The Jumper

JULIA LAXER

“I want to bury / my heart / like the dead / except in / you.”

-S.L.

In the past week, I've met one woman and one man. Jumpers in the city of Portland, our city of twelve bridges. The woman was pulled-off, and didn't "make it." She "messed-up," she tells me in the uneasy night of Couch Park’s shadows...

She is trying get treatment and keeps being denied a bed at the local hospitals. There are never enough beds. She still has her hospital bracelet on, her right wrist bandaged...

And the man? I met him… on Tinder. In our first phone conversation, he told me how he made it. He made the jump. Without shame in his voice, he says he knew he'd live even before he jumped. I ask him how he knew. He says he "had his shoes on," but I think it was more than laces-ties, way more than just luck. He says he spent the night in the drunk tank after the search party found him.

He has the face of a young man with a square, confident jaw. He is long and elusive and has a way about him. I cannot stop thinking about him.

He is sweet, too, in his eyes, and he looks about twenty-four if you gaze at him right, even though he’s verging on forty. His chin grows no hair. He is the eternal boy. He’s lived through Grunge, but you can’t tell by looking at him. All his stories are romances or tragedies.

As we ferociously kiss in his filthy apartment, I can’t conceive of his body, falling. This man, wanting to die.

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 And then, just days after meeting the man I call The Jumper, he and I meet a woman— another jumper; a woman who attempted— at Couch Park. Two Jumpers in the darkness. 

During my first conversation with The Jumper said he'd show me the exact spot where he jumped. I needed to see— I couldn't imagine ankles standing on the cement barrier above the wire trappings of the bridge’s suspension; all the negative space.

Listening to his words across the telephone line, “I’m not crazy… I’ll show you…” I imagine the bridge and the alluring cool water. I imagine him taking me to the bridge to show me, like he promised...

 ...He drives, and parks by the bridge. We get out, walk to the edge— The water— I am transfixed by the water, too, and then look back to him— climbing, then standing tall, silhouetted against the great sun, and I’m confused. Solar glints in my eyes like tunnels of heat, and I’m dazed. He stands tall above me on the bridge— and jumps.

...Yet, there’s no descent, and my gaze is brought upwards. Wings. Floating.

And he is gone. No splash. Not even a sound. Like I never even knew him, maybe…

 Down the road behind me is his busted-up Mercedes from 1979, the car he says “is the best car ever.” Beige and beautiful. Leather-dirty. Like him. Mother. Fucker. Cracked windshield. Irreverent, free. The windshield reflects the sky’s insouciant clouds, sherbet sunsets. Industrial bridges, the chaos of buildings, cranes. The broken skyline. My reflection...

Falling in love in Portland? It's never easy. Having a heart is never easy to claim— especially having a heart broken. Being left. Behind. And falling for someone who is already broken, so broken. Broken-mirror they’re gazing in, and they can’t see their square jaw or their determined nose, or even their eyes?

The Jumper’s wife left him for another man. Took his son. And left. A week later, he was on the bridge. The bridge found him; reckless. Reckless.

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I can’t imagine this woman who left him, because all I know is that she’s gone. The gone woman; the goner.

I imagine this bridge, his bridge, but I cannot find the crack: the space at the part of the sentence where he gets up there and jumps, because I cannot even imagine him falling. And, all these bridges are temptations: end it. Fall to the sea. Drown in the river.

The Jumper thinks he’s a failure at everything, “Career, marriage, health… The only thing I haven’t gotten wrong yet is fatherhood.” But, was he thinking of his son when he was driving down that road, as he saw the bridge, veering-in on the horizon? As he parked the car and walked to the edge? Climbing and standing— then jumping?

Where was his son, then?

I realize he is a father. Gone mom; gone son. I imagine what it means, being a Daddy… Having a son. Being a Daddy… I try to be even sweeter now. I’ve had loss too. I once almost was a Mommy too, gone past. Gone. Gone. Years ago, but I still carry that softness in my belly. That Mommy reminder, of gone.

The Jumper kisses like a man consuming his last meal. In every moment with him I feel alive, devoured. Needed.

He is floating. Falling. Jumping.

And, I don’t even know which bridge he jumped from.

How do I find this ending? He said he would show me, but he didn’t.

He says, “Ask me. Ask me anything.” So I ask him hardly anything at all.

I love his books and Ikea couch. His apartment smells dingy, but I don’t care. Toys on the ground, I push out of the way as I kick off my shoes. Only happy people clean, organize, care. Wine spills on the carpet as we talk, we hang out, we mess around. He is hard and throbbing, and I am wet but only want to fuck his mind. It is all a big tease.

 

He says, sucking on a cigarette, “I’ve done bad things.”

 

I ask if he’s ever killed anyone and he laughs and says, “Maybe? I don’t know... Maybe? I don’t think so… Maybe one of those times I drove really fast and cut in-and-out of traffic, maybe somebody behind me got in an accident, maybe got killed. I don’t know. Maybe? I don’t think so… But, you never really know. What you do, you never know how you affect someone.”

 

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Couch Park is beautiful in the dark, nighttime lights, lit-up; we are spot-lit. I just met you. The Jumper. You're The Jumper, and I want to jump, but… 

But, I'm not ready and you're not ready, so I say to you, “Let’s not talk to anyone. Anyone. It's been a weird week for me, and everyone always wants to talk to me here. Let's just talk to no one.”

We sit on the steps under the elm and no one is around really except for one soul on the other side of the park. We laugh, we kiss, make-out— because that's what we do these days.

...Even though it's only been a few days.

Since we met, I feel like I know you.

Needle Park. In the dark. Nighttime. Night thoughts. We are spot-lit.

Luscious.

Balmy air.

And, a woman walks up listless–listless, 40 ounce rolling against her as she sits down on the steps beside us. “I need help,” she says. “I don't feel safe.” She is wavering.

“What can we do?” The Jumper asks.

“I tried to jump,” she says. “I tried to jump. But, they pulled me down...  But– The St. Johns Bridge, it’s the highest one, you know? They pulled me down... They pulled me down... They pulled me down.”

My hair stands on end, and The Jumper nods. I try to imagine her petite, swayed-neck as she craned-down on the rushing Willamette below, but I can’t. She is too tiny and broken already. Her ice-blue eyes stare back, glinting. Pupils, dilated.

I give The Jumper my phone and he calls a suicide hotline for her— he knows the number by heart. She speaks to them with a barely-there voice while the moon plays games with us.

She talks to a faraway voice who sends for someone else; always someone else to “fix” “the problem,” and right then I want to give him everything.

Even though I know it’s cracked.

Yet, after we leave, there is no doubt.

“They pulled me down, they pulled me down.”

She needed us to listen, under elm leaves... Our fallen bodies.

The Jumper’s eyes fix-in on mine. The night’s dark sky weighs above us.

 Silent pavement. Breeze, breeze, breeze. Swing through the trees that hang low, willow.

Crazy-alive. We are all crazy-connected-alive. Shadow static: all of us. And, our city is burning...

...Thinking of all this reminds me of summers in Georgia, and how erratic we'd all be as the heat heated-up, and we were just sweat and bones and bodies.

 Hot pavement, magnolia rotting-sweet stench, gasoline sweat, humidity-brain. Brimstone. Cocaine. Traffic. Shootings on the freeway. Crackheads dancing in-and-out of lanes on every Peachtree street, the name of all streets in Atlanta; Peachtree-Peachtree, the city of Dirty-Dirty. Crazy-Crazy.

I was landlocked in Georgia— gridlocked in Georgia. The city wore me thin with its obsession with status and capital. Hustlers. Everyone cruising for a ticket-out, a ticket-up— a wet taste of salvation. 

Atlanta was gridlocked, stuck like my soul. Gridlocked and landlocked. Humid and hot, and yet my heart was dry.

No holy waters...

And, in Portland? Our city of bridges? There is a lot of crazy, intense energy out here. People— not just Trimet buses and restaurant ACs— are breaking down. People. Breaking down. Breaking down.

I broke down for three consecutive summers in Georgia.

That line about the devil? Coming down to Georgia? ...Well, I almost wrote it. At least, I know the handwriting.

...Oh, Portland. The Devil descends upon our city in heatwaves, depleting us beyond where we can take it...

And that water? Down there? The Willamette’s fluid-smooth, gently-rocking, glistening, cool-cool water? That water down there?

 I know it looks beautiful. From up here, it truly is seductive.

It is.

But, just don't jump right in. No swan-dives, cannonballs. Keep your shoes on. Feel the distance; penance between you and the tide.

Waves. Beneath waves... It's not a welcome shock that you seek.

"He's lucky," she said. "He's really lucky. When you jump, every single bone breaks. You are crushed… Every single bone… He is really, really lucky."

I see The Jumper, in the electric light of Couch Park, past midnight, dancing with pale green fronds ripped from the Hazelnut tree. He is high, and alive. Doesn't even know he is dancing with green wings.

I look back at her. Her boozy body leaned, the half-drank 40, her listless-listless.

"I know. You're right. That's what I tell him, but he doesn't listen."

She is checked-out, and he is dancing. An angel. Proving it to me.

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Julia Laxer lives for the stories and writes in the afternoons from a messy desk in a rose-lit room in Portland, Oregon. She uses performance art and spiritual practice to explore archetype and ritual and writes poems, essays, erotica, and memoir. Julia won the Orlando Prize in Nonfiction from A Room of Her Own (AROHO) in 2014, and her work is featured in magazines, journals, and anthologies including Luna Luna Magazine, The Los Angeles Review, So-to-Speak, and Zócalo Public Square. In spring of 2018 she premiered “The Girl Who Stole Spring,” a modern retelling of the myth of Persephone. She is currently writing a memoir and a full-length volume of poems.

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