by Will Baker
It was a beautiful sunny day. There was hardly a cloud in the sky, and what clouds there were, were of the white puffy variety. Looking West from the apex of the bridge, some one hundred or so feet above the water, I could see the ruins of the revolutionary era stone fort on the Western shore of Lake Champlain at Crown Point. The crew of the Coast Guard cutter on that shore was preparing to leave. The Vermont State Police divers on the Eastern Shore were already gone. I was standing there wondering what the world had looked like to Mark before he jumped off the bridge yesterday afternoon.
Did he take a moment to notice the awesome view from his perch, or did he spend his last few moments focusing on his jump? I looked down and thought that there was just no way I could have made that leap into the deep blue water, way down there below my feet. It was early afternoon and I had been there since about seven in the morning. As part of my weekday morning ritual I was checking the answering machine for last night's messages and was stopped cold. "This is Gary, Mark is dead." I immediately called Mark's wife Lynn and found out that it was true. They had only been married for six weeks. She was devastated. She kept asking me what she was going to do now.
Well, I called my office and left a message telling them that I wouldn't be in that day. Then I explained to my wife what had happened. She was in shock. I skipped my morning shave, threw on some clothes and kissed her goodbye. Lynn was too grief stricken to go back to the accident site -- I think that she had stayed there the previous night until they called off the search. I stopped at the corner store to buy a pack of cigarettes then headed to the bridge. I was chain smoking all the way there. I hadn't smoked in a while so it made me dizzy.
The bridge is a beautiful arching structure. I suppose that it needs to be given its location. Vermont is a wonderful place and it just wouldn't be appropriate to mar the landscape with an ugly conduit. It's located in Addison County, Vermont's shire--a long time ago when the glaciers carved out this particular area of the country they created Lake Champlain and the Champlain Valley. Addison County's fertile farmland owes a lot to the glaciers. The site of this shore to shore link was well chosen. At Crown Point the lake narrows to only about a half mile wide. It seems to me that the old fort and the bridge were sited there because of the narrows. It was a good defensible position and a place to span the lake in the most economical way possible.
At the time of his leap Mark had just turned thirty. He was lean and muscular, stood about six-feet tall, and had piercing hazel eyes and a shock of unruly brown hair. His facial features reminded me of Michelangelo's David. Mark and Lynn were newlyweds. Although they had been married only six weeks, they had lived together for several years. They had a child together; a boy named Stephan Charles. But there were three children in their household: Stephan; plus two girls, eight and thirteen, from different fathers. Lynn was and still is a bit of a party girl, and Mark was a maniac.
Among other things I am a singer songwriter. A while back I released an album, World News (some lyrics can be found here). I met Mark when I was auditioning drummers. Simply put, when he was straight he was the best drummer in the State. Anyway, he tried out for the band and things clicked. I should also mention that he played keyboards and guitar. Although we only knew each other for a little over a year we became very close. I think it's because we were so much alike. The funny thing is you wouldn't know that we were alike by looking at us. But for me, that's at the heart of the matter.
Truth be told, Mark had substance abuse problems -- not that I'm one to judge him in that regard. He was a very gifted professional musician--his father was the founding conductor of the Vermont Symphony Orchestra. Mark couldn't earn a decent living from his gigs so, depending on the time of year he made money on the side as a small time drug dealer, short order cook, groundskeeper and a turkey slaughterer. He couldn't keep still and usually had a hard time focusing on things. He had a variety of medications prescribed to him to help settle him down. Speaking from first hand experience some of the pills were quite strong.
He loved his son deeply and would never have done anything intentionally to harm Stephan. He also loved and cared for the two girls as if they were his own. He and Lynn had hopes and dreams just like all of us. Ironically, just prior to his death things had never been better for those two. The previous summer he checked back into a detox facility to try and straighten out. Since that time he landed a decent cooking job at an upscale eatery on the Burlington Waterfront and progressed steadily. At the time of his death he was earning more than he ever had in his life and was working his way into a management position. My wife and I were in his wedding party, and as they were exchanging vows I remembered thinking that they really were pulling it together. I wrote and performed one of the songs on the Lyrics Page for their wedding ceremony.
Like I said, Mark loved those kids and would never have done anything to intentionally harm them. That is why I have a hard time believing that he killed himself on purpose. You see, Mark brought the kids to the bridge with him, and told them to watch as he jumped off. As I said, he had made his leap the previous afternoon. But before driving to the bridge Mark and the kids had spent the day at his friend Gary's mother's house having a cook out. Gary is a fellow wacko and was the best man at Mark's wedding. His mom lives a couple of miles from the bridge and I guess that it was at Gary's mom's that the talk turned towards the bridge. After the picnic ended Mark piled the kids into the car and left to go home, but he didn't go home. Instead he drove to the bridge and parked his car at the boat launch at its base on the Vermont side. He told the kids to watch him do something that they would be able to brag about to Uncle Gary. He then walked back up the roadway and out onto the bridge. He took off his sneakers, waved to his kids and jumped feet first. It was the act of a fucking maniac. It was the act of someone who was out of control.
The kids did as they were told and stayed there waiting for him to surface, but he didn't come up. After about twenty minutes they started to panic. There was a fishing boat out under the bridge and they screamed for help. Coincidentally they knew the fisherman who, after hearing their story called for help.
These were my thoughts as I stood on the bridge. It was easy to tell where he had jumped from because the police had marked the rail with yellow tape. I climbed out over the rail and stood there with my toes hanging over the edge one hundred and four feet above the water. It was a beautiful view, but my mind kept flashing on the spectacle that I had witnessed a short time ago of Mark's body being zipped into a plastic bag. I felt like Holden Caufield, the protagonist in Salinger's Catcher in the Rye. Actually, even though since that day much time has past, I still feel like Holden. You could say that I had an epiphany as I stood there. One thing is for sure; my life hasn't been the same since then.
And as I stood there with the breeze blowing my hair and drying my tears, and with people wondering just what in the hell I was doing up there, it occurred to me that I had to tell the truth, about Mark's death and other things or I might as well jump right off that bridge myself. Well you are reading these lines so you can guess what my decision must have been.