By Charulata Sinha
I close my eyes and I am on the Brooklyn Bridge with her, the wind sharp and snapping at our ankles. I am yelling but she can’t hear me, and if she can, she doesn’t bother to look back. It’s not that I dream about this moment. I am there most of my waking life. Most people think of time as a straight line. I am beginning to understand that time is a whirlpool. The future is sucked in and spun around just the same as the past. In this way everything that is going to happen has already happened. We are replaying what has already been drawn. It’s when we insist we are more that the trouble begins.
I am on the Brooklyn Bridge and Anna cannot hear me. The skyline, from this height, looks like string lights wound tightly around a clothesline. The ground below us is a fact I cannot accept. She takes a step forward, one foot almost off the tower. My arms ache. She doesn’t jump. She walks off the tower as if it were the most natural thing in the world. She takes one step forward, then another, then another, until there is no metal underneath her. Only air and sea.
When she falls, she falls feet first. There is no scream. Here is where I start to romanticize things, where I try to make things more palatable and therefore less dangerous. I cannot see her eyes when she jumps but I imagine they are open. In the miniature eternity it takes for her to fall, I like to think her eyes are open and squinting at the city in the way that she always squints, as if she is trying to read something. It fills me with false warmth and light to think that for a moment, she saw everything. In this moment, maybe she found exactly what she had spent her life in dogged pursuit of. In this moment, suspended above the Hudson, treading air as the bird does before it lands on soft ground, Anna met every twinkling light and hushed sound, and greeted each one with a crooked smile, the same one I saw every morning, before I knew how lucky I was, when she would bound up to me in the grey predawn, her feet wet from the shower, shrieking that I wouldn’t believe what she had to tell me.
I know this is a lie. I read about falling deaths for weeks after Anna died. The literature shows, almost unilaterally, that the moment a person falls from a great height, the shift in air pressure causes the blood vessels in their head to fill rapidly to the point of catastrophic implosion. Widespread cell death triggers hundreds of small strokes, fracturing the gray matter of the brain like splinters humming through a piece of wood after the axe splits the pole. Her eyes would have rolled back and lodged there, looking sideways into her own skull. She would have seen nothing but black. She would not have had time to think at all. If she felt anything, it was the wind abandoning her and dropping her, a ragdoll, into the sea. She did not fly. She fell. A falling death is not a bloodless one. When they fish her out of the river the next morning, her head is cracked open, brain spilling out like egg yolk. She did not get to see the city. She blinked out of existence like a lonely light flickering in an old room. She was not alive for any of it, I have to remind myself. She couldn’t see anything. Anna was dead. I know this much now. It may be the only thing I will ever know for sure. Anna died before she hit the ground.
I have a theory that suicide is a distinctly female action. Of course, men and boys kill themselves. But women commit suicide. There is a distinction. Maybe it is in the method of disposal: the scarf, the bridge, the pills, the quiet night. There is something incredibly stealthy and dramatic about the operation. It is an essentially lonely act, and what it requires is a duality that only women possess. The ability to climb up the bridge, to look at the sea below, to see not water but only a burial ground, to look at a hand and to see not a hand but a forgotten and useless artefact. Think about the removal these actions require. Think about her mouth as it swallows water with the pills, lest she choke. Think about the foot as it hovers over the space between the river and the bridge. Think about the long scarf, the way it guards the neck from the cold, the way it goes from a protecting object to a killing one. My grandmother used to say that sadness comes naturally to women, as anger does to men, and though I don’t fully agree with her, there is something watertight about the connection. Think about the sheer guts it takes to be alone with oneself for any amount of time. And then—to choose to be alone, forever. This is women’s work.
I talk to her regularly, in loud and quiet moments. When a stupid boy makes a stupider joke, I see her just behind him, rolling her eyes, giving him the finger. When I get ready for my sister’s wedding, she’s there, telling me I don’t look strange in the dress. Telling me I look lovely in the dress. She’s there, reciting a Dickinson poem before my interview. Comforting me after the interview. She’s there in the taxi and in the CVS as I try to steal a pack of hair ties. But when I turn to look at her, she’s already gone. And though there was much crying at her funeral, I can only recall wanting to scream. What a vicious bitch she is, I thought. To do something as selfish as she did. To leave me here alone. To leave me at all.
Anna had a habit of asking me, in times of great stress: “What are you, woman or walrus?”
She claimed this was a common phrase, and I believed her for a number of years, until it seeped so deeply into my lexicon that I began to use it myself.
“It’s a saying!” I would tell people who balked at the expression. “Isn’t it?”
It isn’t. But I understood it almost instinctively. In the subway on the way to the funeral this question bounced around in my skull and onto the sickly orange seats, the dotted floor, the foggy windows. I could just get off here. I could walk to midtown. I could go to a diner and order every milkshake. I could go to a library and read a whole book in one sitting. I could go to a park and sit and stare at every person, guessing their backstories. I could do anything but go to this funeral. I thought this and there she was, the first time since her death, next to me on the L train.
“Woman or walrus?” she asked me, bored, chewing on her fingernails, painted light blue like they were a week before she died.
“You’re dead.” I said to her.
“Jesus, I know.” she huffed. She was impatient. She was wearing the overalls with the stains on them.
“Anna, you can’t be here.” I looked around. How was no one else seeing this? The train was starting to fill with people.
“That’s your problem.” She said. “You’re always so nervous. What’s that on your face?”
I touched my cheek uncertainly. She tilted her head.
“Oh, a tusk.” She said.
“Fuck you.” I told her, my fingers digging into my palm, leaving behind little half moons on my skin.
“There she is!” Anna said, and then she smiled, and then what could I do? I went to the funeral.
Now I find myself abusing this connection. I want her to tell me what to do all the time. When I wake up, this is my first question. What would Anna have me do? What would she think? The frightening thing is, the older I get, the more I don’t know the answer. The more life I live that she didn’t, the less I know about how she could possibly feel. There are things that extend beyond the scope of her life, as unbelievable as that would have sounded to me at fourteen.
Sometimes I have to remind myself of what she was, just to keep sane. She had no sense of caution. She was terrible with money. She was flighty and often unreachable. She had a fierce temper that flared at odd, impenetrable times. She was my best friend. She was the only one I told my secrets to. She took my heart and held it. She holds it still. She is a falling girl. She falls but she also holds on. And this is the ultimate paradox of her, and of me: we are together both dead and alive. We are forever stuck on the bridge, one foot suspended in air, the other clinging to metal. We are the moment before the jump, and we are also the fall. Which is to say, I am still so angry. I wish she would just pick one. Woman or walrus, Anna? But I know the answer.
“Neither,” she would say. “Stop being so goddamn nervous all the time.” She would laugh and then turn back to me. Her face, freckled and smiling, would be framed in hesitant, holy light.
Charulata Sinha / no insta (tied for second): Charulata Sinha is a writer based in New York City. Her work has been featured on McSweeney's, The Rumpus, and VICE, among others.