Chapter no 10

Anxious People

The 1rst person who saw the man on the bridge ten years ago was a teenage boy whose dad wished he would 1nd a new dream. Perhaps the boy could have waited for help, but would you have done that? If your mom was a priest and your dad a policeman, if you’d grown up taking it for granted that you have to help people if you can, and not abandon anyone unless you really have to?

So the teenage boy ran out onto the bridge and shouted to the man, and the man stopped. The teenage boy didn’t know what he should do, so he just started… talking. Tried to win the man’s trust. Get him to take two steps back rather than forward. The wind was tugging gently at their jackets, there was rain in the air and you could feel the start of winter on your skin, and the boy tried to 1nd the words to say how much there must be to live for, even if it maybe didn’t feel that way right now.

The man on the bridge had two children, he told the teenage boy that. Possibly because the boy reminded him of them. The boy pleaded with him, with panic weighing down each word: “Please, don’t jump!”

The man looked at him calmly, almost sympathetically, and replied, “Do you know what the worst thing about being a parent is? That you’re always judged by your worst moments. You can do a million things right, but if you do one single thing wrong you’re forever that parent who was checking his phone in the park when your child was hit in the head by a swing. We don’t take our eyes oP them for days at a time, but then you read just one text message and it’s as if all your best moments never happened. No one goes to see a psychologist to talk about all the times they meven’t hit in the head by a swing as a child. Parents are de1ned by their mistakes.”

The teenage boy probably didn’t really understand what he meant. His hands were shaking as he glanced over the side of the bridge and saw death all the way down. The man smiled weakly at him and took half a step back. Just then, that felt like the whole world.

Then the man explained that he’d had a pretty good job, he’d set up his own relatively successful business, bought a fairly nice apartment. That he’d invested all his savings in shares in a real estate development company, so that his children could get even better jobs and even nicer apartments, so that they could have the freedom not to have to worry, not have to fall asleep exhausted every night with a pocket calculator in their hands. Because that was a parent’s job: to provide shoulders. Shoulders for your children to sit on when they’re little so they can see the world, then stand on when they get older so they can reach the clouds, and sometimes lean against whenever they stumble and feel unsure. They trust us, which is a crushing responsibility, because they haven’t yet realized that we don’t actually know what we’re doing. So the man did what we all do: he pretended he knew. When his children started to ask why poo was brown, and what happens after you die, and why polar bears don’t eat penguins. Then they got older. Sometimes he managed to forget that for a moment and found himself reaching to hold their hands. They were so embarrassed. Him too. It’s hard to explain to a twelve-year-old that when you were little and I walked too fast, you would run to catch up with me and take hold of my hand, and that those were the best moments of my life. Your 1ngertips in the palm of my hand. Before you knew how many things I’d failed at.

The man pretended—about everything. All the 1nancial experts promised him that shares in the real estate development company were a safe investment, because everyone knows that property values never go down. And then they did just that.

There was a 1nancial crisis somewhere in the world and a bank in New York went bankrupt, and far away in a small town in a completely diPerent country lived a man who lost everything. He saw the bridge from his study window when he hung up after the phone call with his lawyer. It was early in the morning, still unusually mild for the time of year, but there was rain in the air. The man drove his children to school as if nothing had happened. Pretending.

He whispered in their ears that he loved them, and his heart broke when he saw them roll their eyes and sigh. Then he drove toward the water. Stopped the car where you weren’t allowed to stop. Left the keys in it. Walked out onto the bridge and climbed up onto the railing.

He told the teenage boy all this, and then of course the teenage boy knew that everything was going to be all right. Because if a man standing on a railing takes the time to tell a stranger how much he loves his children, you know he doesn’t really want to jump.

And then he jumped.

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