Don't read the following post if you have a sensitive nature. It talks about death and gets a bit graphic and most likely won't stay up here for very long. I have a shorter version of this that I will probably substitute in a few days.
Note added later: I'm leaving it up because your comments convinced me.
May 2007 was a beautiful day, warm (not hot), sunny, with a light breeze. A perfect day to spend outside barefoot, wearing short sleeves. Much warmer than today is - I've just come back from the bridge, having gone by myself because poor Larry has food poisoning. He's on the mend but was in no shape to go.
Larry is in Pascagoula, MS, on business.
The day starts like any other, with Henry getting up to make his breakfast and feeding the dogs and me going into the garage to exercise. As usual, we pass in the hallway and have a short conversation. He is in better spirits than he has been in the last 10 days. He has slept well, the weather is nice. As always, I ask him to drive carefully, and go on. He leaves for school with a big roar and I get ready for my day which includes a yoga class at 10:15 am. Sometime between breakfast and leaving for class, I start trying on all my black skirts to sort out some for the Salvation Army when the phone rings - Justin-Siena. Henry has left during first period English class and hasn't returned (it is now second period) and he is exchanging disturbing text messages with another student. I think the police have been called before me.
I call to cancel class and try to get a hold of Larry, who doesn't answer his cell phone. It takes me several tries before I finally get hold of one of his colleagues and explain and ask him to call Larry in Pascagoula. It also takes a while to get him to understand that it really is urgent.
Next I go to the school where I am sent to the vice principal's office. While I am on one side of the building, the student Henry is texting with is on the other side, but nobody ever suggests getting me involved in this and I have no idea if there was an adult supervising or not. I also have no idea how to text (to this day). I still have that conversation and it doesn't seem like there was any guidance whatsoever. Henry never lets on where he was going until the very end.
Eventually, I get the impression that I am in the way and leave to drive around town looking for Henry - without success, of course. Both Larry and I make numerous (dozens of) phone calls but never connect with Henry. I figure out months later that he picks up and hangs up on us every time. By the time I finally get through to leave a message, it is already too late.
I come home around 1 pm to a message on the machine from the police, call back and two female officers come to my house soon after. There are two phone calls from San Francisco General Hospital - first a doctor: Henry has been admitted in critical shape after jumping from the GGB, there is talk of brain damage (my first thought, “He’ll hate that.”), lung damage, bleeding into the lungs etc. Second call from SFGH, social worker, who gives me the address.
The police find a law enforcement chaplain to drive my friend and I (I called her sometime while all this was going on) since I am in no shape to drive and don't want her to drive, either.
Pack overnight bag at police’s suggestions.
Phil, the chaplain, arrives while I’m still packing and trying to make arrangements for dogs with neighbors. I think I am already in shock by then (and stay there for about 3 months).
We leave around 2 pm and drive through Marin not knowing that it would have been better to go down I-80. Have to stop at Infineon Raceway so I can go pee (I spend a lot of time in bathrooms that day). During all this time, I am in touch with Larry whenever he isn't on a plane and have contacted Kate and keep her updated, too.
We arrive at the hospital around 3 pm and are led to a private waiting area. We talk to the social worker and one young doctor (female?). They are still working on Henry, it's very critical.
Around 3:30 pm, a 2nd doctor, again young and female comes to talk to us: Henry didn’t make it.
We wait a bit more while Henry is cleaned up for viewing so I can say goodbye. Phil makes sure seeing Henry isn’t going to be too upsetting.
We are led into a suture room, Henry is covered except for his head. There is evidence of a head wound on the right side of his head, there are small cuts on his face. He still has a breathing tube in his mouth. One of the doctors had explained that there were other injuries, including bleeding into the lungs (which is usually fatal) and a bleeding spleen. He/she said that they had tried hard to stop the bleeding because that was the most dangerous injury, but it didn’t work.
Somewhere along the way I am told that Henry’s heart had stopped when he was pulled out of the water which meant brain damage, that he had been revived with paddles (?) and meds, but never regained consciousness and never breathed on his own. He looks peaceful (the funeral director explained later that that's what happens during surgery as a result of pain meds), his eyes are closed, there are small, tiny really, wounds on his face, blood in his hair and blood around his nose. To this day, I wish I could have made the camera on my phone work so I could have had a picture of him. He looked so much more like himself (and at peace) there than he did in his coffin later. I say goodbye and kiss him goodbye, we go back a second time because Phil asks to pray over him.
Before we leave, I receive an envelope with Henry's personal effects: wallet, phone and a small Altoids tin.
I remember talking to the head nurse who assures me he didn't suffer. He’d been given pain meds and had never regained consciousness.
On the way home, I open the envelope and find prescription pills in there (not ours). The police had talked about drugs and I had told them very vehemently that Henry didn’t do drugs. They gave me all kinds of tips on where and what to look for and I absolutely didn’t believe them.
My friend leaves eventually – after I load her and Phil up with artichokes. Phil stays a little longer and I show him Henry’s senior picture. He leaves eventually and I start cleaning house. There are a couple of phone calls - the school principal and Henry's best friend. Apparently, the local grapevine is working very well and in addition there are plenty of rumors going around town.
Larry arrived around 11 pm. And that is the end of a very long and really crappy day, the day our world fell apart, our lives changed forever or whatever other platitude you'd like to use.
It turns out that Henry left class, went to the library to print out a map and driving directions to the Golden Gate Bridge. It doesn't seem that anybody ever challenged him while on campus or stopped him from leaving. He texted throughout his drive and it seems to have taken him longer than expected to get where he was going. He left his car with keys in the ignition in the parking lot on the NW side of the bridge, took the walkway under the bridge to the Eastern side. He walked to lamppost 47, emptied him pockets of cell phone, wallet and a small Altoids tin, held on to the railing, bounced a couple of times with a smile on his face and climbed over the railing and let go. He entered the water 50 ft from a fishing boat, was pulled out of the water and escorted by a coast guard cutter to Fort Baker where paramedics from the Presidio were standing by to take him to San Francisco General Hospital.
The police had put out a BOLO early on in the whole process and had contacted Marin CHP. At 11:54 am Napa PD called the Golden Gate Communications Center and again at 12:06 with a description of Henry. By then, it was already too late. He had jumped at 11:38 am.
How do I know all this? There was a witness - a tourist from Louisiana - who called Emergency Services and then stood guard over Henry's possessions. He, along with the fisherman below, gave a statement to the police and I have read the report repeatedly.
What I also know is that Henry got the idea for bridge jumping from seeing a documentary (?) on TV in the last month of his life.
What I still do not know to this day is what or if anything happened at school that morning to set him off. I know he sat with the usual "gang of six" in English class and that he was asked to read which he declined. Nothing unusual there. I have been told that he talked to only one person that morning - the kid he texted with - but that person supposedly does not remember what was said that day. It's entirely possible that he had already made up his mind in advance (the improved mood that morning is an indication) but I'm not completely convinced. He left behind logged conversations on his computer, didn't delete a single text message and that, to me, says otherwise. Who knows? I've given up trying to get answers. If they are there to be found, they will find me eventually. If not, by now I can live with what I know.
This, by the way, will be the last time I write about this. It's something I had to do, but I'm done now, so, from now on, it'll be all cupcakes and butterflies or sweetness and light or whatever cliche you'd like.
2 days ago