She was sitting on the wall, her feet dangling over the side just feet above the river, struggling as two men held on to either arm.
Moments earlier I had been on my way home after a long night’s work at the Examiner, my mind elsewhere as I drove. I had just dropped a colleague off, so the route was not my usual one. Suddenly a figure appeared in front of me waving frantically.
At first I was hesitant about stopping – it was around 2am after all – but I realised there was no way to pass without hitting him. However, I could see the concern and fear on his face. What the hell was going on?
“Please help, she’s trying to throw herself in the river,” he pleaded.
I looked beyond him and there was the young girl sitting on the bridge clearly distressed. As I got out of the car I could hear her shrieking. She was hysterical, but it took me a few seconds to comprehend what was happening. I was trying to process what was going on before my eyes, but as she struggled with the men I could see they needed help to hold her back, so I did what anyone would do and grabbed hold of her too. We hung on as best we could as she fought with every last ounce to detach herself from us.
I looked in the waters below and wondered why she would want to end her life. Maybe she didn’t want that finality but something had clearly unbalanced her. Was it a romance gone wrong? Rejection? Just a bad day? Was she drunk? I couldn’t tell. As the thoughts went through my mind I then wondered if she had taken drugs. Whatever, it didn’t change the reality of the situation.
As we held on and someone assured us emergency services had been contacted, a small crowd of onlookers gathered. I didn’t have too much time to absorb them other than to notice their presence. There was silence except for the sounds of the girl crying and us trying to reassure her everything would be fine, she’d be ok. We tried to coax her off the bridge, but she didn’t budge. If anything, she seemed to grow stronger.
I couldn’t make out what she was saying in between her tears. Every so often she would make another effort to release herself from our grasp, but we gripped her for what seemed a long time, but was perhaps about 10 minutes until an ambulance arrived. And then she was taken away.
Left behind were three very shaken men. While the crowd dispersed, I made my way back to my car which I had left unlocked and drove home in a daze. What had driven her to contemplate taking her own life? Maybe in her distress she was unsure what she was going to do, but sitting on the bridge just feet above the water was a dangerous place at any time, more so in her condition. I never found out what her story was, but it struck me that had people not been present to restrain her then she might very well be dead now.
I had young children of my own at the time, one a daughter then barely four or five years old. As a father you always worry about your children, how they will cope as they get older and if they will confide in you as they encounter disappointments and crises in their lives. Trish and I always encouraged them not to be afraid to tell us about whatever was bothering them. You can’t overprotect your kids – they need to make mistakes sometimes, if only to learn from them. But we hoped they would have the sense to speak their minds no matter what.
That girl on the bridge has been on my mind over the intervening years. What happened her? I hope she had the support of family and friends to see her through that critical moment and that she is doing well today. Who knows? We sometimes end up in dark places at the most unexpected of times and who knows how any of us will react, and how good our coping mechanisms are. I’m just glad that we happened to be there on that night.