This is one in a series of posts I’m calling “Snapshots of my Depression.” These are memories of times in my life when my mental illness manifested itself in one way or another.
In the early part of the 20th century, there was a trolley that ran from Hazleton to Wilkes-Barre. When I grew up in the Butler Valley, just north of Hazleton, portions of the trolley bed were still there. We used to walk our dog on one section of it, and other sections formed excellent paths in the woods that we played in. There was also still a trestle bridge there, a bridge that once took the trolley over Long Run, a tributary of the Nescopeck Creek. That was a fun spot. We called it “the Falls,” because Long Run had a very small waterfall just before going under the bridge. This waterfall emptied into a deep pool just below the bridge. I have memories from childhood that this pool was ten feet deep. Jumping off that bridge was always great fun. After I told my parents how much fun it was, I was not allowed to play there anymore: undercurrents, the chance of hitting my head on a beam of the trestle, that sort of thing. Of course, that didn’t always stop me.
But this entry isn’t about the dumb things I did as a child. It’s about something I did as an adolescent. I was sixteen years old. It had been years since I’d played in the Falls. I remembered it as a dangerous spot, a place my mother forbade me from going. I wondered. I wondered how dangerous it really was. I wondered if it was dangerous enough. I figured it must be. It was ten feet deep, right? That should do. Undercurrents? It would only help.
One day after school, I walked down there with a plan. Walked through the woods I’d known so well my whole life. I knew what I was about to do. I knew why I had to do it. This was it. I was finally going to do the most selfless, helpful thing of my whole life. When I got to the Falls, I started looking for some rocks. Heavy ones. I carried them up to the trestle, and sat there looking down. I looked down at the water, about fifteen feet below me. It was chilly out, and I knew the water would be freezing. Again, that could only help, right? I unlaced my shoes, and tied the rocks to my feet with the laces. I left the shoes on. Why not? What difference would it make? This was it. I had to do this. It was for the betterment of the world.
No no no no no no no no no no!
In midair I changed my mind. I did NOT want to go through with this.
Luckily, my plan was not foolproof. I landed in the water, went under, and quickly found that I could stand. This “ten feet deep” pool was no more than three or four feet. And I found that I could wade to the shore even with these rocks on my feet. Not quite the cement shoes I expected. The current was there, but not strong enough to keep me from easily reaching the edge. I got out of the water, untied the rocks and threw them away. With my shoes still untied, I started to creep home. I was miserable. Cold, wet, and miserable. I couldn’t even kill myself right. I don’t know which upset me more: that my plan was so stupid, or that I gave up on going through with it even before hitting the water.
I made my way home dripping wet, jeans chafing my legs, unlaced shoes flopping on and off. I was able to sneak into the house without anyone noticing. I went upstairs and changed, and started to think about how I’d have to do it differently next time. As it turns out, next time wouldn’t be for a while.
I don’t have any memory of what the catalyst was for this, my first suicide attempt. But I know that I really thought I was doing the world a favor, fulfilling the plan of the Poem in my Wallet.