blowing bubbles in the backyard of a Calistoga condo on a late May afternoon; riding a bicycle rickshaw through the Beijing hutongs, bundled against the brisk winter chill; taking ballet class in San Francisco’s Japantown with a patient teacher half our age, Daniel and I both about as graceful as stampeding cattle.
In just a few days, Daniel’s friends will gather to say our goodbyes. I’m confident we will have a warm and loving celebration of this singular man’s life. There’s certain to be plenty of positive mirror-sensory experiences for me with the all the warm hugs and comforting touches I will witness. Also, I think the memorial and its promise of closure will nudge me closer to some beautifully echoing recollections of my beloved Doodles. And, on Valentine’s Day, I will walk the Golden Gate with the Bridgewatch Angels, which will (hopefully) further derail my looping movie of the leap.
If the eternal return represents anything true and real, I hope you’ll come back to me, Daniel Scott Horton: maybe in this lifetime, perhaps in another, possibly in this world, or one yet to be discovered.
I await your return…