/ by Michael Arthur

"We’re Just here to help."

Woke up with this Poison Tree song running through my head. I made this drawing while listening to the song on repeat, Allison Michael Orenstein filmed it and Maria Cataldo edited it together. This song is a comfort to me when I need it. And this morning, despite all being pretty wonderful in my world, I need it.

I had a weird experience the other night on my drive home from the Playhouse.

Coming over the Coronado Bridge from San Diego around 1:30 in the morning, I passed a stopped car at the top, 200 plus feet above the water, its door open, its lights on. A man stood at the edge of the bridge looking out over the abyss.

The Coronado Bridge is the nation’s third most “popular” suicide bridge.

I was driving by so fast and it was such an eerie and terrifyingly sad moment. The bridge is beautiful but scary at the best of times—a two mile span over the bay that—at its highest point—seems taller than most of the buildings in San Diego. It’s a glorious view, but drivers can hardly appreciate it; the bridge, with its odd curve (designed to give it enough height and distance for aircraft carriers to go under it) demands full attention. The five lanes, suspended in the sky with no shoulder and no place to hide, make me feel vulnerable and claustrophobic, even when I’m not driving over alone in the middle of the night.

Despite the urge to stop and help, I had a stronger urge to let the authorities handle it. Frankly, I was scared about my own safety, alone on the highway so far above the bay, with a stranger at what could only be the darkest moment of his life. I just knew that the best thing I could do was call for help—get someone up there ASAP who could handle the situation better than I could—which I did. I knew this.

I drove back to the house I’m staying in, poured myself a stiff drink and went to bed. When I woke up the next morning, I had pushed the incident so far out of my head that it wasn’t until a day later that the memory came back. It’s admirably efficient how the brain can just shut down experiences that are too intense. There I was, innocently small-talking to someone about my stay in the San Diego area. She asked me how I was enjoying Coronado and my knees buckled as a vision of the man at the edge of the bridge came back to me like a punch to the heart.

Later that night I looked on line and saw that, responding to an emergency call—mine I can only assume—at 1:30 in the morning, police arrived at the scene to find a man, agitated and distraught. According to the report, the individual told the officers on the scene that he had a gun and then pretended to pull it out of his pocket and aim it at them.

So they shot and killed him.

I’m still processing the experience. When I told the full story to the friend who had asked me about my stay—the question that had triggered the memory—she wondered why the officers hadn’t been better prepared. But I’m not sure about assigning blame based on what I know. It may be that they were as out of their depth as I was.

It’s fucking scary up there and I can’t over-emphasize the instinctual terror and fear that I felt as I drove by. I’m the kind of person who tries to help and—at a gut level—I knew not to stop.

I can’t judge those guys. They went up there to confront a situation I absolutely knew was beyond me and it ended tragically. And that’s really sad.

So, I woke up with this song of sad hope and solace in my head and—despite feeling that I did the best I could and hoping that the officers on the scene did the best they could—the final line echoes in my brain, a comfort as I reflect on something that was simply beyond me.

"We’re just here to help."