You are beautiful. It is easy to tell even from the short distance that separates us. And young. Twenties, I guess, maybe exactly 26, the same age as my son. A perfect specimen, really. You wear your youth through your chest and arms, tight and toned; and I imagine them pulling a surfboard up and over the waves. Your long legs look steady and strong — have I seen them crouched and bent, supporting you as you crested the white water as we passed the surfers on one of our daily walks? I’m not quite close enough to gauge the color of the hair on your body, though it must be fair and light, since I’m sure I’d see it otherwise. And the clean-cut hair on your head is soft brown, streaked through, probably by Southern California rays. The early November sun has been up an hour and it dapples silver ribbons over the still water of the bay, reflecting light off the white of the boat’s hull. It bathes your swim-trunks-only clad body in warmth, and I wonder if you’d heard the forecast this morning: the last of a three-day Santana heat wave. Ninety-nine for the coast — an Indian summer in a year in which we’d not had summer at all.
Panic sets in on the sidewalk as we approach; a woman that we’ve often see walking her dog, sobbing. I have boys too, she keeps saying, 17 and 23. A middle-aged blonde woman, cell phone to her ear, crying too, pacing frantically, seems to consider a dive into the water to get to you. We’ve seen her before — somewhere, but we can’t place her. The first police car arrives and the officer seems perplexed about how to get from the sidewalk to the boat. Seventeen and 23 I hear again and again. I can’t take my eyes off you — hanging there so still, your arms limp at your side, your feet dangling toward the water below. You’re deep in Savasana (only later does it dawn on me: Savasana — the corpse pose), your thoughts trailing somewhere distant and peaceful. Only air isn’t filling your abdomen or escaping slowly through your mouth, as the yoga teacher quietly instructs. You’d made sure of that when you looped the rope through the deck loop padeye and fastened it around your neck, just so, and stepped (or did you leap?) over the ledge from the top deck.
And instantly I want to speak to your mother. To tell her how peaceful you look and how your face seems dream-like and content, as though you’d known you’d done the right thing. Just as suddenly I want to grab you and shake you and scream at you for what you’d just done to her. She’s your mother for God’s sake, I’d say, how could you do this to your mother? No, I think, this guy’s too sweet to have done this to his mother. Then I’m certain – positive — this was a tasteless joke, a dummy left from Halloween, planted there by pranksters. And look, it is so convincing, so real-looking that the sirens are coming. How silly, I think, how over-kill, how typical for our small-town police to over-react — go back and do something useful, I will them. Beside me a bike rider stops, pulls out his cell phone and takes a picture of you. See, I say, all a joke. Yes, a joke. Ha.
Later, an hour only, from my balcony at home I watch cars pull into the yacht club parking lot. Bodies tumble out and toward each other. I see them embrace in twos and threes. They stay glued together for long moments, and then slowly separate. Some bend over, hands on their knees, their backs wracked in sobs. I can’t hear them, but I don’t need to. They fade toward the clubhouse, stepping between the cop cars, and stand in circles, embracing and pulling apart as new members join them. You must have known they’d come, didn’t you? Did you envision them gathering there, together, Oh my God’s and I just saw him yesterday’s spilling from strangled throats, hanging in the hot air? If only I’d known, the refrain I imagine repeated in that parking lot, in the yard of the club, in your mother’s living room, for days, for weeks, for months, forever. And your mother. Is she there?
As the day wears on and the stifling heat settles in, the sky the lightest white-blue possible, I can’t shake from my head the sight of you and it dawns on me that this is not the kind of day for suicide. Suicide is better suited for overcast, chilly, dreary — Seattle, not San Diego. I force my mind to wander, but it keeps going in places I haven’t directed. I wonder if death by hanging is instantaneous, painless, or if there’s a second, a flash, a moment when you felt, viscerally and physically, the results of your plan. I’ve read that survivors that leapt from the Golden Gate Bridge — to a one — have said that the instant they went over they regretted what they’d done. Easy for them to say, I thought then and again just now. But you; I don’t think you had time for regrets. I consider research: Googling “death by hanging,” but I don’t really want to know. Why replace the image of you — still, peaceful — with something else: pained, gasping, twitching? I wonder how they managed to get you down, but I don’t really want to know that, either. Better to believe you were still warm, pliable, soft, folding gently into the arms of those charged to catch you.
I try to knock from my head the image of you in order to make space for puzzle solving. Elusive: the name of the boat and so much more — possibilities stretch for miles. Did you have a connection to the boat (other than the one that we observed — your union with it via noose)? Was it your parents’ and you’d known it intimately, or your friends’, with whom you partied on it for years? Maybe you’d envied it from afar, imagining what it would be like to climb aboard and cruise under the bridge and out to sea? Or had you awakened in the night, seen boat as the answer and chosen it from the vast array of floating monikers in the bay: Wasting Time; No Agenda; Could Be Worse; Happenstance? No. Elusive. Was this simply coincidence or had you intended a message? Had you crafted a mournful, provocative, heartbreaking poem?
It is the next morning and a single sunflower marks the place where the rope was tied just yesterday. Now we hear the stories from those who have heard before us. You were mid-twenties, married (!), husband to the niece of a well-known local spa owner. The boat belonged to your family. No one knew you had any problems. But that answers nothing! And then: you were 22, married when you were just out of high school, the boat your wife’s parents’, you’d worked at the local surf shop for the past five years. Nice guy, everyone said so. Ah ha! Married — but way too young. A fight? A girlfriend? But then: you were in the Navy, just back from a tour in Iraq and scheduled to go back. This story I like best. This story makes sense. Those demons are real, the images in your head more haunting even than the one I’ll forever have of you. Yes, I’ll choose this story. And that you’d hung yourself from the starboard side of the boat, facing the amphibious base and the long line of runners from it that pass the boat on their daily run; a message to them, to all of us — and not to your mother.
What I hope for you is that you’ll be eulogized like my son’s friend Matt was (years ago, but still so fresh in my memory) by his brave and articulate mother who stood in front of a crowd and started: “Those of you who know me can’t believe that I’m standing here, eulogizing my boy.” Though he wasn’t a boy by then, her words were laced with these words: my boy. When I heard her say them I saw the letters italicized, gorgeously rendered on precious paper, and I understood. Please remember my boy, Matt’s mom said, and tell me stories about him. Please, never stop telling me stories about my boy. There but for the grace of God, go I, I thought. Every mother did. Your mother would have, too. It could have been my boy, their boys. But it was her boy. And this time it’s your mother’s boy.