It Happened to Me: My Boyfriend Jumped Off a Bridge and Lived

We'd had one of those stupid fights that starts over a taco salad and escalates until someone storms out. When I heard the car start, I knew he was going somewhere to jump.

Feb 2, 2012 at 11:00am | Leave a comment

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It's not like it was the first attempt.

I kind of lost count after a while. There was the time I walked in and found him tying a noose to a solid beam, the time he injected an entire month's worth of fast-acting insulin (which turns out not to be so fast-acting in bulk), the time he stabbed himself in the arm with a paring knife, and, of course, the first time I talked to him.

Talked him down, really; he was holed up in a Motel 6 with a fifth of Jack and a shitload of Benadryl and we talked until I convinced him to flush it all. The next night he called back, sober, and we talked until dawn. Eventually we fell in love.

So the call shouldn't have been a surprise. We'd had one of those stupid fights that starts over a taco salad and escalates until someone storms out. When I heard the car start, I knew he was going somewhere to jump. I just knew. I had no hope of catching him myself so I called the police mental health guys, with whom we were on a first-name basis. I don't know what I expected them to do; as they pointed out, there was nothing they could do until something happened.

Six hours later, something happened. The phone rang.

"Hello. Ms. Martinson?"

Yes.

"I'm calling from the Harborview ER. Matthew was found at the bottom of the Magnolia Bridge and is being brought in now. He's awake and talking, but we don't know how extensive his injuries are. He fell 80 feet."

Oh.

"He landed on a chain-link fence. It saved his life."

Oh. Thanks.

He'd taken the car when he stomped off, so I had to ask a neighbor to drive me to the hospital. She offered to wait with me, but I wanted to be alone with my frozen brain. I waited in line to be told that they were stabilizing him and someone would call me when I could see him. That was at 11 p.m.

I noticed Jerry Springer on the waiting-room TV but the words, the actions, the faces blurred.

1 a.m., and they were taking him to x-ray to get an idea of what all was broken. I sat, stood, found the bathroom, listened to anger and fear and relief and joy playing out around me. I wasn't crying, but I wasn't breathing normally, either; every breath was sucked into a gravity well at the pit of my stomach. Air got taken in by lungs reluctant to give it up again. I pretended to read.

3 a.m. The stream of injured and sick was a trickle now, and he was still in X-ray. I wrung my hands, fidgeted, toyed with my book, stepped outside and pretended to breathe, tried to grit my teeth and exist through the hours. Other people got called back to see their broken loved ones and I felt insanely jealous.

4 a.m., still in x-ray. Finally, 5 a.m. and I was summoned to the promised land. He was lying on a backboard on a gurney, bloody tubes coming from his nose, his chest, his arms, and his penis. So goddamned much blood -- some denim scraps that had been his jeans were soaked with it, it crusted his nostrils and caked his face. His torso was streaked and striped with rusty dried blood.

A nice young doctor (so young, my god, does he know what he's doing) inventoried the damage: collapsed lung, bruised kidneys, compound right forearm fracture, left hand and fingers fractured in several places, left thigh shattered, every bone in the right foot broken, and both heels crushed.

I thought, "That's all? For 80 feet?" I'd never loved a chain-link fence before.

Matt apologized, over and over. He remembered parking the car near the foot of the bridge and walking relentlessly up to the top, nothing in his head but that last step. As soon as he was over the edge, he changed his mind. He had no words for the relief and terror he felt lying on that ruined fence and calling for help.

After about an hour, a passing jogger heard him and called 911. I'd never loved an anonymous jogger before.

6 a.m. I was exiled again, chased out so they could prep him for surgery. I called his parents to tell them that their youngest child and only son had thrown himself off a bridge and by some freaking miracle lived. I called a friend to get a ride to Matt's car. I didn't want to go see the fence, but I did deliberately take the Magnolia Bridge home. I guess I showed it who was boss.

At home, I crawled into bed fully clothed and buried my face in his pillow. I slept through the 10-hour surgery and into the night, awakening every few hours to call and ask was he OK, could I see him, was he off the ventilator yet?

That was Saturday, fragments of sleep interrupted by bouts of pestering the nurses. Sunday I got to see him again, got to be there when they brought him up from recovery. I got to sit by his side and step around the tubes and cables so I could wipe a pink plastic sponge of mouthwash inside his mouth every time he complained of being thirsty.

I focused on that task as if it would heal his broken body. I didn't cry. I hadn't cried yet. That was the next day, when his parents came and I collapsed as if all my bones had dissolved.

In the next months, through three more surgeries, two major infections, his move to a nursing home and my move to a tiny studio, I was pushed further and further away. His parents refused to acknowledge, maybe didn't understand, all that I had lost. They disapproved of me.

Matt put our relationship on hold. I hovered on the edges, being his friend, taking things at his pace, and screaming inside. We did eventually get back together for a while. We even figured out how (very carefully) and where (the nursing home's "family room") to start having sex again. I began to think that we might come through this as a couple, but as his discharge date grew closer he grew more distant.

He loved me, he said, only relationships seemed to make him suicidal and he was terrified of being suicidal again. He had to leave behind everything in his pre-jump life. We couldn't even be friends.

The last time I talked to him, he had come by to pick up the last of his things. I remember standing at the door to my apartment, watching him limp down the hallway without looking back. I ran into him once more after that, around midnight in an all-night Walgreen's, two places ahead of me in line. I pretended not to see him.

That was a decade ago, and though I Google his maddeningly common name every now and then, I've never found him.