The Death of Tucker Ray
by Shannon Chapel
Last night I dreamt I bit into a shrimp and its guts torpedoed against the back of my throat. I retched, spat it out, and watched as its legs wriggled around on my plate.
So much for sleeping in.
It’s been a while since I walked across the Golden Gate Bridge. I forgot how cold it gets up here, and I clench my jacket closed against the frigid wind. The zipper's been broken for as long as I can remember. I almost bought a new coat last week when all the winter apparel went on sale, but I figured I wouldn’t need it, not after today, so why waste the money?
I watch the six lanes of traffic buzz by me: school busses filled with waving children, teenagers blaring music I don’t understand out of open car windows, minivans and SUVs with plates from all over the country, and tourists. So many tourists.
I can always tell which ones are the tourists: they’re the ones with smiles on their faces and cameras in their hands. When they look at the bridge they see a man-made Wonder of the World; I see the most popular place on the globe to commit suicide.
It’s a 245-foot drop to the water’s surface. Four seconds to think about what you’ve done. No do-overs. Well, not usually. They say the only ones who survive are those who land feet-first and at an angle. The water’s just too cold and too damn deep. If you don’t die from hitting the water at 75 miles an hour, you either drown or die from hypothermia.
I pull the photo from my pocket and straighten the dog-eared corners. What was I then, six years old? Seven, maybe? Funny how things that happened over thirty years ago still affect me. I remember all the scratches and bruises and wonder why nobody noticed. Maybe they did notice. Maybe they just didn’t want to get involved. Discipline is the parents’ business and people tend to let them mind it, or at least they did back then. Corporal punishment was still allowed in schools, and the teachers at the academy took full advantage of it. There was no escape. Home wasn’t a safe haven. I couldn’t escape the horror then, and I can’t escape it now, not even in my dreams.
The nightmares started when I was five. Strange, horribly bizarre images that haunted me night after night. I used to think it was my immature mind’s way of coping--of trying to make sense of the madness, but the night terrors followed me into adulthood and no amount of therapy or medication has been able to rid me of them.
“Excuse me, but would you mind taking my picture?”
It’s a delicate Chinese woman. She’s pretty, and young, too. I accept the camera from her outstretched hand. “Sure.”
I snap her photo as she leans casually against the railing, her smile full of promise and her eyes twinkling with the hope of a bright future. What’s it like to be so carefree and happy?
I can’t remember ever being happy.
The wind picks up again and I curse the coastal weather. I’ve thought about moving many times. Someone told me that Southern Idaho is nice and that it doesn’t get much snow, but escaping this damned city is almost as impossible as escaping my past. It’s got a hold on me and won’t let go. I was born here, and I’ve resigned myself to die here.
I lean forward and look down at the water below. It’s a doozy of a first step: 245 feet to the surface. Four seconds to think about what you’ve done. No do-overs. I could climb over the railing in a matter of seconds; it’s only four-feet high. The chief engineer, Joseph Strauss, was just five feet tall and wanted to be able to see over the top. The thought makes me smile. I could climb over before anyone realized what was happening. Would someone try to stop me? Maybe that pretty Chinese tourist?
I glance at the photograph again. I wish I could protect him. I wish there was a way to go back in time and tell his mother that she shouldn’t get remarried, not to him, anyway--that men lie to get what they want and that if someone seems too good to be true, they’re probably hiding something. I’d tell young Tucker to tell someone where all those bruises came from, and once he got to be a little older I’d tell him to fight back.
Orange vermillion. It looks red to me, but the color of the bridge is officially called orange vermillion, or international orange. Rumor has it that there are people whose job it is to paint the bridge. They start at one end and work their way across its 4,200-foot span only to turn around and start all over again. It’s a year-round, non-stop job. I wonder why no one ever sees them. I wonder why my mind keeps drifting to useless bridge trivia. Am I avoiding the task at hand?
To my left there’s one of the bridge’s many suicide hotline telephones. I’ve always wanted to count how many there are, but I never got around to it. “The consequences of jumping from this bridge are fatal and tragic,” it reads. Isn’t that the point? Isn’t that why people do it?
What if I change my mind halfway down? Will it hurt? Will I feel myself dying, or will it just be lights out?
I’m no Monty Hall, but let’s make a deal, God. One person, that’s all I’m asking for. If one person asks me if I’m okay I won’t do it. I’ll turn around and go home. I'll get help. I'll get on meds or whatever I need to do to get better. One person who cares. Just. One. Person.
My breath catches in my throat. My eyes fill with tears. I clench my fists and dig my fingers into my palms. At least that pain I can do something about. At least that pain gets better with time. I promised myself when I was sixteen that I would never shed another tear, but I’m tired of hurting. I’m just so tired.
I wonder why God allows bad things to happen to good people. I once went to a support group for survivors of abuse and they talked about the power of forgiveness. One by one the people sitting in the circle spoke about “letting go and letting God.” I couldn’t take any more of their rainbows and butterflies bullshit, so I jumped up and screamed, “How dare you tell me that I should forgive him!” I lifted my shirt to show them the cigarette burns and the long, narrow scars the blade left behind. “Look what he did to me! Forgive him? I dream about ripping him apart.”
The young group leader gasped. Her mouth dropped open. No one spoke for a while, and they all averted their eyes. “A support group for survivors, huh?” I asked. “Not one of you can even look at what it is we’re talking about.”
“We should bury him,” the group leader said.
“What? Bury who?”
“Your father. It was your father who did these terrible things to you, right? We should bury him. And it doesn’t matter whether he’s still alive or dead. A ritual--a ceremony like a symbolic burial allows you to heal and move on. It gives you closure.”
I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready to share something so personal with a group of strangers, so I walked out and never went back. That was over two years ago. I haven’t even thought about it since until just now. Why now? I look at the photo again. I remember the day my sister took it with the camera he bought her for her birthday. She was his little angel, his princess. She eventually suffered at his hand, too, but in a different, more personal way. We haven't spoken in years. I don't even know where she is.
“I’m sorry, Tucker.” I run my thumb over his scrawny, scuffed-up legs. “I’m sorry I didn’t protect you. I’m sorry you had to grow up with such a sorry excuse for a father.”
“It’s a long way down, isn’t it?”
I’m startled by the unexpected voice. It’s her, the pretty Chinese tourist. I look around to see who she’s talking to, but there’s no one else but us. “What?”
“It’s a long way down, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, about 245 feet. Four seconds.”
“Four seconds? You mean to….” Her hand mimics jumping over the rail, and I smile.
She whistles and shakes her head. “No do-overs.”
“No,” I say. “No do-overs.”
She side-steps closer to me and whispers, “Are you okay? I’ve been watching you. You seem so sad.” She puts her hand on mine, and I grip the railing a little tighter. “Are you okay?”
The tears come in a rush this time, and I’m helpless to stop them. “No,” I manage. “No, I’m definitely not okay.”
“Oh, don't cry,” she says, squeezing my hand. “Something told me I should talk to you. My name is Kuan-yin. Do you want to get some coffee? We can talk about it if you like … or not. You don’t have to, I just thought--"
I’m suddenly very cold. “Yes, I’d love some coffee, but ... can you help me with something first?”
Kuan-yin nods. “Yes.”
“I need to bury something.” I hand her the photo.
“Did he die?”
“Yes. He died a long time ago. I just need to say good-bye.”
“What was his name?”
“Tucker. Tucker Ray.”
She brings the photo to her lips and kisses it softly. “Good-bye, Tucker Ray.”
I drop the photo over the rail. “Rest in peace, little man.” One-Mississippi, two-Mississippi, three-Mississippi, four-Mississippi. I guess photos don’t plummet at 75 miles per hour like bodies do. We watch until we can’t see it anymore.
“Does this give you closure?” Kuan-yin asks.
It's like an unbearable weight has been lifted from my shoulders, and I take the first deep breath I’ve taken in a very long time. “Yes,” I say. “I think I’m finally free.”
She smiles and reaches for my hand. I let her. I make a mental note to look up the meaning of her name as soon as I get home.
“My name is Tucker.”
She looks confused and I smile.
“I'll explain over coffee.”
Source: Golden Gate Bridge. (2012, March 29). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 08:05, March 29, 2012, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Golden_Gate_Bridge&oldid=48466404...
Word count minus title and source link (according to Microsoft Word)--1,753
Written for March 2012