She was walking away from the bridge. That's what I told myself. That's what I insisted to myself. In a tone of voice reserved for stage poets and lone lobos along a dry riverbed.
I had no idea. I had no desire and no idea. I had no desire and no idea and no way of knowing I'd say the wrong thing. I always said the wrong thing, it seemed. What was interesting was how little I said anything. Out loud.
The words got out in poetry. The thoughts were covered in verses - 4 or 6 or 8 lines. Rhyming or not. Ghosts along ridges of nation-bisecting rivers. Her skinny lament a planned song on the playlist of the day.
And ridges rise up and suddenly....
To bridges, still rising, still sudden.
It's a long way down from the pedestrian path to the mud of the river. And I didn't want to see her take that fall. She never took that fall. It never occurred to me that when I stopped looking, she didn't stop existing. No, she did walk away from the bridge and this I witnessed. I then retreated into a classroom building on the riverside. While she returned to the bridge and tried again.
To jump. To fly. She was so close that next time. As that taller lankier one in my class gave her end-of-term presentation on the psychology of Abraham Lincoln. As the younger one, with her catacomb wrists and lists of old men to read, gave it another shot. Gave it her best shot.
She did not jump. She did not fly. She merely fell into the water from a low height. A living height, several feet shorter than a suicide height. Witnesses arrived and fall jackets became swaddling blankets. Three women held her from two sides in three ways. Two men gripped cell phones and waited for the ambulance. Two police officers - a man and a woman - questioned her in the warmth of a squad car. She was not being arrested, they insisted. She shivered, she spoke, she told them about the godforsaken prairie and the motel key card left in the popcorn pile.
She lived. I did too. We're not that far apart. We were never that far apart.