Bridge

by Lynda Houston

I kept the parking garage ticket from the hospital where his body was taken.

I kept the store ads we had stuffed into our shopping bags on our last trip together to the mall.

I kept the Christmas ornament we had purchased together on a weekend getaway where, after being divorced for two years, my ex-husband and I struggled yet again to somehow connect.

It's an odd assortment of tangible memories. It's what his suicide left behind. 

There was that moment on the day before Thanksgiving, when the air thickened and sound stopped, save for the unfamiliar voice in my phone telling me that my ex-husband Tom had ended his life by jumping from a bridge.

It was a violent ending for a gentle man.

My complicated relationship with Tom began almost from the moment I met him nearly 30 years ago. As I look back, I realize that I never really knew him. 

I now believe there was more than one person hidden inside his lanky form.

A talented and respected sports journalist, Tom was quiet yet exceedingly witty, kind yet aloof. I swear he had a photographic memory. He was tall and athletic and I was smitten with his crystal blue/green eyes. I was proud to be at his side.

We married, and built our family. But all the while the signs of detachment were there: his reluctance to socialize with anyone but his immediate family or small circle of work friends; his near complete absorption in his job. It seemed as though he always had one foot in two worlds and could never fully be himself in either one.

The years went by, and our lives - seemingly merged so happily on our wedding day - migrated to a parallel existence.

Our scant social life faded, and I wrote it off as being sidetracked with raising three children. He remained indifferent and content with his work, while I remained distracted.

Holidays, vacations, birthdays became a succession of compartmentalized life events, perfectly curated in videos and photographs.

But I understand now that behind the scenes, we operated for far too long without those sweet components needed to feed and strengthen a relationship: Heart-to-heart talks. Making life plans together. Tears. Touching. Inside jokes. Reckless passion. Simply exposing our souls to each other, if only just briefly.

Tom's death has made it painfully clear that revealing our truest selves to one another - including our flaws and quirks; mistakes and regrets, fear and shame - is what keeps us alive.

And from that we receive life's gifts: Connection. Joy. Comfort. Safety. Trust. Love.

I wish I could have understood the reasons behind Tom's continued distance and hidden despair. I wish I could have possessed the proper emotional tools to help bridge that vast chasm between us, rather than find myself running away time and again, from the vacant sadness and crushing emptiness I felt when we were together.

I wish I could have gotten to meet that unfamiliar man so colorfully described in his obituary.

Today, my three children and I grieve and move forward, choosing to hold close those qualities that made Tom the exceptional father that he was. 

But more importantly, we will set to the challenging work of becoming genuinely connected human beings.  

If we can accomplish that with those we love, I believe we'll be OK. 

"Only connect." - E.M. Forster

Photo: Honeymoon, Grand Canyon, October, 1988.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

For survivors: Find a support group: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention