Full Moon Rising

Full Moon Rising
Silent Cove. Chance Harbour NB - My back yard.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

This City's Dirty Little Secrets

Reversing Falls Bridge

Inspirations come from any given source, and for me when it comes to writing, a lot of mine are conversations. Having a conversation forces me to live in the now. It holds me to a place in time with another human being. Of course not every conversation we have in the run of the day has all that much importance or even matters. It’s when we’ve  moved onto something else and the previous moment is lingering on, stirring feelings in me while I stir my cake batter and even while I measure out a cup of milk to add to that batter and my thoughts are on deciding if I want to make chocolate or vanilla icing, my mind is drifting backwards and my feelings are being stirred more than the batter before me over the subject of that conversation. It knaws at me and I can’t focus 100% on the task at hand because of it. For me this is the birth of inspiration. I must add that I do not act on every single inspiration I have either. Some float to the back of my mind where I keep a vault. Stories that have promise that someday might be written. When the time is right. The following is one of those stories. The time is right…..if not overdue.

The city itself is really of no importance in this writing except to paint the picture of where the story takes place that would otherwise be unknown to those who are not from here.

So, a little background for my readers from away whom I’ve never met but take the time to stop by and read.  Denmark, South Korea, Italy, U.S.A, U.K., Canada, Sweden, Slovenia, The Netherlands, France and Russia. A big hello to you all and heartfelt thanks for your interest!

This story is about some happenings in my home town, the city of Saint John, New Brunswick Canada. Saint John is a port city that is located on the Bay of Fundy in Atlantic Canada.  It isn’t my place of birth but it is what I have called home for 49 years.

Saint John is Canada’s oldest incorporated city. It is a port city where the population runs approximately at 70,000 people. Saint John also made the list in Time Magazine once as one of the largest cities in the world, in size of land mass. Just to note the population has been dropping significantly. The unemployment rate is high and unless you have a high paying job, life here is hard for most. Some call it ‘a rich man’s town,’ because you have to be rich to make it here.
Depending on the eye of the beholder some would describe Saint John as either pretty and quaint or gritty and depressing. If you love history, you’d love Saint John with all the old historical buildings it has to offer.

This story is about the people. In my humble opinion it is the people that make a city or town what it is. The people give it heart and soul and God knows Saint Johners’ have heart and soul….for the most part. There is and always will be a certain percent of the population that do not fit into that category. These would be the fat cats that hold the keys to the city. I’m not talking exclusively City Hall either. I’m talking those in any position of money or power. To have either means you CAN make a difference. There are those that do have the means and they do help others. These are a special breed of humans. If only we could clone them!

 Sadly there are also many that have no vested interest in making change. Not the kind of change I’m talking about here.

So back to the conversation that kick started this  inspiration. A friend stated that her husband and daughter were on their way to New York City and I responded by saying that we all know that New York City is known to be one of the most diverse cities in the world where anything goes, can be found or seen. My youngest son has been to the big apple more than twice in less than a year and I’ve known other people who’ve been there and none of them ever came back with any stories about the ‘craziness’ of the place or the people.

What is  strange is that I can take one trip into our great city of Saint John and see things that one would think could only be found in the twilight zone, if it existed, but it doesn’t. This is the real world. And in this world are many streets with twists and turns that lead to very unpleasant dark corners that we all would rather pretend don’t really exist. The fat cats are good at this avoidance of the obvious.

One only has to walk or drive on any uptown street to come across someone standing on a street corner smoking a cigarette and having a full blown conversation all by themselves. Or see a man wearing a purple snow suit complete with a black touque pulled down hard over his ears, on an 80 degree summers day,trying to nail chocolate cup cakes to a telephone pole.

I’m talking about mental illness. While writing this I’ve had an enlightening discovery that there are two kinds of mental illness going on here.

One is depression which forces people to lunge to their deaths into the cold watery rapids of the Reversing Falls.
The other? Some would call  “Clear cut crazy.” The following is an example of “clear cut crazy,” in our fair city.

 It’s a sunny, warm autumn afternoon in uptown Saint John. Charlotte Street is one of many streets found in the uptown where one can find shops, boutiques and caf├ęs. It is always very heavy with foot traffic, people shopping, coming and going in the run of their day. On the shady side of the street is one man walking down the inside of the sidewalk. He walks with purpose, blending in with the mix of pedestrians. He is wearing a fresh three piece suit, donning a fresh haircut and wearing  freshly polished shoes. He passes by a bookstore, his head turns to his left and looks through the window at the display of books, his walk slows. On his last three steps his body turns and faces the window before him. His reflection stares back at him and he fills with sudden anger. A scowl spreads over his face, he starts to shake. His coloring takes on a reddish hue and a lock of hair falls over his forehead. He slides his feet slightly apart and holds his arms out from his sides and with one hand makes a fist. He raises that fist to the window and begins to spew a list of profanities at his own reflection. His fist is red, the knuckles white, and it shakes. Through clenched teeth, his mouth in a sneer, he says, “I’m going to kill you, you mother-fucking piece of shit.” His spittle hits the glass. “One day soon, I will kill you.” His fist slowly unclenches and starts to lower and comes to relax at his side. His color starts to return to normal. His breathing slows. He runs one hand through his hair brushing the lock of hair back into place.  He slowly raises his head, turns and resumes his walk and disappears into the crowd of people. This is a true story. What is stranger still is no passersby’s even noticed. All those people walking by either looked straight ahead or looked the other way.

Spectacles like this have become normal to us and that is not only not normal, it’s not right.

 To add to the surreal ness  of witnessing all of that we save the best for last. The freshly  abandoned cars and trucks found on the Reversing Falls Bridge. Sometimes found  with the drivers door left wide open with the driver having just jumped off the bridge to their death to the rapids below. To those who are witness to such sights they have now become victims to the tragedy. Innocent bystanders that certainly hadn’t planned on having to deal with such a thing in the run of their day.

I’ve been one of those bystanders. And if once wasn’t bad enough it’s happened to me several times in the past 6 months alone. Two months ago I had to take a trip into the city two times in a span of a week and a half. On both occasions while crossing that bridge some soul had parked their vehicle, got out, walked to the railing of the bridge, climbed over and let go. I didn’t see the jumper but their drivers door was open and people could be seen running toward the bridge. The other was a Jeep. Parked perfectly in the center of the bridge. A police cruiser parked behind it. A police officer climbs out of the cruiser and slowly approaches the empty Jeep. I could sense his apprehension and his sense of knowing. His slow approach to the Jeep gave one the sense that to hurry was pointless. His head tilts into his shoulder and he speaks into his radio.

Taken from a reliable source the Reversing Falls Bridge had taken 4 lives that week and another 4 from the Harbour Bridge. Both are within walking distance of each other. To the best of my knowledge none were reported through the medias. The reliable source states that there are on average 4 jumpers a week off the falls bridge. I don't have to be a physicist or do the math to seriously wonder that if our population hovers around 68-70,000 souls and in one month alone the average numbers of bridge jumpers was 4 a week that in that one month we lost approximately 16 souls. 16 people that were tired of living or afraid or heartbroken or were desperately lonely. It’s never reported. It’s never talked about. It’s never acknowledged. Shame on this city. Indeed a dirty, hidden secret.

Where it is never publicly acknowledged, I feel as though I’m alone in my thoughts. I think of how someone won't be returning home that night. Never to walk through the door of their own home and life ever again. I find myself having mental images of the police pulling up in their cruisers in front of someone’s home. Of them approaching someone’s front door. Of them knocking on that door and waiting for a response from the inhabitants inside the home. I have images of the family member walking to their door to greet whoever is on the other side. Of them not knowing that their world is about to be rocked to the very core of their own existence and that their lives are never going to be the same.

 I think of the victim and wonder about them. I wonder about their lives and what their world was like. Did they have a significant other? Did they have a Mom or Dad or sisters and brothers? Did they have children or best friends? Did they try to ask for help and if they did was anyone really listening to their cries for help? Were there signs? Did they quietly withdraw and shut out the world around them and did anyone notice they were even being shut out?

This is how it affects me, the unintended victim. Being witness to such things is like being hit by a stray bullet. It wasn’t intended for me yet I took a bullet anyways. I feel the shock, I feel the pain. I go through the healing process while trying to act like everyone else. Like it didn’t affect me, like it’s made no difference in my life. I keep my head down so others won’t see the scar that the bullet has left in my heart and upon my soul.

When are we as a collective people, a true community, a village of family going to get it? Suicidal people are ‘sick people’. These souls are ill. A healthy mind does not entertain ideas of bringing on it’s own demise.

 Every living organism right down to bacteria is born with the will to ‘survive’, not self destruct. If we so much as get a hint of our own destruction be it through cancer or a car accident or anything that threatens our existence we go into survival mode. Our natural response is to fight to survive. When the ‘mind’ thinks, ‘ok I’m done now and don’t want to be part of life anymore, this hurts too much and my urge is I want to die,’ then that person’s MIND IS SICK. They are seriously ill and in need of immediate medical attention. The sick mind is just another part of the human anatomy that is in distress. If one breaks their arm it is immediately given medical attention. But can you imagine if everyone in that person's life, the family Doctor included, just turned the other way and left that person to 'just live it' and pretend they just never noticed? A broken heart is the same, another part of the anatomy that is in distress. This kind of pain is very physical and needs tender loving care as much as a broken arm.

They are in need of family attention, of their friends attention, of their employers attention, of co-workers attention, of OUR attention. Here in the Province of New Brunswick getting professional attention is difficult at best. The wait time for one to recieve that help is about 8 months.There are emergency teams in place that will go where they are needed in a heartbeat. Sadly, they may be front line but quickly hand the patient over to the medical professionals such as the family doctor and then the doctor hands them a bottle of pills, adds them to the wait list at some mental health clinic and sends them home, to wait, for 8 months, with the bottle of pills. Nice.

The most painful symptom of mental illness is that of loneliness. Ones’ feelings of being all alone in the world is debilitating enough to render some people immobile. They can’t move to take care of themselves. They need us to take care of them. They need to know they are not alone. Suicidal people have one thing in common that they have all somehow lost. Hope. There is no optimism that it will get better. Those feelings of hope do not exist anymore. In my opinion losing hope is the first stage of death. Every waking moment for them is life in a gray landscape. There are no colors, no sunny days, no happy songs and no feelings of hope.

 It’s no small wonder they feel this way. We just turn and look the other way or become apparently busy or conveniently distracted. All so we can pretend to not notice because if we are caught noticing it somehow holds us responsible and obligated to help.    

What does this say about us as a people? What kind of city, town or community can rally around a citizen that needs expensive treatment for cancer to save their lives, yet if someone is suffering with depression or mental illness we turn away. We feel embarrassment, shame, or even worse, indifference and  feel nothing at all.

Lots of people talk about the ‘crazy people’ in Saint John. People from Saint John move away and come back to visit and I can’t count the times I’ve heard them say how Saint John has so many ‘crazy people’ on the loose and walking the streets. A lot of them also say that you just don’t see it anywhere but here. People laugh. I’ve been guilty of it myself and shame on me for that.

The most natural question that comes to mind that if that is all true, then why? Why does Saint John have so many mentally ill people just walking the streets? Do we have an abnormally high percentage of mentally ill in comparison to other cities? Or is it that we don’t have the means or maybe the want-to to help these people so we just leave them to their own devices?

What causes this kind of mental illness? If you were to ask this question in reference to the say the man in the purple snow suit most would be very quick to say, poverty. Poverty, that long black gnarly hand that grabs hold of it’s victims and squeezes out all joy and hope and never seems to want to let go no matter how bad it gets. Even when there is nothing left to take it is then that it squeezes even harder. A  wise mind knows that money does not bring real joy. Joy is a very personal perspective of each individual. But when a human being is suffering from hunger pangs it becomes easy to be blinded by that kind of pain and there is no joy to be had, there is only desperation and fear. The poor live in a perpetual state of fear.  

Here’s a recent true story. A gentleman knocks on the door of a local church. Someone opens the door and the man explains that he has no food for his wife or children. He explains he is a poor working man and has already been to the food bank this month and is unable to get any more help until the following month. He asks if the church has any way of helping him obtain some food . He is told they have no food but will spare him a baggie of coffee and a baggie of sugar. He was sent on his way and the door closed.

This story made the local news and when hearing it my heart felt sickened. Sickened for the man and his family and sickened for the people on the other side of those church walls. The quote from Jesus came into my mind,” Forgive them Father for they know not what they do” . My second thought was of anger and my own words of ‘be damned!’. Oh yes they do know what they are doing…they don’t care. These people don’t even practice what they preach. It’s THAT attitude I’m talking about here. That hateful indifference. No one can convince me that the administration of that church couldn’t dig up any food or even money to buy some??

 This is the kind of garbage that we the people have to fight against. If there is a God may he have mercy on THEIR souls for committing such an act of coldness and greed. What they needed to happen is for their Jesus or God to appear before them in that doorway, look them straight in the eye and say “ Whatsoever ye do unto the least of my brethren you do unto me”. Is this how they would treat their Jesus? Their King of all men. Their King of Kings? (And no, I am not a religious person but some of the stuff out of the good book comes in handy at a time like this!)

While some will talk about it in hushed tones or hidden giggles, talk is cheap. Action needs to be taken. While there is nothing much I can do other than writing in this blog or showing someone some kindness, if nothing else I hope I’ve raised some level of awareness and exposed a few dirty little secrets on our so called civilized society.

I’ve asked a few people why they think that the Reversing Falls jumpers never get covered by the media and why is this issue being kept buried. All responses to that question were the same. ‘Because it puts ideas into the heads of people that would be inclined to do the same thing.’ Without trying to sound offensive...that reason is a cop-out. Everyone knows the Reversing Falls is there. Everyone knows about the reputation of the bridge and how it's been used for years as a place of self destruction. Acknowledging the jumpers, talking about the jumpers doesn't encourage anyone to do such a thing.  What I do know is that we can't just stand by knowing what we know and do nothing about it. We can't keep turning our heads pretending we don't see the elephant in the room.

Something needs to be done to protect these people as much as we are able to and starting with the Reversing Falls Bridge is a great place to start. Maybe a deterrent of some kind. A cage over the top and sides of the bridge such as the one that runs over the highway that runs parallel to City Road. Maybe security placed on either end of the bridge in mobile units with cameras placed on the bridge. They had security on the Harbour Bridge to catch toll crashers and speeders. The money was there for that. The money could be found for this cause as well.

These people need to be protected from themselves. They are ill and cannot be expected to be responsible for their own well being. Sometimes a small gesture such as a hand on someone's shoulder, a sincere smile, even direct eye contact can save a person's life. Sometimes we can surprise ourselves at how much of a difference we can make in someone elses life, even a strangers life.

I have several times in my life. Once stumbling across a young woman who'd taken a broken bottle and sliced up the inside of both arms from wrist to the inside of her elbows.I did a little first aid and made two tourniquetes while the person with me ran to call an ambulance. The young lady became hysterical screaming that they would put her in the crazy house and that to just let her die. I convinced her to go and she did. She would of bled to death had we not come along when we did. I seen her a few years later, alive and well.

Another time I talked a jumper down from a 5 story ledge. All the usual lines weren't working with him and he wouldn't come down. So, I pissed him off. So much so that for a moment he forgot what he was upset about and started to climb back down to get at me. Happily for me, 4 very large police officers got to him before he got to me and took him for a ride to the hospital. Last I heard he was alive and well, married with kids.

And once a good friend had sat at my kitchen table every night  until the wee hours of the mornings for a good week crying over the breakup of his marriage. His wife had done him very wrong. He couldn't get past what had happened. He was suicidal. I could see that. In the end he managed to pull himself together and get on with his life. He later on had delivered to my door some beautiful red roses and a thank you card. It read, "Thank you for being my friend. Thank you for saving my life. Forever Grateful, Don."  In truth I'd not said or done anything. I sat there night after night and shut my mouth and let him vent, cry and talk. We drank tons of coffee and smoked a lot of cigarettes. And there were moments we said nothing, and that was ok too. Sometimes people don't want or need our advice or opinions. Sometimes they just want to be heard and for us to just listen.

The last experience I had with the Reversing Falls Bridge and jumpers was back around the end of May into early June of this year. The weather had been doing nothing but fog and rain for 6 weeks. It left a lot of people feeling blue and dreary because of it. I'd had at that time had a conversation with my reliable source about the jumpers and the bridge. "It's the weather," they said. "Some people just can't handle the constant gloom.", I didn't know it at the time but their statement about the constant gloom would later on come back to haunt me.

During my last experience my husband Eric and I had been running errands in the city. The fog that day was thick and heavy and I remember the windshield wipers had to be kept on to keep the windsheild clear. After running errands we were driving up Chesley Drive heading westbound to go home. The truck climbed the hill up to the end of the drive which lead to the Reversing Falls Bridge. As soon as we crested the hill the sun started to break through the clouds and fog. My attention was drawn to the small park just before you drove onto the bridge. A white sedan type car was parked askew, half up on the sidewalk just before the bridge. The drivers door was open and noone was inside the car. Everything in my memory after that was like slow motion. There were people running onto the bridge. There were people running to the end of the park that over looked the rapids. They were all staring down into the rapids. There were police cars everywhere, 5 in total I think. Red and blue lights flashing. One officer trotting across the bridge while looking down over the side at the water below. A young Asian couple standing in the middle of the bridge leaning against the railing looking down to the water below, their bodies close and one arm wrapped around each others backs. A young man holding large binnoculars against his face, leaning into the railing on the bridge, looking down into the water, searching, all of them searching. And the sun shone. By the time we reached the other side of the bridge the fog was quickly lifting and I could see blue sky. I wondered if the person that  had jumped had gotten one more red light or had stopped to let someone cross the street and had lived just a few more seconds to see the sun shine......Well, we won't ever know that. They called out the Coast Guard that day and they did a water search and after 3 hours called it off. The person had jumped during an outgoing tide. Whether they ever found this lost soul is anyones guess as I've already stated, these things are not reported.

On the rest of the drive home the dialogue was at a minimum. Both Eric and I deep in our own thoughts. Solemn would best describe it. And painful. Logically I had no right to feel pain, did I? I had no business wondering about how that person's family would deal with such a tradgedy, right? I didn't know that person from Adam so what was this craziness, this overwhelming saddness inside of me. I choked back a lump or two deep in my throat.

We leave the highway and drive down into Chance Harbour where the sun was shinning and the sky was blue. Everywhere I looked trees and grass of emerald green. Eric slows the truck down and it rolls to a putt. Like a faithful horse it seems to know the way home. We both roll our windows down to let the salt air in. I lay my head back against the head rest and close my eyes and breathe deep to take in the cleansing air of the breeze from the bay. I let the wind rushing in through the window pick up my hair and whip it around and it falls over my closed eyes. I make no move to brush it away. Flashes of sunlight are dancing between the trees and I feel the strobe like shadows play against my eyelids. I feel the vibration of the truck under me and take comfort in knowing it is taking me home. I feel the truck slowing down and take a soft left turn. The truck stops and the engine becomes quiet. I remain as I am. I feel Eric's warm hand on my forearm and he softly states that we are home. I don't so much as stir. I hear him, but I hear something else too. The waves crashing on the shore. The seagulls crying their call over the cove. The soft ticking of the engine as it cools. The beating of my own heart. I hear life. I'm surrounded by it. Everything to remind me that I am alive and well. And in that moment I feel gratitude, for everything. I give up thanks for just being in that moment, or more importantly being made aware of  that moment. I feel thanks for being loved and wanted and for being home, for having a home.
Most importantly for knowing that we live and we die and that regardless of that, Mother Nature still has some living to do. The ocean, the bay and the surf will continue to arrive and leave us twice a day as she has since the beginning of time. Many forms of life will be born and die and yet she never misses a beat. Even she will take life should we test her. And some will give their lives to her. And she doesn't discriminate against anyone who throws themselves at her. Some can't help themselves and will dive into her cold waiting arms. It's our job to look after them.

Until the next high tide.............................