It’s a rare occasion that I address a student who is not mine, and yet, today, I find myself doing so. I don’t know who you are or what classes you are taking this semester. I don’t know if you go to school part-time or full-time or if you have a job, a family, a car, or a house. I don’t know if you have a cat or a dog or what color your eyes are or whether or not you drink coffee in the morning. I don’t know what your fears and concerns are, what sorts of responsibilities you have, or what you were thinking about two days ago just before noon. All I know is that when I was walking out of the building and stepping my way across the pedestrian walkway, I glanced up and saw you. You and your gray hoodie and ponytail. You with your legs straddling the barrier on the fourth floor of the parking garage.
I stopped in my tracks and moved to the side of the walkway to get a better look. I couldn’t possibly be seeing a young woman perched and ready to jump, could I? My eyes took in the scene: the caution tape that police had used to cordon off a certain area on the street below; the security officer who stood at the stairway up to the fourth floor of the garage; the gaggle of people who, like myself, stood transfixed within the confines of the walkway.
You swung your leg back and forth, like a slow metronome, and I hoped that in your head, you were not keeping time. I could see that someone—presumably from the police department—stood near to you, but not too near, as if you had just said, “Come any closer and I’ll jump.” I wasn’t close enough to see the pain in your eyes, but my guess is, I would have seen plenty of it.
Tears pricked against my eyelids and my heart rate sped up as I shook my head, slowly. Students milled around me, all of them mirroring the same look of worry I felt inside. “It’s not worth it!” one woman whispered. A 40-something guy placed his hand to his heart. None of us could do anything but stand there and hope that you wouldn’t do what it looked like you were planning to do. I felt powerless and helpless, as I’m sure everyone else did. Those are two feelings that I don’t experience often, but maybe you do, and maybe that’s why you were up there.
Because I could do nothing except to utter a quick prayer and hope for the best, I walked to my car and drove home. But in the 15 minutes it took for me to get to my house, I had plenty of time to think. About you. About my own students. About the fact that you could have easily been one of my students. About all the information I’ve been privy to over the last 13 years.
Since March 2004, I have had countless students who look just like you come to me for advice, for a listening ear, or for venting. Sometimes they tell me stories about their parents, their children, or their spouses. I’ve heard anecdotes about weight loss struggles and discrimination by an employer, fathers with prostatitis and relatives who have cancer. I’ve even listened to students who suffer from eating disorders, depression, and schizophrenia, and I’ve lent emotional support to a woman whose child had been sexually molested by a trusted adult. In those times, the only thing I could offer to each person was my time and a list of possible resources. But even as insignificant as those offerings were, they were something.
All that thinking made me wonder if you’d tried to reach out to someone, and if you did, did they listen? I’ll never know, but I sure hope the man on the fourth floor of the garage was listening. I hope that the person speaking with you had experience and training and knew what to say to you. I hope that because the man talking to you had empathy, you felt understood by him. I hope that you felt that he listened to you and really heard your story. I hope you realized that he was there to help you, that you didn’t need to go through with the jump, and that you had family and friends and an entire school community who were ready and willing to support you.
Most of all, I hope that he convinced you to walk away from that ledge so that you, Dear Student, can be a student for another day.