Almost every Thursday morning, I fish at a pier which is about 600 yards out into the ocean. It’s a beautiful place. Surfers to the left and right, a pristine coastline, picturesque rolling sea and waves. Early in the morning the pier is busy with avid fishermen and fisherwomen. It’s also a place where many homeless men and women will frequent. The atmosphere is friendly and courteous. People say good morning and tourists will ask about the fishing. It’s a good place to start the day and the café in the middle of the pier makes a great egg burrito for breakfast.
One Thursday, not too long ago, I was just coming on to the pier and standing at the stairs that leads to the beach. I was chatting with a couple of the “regulars” when a young lady began to come onto the pier. She was dressed more formally than most of us and she seemed a little out of place. As she passed I greeted her. “Good morning. How is your day going so far?”
She stopped and looked at me for a moment, and then she gave me the strangest and most unexpected answer. “I came here to walk to the end of the pier, but I’m not coming back.”
I sensed my fishing that day would never commence. I introduced myself and told her I was a counseling psychologist. She gave me her name, Jennifer, and I said, “Jennifer, I think I know why you are here. But would you come and have a cup of coffee before you go to the end of the pier? There’s café half way out.”
She agreed to go with me and we began the slow walk on the pier. I found out that she was new to the area and had driven here from a small town in Nevada. I told her I would give her as much time as necessary to tell me her story.
I said, “But, Jennifer, you will not be jumping or killing yourself today. What brought you here?”
She said, “I came here because I was promised a job, but they told me I wasn’t qualified. Then the girls I knew out here who said I could stay with them and share the expense of the apartment broke their promise and they had given someone else the space. I had no place to live, no one I knew and no job opportunities. I couldn’t even afford to go back to Nevada. I just wanted to die and that’s when I came to the pier.”
“Jennifer, today is not your day. Not only have you experienced failure getting the job and a place to live but now you are going to fail in killing yourself. I won’t let you cause the hurt and suffering others will have as they watch you kill yourself.”
“Do you think the people around here would care?
“I care. And so would anyone who had to witness your death. Can you understand that? Do you want to be responsible for their pain? Jennifer, there’s another way. C’mon, coffee’s cold, let’s walk to the end of the pier.”
We walked and stopped to look at the beautiful shoreline behind us. I asked about her family and what it would be like for them to be told she had killed herself. She began to realize how many people would be hurt by her decision, and grieve deeply if she was gone.
“Jennifer, if you could talk to your heart, what would you say?”
She burst into tears, sobs actually, as she wept for a long period of time on my shoulder. We walked back together to the entrance of the pier. I gave her the places she could go to get support to return home and gas money. She promised me she would stay in touch and she also signed a safe contract with me. She assured me she would honor it.
As she walked away, she turned and looked at me for the longest time and then she put her hand on her heart and mouthed in such a way I could understand: “I am talking to my heart. Thank you.”
In the six months I have been fishing at the pier, she would be the fourth person I have assisted in preventing from committing suicide from the pier I hold so dear to my heart.
By Dr. William Stephenson
Photo credit goes to: Simon Mayeski