An online friend recently committed suicide. I didn’t know him well, but was still sad; I can’t imagine how much pain a person must be in to make that choice. At the same time, I watched the reverberations go through friends I know personally; the distress it caused when they tried to find him, the pain when they knew they couldn’t save him. Suicide is a rock thrown into water–the ripples spread forever.
When I lived in Japan, I was going home one night in January with a coworker. I was at Makuhari-Hongo Station, waiting for my train, laughing about my day, when there was the sound like a baseball hit out of the park. The crack echoed down the platform and the brakes of the train shrieked. I saw a man roll down the platform like a tumbleweed and land at the edge, his head tucked under him. It was silent. I looked around at all the people there, realized they weren’t moving, and ran down the platform to see if he was dead.
I knelt to check his pulse, thinking he had to be dead; no one’s body should bend like that. His hand seized the collar of my jacket and he staggered upright, tilting forward, and I caught him. He stared at me, shivering, and as I stared back I saw blood running in rivulets down his face. I spoke to him in Japanese as best I could. “Lie down, you have to lie down.”
I walked backwards, his arms around me like a drowning man, and laid him on the platform, his head near my lap. My legs dangled over the edge in front of the train that hit him. I tried to see where the blood was coming from as it covered my hands, and realized it came from his ears, his nose, and his mouth, pulsing with his heart. “Who are you?” he asked, blood misting from his mouth.
“Kathryn,” I said. “What’s your name?”
I put my workbag under his feet and my coworker and I talked to him, asking him anything I could think of to keep him awake. I remember loosening his striped tie and trying to get him to lie still. He was a businessman, coming home from work. He liked baseball and coffee. He was in so much pain and why wouldn’t it stop?
I sat up and looked around, my hands bloody, and saw a large crowd standing around in silence, watching. A woman threw me a sweat towel. I pressed it on the head wound, and was struck with the sense of being terribly alone. I hollered at them in English, “Why won’t you help me? Why won’t anyone help us? Cowards!” And then yelled “Ambulance!” in Japanese, and saw someone run up the stairs. It wasn’t my finest moment, but I was so scared. they were too.
Eventually, a nurse came down to catch a train and came to help, showing me how to better treat the wound. I kept muttering to Mr. K that he’d be okay, we’d help him, we’d fix it. He nodded along, eyes rolling back.
Someone put a hand on my shoulder, and I saw an elderly man kneeling beside me. He smiled a little and nodded, patting me, and I think I smiled back. He never said a word.
A group of uniformed men came down the steps with a backboard. One of them pointed to Mr. K and told me they had to move the train. Mr. K was too close to the edge; if the train moved he’d be sucked under. I protested as well as I could, but he said we had to move him. So I, the nurse, my coworker and the elderly man picked Mr. K up and set him on the backboard. He screamed, “Stop! My arm!” and then just screamed. We pulled him to the center of the platform. He convulsed, and then was silent. The train pulled away, and the paramedics arrived and took him. I never saw him again.
I looked down. My coat was streaked with blood and my black pants were soaked from the knees down. The elderly man patted me and hobbled off to the train. My coworker had at some point called our bilingual boss to help, and with her help we talked to the station master and police. I washed off in the bathroom, got on my train, walked home. I don’t know how long it all took; time seemed slow and liquid. I left a message for my boyfriend to call me, and then tried to make dinner, stopping when I realized I chopped my hand along with my vegetables. I kept telling myself I was okay. I was alive and okay. But I wasn’t.
I tried to work the next day, but couldn’t remember my lessons, and the children kept asking if I was sick. The police called me often. I bought three lunches and left them in three different stations. The station master called me to tell me that I’d done a brave thing and to thank me for helping. My boss gave me the week off, and I spent most of it sitting on the beach, looking at Tokyo Bay. I didn’t sleep much, and I didn’t eat.
I went to a clinic for a blood test, explaining to the nurse in my broken Japanese what had happened, drawing stick figures in pools of blood. Japanese clinics consist of little rooms adjoining a long hallway separated by curtains. I heard the nurses giggling and saying that I must be a foreign whore who made up a story to get the AIDS test. The doctor, a stern man, came in and listened to my story. Then, suddenly, he said, “Makuhari-Hongo Station, six o’clock?” It turned out he’d been on duty at the hospital that night. Mr. K was still alive when he arrived, but his survival was very unlikely. The doctor gave me the test, and then went back and loudly lectured the nurses about who I was and what had happened.
Time moves on, and so did I. I didn’t remember most of it. I went back to work, and most days I was all right, but every time I went through that station, I had to close my eyes and fight off waves of nausea until the train moved on. A car backfiring made me relive the whole thing again. I dreamed about it and woke up feeling phantom blood on my arms.
I went back to the States and started teaching, but I suffered from depression and exhaustion until referred to a councilor. She suggested that all of that was signs of PTSD, and for the next two years, we talked through it, piecing memory back together. Soothing the guilt, rage, terror and sorrow.
These days, I can remember it all and talk about it without breaking down. I can remember his face. I can forgive the people who watched, knowing they were probably equally scared.
But I dream. Sometimes I see myself holding him, trying to stop the blood. I see him dying, see the way his heart pumped his blood all over me. Sometimes in the dream, I save him and he walks away. Sometimes, I shake him, screaming at him, How could you do this to me? All I wanted was to go home, make my dinner, play writing games with my friends back home. I didn’t even know you, and look what you’ve done! Sometimes I shake him so hard his head pops off and rolls off the platform. Sometimes I dream we both fall off the track into the path of the train, and I hear its brakes scream. And then I wake up, crying; I shouldn’t be angry at a man who was in such pain that he jumped in front of the express train. And I grieve for a man who I knew for all of ten minutes, but who left an indelible imprint on my mind.