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Collection II
Volume III, Unit 6
by Matthew Dexter

Four Seconds in Paradise

Four Seconds in Paradise  audio! (Volume III. Unit 6)
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Four Seconds in Paradise

Mom always drove us over the Golden Gate Bridge on Sundays. We’d sit in the grass by the banks and watch people jump. The mood was solemn but Mom was friendly, cordial"We'd sit in the grass by the banks and watch people jump. The mood was solemn but Mom was friendly, cordial as we waited, for men mostly, to perform quadruple somersault dives in pike position, with a twist." as we waited, for men mostly, to perform quadruple somersault dives in pike position with a twist. We had binoculars. Mom wrote down the time of impact.

Sometimes nobody would hit the water. Weeks would go by with no new suicides. Sometimes the cops would save jumpers at the final moment just as they lunged from the platform. Mom painted cosmic nets to catch the bodies with watercolors. Suicide portraits were her hobby—but I don’t want to digress"Suicide portraits were her hobby—but I don't want to digress—so staying on message: The plunge from the bridge is two-hundred and forty-five feet."—so staying on message:

The plunge from the bridge is two-hundred and forty-five feet. It lasts only four seconds, and the velocity is seventy-six miles per hour. The impact is vicious, similar to hitting concrete, and most who survive admit they regret leaving the platform of the bridge. Mind you that most die instantaneously upon impact, while others only endure the collision to suffer massive internal injuries, leading to slow and agonizing deaths beneath the surface.

Those who survive are filled with fury. Though they wish they hadn’t let go, much to their chagrin"Those who survive are filled with fury. Though they wish they hadn't let go, much to their chagrin, nobody can turn back the inertia of gravity.", nobody can turn back the inertia of gravity. Imagine the vexation of falling to your death unwillingly while my mother and I watch. Sometimes they never find the bodies.

Mom enjoys betting on how long it will take the poor guy or gal to work up the courage to jump. She always wants to bet the remainder of my fries against the remnants of her strawberry milkshake. I’m chary"[Mom] always wants to be the remainder of my fries against the remnants of her strawberry milkshake. I'm chary of taking these bets for two reasons: the potential backwash in the plastic cup, and the fact that Mom is the best gambler in San Francisco." of taking these bets for two reasons: the potential backwash in the plastic cup, and the fact that Mom is the best gambler in San Francisco. She once took a thousand dollars from Jay-Z in the back of an Italian restaurant where her boyfriend was the chef. They were playing poker, five cards, and Mom attacked him like she was a predator"They were playing poker, five cards, and Mom attacked him like she was a predator, like Hova was a mouse in the kitchen and Mom was a cobra.", like Hova was a mouse in the kitchen and Mom was a cobra.

You have to be real vigilant"You have to be real vigilant around Mom when she's painting suicides. Vigilance requires carefully watching while she paints, making sure she doesn't get too deep into that water under the bridge; keep her in the shallow end of despair." around Mom when she’s painting suicides. Vigilance requires carefully watching while she paints, making sure she doesn’t get too deep into that water under the bridge; keep her in the shallow end of despair. It’s the struggle of the artist that gives it its glimmer.

“I saw that kid jump off in 1979,” she says. “He swam to his car and drove to the hospital with broken ribs.”

I have to question the veracity" 'I saw that kid jump off in 1979,' she says. 'He swam to his car and drove to the hospital with broken ribs.' I have to question the veracity of this account because there were no other witnesses and Mom has a tendency to boast about jumpers." of this account because there were no other witnesses and Mom has a tendency to boast about jumpers.

The sky is getting pink this afternoon. Clouds hover majestic above the bridge, crimson horizon in the distance. The Pacific is alive. Boats serpentine"Boats serpentine in zigzag fashion against blue currents, back and forth, borne into the wind..." in zigzag fashion against blue currents, back and forth, borne into the wind, oblivious to the woman sitting on the edge of propinquity. It’s frigid. Lunatics with ice cold veins.

“She better die on impact,” Mom says. “Hypothermia is going to creep up her legs like a cockroach.”

“Hope the police get her in time,” I say.

“Not likely,” Mom smiles, painting furiously into the madness of her mind. “There’s three of them, so they’re going to do it fast. Loyalty pact. Don’t want to mess it up for the others. Everybody deserves the opportunity.”

She eats Skittles, munches on my fries, “an artist needs an edge,” she says. Her smile grows while we watch the splashes through the binoculars. She beats her arm against her kneecap and smokes cigarettes as the police approach the bridge, lights flashing, fantastic kaleidoscope against the Bay at sunset.

We try to keep the mood upbeat, blithe"We try to keep the mood upbeat, blithe, but sometimes it's hard to think about the families. Only two perfect survive.", but sometimes it’s hard to think about the families. Only two percent survive, if that. The only way to live is “feet first, at a minor angle,” Mom says.

“How does it feel?” I ask. “I want to save her.”

“You have lofty" 'You have lofty ambitions, missy,' Mom says. 'Too high, your expectations; it's in the angels' hands now, dear.' " ambitions, missy,” Mom says. “Too high, your expectations; it’s in the angels’ hands now, dear.” Her Yoda-like colloquialism" 'Too high, your expectations; it's in the angels' hands now, dear.' Her Yoda-like colloquialism in the face of such suffering and hopelessness is both wholly disrespectful and heart-wrenchingly appropriate." in the face of such suffering and hopelessness is both wholly disrespectful and heart-wrenchingly appropriate.

Dad was a cantankerous"Dad was a cantankerous man, always complaining, waiting for a new argument around every corner." man, always complaining, waiting for a new argument around every corner. We used to cringe when we heard the garage door open. He was always making captious"He was always making captious remarks, nitpicking, finding faults in little things instead of seeing the bigger picture." remarks, nitpicking, finding faults in little things instead of seeing the bigger picture. We watched one afternoon as he came into view through the binoculars last year. Dove like a swan. No idea we were watching.

Mom made a few conciliatory"Mom made a few conciliatory remarks about how at least he was gone. 'This should probably negate funeral expenses because the cops never made it in time.' " remarks about how at least he was gone.

“This should probably negate funeral expenses because the cops never made it in time.”


We watched one afternoon as he came into view through the binoculars.
Dove like a swan. No idea we were watching.

Illustration by Devon Doss

She was right: our adversary was gone, his body was never discovered. Currents raging that cloudy afternoon, he disappeared into the abyss; since then things have improved. Our once barren wasteland of a front yard has become verdant"Our once barren wasteland of a front yard has become verdant, lush with flowers and new grass.", lush with flowers and new grass. Mom has also become fertile. She’s expecting a baby from Lady Gaga’s bodyguard: an incidental"Mom has also become fertile. She's expecting a baby from Lady Gag's bodyguard: an incidental blessing from a fledgling romance born of a McDonald's parking lot." blessing from a fledgling romance born of a McDonald’s parking lot.

The second lady jumps and Mom tries to bring a little levity"The second lady jumps and Mom tries to bring a little levity to the most serious of situations by cracking jokes about her going on tour with Gaga." to the most serious of situations by cracking jokes about her going on tour with Gaga. Mom’s an enigma"Mom's an enigma: there's nothing like her and nobody will ever figure her out.": there’s nothing like her and nobody will ever figure her out. The puzzles of her mind are labyrinths in disguise. The brevity"The brevity of the fall is surreal—so short—yet those seconds breathless—watching helpless from the shore—seem to last a golden eternity, frozen in time." of the fall is surreal—so short—yet those seconds breathless—watching helpless from the shore—seem to last a golden eternity, frozen in time.

Mom sucks her milkshake from a straw and smiles.

There’s something odious"There's something odious in the air, and it's not the stench of death or the residual calories in a plastic bag. It's that loathsome sensation of an angel leaving the planet..." in the air, and it’s not the stench of death or the residual calories in a plastic bag. It’s that loathsome sensation of an angel leaving the planet, or a body of broken dreams being carried back to the well. Death is ubiquitous"It's that loathsome sensation of an angel leaving the planet, or a body of broken dreams being carried back to the well. Death is ubiquitous, unavoidable, pervasive...", unavoidable, pervasive, but watching through the clouds on Sunday after hitting the drive-thru is weird, sadistic yet addictive. Last month I wrote a missive"Last month I wrote a missive to the mayor and Obama about the bridge: how this is the world's suicide capital and we have watercolor images of the madness..." to the mayor and Obama about the bridge: how this is the world’s suicide capital and we have watercolor images of the madness—a sad alluring piece of American history.

These falling bodies will never get better, never convalesce"These falling bodies will never get better, never convalesce.". They’re lost in the ether between the wings of a butterfly. Who are the grateful dead, these people who travel great distances to jump from the Golden Gate Bridge: itinerant"Who are the grateful dead, these people who travel great distances to jump from the Golden Gate Bridge: itinerant suicidal maniacs, nomadic depressives moving from place to place till they arive at their final destination..." suicidal maniacs, nomadic"Who are the grateful dead, these people who travel great distances to jump from the Golden Gate Bridge: itinerant suicidal maniacs, nomadic depressives moving from place to place till they arrive at their final destination..." depressives moving from place to place till they arrive at their final destination, or men on a mission to die with a significant view of heaven? I’ll let you decide. I’m jumping on my birthday.