Justin Shaffer

The Bridge

He shuddered as the cold November wind rustled through his sandy hair. He wished that he had picked a nicer day to do this, but it was too late now; he was committed. Traffic whizzed by him as he walked down the sidewalk. None of the people sitting in their heated leather seats, drinking their Starbucks lattes and yammering on their cell phones even knew that the boy existed; they could see him, but they didn't acknowledge him. He supposed it was fitting, in a way.

He smiled as soon as he saw the Bridge appear through the thickening evening mist. As he continued toward the Bridge, the boy thought about what the structure's actual name was. He figured that it must have had one, but he had no idea what is was; since it was the only major bridge in town, everyone just referred to it was "the Bridge". It wasn't a particularly spectacular structure by any means; it was certainly nothing in comparison to the Golden Gate or the Brooklyn. But it was a source of pride for the people of the small central Ohio city in which it was built; it connected the two sides of town that were split by the Olentangy River as it continued to flow toward the capital city of Columbus and further southward, its waters eventually converging with the Scioto River, which flowed into the Ohio River, then the Mississippi River, and finally ended their journey in the Gulf of Mexico a couple thousand miles later.

These were the thoughts that were running through the boy's mind as he made his way through the mist, which struck him as odd; he had expected his life to be flashing before his eyes or something. Maybe it was a testament to just how bad his life had really become; it wasn't even worth thinking about anymore, not even for the last time. Oh, well, the boy thought. It was all going to end soon, anyway. He was going to jump off the Bridge, and nobody would even notice him doing it. Nobody would try to stop him, or even stop to watch. Nobody would call the cops, or his parents, or the principal at the boy's Catholic school. Nobody would even notice that he was gone until his mother came home from work at 11 o'clock that night and noticed that he wasn't there. She would probably wander the house for a few minutes, calling his name, and then she would see the little piece of paper stuck to the refrigerator by a magnet. She would call his father, who was out of town on business, and they would say that it was a bit of a shock, but they weren't really surprised; there were suicide attempts before, after all. They were mostly for attention, sure, but one of these days it was bound to happen. Perhaps the boy's body would be fished out of the Olentangy a few days later, and the family would be able to achieve "closure" by having buried the body, which they would undoubtedly do, even though he specifically asked to be cremated in the note. Or maybe his body wouldn't be found at all, and the boy's vessel would be preserved by the cold waters of the river, decaying in a state of decelerated decomposition over a long period of time, leaving parts of himself wherever he may happen to end up. The boy couldn't decide which idea appealed to him more.

As the boy finally reached the Bridge, it seemed as though the mist had only gotten thicker, as though it were closing in on the scene to hide from the world what was about to happen. Carefully, so as not to accidentally plunge into the frigid waters below prematurely, he climbed over the steel fence that served as the sole retaining wall between the four-lane road and the fifty-foot free-fall that he would soon be taking; only an eighteen-inch wide concrete ledge separated the young man from his impending demise. The fog had grown so dense that the boy could not see the cars as they passed just a few feet behind him; although he could hear the "zip-zip-zip" of each vehicle passing, he could only see a dull orb of light as each car approached and could only just make out the amber red taillights as they went on their way. This meant, of course, that the drivers could not see him, either; as usual, and for the last time, he was utterly alone.

The boy removed his jacket and hung it over the steel frame behind him; this way, he figured, the location specified in the note could be confirmed by whomever showed up to the scene first – but then again, the coat would almost certainly have been stolen long before then. That's alright, he thought. He didn't need it, anyway. Underneath the jacket he wore his school uniform: tie, blazer and all. If he ended up meeting his Lord on this day, he wanted Him to see him as he had worshipped and learned about Him. If he didn't, he supposed that it couldn't hurt, at least.

As the wind whistled through the suspension cables above his head, which were there more for aesthetics than structural support, the boy looked down to find that he could not see the river through the white shroud that surrounded him. He was going to be jumping into the abyss, straight into the clouds of Heaven, or maybe into the depths of Hell. Whatever the case may be, he was finally ready to put all the demons that had been haunting him his whole short life to rest; he was ready to be at peace. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes as the toes of his Doc Marten dress shoes inched over the ledge; the ledge between life and death.

Between the Bridge and the River

The boy opened his eyes as the cold wet air filled his lungs. As much as he wanted to take that last step, to plunge into the icy embrace of death below, there was something stopping him. It was as if there was a string tied to the back of his shirt that kept him from leaping from the Bridge. It wasn't the string of guilt for leaving his family and friends to deal with his untimely demise; after all, he had left a detailed note for his parents, and he really didn't have any friends that would mourn his death. Nor was it doubt that was holding him back; the boy knew beyond all certainty that he was ready to die. He had lived sixteen years in this world of pain and sorrow; as far as he was concerned, that was sixteen years too many.

What concerned the boy, and the only thing that kept him from ending his life without a second thought, was exactly what would happen to him when his body hit the glassy river fifty feet below him. His whole life he had been taught that suicide was a sin for which there was no chance for forgiveness, and he thought that he had been prepared to go to Hell should that be the case. But as he stood mere inches from eternal damnation, he couldn't help but mull it over once again. How unfair, he thought, that God should deal someone a life as wretched as the one that he had been forced to live, and then punish him for choosing to end that life on his own terms. It was, after all, his life, not His life.

Perhaps if he were able to repent his sin between the time that he jumped off the Bridge and the time that he plunged into the Olentangy, then he would be forgiven and allowed into Heaven; after all, the boy was genuinely sorry for committing an act that defied God's will, even though he was willingly committing the act. He was only human, and sometimes humans break down in moments of weakness. The boy wanted to please God, but he knew that he could no longer walk this earth; perhaps these feelings were simply God's way of telling him that it was his time.

Reassured, the young man closed his eyes again. As he took the step that would send him to his watery grave, he took another deep breath and prepared to pray.

The River

Dear Heavenly Father, please forgive me for what I have done.

The cold wind made the boy's eyes water, and he opened them to see nothing but white fog between him and eternity. Time seemed to slow to a crawl as his body cut through the shroud like a steak knife.

I'm sorry for doing this, but I feel that I had no choice. I prayed for You to make my life better, and You responded by testing me further and further. I don't know what else I could have done to let You know that I wasn't strong enough.

He didn't know how much time he had left, but for the first time in his life, the boy knew that God was listening.

I'm sorry for disobeying You. I'm sorry for making this choice. But I know that it's my time, and I know that You know that, too. I don't know why You've chosen to keep me here, but I just can't do it anymore. I only hope that I can be forgiven for my sin so that I may join You in the eternal salvation of Heaven. Please, Lord, let me be forgiven. I ask this with all that I am.

Suddenly, the boy could see the water beneath him, and he closed his eyes, waiting for death to come and take him away. Although he couldn't know whether his prayer would be answered or not, at that moment, he realized that it didn't matter either way. He was at peace for the first time in his life; he just savored the short time that he had to enjoy it.