I captain a tug boat in the San Francisco bay. It’s an okay job, I mean it pays well, and it’s just me and my friend Nick. He’s from the Ukraine.
We met at the bottom of the hill, during a Neutral Milk hotel concert. He had a tug boat that he inherited from his dad when he died, and I had experience captaining from the navy. I was 31, and he was 28, from then on we tugged in the San Francisco bay.
We took to the sea well together. By the time we went into business, he got married to Catia. She was a barista at a Starbucks on the corner of our block, Nick didn’t drink coffee. Every morning before we left for work, he’d go in and get water for me and him. I would stay in the car, and give him shit when he came back. “You’re an idiot.” I’d say. He would just laugh, and tell me the equivalent of “The squeaky wheel gets the grease” in Ukrainian, that, or to go fuck myself.
Most days at sea were simple, and beautiful. She would be there in the morning and long for me at night when we were apart. My dreams would be full of sailing the high seas as a privateer, or my days captaining in the navy. Unlike most humans, the sea has always been there for me.
My parents were divorced when I was young, but I was old enough to remember the way they fought. My father was none other than a kind, and understanding man. Though he had much strength, my mother would use every one of his weaknesses against him. In the heat of an argument, she was a model of antagonistic perfection. She would poke, and prod at my father until he became enraged. He never hit her once, and looking back I can say that most men would have.
My mother now lives with Ron, who owns a McDonald’s in Fort Bragg California. My dad lives in Downtown Sacramento, and we like to joke around about my mom’s boyfriend being named Ronald, and owning a McDonald’s. Dad is an artist, and gets by selling his artwork. He also is a projectionist at a local independent theatre that still uses film. Even though our family history isn’t the most peaceful, we make sure to come together and have a nice dinner at least once a month.
So from the start I had a terrible vision of what love was, but also had heartbreak of my own. I was in the academy when I met her, and I was head over heels with this girl. She was Abby, smart, beautiful, and she said she loved me. I had no reason to think otherwise; until I found out she had two other boyfriends. What was worse is that I found out from skyping with her mom. Imagine that conversation, telling Abby I knew about the other guys, because her mom told me. She tried to somehow wriggle out of my accusations, but I kept going back to “Abby, you’re mom told me.” We had dated for a couple years at that point, and when she moved out she took a chunk of me with her. I haven’t been the same since.
Nevertheless, I spent my time bettering myself. I was great at my job, and school. I became more fit than I ever was, and became generally successful at whatever I put my mind to. Everyone saw me as this pillar of strength, much like my father. I think I was most proud of that.
Nick and Catia have tried to hook me up with many friends of theirs. Catia’s best friend from Starbucks, a friend of that friend, Nick’s sister which was weird, the list goes on. Every date went well; I mean I’m a very charming charismatic guy. We would laugh, eat, and drink a bit. I would walk or drive them home, but when it came to them asking me up, I never went. It isn’t that any of them were bad girls; in fact most of them were great. I just never felt anything special, as corny as that sounds. Also the last thing I wanted was a string along sexual partner that I knew I would never marry.
So whenever Catia would insist I had to find someone, I always joke that I have, and that it was the sea. She would just roll her eyes, and mutter Ukrainian under her breath. I think it was either stupid ass, or something to the effect of retarded.
I truly thought that I would never meet someone, but I was okay with that. I had been toying around with buying a dog for a couple years, and if I truly needed a companion, that seemed like a good choice for me. Then out of nowhere, I think it was a Thursday, I met her at sea.
I always knew about jumpers, it was kind of just a fact of life. If you are a Seamen working within, or porting in the San Francisco bay on a regular basis most likely you’d see one. The guys Nick and I drank with would swap their jumper stories, but Nick and I didn’t have any. Sometimes the bodies would be swept to sea, but a fare amount would be found by Seamen. We considered ourselves lucky, not wanting anything to do with the grim scene of finding a sad soul floating in the drink like that. Or so I thought.
It was that Thursday, the sun was out, and the city was bustling with tourists. The ocean was calmer than most days, my eyes were fixed front, because we were going under the Golden Gate to a vessel that needed towing. The current under the bridge is a force in itself, and requires respectful concentration. However, it was broken by Nick yelling in his native tongue. My Ukrainian was decent, but he was speaking way to fast and frantic for me to understand. So I just slowed the boat, and tried to get him to speak English, yelling from the helm. He just pointed, wide eyed, so I followed the direction until I saw something that looked like a bunch of floating garbage.
I maneuvered the boat closer, and it was then my heart sank. A jumper, floating face down in my San Francisco Bay. My instinct was to pull it on board, to administer CPR, but I remembered my friends telling us to anchor the jumper and call the coast guard. Reasoning being, something like, if you pulled them aboard you could be implemented in murder or some stupid shit. Regardless of how stupid that sounded, I did what was safe, but I felt sick about it.
The coast guard came very quickly, and we boarded their ship for a witness report. In the middle of mine they pulled the jumper onto the ship, making a dull series of thumps. My head turned without my permission, even though I could’ve guessed it was the jumper, part of me was still curious. Before this I imagined how I would feel at that moment. I figured I’d be mad perhaps, at a person choosing to take their life, maybe deep sadness or immediately questioning the meaning of life. Yet, as they flipped the body to take pictures of the damage, I felt none of these things. She was beautiful, and against all social standards, and rules that had been spoon fed to me from childhood. I fell in love.
Now I know what you’re thinking, I am not saying “And that was when I knew I loved dead people.” No way, that is disgusting on so many levels. I fell in love with her, and I do realize how crazy that sounds.
After seeing her I couldn’t think of anything else. Who was she? Why did she kill herself? What was her name? I had to understand why someone so beautiful, would come to the conclusion she did. I was out of my mind the rest of the day, imagining her doing normal things. Like going grocery shopping, wondering what her voice sounded like, what her hobbies were. While lost in wonder, I hit a buoy with the boat, and Nick offered to take over, so I let him.
We got home, and Nick went on about this with Catia. He was clearly shaken by the whole thing, but I just sat in my chair in the living room sipping on Jameson Reserve. Catia pointed out how calm I was, and that I was probably a psychopath, we all laughed. I responded by playing into the accusation, we laughed some more. It wasn’t until later, when I had a couple more drinks that I googled “dead people in San Francisco”. I learned about Colma California, which apparently is the home to over two million dead people. Also, I remembered that she should pop up in the newspaper, or the news. I felt kind of stupid that I didn’t come to that conclusion earlier, but I had a pretty weird day.
Nick and I decided to take a few days off to recuperate, and that was great for me, because I was on a mission. The morning after us finding her, I was on my computer searching everything I could regarding dead bodies in San Francisco. Unfortunately, these days jumpers aren’t really news. I don’t blame the city; I mean it’s a very grim fact.
I didn’t know how long it would take to process the body, or identify it. So looking for her could take days, weeks, maybe months for all I knew. While I pondered this I googled, girl death jumped off golden gate bridge October 19th 2014, and in .67 seconds I was starring right into her hazel eyes.
My heart filled, and warmth spread through my body. There she was, joyously painting a wall. Here pose was dramatic, as if she was a great artist, with blotches of maroon, scattered all over her clothes and face. I couldn’t help but smile, and chuckle at her. I imagined myself being there, perhaps helping to paint the house, or apartment. Seeing her dip her brush in the paint can, and laughing at herself when she dripped paint on her overalls; I could see her movements being carefree, and confident. Those eyes glowing, as the light from the setting sun shone through them just right; accenting her body with a warm luminescent outline.
I couldn’t help but live in this picture for a moment, before I laughed to myself again. Then I realized her name was but a click away, so click I did. I skipped past the gory details, because I already knew she was gone. I wasn’t there to mourn her death; I wanted to celebrate her life. The life of, Grace Harper, Grace Annabelle Harper.
Finding her name was all I needed, next thing I knew I was on her personal Facebook page. It was full of mourning comments, and memories that others had shared with her.
It is odd finding a Facebook of a dead person, it’s kind of like an episode of doctor who. In the episode “Silence in the Library”, the characters had these suits that upon death, would store their conscience digitally for a couple minutes. “Who turned out the lights?” they would say, disconnected from their physical body. Her Facebook was the last remaining flame of her life. I don’t know if I’m making sense, listening to soundtrack music and sifting through your dead loves life can be emotionally compromising.
I saw pictures from her childhood, running through a long grass field. Another of her as a toddler at Ocean Beach, with big sunglasses on, looking sassy. Toddler to pre-teen, pre-teen to teenager, teenager to adult, I lost myself in Grace. A beautiful ballad of laughter, and love; fear, and loss. I selfishly imagined being there to experience this with her, a childhood friend. We danced, and played. Our parents would have dinner, as we would laugh and watch cartoons. She would take up drama, while I would try out sports. The Prom, graduation, college; a selfish depiction of what could have been.
She was so perfect, a truly amazing person. I still didn’t know what she sounded like, but then I saw I link to a Youtube.com/GracieBelle. Before I clicked it, my heart skipped; in one movement I would have access to her digital conscience. The living breathing Grace, the one that I would never know.
At the thought of never feeling her warm skin against, mine or waking up to her big hazel eyes looking back at me. To never say to her I love you, and hear it back. To cook for her, to clean for her, to care for her.
I grew angry, and panicked. Tears started to roll down my face at the thought of her life having ended. I wanted to punch something, or to feel intense pain. Something that could overtake this feeling of loss; but then I stopped and took a breath. Through tears I looked back at her, still on my computer. This wasn’t a death I had the right to mourn. I felt my face, and laughed; I can’t remember the last time I cried. Even after death, Grace is teaching me about myself. I needed a break.
I stepped out for a walk in the sun, only to find it was setting. Apparently I had lost track of time. It was no matter to me; I just put in my ear buds, and started more soundtrack music. I think walking the city under the influence of music is tremendous, like you are walking in a dream.
It wasn’t my intention to walk to the Golden Gate Bridge, but sometimes it calls to you. Also considering the situation I’m in, ending up directly in the middle of the bridge was appropriate. Some call it Hell’s Gate, others just straight up refuse to cross it. I have always been so fascinated that something so beautiful would grow to represent such a dark passion. People travel from all over the world to see it, or to have it be the last thing they see.
I stop my music and take out my ear buds, to try and appreciate her last moments. Imagining her walking to the middle, maybe looking into the eyes of the random people crossing on foot for help; some may have seen the sadness and walked on. Others may have actually seen her jump. For someone so beautiful to sneak by so many to die, it just doesn’t make sense. Are humans so cold, or blind? This bridge hosts thousands a day and not one stopped a beautiful girl from getting to the point to jump? It’s not like you just hop over, it is a task to get to a spot to jump. I was getting angry again, angry at the humans that occupy earth. All of them moaning about how alone they are, but refusing to acknowledge anyone else.
I’d imagine the walk out here was just an affirmation of her choice. So, I took the walk back home, without music. I paid attention to the others, with their heads down bundled for the San Francisco bite. Realizing that on the way out to the bridge, I didn’t pay attention to anyone. That perhaps I missed someone longing for someone else to tell them they are worth a damn.
I want to say that after this I ran into my house, and wrote a speech. Then the next day I ran to the streets with a bull horn, and everyone heard everything and rejoiced. That finally someone had the words for everyone to understand that we aren’t alone, but I can’t say that.
What I can say is I went back to work, and when I had time I wrote. I’m not a writer, in fact I’m pretty sure I’m terrible, but I managed to finish a book. This book was proofed, and then bought by a small independent publisher. I wrote about you, and your life. How you helped so many people, and when you had no more to give you couldn’t be here anymore. The book is doing fine, I’m doing readings around the city, and I managed to get a spot on a morning show. I guess I’m writing this because I wanted you to know. I know that it won’t change that I won’t ever get to experience you, or touch you. To take you to dinner, and laugh with you; I just wanted you to know that I love you Grace, and I’m doing my best to make the world somewhere that in another life, maybe you’d still be here.
Stephen Thorn, Tugboat Captain
Created: Mar 27, 2014TravisHobertStraw Document Media