That night, the roar of the surf crashing against a wooden pier a few hundred yards down the beach was somehow reassuring; like knowing that the heartbeat of the place was alive and well. A blustery wind had come and gone hours earlier, but the ocean was still hurling foaming whitecaps onto the shore as though trying to rid itself of something foreign to its depths. Instead of kelp being thrown onto the sand, it might well have been her body if that first impulse had not been thwarted by a wild happenstance of nature.
She was sitting at the edge of the beach on a concrete wall, her feet dangling above the sand, drinking coffee from a thermos and nibbling on a brick of Trader Joe’s dark chocolate. Dressed in an oversized midnight-blue hoody, cutoff jeans and black flip-flops, she might have been anywhere from 40 to 60. It was difficult to pinpoint her age in the dark. Elizabeth isn’t her real name and her real occupation is different. The name of the other player that night is changed as well for privacy’s sake. This is her story in her words.
“A funny thing happened on the way to my death tonight. I had an overwhelming need to pee,” she chuckled. “Walking into the water to drown myself with pee running down my legs just wasn’t in my movie. You know, the one where the star walks into the water and just before she dives under, she turns and smiles tearfully as we flashback to the faces of the angry people in her life screaming insults at her. Then we fast forward to their guilty looks when they find her body washed up with the tide the next day.”
She took a bite of chocolate and smiled, chewing and staring out toward the dark water.
“I had three cigarettes to smoke and I’d finished two. I was just about to take off this sweatshirt and leave it with the chocolate and coffee for one of the homeless guys, before I walked into the water to swim to Japan, when the urge to pee hit. So, I bundled everything into my pockets and headed at a run for the public bathrooms down the beach.
“I barely made it in time. And there I was, sitting on a dirty public toilet seat – I’d covered it with toilet paper first – crying my eyes into a bloated mess, thinking maybe I’d finish the chocolate first. What kind of idiot bothers about germs on a toilet seat when they know that they’re going to be dead in an hour?”
When asked what brought her to this moment in time, she explained:
“I’ve loved the same man for decades now. We had a perfect life until he changed completely after a heart operation. I left him for a long time but we never got divorced, probably because I didn’t find another man to love. I went back a couple of years ago. He said he loved me and I hadn’t really stopped loving him, but he was still 50% asshole and 50% nice guy.
“There was a question of money involved. He thought that I was going to steal his house out from under him for some paranoid reason – he’s a pot-head – smokes way too much as a medical marijuana patient and goes into vicious rants every day. I came here, an emotional wreck, to sell my car and get away from his rants. A relative took me and my old dog in. I’ve been staying on an enclosed porch in the house where she and her friend live. The friend’s a really nice, understanding guy, but she’s fed up with my emotional wretchedness. My Irish temper gets the best of me at times. So there are problems there.
“Anyway, I had three daughters – one of them, also my closest friend, died in 2007 after a long illness – but the other two have joined in my crazy husband’s rants. I emailed them a long letter several months ago, telling them all how I felt about getting yelled at and called names and to start over. Didn’t work. Now he’s filed for divorce and my kids won’t talk to me. I’ve been shunned by my whole family. Even the daughter of the relative I’m staying with has turned against me after talking to one of my kids, calling me a liar and a victim and such. They’ve thrown love and kindness into the crapper where I’m concerned.
“When your only priority for your entire adult life has been your family, and they suddenly think you’re some kind of monster, your heart actually hurts. I thought I’d die, literally, of broken heart because I’m in so much emotional and physical pain. No such luck.”
Elizabeth started crying here and took a few minutes to compose herself before continuing.
“I met my husband when we were both Scientologists. That was more than 20 years ago and neither of us are have been associated with Scientology for a long time. He used to be pretty well versed in L. Ron Hubbard’s policies. What he’s doing to me now is right out of a Hubbard policy letter for treatment of suppressive people, one’s enemies.
“First they must be disconnected from entirely, no communication whatsoever. Then they may be deprived of property or injured by any means and may be tricked, sued, or lied to, or destroyed. You can Google it.
“He won’t talk to me; he’s gotten himself a lawyer and filed for divorce. I have no clue what he’s telling everyone, or what I’m supposed to have done.
“Anyway, on the way back from the bathrooms, I walked by a guy sitting on a bench with his bicycle parked beside him. For some weird reason I sat down and we began talking. His name is Bob. He told me he was homeless by choice, that he’d made a lot of money in his time and was happy now that he’d chucked it all in. There was a rare kindness about him, like I mattered, like I was important.
“I told him the bare bones of my story, that I’d made tons of money as a loan officer but am broke now. I didn’t tell him I was getting ready to kill myself. As we chatted, I found myself thinking that instead of dying, I could become an Urban Camper, that’s what they call the homeless now, and just disappear off the grid entirely. Bob convinced me that any life situation could be handled.
“He warned me that choosing to be homeless wasn’t just a science project and to think it over carefully. He explained where and how to get food, wash clothes and one’s self, sleep and not be robbed or bothered. Talking to him was like being soaked in the feeling of absolute freedom.
“I think Bob was the angel who saved my life tonight. There he was, a clean nice looking 60 year old, surviving in the outdoors and loving it. I’m starting to feel really stupid.”
Elizabeth said that she was going to sleep in her car for a few hours and then go back to the house where she was staying, pack up her things and start her life over. She hasn’t been seen at that beach for weeks. Hopefully, she’s found a way to live well.
The Center for Disease Control reports that there are roughly 38,000 deaths by suicide each year in the U.S. and that suicide is the 4th leading cause of death for adults between the ages of 18-65.
You never know when a few moments of kindness and understanding could save a person’s life.