I understand the ramifications of suicide. Four years ago, someone I had known for fifty years, flew from Chicago to San Francisco and jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge. Margot was my BFF. We met in high school. She lived across the street from me, and helped me navigate a move to a new city. That was the beginning of a lifetime of shared experiences. She was a bridesmaid in my wedding and was there at my daughter’s wedding. She was my family, my other sister. Both of us acknowledged the deep connection between us, the kind of connection forged when you are young enough to be vulnerable and only happens a few times in a lifetime.
I was at work when I got the call. “Lynette, Margot committed suicide. She jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge.” My thoughts raced. Not Margot. She was too narcissistic to ever commit suicide. “She survived the jump, was rescued by a nearby boat, and died in the hospital,” details that would haunt me. Margot abhorred pain. When I hung up the phone, a primitive sound emerged from my gut. A sound I had only heard on television when women in other cultures wail at the loss of their children. It was loud, it was piercing and it came for the deepest corners of my being. It just kept coming, a ribbon of pain that would not stop. For the next few weeks, I was numb. I went through the motions of my life, but whenever I was alone, I was in bed, curled up in a fetal position, sobbing.
After the initial shock and wave of pain subsided, I needed to understand. Did she leave a note? Where were her journals? Who did she speak to last? Did she share her plans with anyone? How long did she live? Was she conscious after the jump? Somehow I thought there would be comfort in knowing but when I learned the answers they didn’t help.
After I could glean everything I could from Margot’s friends and family, my attention turned to myself. Why didn’t I notice the phone calls that went on too long as a sign of her loneliness and depression? Why didn’t I call more often than once a week? Was I too preoccupied with my own life to “see” her? Why didn’t she trust me enough to tell me how she was feeling? Could I have stopped her? Why wasn’t I a better friend? Survivor guilt’s a bitch.
A few weeks after Margot’s death, I visited Chicago, her home town. I met with her friends. I went to the places she loved and places we shared. I ate Garrett popcorn and a Chicago hotdog. I visualized Margot wherever I went and chided myself for not telling her I was coming. I planned the trip while she was still alive. My visit was going to be a surprise. Maybe things would have been different if she had known I was coming or if I had taken the time to fly from DC to Chicago more often.
In 2012, John Bateson published the definitive work on jumpers, The Final Leap: Suicide on Golden Gate Bridge. Bateson outlined the experience of the 1500 people that jumped and argued for nets under the bridge. I devoured the book and contacted the author. I obtained a copy of both the police report and the coroner’s report. I even called the corner and spoke to him at length. He understood my torment. But in the end, I was still alone with my grief.
Margot’s family sent me two of her personal items as a keepsake, her passport which documents her travels all over the world and her wallet. Her passport photo showed a smiling Margot, ready for any adventure, the woman I knew. Hidden inside the wallet was a second passport photo, a photo different than the one in her passport, but taken the same day. In this photo she appeared depressed and sullen, so much so that my son picked up the photo and said, “Who’s this?” before taking a closer look. The photo was taken when she wasn’t ready; it was the woman behind the mask, someone she hid from the world.
Margot’s death is never far from me. I wish I could tell Robin Williams’ family that it gets easier, but I’d be lying. I never realized how often the Golden Gate Bridge is in movies or in photographs. Every time I see it, I quiver with grief. Margot kept a bowl of her favorite candy on her coffee table, red licorice. She’d tell me, “Lynette, did you know red licorice has no fat.” They sell red licorice everywhere and every time I see it I think of her. I eat it often in her honor.
Margot wasn’t my mother, my father, my husband, my lover, my son, or my daughter, but the impact of her death on me is undeniable. I would urge Robin Williams’ children do not hold themselves responsible for their father’s death. People who truly want to end their life can always find a way. There are parts of each of us we keep secret, they're just too painful to share. Zelda, Cody, and Zachary, never doubt your father’s love. You are a part of him and he is a part of you. He is in you and no one can take that away from you, not even him. He couldn’t wear the mask anymore. It was just too hard, just too hard.