After almost two weeks of solitary confinement, my self-exile must end. I'm doing none of the things on my to do list and eating crap, which is great, actually. I can't complain about that part. That part can continue indefinitely as far as I'm concerned. It's like cheating on tests in junior high and getting straight A's. The part that's hard is when my daughter calls randomly and she catches me crying.
"I don't know why I'm crying," I say. "I just haven't talked to anyone in person for a long time." I moved here to be near my son but he's been away for almost a month, visiting his girlfriend's family. Lucky bitches.
"Now you know what I felt like," she says, "as a military wife in a town where I knew no one except meth addicts. Do you see why I watched all the seasons of 'Friends' within a single week?"
I've been sitting in my drafty dining room in front of my laptop, endlessly interested in anything else. If I get an email, I fight myself not to answer it immediately. When people do that to me, it's a sure sign of extreme something. But my friend Neva gives a movie five out of five stars on her facebook page. I get a notification. What am I going to do, ignore it? I'm not getting a whole lot of invitiations lately and nobody will know if I jump right on that.
It's like an invitation to me, personally, this one. "The Bridge" is a movie documenting one year of jumpers off the Golden Gate Bridge. I can see the Golden Gate bridge right now if I wanted to, if I bothered to get up, step outside, turn the corner and look up the street. Instead of getting up, I go down the Google rabbit hole.
My ex kept up on everybody he ever worked with, sat next to in school, or walked by more than once. He called me a few years ago to tell me that this guy we once knew had just jumped.
You know how it is when you hear something and you don't confirm it? You question yourself. Did that really happen? The guy we knew was so much more successful than my ex. My ex bragged about knowing him whenever he could. Everybody in that little town did the same thing. He was popular around Los Gatos. He had an office downtown and people walked by, just like we did, all the time.
I imagine they looked in at his wildly fun office, full of his crazy eighties graphic design work and awards and wished they were him, just like my ex did. Anyone would have done anything to be as successful as this guy yet he drove his fancy car up to San Francisco, parked at the Presidio just north of me now, fought against the cold wind to leap.
My solitary confinement is better this week as I set my Pandora.com to The Shins. It's a little sixties in my apartment and it's good. It's good until The Shins becomes Radiohead. I never used to listen to Radiohead. Something about listening to "I'm a Creep" over and over again gets the synapses in your brain to form new and scary depressing thoughts. I find myself making coffee humming, "I'm a weirdo/ What the hell am I doing here?/ I don't belong here."
If my daughter told me she was doing this, I'd tell her to stop it now. I switch from The Shins to Lily Allen. It's much healthier getting in someone else's face and getting out of your own head, particularly when you've been in your own head for two weeks now.
I'm still thinking about the bridge, though. It's so freezing cold and windy going out there. Try riding a bike around one of the towers and you're doing all the life-affirming you can just to not pull a Dorothy and fly off. When you stop and look down at the water like you do, it doesn't look so far down there, like it does when you're on a high building. The water looks close and cold. Inviting is the last thing it looks like.
Back in the eighties I worked with this guy, Jim Gray, who also died in this water. Or that's how his story ends. He disappeared without a trace. It's the weirdest end to someone so intellectual, so technical, so calm and so on top of the world. He took his boat, complete with every kind of system available, out to scatter his mother's ashes and he simply disappeared. The smartest person I'd ever met, the first guy to get a PhD in computer science from Berkeley, the guy who was so brainy he answered in complicated puzzles whenever I asked him if he wanted filing or organizational help, gone just like that.
I know all this because, even though I had only heard about Jim's disappearance through friends, I finally Googled it. Turns out Jim Gray mentored Sergay Brin, co-creater of Google, while at Stanford. There's some kind of deep meaning here but I don't know what it is. All I can say is I'm grateful Jim was able to live long enough to help Sergay otherwise people like me would be feeling even more isolated.
My boss at Tandem, where Jim Gray and I worked at the time, was this guy named Keith Hospers. He and I carpooled since we both weren't richy-rich and both lived in Los Gatos. He was just a colleague when we carpooled but, like everyone at Tandem at the time, he was promoted and became successful. He kept in touch with me, even after I left Tandem and moved to Montana and all the other places I moved, trying to run from whatever it was I was running from.
Talking to Keith was similar to talking with Jim. They both had this intellectual serenity. They both had honest senses of humor but you often had to explain yourself in a way that made my face red. Details I didn't care about were so important to them.
Keith, I'd heard, died of a brain tumor right after remarrying and having a set of twins. I Googled him and confirmed it, unfortunately. I wondered why he stopped calling to catch up. I figured it was because nobody could catch up with me now, but that wasn't true. It's not about me.
I found so much on Keith regarding his technical accomplishments but none of his quietly endearing family stories he used to tell. He was great to carpool with. On our way to work, when I'd finally shut up, he'd talk of his life before work. He and his first wife were so poor they couldn't afford much in the way of a place to live, food, or cars. He told me broken-down car stories, things poor colleges students might deal with now; funny, quiet stories from a background different than most the rest of our middle-class colleagues.
Before I can continue Googling dead people I once knew, my son calls. "We're driving home," he says. "We'll be back up about five pm."
I feel like the kid who stayed home while his parents went to Hawaii and now they call to say they're driving home from the airport. I'm sorry Keith and Jim are dead, but I'm alive and I really have to take a shower. I ought to take out the garbage, too, now that I look around. My exile is almost over but first I'd better tidy up the cell. In the back of my head, I'm humming, "Sun is in the sky/Oh why, oh why would I wanna be anywhere else?"