By John Hicks
Many years ago when I was in my 20s, I broke up with a girlfriend.
She dumped me in fact because we had not gotten married nor moved toward it in the two years we had lived together. Fed up, she declared she would move out. Just before she moved out, I was in despair. Her decision had seemed sudden although it had not been, and it was a struggle for me to imagine life without her.
I was definitely upset, even frantic, wondering what I could yet say or do to save the relationship. I had never felt mental anguish so intensely before. Why that was so I don’t know, but it was the case.
A friend, knowing I was distraught, asked if I would accompany him to a symphony concert to take my mind off my troubles. I was beside myself at the time, but I accepted his invitation.
The showpiece of the evening concert was a symphony by Schumann. I’ve never enjoyed his music much, so as the conductor made his way through the work, I found myself preoccupied with my own anxieties. Seeking relief, I told my friend that I was going out to stretch my legs.
Once out of the concert hall and in the quiet empty hallway, I let my emotions go. My eyes flooded with tears of frustration. My brain burned with regret. I felt impotent and tortured.
I made my way to the staircase, not knowing where I might go next. I looked over the railing and down the open spiraling staircase from my fourth-story height all the way to the ground floor which was decorated, to the extent visible to me, with a huge oriental carpet.
I craved peace of mind. I wanted to turn off the biological machine in my head that was causing me intolerable agony. Toward that end, I impulsively decided to kill myself. Barely containing the sobs that convulsed me, scarcely able to see for the tears that filled my eyes, I put my leg over the railing. As I wondered if I should fall as in a swan dive or just go limp, one of my hard contacts came off center, immediately causing fearsome pain.
It was not unusual for a contact to come off center, and when one did, it did not always cause me pain, but on this occasion, pain hit and hard. With my leg still hung over the railing, I froze and tried to adjust the contact to relieve the pain. Despite my efforts, the pain persisted, so I pulled my leg back over the railing, and after a few more unsuccessful attempts to deal with the contact, I gave up and rushed to the men’s rest room to use a mirror.
With the aid of a mirror, I righted the contact to my instant relief. I then realized that the mental anguish I had felt minutes before had vanished. I felt cleansed. I no longer craved my own destruction by dashing the life out of me. I cannot say I felt good or happy, just no longer miserable. I went back into the concert hall in time to catch the coda to the symphony and had no more thoughts of suicide that night.
I wish I could say my experience at the concert matured and liberated me miraculously. But I sloshed around in the muck of self pity for some time afterward. Still, it showed me that there is pain and there is pain … and that I needed more practice breaking up.