The first full day after the end of the world started approximately one second after the stroke of midnight. This was going to be a long day. Justine had fallen asleep after my frantic deposition, patiently fielding all my questions, hearing all my bargains, enduring all the begging, until even I couldn’t come up with anything else. I hit the road in my truck, driving down the highway aimlessly: “aimlessly” would have actually been a big step up. It was a typical foggy night in San Francisco. I was blasting sad acoustic music, hyper-ventilating and bleary-eyed from the tears streaming out of my eyes. The emotional pit in my stomach hadn’t had long enough to mature into grief or heartache yet. This was a more primal, raw emotion that’s harder to label.  I’m sure the Germans have a word for it. Some mix of grief-struck, loss, and powerlessness, like the terror you felt as a child when you realized you were going to die, and there’s nothing you could do about it.

Regrettably, on the road I began to remember exactly how incredible a woman Justine is. Somehow in my anger, pain, and bruised trust I had made up a bad version of her. I’m sure my therapist could explain how this served me, letting me justify my shitty behavior and lack of coping skills, and general unworthiness to be with a woman of her caliber. Minute by minute, beautiful happy memories of her began to play on the screen in my head.

Naturally as time passed on the road, things deteriorated. The belief that I was on the right side of this situation went up in smoke. I was Donald Trump, a complete self-righteous asshole. I had been patting myself on the back for doing dishes, making her coffee, and–wait for it-folding my own laundry, while meanwhile always putting her second to my priorities and agenda.

It all came flooding back. How great she was, how much fun we had, and how awful I had been. This is not a story where any reasonable person could see both sides.

My truck seemed to pull itself off the road and into a parking lot, braking for a group of Asian tourists laughing and smiling. I idly thought about running them over while they slowly bounced across the blacktop. I parked under a street light, and sat in the car for about 10 minutes in silence before getting out. I was at the Golden Gate Bridge.

I hadn’t planned on coming here, so I didn’t know what to do next. I certainly hadn’t actually thought about suicide, and don’t believe I came here to kill myself, but I’ve made a deal with my therapist–That I will not think of this moment as totally NOT suicidal thoughts if he does label it as obviously suicidal.

Either way I was here. Dum Dee dum.

I walked around, looking at a bronze sculpture near the pedestrian entrance, staring at the bay from the lookout. I fantasized about being rescued, by Justine, or any friends with whom I share my GPS location. They would wake up in the middle of the night with a strange feeling, compelled to see where I was, only to find that I was at the Golden Gate Bridge at one in the morning. They would know something must be wrong and dash to my side. Therefore I had to kill half an hour or so before they could arrive to save me.

That’s not how life really works. A 22-year-old neighbor of mine jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge a few months ago, devastating his family and confusing all of us who knew him. He was a perfect young man on the outside, happy, gorgeous, athletic, with a beautiful family. It’s hard to imagine how he came to that conclusion, but I know that I’m no safer than he was, that those of us who were born with faulty wiring are all at risk.

I walked up to the the pedestrian entrance. It starts as a slow sloping ramp that curves to the right and takes you up to the same level as the cars. As I turned the corner, several people were gathered at the entrance, reading a sign that was posted on a chain link gate blocking the walk way.

When I got closer, they began heading back to their car.  At first I thought it was because I looked psychotic, but I could hear disappointment in their voices as they passed. The sign said something like “The pedestrian walkway is closed from sunset to sunrise,” but there was a glowing button to the right of it that was for commuting bicyclists to push for entrance.

I thought about pushing the button, walking out to the center of the bridge to stare into the bay and pretend this was all a dream. I imagined the bridge police questioning and searching me, possibly taking me to a psychiatric hospital on a 51-50. I just stared at the gate, relieved when I realized I was not here to end my life.

The gate suddenly made an awful creaking sound, like from American Horror Story and began to slowly open.

“Oh, come on!” I thought to myself. I looked around to see if there was any reason it was opening. The last thing I needed was an ominous malfunction. Give me a break. What next? Dead birds falling from the sky?

I turned around and walked back to the truck. Today was not a good day to die. Maybe later.

Unfortunately, as it would turn out, one of my dearest people had not gotten the memo that night.

22 COMMENTS

  1. Oh, Sam… I hope, I pray this is the gift of fiction that your dear mother was able to pass down to you. My heart breaks at the thought of the perfect baby I once held in my arms hurting so very much. I hate that this kind of loss and suffering is so "normal." And I pray to God (every version of God) that the grit and strength I know you have will always rise to the surface when you are most in need. Always remember that you are a gift – to your mother, to your son, even to me, your former governess.
    Always and forever,
    Megan

  2. Thanks for describing this really messy and painful process. If we hang in there long enough we sometimes discover a bridge at the end of the world…and in time, with lots of help, we realize it’ s not really the worlds end. What do they say, feelings aren’t facts? But feelings can give us valuable clues to our distorted (stinking?) thinking. Feelings, painful or plesdurable can allow us to connect with other humans too. Like Martha says, "and that’s a good thing.".

  3. Sam, I knew you as a kid at St. Andrew. I just read your 3 blogs and thoroughly enjoyed them. You have a great voice coming through your words & an interesting story to tell. I spent 25 years in the classroom, many of them teaching English, and I love what I’m reading here. Keep on keeping it real! I also spent another 15 years as a family therapist, so I get the breaking up process – this writing is a great addition to your other support. Good luck! Susan Berkhout

  4. Funny, heart-wrenching, engaging writing. I am loving hearing the guys’ side of this human experience. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  5. Aww Sam. I feel you. Mine’s a long story, detailed to my sponsor’s dismay in my last 4th Step, but with three years and some change clean the sky opened wide on me too. I got through it poorly, but clean. I made a mess, but I didn’t use. Well, I jumped into another relationship almost immediately, so I guess I can’t say I didn’t use… I just didn’t use drugs. I was right in the middle of the previously-mentioned Step 4 on my second formal cycle of steps, which was aimed directly at romantic relationships, as that was/is the area in which I had/have experienced the least growth as a result of recovery. I’m 6 yrs 11 mos + change clean today, and it has gotten better. Slightly. An engagement has ended since then, as have a couple of shorter-term infatuations. As of today, I’m setting a personal record for length of time between relationships. I’m at like 62 days. Hooray, me. As you say, progress, not perfection. I’m grateful to get the chance to follow this story and read your serial – and I’ll be taking copious notes. I’m on step 9 in this cycle of steps now (the cycle about relationships), and, as usual, the universe seems to be conspiring to teach me some pretty useful stuff. Thanks for sharing, Sam.

  6. I have heard of too many young men ending their lives after a failed relationship, I’m so glad you were able to see past the moment and choose to live.

    The honesty and intensity of your writing has me hooked now. I look forward to the next installment.
    Thank you,

    Liz

  7. Oh Sam, I just watched my son Beau slog through his year of heartbreak recovery. It sucks, it gets better, it gets worse again. You just live through it. Life opens up a door and welcomes you back in the end.

  8. Sam,
    The stars will only shine in the dark.

    I know what its like to break someone’s trust, and work to gain it back. We decided to not throw away a marriage, which I am thankful for.
    Since you hadn’t committed to her, it tells me that it was doubtful you were going to. In order for her to say those things to you, she didn’t love you anymore, and without her you will be able to find your true love. You and your son deserve that.

    Chin up. Lots of us are here for you.

  9. I have lived a similar story. No matter who’s to blame, it sucks and it is devastating to watch your little world collapse. It took me 8 years to recover, rebuild, and begin my first functional trust-based adult relationship. Meanwhile, kids, books, and dogs will keep moving you forward inch by hour.
    Recently picked up Jung’s Psyche and Symbol, and he suggests that the stories that play out in our relationship lives are just a handful of ancient archetypes:
    "The language of love is of astonishing uniformity, using the popular forms with the greatest devotion and fidelity… yet [the two partners] live in the illusion that they are related to one another in a most individual way… Very often the relationship runs its course heedless of its human performers, who afterwards do not know what happened to them." Depressing but oddly comforting.

  10. Thank you for being so honest about your participation and real investment of your self. It helps me to read this as I have just broken up from a seven year relationship with someone who I suspect is much like you. The ache of being without him is relentless but the memory of how I never really felt seen for my whole self keeps tapping me on the heart and saying, " hang in there, be patient, you will see light again especially without him." Because with him I was in the shadow of his ambitions and desires to achieve his personal goals. And I miss his buoyant company, every day. Thank you for thinking that your story is worth sharing. Iana

  11. To tell you the truth… I don’t get the game called "cheating". Is it worth the havoc it causes? Why not just do the right thing? Not cheat? Well, that’s just me. But I will tell you a story. My step daughter is beautiful… smashingly, uniquely beautiful. Men were always coming on to her, begging her to be a flashy symbol on their arm. She was a divorced mother in her 30s which only seemed to make her even more exotically beautiful. So… what does she do, she takes up with a poor, young though really good looking, photographer. In my step-motherly way I questioned her decision. Why a poor photographer? You can have your pick of men, men with looks, money, status? She admitted that women were always coming on to her new, very good looking, young love. It was his response to them that made her fall in love. Her young handsome lover would pull her close and make it very clear she was the love of his life and he respectfully never… emphasis here never ever, flirted back. They still have a most beautiful marriage and 2 more children. Be strong and next time never ever flirt back. Ever.

  12. Yep. That’s heartbreak alright. The visceral, gut-wrenching, chemical withdrawal of it ending ~ feels like you are going to die. But you don’t. You change. Of course over time and it gets better or different. Lighter somehow because that chemical withdrawal feeling also changed some brain chemistry. You can’t help but be different, even though you resisted that too. That is how life – the external, chaotic nature of it – shapes and molds us despite our urgent desire for control. It feels forceful to those of us Capricorns and Virgos and Taurus who rely on ordering our world. It is in our nature to want to tamp down the chaos. Life pushed back and it sucks and it hurts. It gets better or different, definitely something you can absolutely handle in time. Meanwhile, stay clean but use what you need to get through to the next stage. My heartbreak happened in 2001, before we knew what freaking whack job Bill Cosby was. Anyway, in 2001 I watched rerun after rerun of The Cosby Show. A nice wholesome family that had nothing to do with me or my ex. Yeah, and I got a cat. Just one, special-needs kitty. It got me through and over time it got better. I promise. Hang in there.

  13. damn man, the apple tree thing here is pushing all of the right buttons for me – thank you for processing this here so transparently.

  14. Hi…Sam you’re writing resonates with me, really honest and maybe I feel a familiarity with you as a fellow step-tripper…. I can’t wait for another chapter. Having experienced the dividing into equal sums of relationships I had a thought….breakups activate…not just trigger but activate such depth of emotions memories…possibly past lives even, dreams, other losses , quantum potential future events. When I was able to survive the wash of ashes and debri of the activation moment that felt like an internal dirty bomb….and I was still standing…..powerful and knowing my strengths. Aho!

  15. You’ll get through this. It may seem unfathomable right now. Kind of like ripping off a Band-Aid on a raw wound and letting the cold air hit it. But grief like deep wounds, heal from the inside out. You may not be able to control the situation but you can control how you choose to handle it. Be gentle with yourself put down the baseball bat. If you’ve got kids hug them. If you’ve got dogs hug them. If you’ve got cats try and hug them. Own your humanness it’s okay to feel like s*** just don’t turn it into a comfortable old blanket of misery. In other words don’t stay stuck. Just be gentle with yourself.

  16. Dear Sam,
    I am glad you reconsidered the bridge.
    Keep writing. What a gift you inherited from your mom.

    My late husband was killed in a motorcycle accident two years ago. We were both 12 steppers. I have no advice to give you. Except I’m glad you reconsidered the bridge.

  17. I am 81 – female – have been thru so many heart crushing experiences – 3 yrs ago, I moved back to my home state after a flood in my apt. where loving things were lost, I was lost – and didn’t like the old negative part of me I had thot was discarded yrs ago – the train tracks were behind the old house – I imagined putting on my long black coat and laying on the tracks in the dark – waiting for the freight train – I imagined that for several weeks until I decided it was time – to get back into counselling – again…

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