Here’s an excerpt from my work in progress, Terminal, about a nurse’s aide who takes control of his own life by murdering patients. I’ll be sure to update you on the state of Murderers Anonymous (being shopped by my agent) as info comes in! Pardon the rough state of the writing, it’s still in it’s early drafts, but I like the feel to this scene:
“Sartre said the fear we get when we look over a ledge or stand atop something tall is not the fear of falling,” Laura says, “But the fear that we’re going to jump.”
We’re standing on the stone railing of the bridge, looking down into the dark scar of a river below. The water shimmers only slightly, casting the occasional faint twinkle through the abyss below.
“The fear that we won’t be able to stop it?” I ask. My body rocks back and forth.
Laura nods. “The fear that our anguish will take over and we’ll do what we secretly want to.”
The Delaware River lurks below. We’d driven nearly a half hour to get to this remote bridge on a state route in the middle of nowhere. It crossed the river, linking New York and Pennsylvania, but with no nearby towns or buildings, there wasn’t a car or person in sight. It was just us and the night.
And the drop.
I estimate it’s about eighty feet.
“What are we doing here?” I ask as if I don’t already know.
Laura smiles. “We’re jumping, silly.”
Falling into a body of water from a height of 150 feet has an approximately a 98% mortality rate. While falling from lesser heights increases the chances of survival, there are still a multitude of variables to consider when evaluating whether or not a fall will be deadly. Angle of entry to the water, possible loss of consciousness, swimming ability, and the body’s penchant to go into a state of shock are among the factors that can contribute to death. If one hits the water at a poor angle for example (see: belly flop) the high rate of speed the body is traveling (see: high way speed limits) will result in the an incredible amount of force taken by the body as it hits the water (see: concrete wall), resulting in broken limbs, ruptured organs, or a loss of consciousness, all hindering the ability to swim and thus resulting in death.
And this is all considering the water is deep enough to accommodate you; you might just splash right through it to the rocky bottom, breaking yourself into pieces (see: splat).
“This is a unique first date,” I muse. A cold draft of wind ruffles my hair, and I consider the temperature factor as well. It’s about fifty-five degrees out, with the water possibly near freezing. There was a chance that could get us as well (see: hypothermia).
Laura turns to me, her eyes showing the same fleeting twinkle as the dark water below. “Isn’t it just? This is what life is about.”
“Do tell,” I say.
Laura takes a deep breath before telling me that the only thing that gives life value is death.
“Without death, nothing is sacred. Nothing in life has value because we’ll never lose it. There’s no clock, no pressing reason to have moments or experiences. No reason to make memories with loved ones. Life breeds complacency.”
She goes on to tell me about how infinite life would be a curse, not life at all.
“If we have enough time to do everything, we’ll never do anything,” she says. “There’s no impetus, nor is there a sense of wonder. You live long enough you see everything.”
She goes on to explain how death is a blessing, the state of non-being that shows us how fortunate we are to have, that encourages us to appreciate and grow while we can.
“Deadlines are the bastion of human progress. They are what drives the engine of humanity. And every death we experience is a lesson,” she stresses. “We learn lessons from people’s lives and apply them to our own. Without a beginning and end there are no lessons, no reasons, no true joy, no true accomplishments. Death is what makes life beautiful; it’s what makes life worth living.”
“It’s the shared experience that makes us one with all of humanity,” I say.
She smiles. “Yes. Death allows us to be defined and known. It allows us to live individual lives. This is why I do this.”
“You try to kill yourself?”
Laura shakes her head. She explains she does this every few months as a reminder she is alive. She finds a bridge overlooking a body of water, stands over it, and jumps. She seeks out heights that are not likely to kill her and water with depths that will accomplish the same.
“But there are no guarantees,” she stresses. “It has to have a chance of killing you or it isn’t authentic.”
“What does it do for you?”
She smiles, but for the first time it seems truly authentic. “When you’re falling you have the time to appreciate what you have, even if it isn’t much at all. When you’re facing death, when your body’s instincts think it’s coming, you realize the wonders and joys you’ve had in life. As you’re falling time slows down, your entire life plays before your eyes, and you have a moment of reflection, of appreciation. You get to experience yourself.”
“To put yourself into perspective,” I say.
She nods. “You let go of that sense of control all of us so desperately fight for and let the laws of gravity dictate your actions. It’s liberation. You feel so small but so wonderful, and suddenly, that life you lived, it all seems okay.”
I stare down. “It’s one of those things I won’t get until I try it, isn’t it?”
Laura nods. She reaches over and takes my hand. I squeeze it, and feel warm inside.
“Have you almost died before?” I ask.
She nods. “The best part is scrambling out of the water, trying to keep your wits about you.”
“I might die,” I say.
She nods. “That’s what makes you feel alive. Are you scared?”
“Contemplative, maybe, scared, no,” I respond. In an odd way, the glowing moon combined with the gentle sloshing of the river below and the song of crickets, made the scene romantic. It was the type of date that could figuratively (and literally) take my breath away.
“If you’re living life afraid, you’re not living life at all,” Laura says as she moves her foot forward and takes the plunge.
Hands still locked together, she takes me with her.