Last Leap

He thought he wanted to end his life but an unseen figure saved him just in time.

- Posted on Mar 20, 2015

Kevin Hines gazes out at the bridge from which he once made a near-sucidal leap

Every year, thousands flock to San Francisco to walk across that fabled vermilion span, the Golden Gate Bridge. They come for the sweeping views of the city, the fog-wreathed hillsides abutting cold gray waters. The bridge rises 220 feet above the bay. Below, sharks and sea lions swim and dangerous currents churn. Tourists crowd the walkway, braced against the wind, snapping photos.

On a cool, foggy September afternoon, I boarded a bus to the Golden Gate Bridge. I wasn’t a tourist. I didn’t care about the view. I was going to jump.

I sat at the back of the bus, nervously eating a packet of Skittles I’d stolen from a drugstore. In my backpack I carried a one-paragraph note I’d written to my family and friends. I wiped tears from my cheeks, half hoping someone might ask what was wrong. No one did.

I was 19. Recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder. But this was more than a mood swing. My biological parents were drug addicts. I was taken away from them when I was just a toddler. My father later died during a drug bust.

I was adopted by a good family and given a loving upbringing. But my adoptive parents divorced when I was in high school, undermining my sense of security. My high school drama teacher, who’d been like another father to me, inexplicably committed suicide. My older sister Libby, also adopted, had been hospitalized for anorexia.

My life was collapsing around me and I was collapsing with it. I had horrifyingly real visions of demons shouting that I deserved to die. Paranoid delusions, I knew, but so real I couldn’t take their abuse anymore.

I wrote my note, tiptoed into my dad’s room while he was still asleep to whisper goodbye, and then left the house, stopping at my college to drop my classes so no one would have to hassle with it after I was gone.

I got off the bus and walked slowly toward the midpoint of the 1.7-mile span, where I would leap and be free, dead the second I hit the water. Die! You must die! the demon voices shouted, impatient. But my legs felt heavy. Some small part of me yearned to live.

If one person, just one person, asks if I’m all right, I won’t jump. I looked furtively at the faces I passed. Didn’t anyone see me, cowering from the tormenting voices?

Someone approached! A beautiful young woman in a stylish outfit waved at me. My heart soared.

“Excuse me, will you please take my picture?” she asked in a European accent. She posed beside the guardrail and smiled.

Numbly, I took her camera and snapped a few shots. I barely heard her thank me before she walked away. Tears rolled down my face. I didn’t even try to hide them. “No one cares!” I shouted into the wind.

I braced myself. Running light and fast, I reached the guardrail and vaulted over it. My feet found a ledge, where I could have perched and waited for someone—a cop, maybe a concerned passerby, anyone to talk me back over the rail.

I didn’t wait. I jumped.

Rushing air screamed in my ears, drowning out even the demonic voices. I plunged headfirst, fast as a speeding car. The green, churning water raced toward me. All of the problems, the depression, the loneliness, the helplessness and confusion that had driven me over the side of the bridge—all of it suddenly felt inconsequential compared with ending my life.

What have I done? Oh my God, what have I done?

The air tore at me like shards of glass. The bay rushed closer and closer. All I wanted was to live. My only chance was to go in feet first. I threw my head back and cried, “God, please save me!”

All of the problems that had
driven me over the side of
the bridge suddenly felt

Maybe it was my head jerking back, or the wind—my body twisted in midair until my feet pointed down. I held my breath. A second later, I hit the water.

The impact traveled up through my feet, my legs, my torso. Like I’d landed on pavement. My spine shattered, piercing my internal organs.

All at once I realized that somehow, I was still alive. I was sinking below the surface. I couldn’t kick my legs or tell which way was up. I moved my arms—excruciating. The light from the surface faded. Darkness engulfed me.

My eyes bulged and my head spun. Everything went blurry. I flailed my arms, reaching for that faint light above. It seemed impossibly far.

Suddenly I burst to the surface. I tried to heave a huge breath. All that came out was a strangled noise. My rib cage was crushed.

I treaded water, every movement a spasm of pain. This wasn’t supposed to happen. I was supposed to be free from the hurt. And yet, I realized that the demonic voices in my head were silent. I had one desire: to live. If I could get out of the water.

I turned my head. A concrete pillar was about 25 yards away. I swam weakly toward it, but the bay’s powerful current was carrying me away. I turned in the other direction and saw a buoy. I aimed for it, but the buoy moved away even faster. Please, God, don’t let me die after all. Not now. Not when I want to live more than I’ve ever wanted to in my life!

Something warm and rubbery bumped my legs. Sharks lurked in these waters. Great whites. I waited for a pair of massive jaws to close around me. Instead, I was lifted up. Almost out of the water completely. I was lying on top of whatever it was.

When I started to sink it pushed me back to the surface. It felt solid and incredibly, unbelievably strong. It held me afloat while far above, a crowd gathered at the bridge railing, pointing and yelling.

At that moment, in my pain and exhaustion, I felt a wave of calm so profound, I suddenly knew for certain that I would live. My life was a gift that was being miraculously returned to me.

It was as if whatever was beneath me was just a manifestation of something so large and loving and powerful I could never hope to comprehend it. All I could do was lie there, feeling safe. Just floating. Feeling at peace. Feeling, at last, love.

Minutes later, I heard the throb of an engine. A Coast Guard boat pulled up beside me. Two men jumped in the water and hoisted me over the side. I was strapped onto a stretcher. As the boat raced off, one of the Coast Guard officers put a hand on my head and gave me a searching look. “Do you have any idea how many corpses we pull out of these waters?” he asked. “You’re a miracle, kid.”

I don’t think I’m the miracle. But I know a miracle happened that day. It took many years before my battle with mental illness turned a corner. Only recently have I been able to settle into life as an activist for suicide prevention.

I don’t want anyone to do what I did, discover too late that nothing, no matter how unbearable, had to be faced alone. That even within the deepest abyss there is more reason to live than to die.

What was that creature that lifted me out of the water? A man on the bridge that day later told me he saw a sea lion circling beneath me. To me, it doesn’t matter. It matters only that I emerged from those turbulent waters a man made anew.

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