Above is the Sunshine Skyway, spanning 21, 877 feet and rising 430 feet in the air, connecting St Petersburg, FL with Pinellas county. It is both majestic and frightening with its thin lines and elegant style.
Today I drive this bridge almost daily on my way to and from the office. With sun shining and no traffic it stands as a highlight along the route. Though gorgeous in sunshine, when windy or raining it can be harrowing. Years ago I can recall crossing as we raced home before on oncoming storm. The moment sticks with me as any drive though a blizzard in years past.
While the sleek lines or visually appealing for the photographer in each of us, they also bring tight shoulders and cramped spaces. Not only is there no shoulder on the bridge, but there is no sidewalk, no place of refuge. In fact, this last spring was the first time since the 1987 the bridge was opened to foot traffic, a 10k run for charity. Otherwise, no pedestrians or bicycles are allowed on the bridge and stopping for any non-emergency reason is forbidden.
Thus, when a car is left empty at the top of the skyway in otherwise working condition it leads to a single depressing conclusion by us passing motorists. Suicide attempts from the bridge are high, with over 207 suicides recorded between 1987 and 2009. 34 additional attempts were made, but these individuals survived. While 24 hr monitoring and and crisis hotline is available, it does not seem to deter so many.
Throughout the year as I pass over the bridge typically on my way home, but sometimes in the early morning light, I will find an abandoned car often accompanied by an emergency vehicle. In those moments, as you watch heads peer over the edge and shake, your heart sinks. Last night was one of those times, and last week there was another.
I did not notice it the first year I made the daily crossing, but then I started seeing them. The cars, sitting solemnly to the side of the road as if waiting for their owners to return. Once I started seeing them you start taking notice. And it seems that at this time of year it happens more frequently.
I cannot pretend to understand. Each of us have our own demons and our own problems. Debt, drugs, or loss of a loved one. While I can sit here and say “there is always a way back”, for some they just don’t see it. Yet, it is not only for them my heart sinks. It is for the friends and family they leave behind.
It is almost ironic that at this time of year. At time which is often pronounced the be the “most wonderful time of the year”, is often that time filled with the most depression and despair. We put on so many masks hiding the pain, bottling it up and hoping for a better outcome in the new year. We smile for the cameras and sing christmas carols with coworkers and avoid looking past the ugly sweaters to see the person hiding underneath.
I know over the next few weeks I will cross paths with several more cars no longer with drivers. With each one there is a story. A story now lost to the waves below. A story of friends and family that did not see the suffering, or did not understand the depth of the pain. A story of inner turmoil.
I know I don’t understand. Yet, I do know that telling your story, even just to the empty pages of a small notebook, can help put them in context. Telling them to someone who can understand will help. This season, please tell us your story.