A Beautiful Place to Die

The long, winding drive down the California coastline along Route 1 was hypnotizing: the constant zigzagging of the road through cliffs and mountains, the vastness of the Pacific ever to the right, the cool air, scented with a splendid saltiness. Only the clouds dampened the scene, but even they were beautiful in their grandeur. They stretched out to the furthest lines on the horizon, grey to match the ocean below, to the point that sometimes it was hard to tell when staring out onto the expanse which state of water one’s eyes were looking at. He drove for hours, wanting to put as much distance between himself and the city as he could, to lose himself in the setting.

But something about Big Sur arrested him, the Rocky Creek Bridge acting like some kind of gargantuan horseshoe magnet, pulling both him and the waves of the Pacific towards it. He pulled over onto the side of the road, and as he stepped out of his car to take it all in, a cop car made its way past, its screaming sirens piercing the silent scenery, the ecstatically alternating flashes of color doing nothing to illuminate or brighten the landscape. Another moment passed and the car was gone, crossed the bridge and round the bend. The sea roared on. The dull crash of the waves far below and the whispering of the wind through the mountaintops gently reclaimed their authority. The bridge stood still through it all, unmoved by the speeding cars above.

When he had had his fill he got into his car and slipped it back into gear, letting it roll softly down the road, putting the ocean back on his right. He didn’t get very far before he came across a circus of unexpected activity just before the Bixby Bridge. A stream of SUVs and even a fire truck joined the cop car now, though not a wisp of smoke was in sight. A large dirt patch on the left side of the road had been turned into a makeshift parking lot, and he decided to park his car there and see what the ruckus was about.

He approached the policeman and asked what was the matter.  His expression soured at the question.

“We’ve got a report that somebody jumped off the bridge. It’s a 300-foot drop, the next fastest way down into the ravine takes at least 30 minutes. The rescue team is arriving now to find the body.”  The policeman paused for a second to check his watch and shook his head. “Unbelievable,” he muttered and walked off.

A small crowd of fellow travelers had formed, hanging on to every word the cop said as if they were hanging on to the bridge itself. They scattered now, making way for the rescue team while staking out vantage points along the bridge and the cliff top, craning their necks to see the rescue operation.

But the only thing he could think to do was to wander to the edge of the cliff and stare out at the ocean.

He was not a morbid man, but he could not ignore the subject of death when it had appeared so vivaciously in front of him. How unhappy a man must be to take his own life, how absolutely miserable an existence must be for cold, silent death to seem warmer than it. Or perhaps one must have great confidence that what awaits on the other side of life is better than what one has been offered in this world, that the grass is greener on yonder.

He kicked a small pebble off the cliff and never heard it hit the ground. At least of all the ways to die, he thought, this poor fellow had chosen well. His final seconds would have been an incredible rush of adrenaline, pumping vigorously through his veins as he free fell from the top of the grand Bixby Bridge. His body no doubt would have crumpled at first contact with the ground, bones shattering instantly and unanimously into a thousand and one pieces. The adrenaline might even shield him from the pain of his twisted, broken body for the second or so it would take for his soul to find a fresh cut through which to leave, and then his body would transition from its once distinguished human form to a mangled amalgamation of former biological miracles, destined to decompose rapidly and be fed ultimately to the ocean. 

But his last moment would be peaceful. The waves and the wind would join together to sing to him, the grey weather signaling some sense of cosmic sadness at his passing. He would be and then he would cease to be. Maybe someone would find him, maybe not; someone might claim him, or perhaps no one would. But Mother Nature would envelope him in her loving arms, reclaiming his body if not his soul. 

“What a beautiful place to die,” he said to himself, looking out to his left towards the bridge and the cliffs that fell just short of a picturesque beach, the last piece of continent between here and China, nothing but grey sky and grey ocean promiscuously meeting in between. What a last sight this would be to behold, what a place for a restless spirit to roam for an ephemeral eternity.

A bird flew in front of his eyes and pulled his gaze with it as it dove down under the bridge towards the beach in front of the ravine, then swooped back up as if to get a better view of the ocean, and then did an about-face and went into the trees that covered the mountainside. He could hear its soft chirp when it got close to him, and he longed for it as he saw it flutter away. What a thing it must be to have wings, he wondered. He thumbed the ridges of his keys in his pocket, and looked out at the stretch of road beyond the bridge, how it grew tiny and curved around a bend, its mise en scène a mystery and its length unknown.

“But my, what a beautiful place to live,” he whispered to himself.

He took a deep breath of the salted air and returned to his car. It roared to life at the twist of his fingers and sped at the push of his foot, the waves of the Pacific cheering him on from the left.