A few weeks ago I had an experience I’ve not quite been able to digest fully until now; I helped prevent a man from killing himself.
I was standing on the platform of the Belmont CTA station at
the tail of Pride weekend. Stevie Ray
Vaughan was in my ears and I had just buried my nose into a game of Words With
Friends when something strange registered out of the corner of my eye. I looked up to see a man standing so close to
the edge of the platform that only his heels were on the concrete; the rest
were dangling off.
At first I took him for drunk and stupid. It was about 2:30 in the morning, and the
streets were filled with hundreds of
people staggering their ways from one locale to the next. I took off my headphones and put my phone into
my pocket so I could be prepared to catch this man if he started to fall. Then I noticed a wallet and cell phone on the
ground beside him, and it occurred to me I had seen him drop those while the
brunt of my attention was checking the latest Facebook updates a moment before.
I approached the man, placed my hand on his chest, and asked
him, “Why don’t you take a step back?” Finally
I started to take in what this man looked like.
He was my height, which is a rare thing for me to run across. Short blond hair, a piercing in the side of his
nose, and huge holes in his earlobes that could only have held some huge gauge earrings; big enough to get
your finger through. I noticed a trace
of silver glitter by his right eye. And
his eyes were dead. Cold. I’d suppose he was, at that moment, virtually
incapable of seeing what was in front of him.
I had to ask him to step back a few times before he did, but
it was a grudging step that left him inches from the edge. He kept pointing ahead of him, I thought to
the other platform. Then I realized he
was actually pointing at the rails. I
kept asking, never removing my hand, and finally he stepped back to a safe
At that moment a woman on his other side, who had been
trying to figure out what she should do, also came up to him and tried to hand
him back his things. “Take these,” she
kept saying. He regarded them for an
instant and only answered, “Give them to my mom.”
She kept insisting he take back his belongings, and finally
emotion crawled into his eyes. It was a
deep, crushing pain. He turned to her and demanded to know why he should take his things back. “My mom doesn’t even know me,”
he said with a deep anguish. “Do you
even know my name?” he asked accusingly of the woman. She shook her head. “Do you
know my name?” he asked of me. Suddenly
I became aware I was holding his wallet and phone. “I only just met you,” I told him.
At that point the fight went out of him and he collapsed
to the ground against the barricade beside the escalator.
The woman tried to engage him in conversation, and I made sure she felt
confident to stay there with him while I told her I was going to try and find
Back on the ground level I caught the attention of the CTA
worker sitting in the kiosk. When I
told him there was a man trying to fall onto the tracks, he leapt into
action. I led him back to the man, who
at this point was standing and looked like he was trying to find his way
downstairs. I tried to hand him back his
wallet and phone, but he wouldn’t take them.
Finally I stuffed them into the front pocket of his shorts.
The CTA worker took over from there. He engaged the man like he was professionally
trained to handle a suicide attempt. Told
the man his name, asked for his (I didn’t catch either). Led him downstairs. On the way down I heard the would-be jumper
confront the worker, “Did you come
out to your mom today? Tell her she was never gonna have grandkids?”
The words stabbed me in the heart, and all I could think was how much
worse it was for him.
I decided that was about all I could handle. It had been a long day, he seemed to be in
safe hands, and my train home was finally pulling into the station. I got on.
Immediately I felt selfish for leaving. All I did was stop him from immediate
danger. I didn’t convince him to live, I
simply stopped him from dying.
Once. I realized I had no way of
knowing where he went, what he did, or what he wanted to do. All I know of him is that he had been
rejected by his mother in the most fundamental way, and that his despair was so
great he believed he had no one else in the world to turn to for help.
As a straight man I have always felt out of place when it
came to advocating equal rights for gay people.
I’ve never been disenfranchised, mocked, or harassed for my sexuality. Thus I never felt I had the power or passion
fed by those experiences to do justice for the fight. I’d stop harassment when I came across it,
but that was about it. I suppose I felt
I had no place.
But that’s where the “A” in “LGBTQA” comes from – Allies. That speaks to me there is an acceptance, an
understanding that includes all people. My
presence is welcome. This isn’t a gay
issue; hell, just look at that acronym.
It keeps getting longer because human sexuality is such a complex
creature. There keeps being a new way to
identify, a more specific way describe one’s identity. (Note - since originally writing this three years ago, I've come to learn that the A more commonly stands for Asexual. I'm still proud to be an ally, however).
This is a human
issue. It affects us all. It’s not about gay rights, or gay
marriage. It's about rights. It’s about marriage. Wherever you stand, however you identify,
this is about you as much as it is about anyone and everyone else. Before we are sexual beings, we are human beings. I consider myself a person before I consider
myself a straight person. I consider you as a person before I consider your
sexuality, your ethnicity, your career, your hobbies, your country of origin,
your politics, your favorite movies, your sense of humor… I firmly believe we should all belong in this
frame of mind if we are to continue to progress as a species.
Step one is education.
Educate yourself. Make material
available to others. No one is a freak,
no one is a weirdo. We’re all just
people, and we all have the right to live the way we choose as long as we do
not infringe upon the rights of others.
Equally important is to find your own circle of
support. I keep thinking of that poor
man on the platform whose name I wish I knew. In the deepest despair, unable to accept himself because he
had placed his entire self-worth upon the opinion of just one person. That’s too much responsibility to give to
anyone, and too many things can go wrong too easily.
Finally, I’ll repeat here the thought I shared in the
minutes after my encounter with this man: Be proud of who you are. Be
respectful of who you're not. A man like this shouldn't want to die simply
because you can't accept the way he lives his life.
Now get out there and do some good.