She Was About to
Jump to Her Death
Right in Front of Me
Condensed from the original account.
This happened about 10 years ago, although I have a very poor memory when it comes to time.
Even so, what I said and what she said that December night are forever burned in my memory. Maybe that's because I've gone over it all a million times in my mind.
It was late at night and I was trying to find my way back to my motel after presenting a paper at a conference.
I ended up getting turned around and hopelessly lost.
I'm sure there had to be a law in Texas at the time forbidding road signs. Even if you have a map -- one came with my rented car -- it does little good if you don't know what road you're on to start with.
After driving around totally lost on back roads for some time, I headed toward what looked like the lights of the city, I ended up on a narrow road with an old iron bridge.
As I started to cross the bridge, I saw a young woman in the middle standing outside the guardrail looking down.
The road was deserted, there weren't cell phones in those days, and it seemed like it was totally up to me to do something.
I got this strange thought, which actually put more pressure on me: Maybe this is why I ended up here.
She glanced over at my car's headlights as I approached. I immediately turned them off, pulled to a stop, and searched around for the car's emergency flashers, which I never found.
She looked down at the rushing water some 40 or more feet below and sort of shifted her feet, as if to pick the right moment to jump.
Leaving the car in the middle of the bridge, I got out and slowly approached her.
The only thing I could think of saying was, "There are better ways of doing that. That water has to be damn cold."
She didn't say anything, but took one hand off of the guard rail and sort of leaned forward.
By then my heart was pounding. I knew if she jumped, what I did and didn't do at that moment would haunt me for the rest of my life.
I came up with a lame comment. "I understand your feelings. I've only been in Texas two days and I'm already thinking of killing myself."
She kept looking down. I thought, I'm making light of this. If she jumps, maybe it will be because I'm saying dumb things like that.
I slowly approached her, moving around behind her so she couldn't see me.
I've often thought that probably wasn't a good idea. If she heard me moving up on her, that alone might cause her to jump.
When I was eight feet from her I stopped and tried to desperately gather my thoughts.
By then I was shaking, more from fear and helplessness than from the cold.
She had a scarf around her head. Her hair was long, tied, and it trailed down the back of her coat.
If I could grab her hair, maybe I could hold her. But then I would have to somehow pull her back over the rail, and weighing only about 185 pounds, I didn't think I could do it -- especially if she was determined to jump.
Finally I came up with another brilliant line. "I'm totally lost. How do I get back to the city?"
My efforts at an intelligent psychological intervention seemed to be getting worse.
She spoke for the first time. "Just leave me alone!"
I said, "I could stand a hot cup of coffee. Is there a coffee shop around here?"
"That's all you can think about?"
"Well, help me out here. What should we talk about?"
"This is none of your business; just leave me alone."
"This wind is really cold. Aren't you cold?"
She still wouldn't look at me, but she asked, "Damn you! What kind of person are you, thinking only of yourself and a cup of coffee?"
"Well, I did stop, and right now I am freezing my ass off out here because I do care.
"And I thought maybe you could stand a cup of hot coffee and maybe someone to talk to."
I'm not a religious person, but I was fervently asking God right then what I could do to stop this. As usual, it appeared that I got no answer.
I was desperate and trembling. "Look, this is not a good way to go. If you come with me, I'll get you some sleeping pills and you can go out without anything like the pain you are going to have by jumping into that water. And maybe you'll just be badly injured on the rocks and not be found for days."
It took a few moments, but she turned her face toward me. Although it was dark, it seemed as if her face was badly swollen.
"How did that...did your husband do that?"
Right then that's the only thing that seemed to make sense.
"It's none of your business."
"So why don't you just leave him?"
"He'd find me; he's done it before, and after he did I'd look worse than this."
At least she was talking.
I continued, "I live in California and I could take you there and you could start over. I'd be glad to help you get started in a new life; a new name; everything. He would never find you."
She was finally looking at me. I continued with a glimmer of hope. "I'm a computer expert; it would be easy." I was a total lie, but with God not around, what did it matter?
"With a new name and everything, he would never find you. And anyway, women take pills, they don't jump from places."
"You can get pills?"
"Sure, you can stay in my room after I leave. It's warm there, and it would be better than this."
"You would call the police, and then he would come and get me."
"I wouldn't, I promise, and we could leave for California tomorrow morning. I'll pay for your ticket and see that you get a new start."
"Are you married?"
"Great! And I'm sure your wife would let you do that."
"Yes, she helps people; that's what she does. (Again, stretching the truth quite a bit.) I'll let you talk to her on the phone. And she could take you shopping and sightseeing. You would really like it...a fresh, new start."
"You are only staying this stuff right now."
It took a while, but she turned completely around and looked at me. "Just get me a lot of sleeping pills."
"Okay, I will, I promise. Just get in the car; it'll be warm there."
"I don't even know you. How do I know you won't rape and kill me?" Given the circumstances, I decided not to comment on the absurdity of that worry.
"I won't hurt you, I promise. You can trust me."
She hesitated for a long time while I kept repeating stuff I had said.
When it looked like she was rethinking things, I reached out my hand and she took it, but immediately pulled away. "I can still jump, you know."
"Yes, but I think we have a bit of an understanding here, so I don't think you will."
I put my arm around her waist and pulled her back from the railing. She didn't resist.
But then immediately she said, "Let go of me."
I walked behind her to the car. Maybe I'm not an athlete, but I can run pretty fast, and I figured I could catch her if she bolted. At least she was now on my side of the railing.
She knew the way back to town and the motel. Providing instructions seemed to make her feel important.
When we were in the lobby, I said, "How about that coffee?"
She put her hand to her face. "I don't want anyone to see me. You promised you would get me the pills. So get them."
"I will. I'll just take you up to the room and you can take a hot shower while I go out and get them."
"How do I know you won't call anyone? Everyone knows my husband."
"I won't call anyone, I promise." I opened the door to my motel room and let her go inside.
Right then I was nervous about being in the same room with this woman. As far as I knew she could be a complete nut case.
Before I left I wanted to reassure her that I wouldn't betray her -- that I would follow though on my promises. "Do you know any drug store that's open at this time of the night?"
"Yeah one." She told me how to get there. As I started to leave I found myself worried about leaving her alone.
Was I a total fool? At this point I would be implicated in whatever happened to her. I ask her, "Do you want to come along?"
"I'll take a shower." (I hoped the idea of a shower was a good omen. Does one clean up before committing suicide?)
The drug store was still open but the pharmacy wasn't. As I stood there wondering how I was going to handle this I got an idea.
I searched through a nearby garbage can and pulled out an empty plastic prescription container that someone had tossed when they got a new bottle. The clerk just shook his head and tried to ignore what I was doing.
I found the counter with sleeping aids, grabbed a box and paid for them.
After getting in the car I poured the sleep aid pills into the bottle and hurried back to my motel room, all the time fearing what I might find.
She lying on the bed. At first
I thought maybe she was dead, but as I approached, she jumped up. Her
eye was swollen shut and her face looked worse than I remembered.
"You get them?" I handed the bottle to her. She examined it. "You're Jeffery Withers?" (I don't remember the name at this point, but that will have to do.)
By now one of her eyes was completely swollen shut and her face must have hurt like hell. "You need some ice on that." (I never could remember if you put something hot or cold on this kind of thing. I decided on cold.)
I got some ice and wrapped it in a towel and handed it to her.
She grabbed the pills, jumped up and headed for the bathroom. "I got to go to the bathroom." (She had been there alone for almost an hour and now suddenly she needed to go to the bathroom?)
She stopped and turned around. "Your wife would never stand for me to go back with you -- especially if she knew we stayed overnight in a motel room."
I hadn't thought that far ahead. "What if she said it was okay?" I reached for the phone and got through to my home. By then it was almost 2 a.m. in California.
When my wife answered, I said, "This is a situation where you will have to put the welfare of someone else first. I'm going to put a woman on the phone -- a victim of severe domestic abuse -- and all you have to do is talk to her. I invited her to California."
Once I said it out loud I realized how absurd the idea was.
To say that I was resting everything on the sleepy judgment of my wife at that moment would be an understatement. I handed the phone to the woman whose name I didn't even know. "This is my wife; her name is Jenny."
She reluctantly took the phone and just held it. "So what am I supposed to say?"
"Start by telling her your name. You know hers."
She thought about it for a bit. "I'm Sandy and I'm in this motel room with your husband. So tell me what you think of that."
Sandy clearly wasn't going to make this easy.
My knowledge of my wife had never been tested in a situation like this. She told me later about the conversation.
"Hi Sandy, I take it you have this big problem."
"You could say that. Your husband stopped me from jumping off of a bridge, but he got me sleeping pills, and so I guess that's better; and he's going to leave tomorrow morning and then I'll finish what I started."
My wife, now apparently fully awake, said, "Sandy, have you ever been to California and a really big shopping mall, maybe the biggest one in the world?
"They have every kind of woman's clothes you can think of. Some really beautiful stuff. I go there all the time. There are lot of stores that I would love for you to see."
My wife said later, "She didn't seem the likable type, and this all seemed so unreal, especially in your life, so I figured it had to be true."
Before I got Sandy on the plane there were a number of worrisome moments, but talking about all of them would make this too long.
I'll mention only one. She got up in the night, went into the bathroom. She must have been in there an hour. Several times I came close to dialing 911. But if she was just thinking or crying, that would destroy any confidence she had developed in me.
Plus, I was hoping that the sleeping pills I had put in the bottle weren't that strong. (I later found out that taken in excessive quantity, they could be strong enough.)
Finally, she came out, put the pill bottle on the night table beside her, and got into bed.
Next, I was awakened by her crying. I let her cry for a long time; I figured she needed to.
Finally, I got next to her and put my arm over her. "We have a long trip tomorrow. You need to get some sleep."
"Who says I'm going with you?"
"Jenny is getting the guest bedroom ready and making plans to take you shopping."
Sandy said, "And when she finds out we slept in the same bed, I'll be abandoned in a place I've never been before."
I said, "Just a minute." I turned on the light and got my billfold and took out several hundred dollars -- all the extra cash I had. I handed it to her. "Here, it's yours. Once you're there, you can leave any time you want."
She considered it and took the money and put it under the pill bottle on her side of the bed.
Early the next morning, we had breakfast in the motel coffee shop. Sandy sat so that the side of her badly bruised face was toward the wall.
I said, "We'll get you some make-up, or some big sunglasses, or maybe you should see a doctor."
Rather adamantly she said, "No, it'll get better in a few days; it always does."
I relaxed a bit; at least she was now thinking of being around for a while.
At a premium price, I got a last-minute ticket for her to California. After getting her some heavy make-up, sun glasses, and a purse, we boarded. (Up to getting the purse she had kept switching the pill bottle and money between hands.)
Sandy remained in a deep funk during the trip, saying at one point, " I guess by now he and his police friends are looking for me."
Was this kidnapping? Now I had something else to worry about.
My wife, Jenny, greeted us at the door and did a double-take at Sandy's face.
As kind of a further test, and maybe to prove her point, Sandy immediately said, "We slept in the same bed."
Jenny said, "I hope his snoring didn't keep you awake."
Sandy stopped in her tracks. She obviously wasn't expecting that reaction. "You don't care?"
"What matters right now is you."
She stared at my wife. "Is this what women are like in California?"
I looked at my wife with massive relief, "Only the very special ones."