Vanishing Jumper: Part 3

Hey, it’s Claire. I’ve been here all week, waiting for the mysterious bridge jumper. Yesterday I met him.

Recap: Mystery man appears on an abandoned train trestle several times a month, leaps two-hundred feet into a rocky gorge, and promptly vanishes until his next jump. Locals don’t recognize him. I saw him make the jump myself last week.

There’s no road that leads directly to the trestle, so I’ve had to leave my car behind and wait on the trestle itself, with coffee and smokes and egg croissandwiches, huddled with a book and a lawnchair in this godawful neverending cold mist that’s apparently the only weather Depressingly-Nowhere, PA ever gets. Seriously, is spring even happening this year?

Here’s the big scene. Four days into my wait, I’m about to shiver-swear back to my hotel for a long hot shower when the guy appears.

Same as before, walking from the woods on the eastern end of the trestle. I’m on the western end. He’s wearing the same gray sweatsuit and blue sneaks, and I start walking out to meet him in the middle at the spot he always jumps from.

My legs are numb and I’m walking off-balance. I stumble once and my arm goes right through a gap between the crossties, and this chunk of something rusty tumbles down into the gorge, and it’s like something out of an old jungle movie with an ancient bridge suspended over Certain Death, etc.

But I’ve got to meet this guy before he swan dives again, and so I’m up and almost jogging to meet him in time. He sees me coming but doesn’t break stride. He reaches his jumping spot before I do, takes his hood off, and shakes out his curly hair, and even thirty feet away I can tell he’s hot as ffffff.

I have this vision of tackling him and rolling on the tracks in order to save his life. Not even kidding. The entire scene comes to me in seconds. How he’d struggle but then surrender, and he’d be so amazed by this sexy Samaritan who finally saved his life, he’d just stare at my face until I kissed him on the mouth, and then we’d make out on the trestle for a while, and I’d take him back to my hotel for that warm-up shower and we’d eat each other up like near-death survivors. And then instead of appearing at the trestle, he’d be this mysterious phantom guy who kept appearing at the local hotel for months, pining for me after I was gone.

So I envision all that and then I’m suddenly at his side, close enough to tackle him for real. He’s turned away from me and faced north, gazing into the distance like he’s totally alone. I’m panting from adrenaline and my vapory breath goes right in his face.

“Thanks for trying to help,” he says. “I don’t mean to freak anyone out.”

“Who are you?” I ask.

He says, “I wanted to kill myself and did, right here, just like this. And it’s exactly like people say—at the last second, you regret it. You wish you hadn’t jumped. I don’t remember hitting the rocks. I jumped, and fell, and then I was home again. I was positive I’d dreamt it all. I’d never been more relieved.”

The whole time he’s telling me this, he’s inching closer to the trestle’s edge.

“Then what are you doing here again?” I ask.

“I get this feeling in my body like I’m already dead,” he says. “It goes away for a while but it always comes back.”

I still can’t tell if I’m talking to a person or a phantom. But I worry if I touch him and he’s real, he’ll take his header into the gorge before we finish talking.

“Everybody feels dead sometimes,” I say.

“Not like this.”

“So you come here every week to kill yourself?”

“I come here every week to resurrect myself,” he says.

Which is either corny as hell or a pretty good line. I decide it’s corny as hell, but what am I supposed to do? Snort and roll my eyes at someone about to kill himself for the umpteenth time?

I get what he’s talking about—a jump that makes him feel immortal, or super-awesomely mortal, or whatever you call the rush he’s desperately pursuing. I’ve heard about it with crash survivors, PTSD soldiers, addicts. They get a death-defying high and everything’s so alive, but then their regular lives are horrifyingly dull.

I want to tell him to come back to my hotel so we can tie one on and roll around like good old-fashioned debaucherous escape artists.

Instead I say, “Well you are freaking people out. You’ve got teens watching sometimes. You’ll give them bad ideas, like they should jump, too.”

Then I get this sense that I’ve been talking to myself to whole time. Other people have seen him, but maybe he’s a mass delusion, like when those Belgian schoolkids all got sick after drinking ordinary Coke because one of the kids thought the Coke smelled funny.

“You can’t be real,” I say.

He doesn’t answer so I poke his arm. His sweatshirt’s damp, his shoulder’s solid, and I’m about to say, “Huh,” when he steps off the trestle. My “huh” comes out like “ho!”—kinda like a breathy “huh-no!” combo.

I watch him drop, feet-first but slowly tipping forward as he falls. It’s like my heart falls with him. I don’t mean that sentimentally—I mean my shock and vertigo are so intense, I have a physical sensation that my heart’s dropped out of my chest and I’m going to collapse and die the second he hits the rocks.

And I guess I flutter out. I blink or almost faint. Because he’s falling, falling, falling… then he’s gone. Not a trace. I can still feel the moisture from his sweatshirt on my fingertip, and I remember what his voice was like, and I can even smell a hint of something he was wearing. His body wash, maybe, or a sport-scent deodorant.

I stare a while at the rocks below, and then I back away and sit on the crossties until my breathing calms down and I have balance when I stand again. There’s nothing else to do at that point but walk back, grab my lawnchair and thermos, and drive back to the hotel.

I get back to my room and belt a five-finger gin. I turn the TV on so there’s background noise. Then I take a thirty-minute shower, and as much as I’m dying for a ____ or at least some ordinary conversation to get the cold, lonely week entirely behind me, the gin and hot water bring me back to life just fine.

— Report filed by Claire Maple

Read Part 1 | Read Part 2

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Dennis Mahoney

Secretary of the Equinox Society.