Lila decided to kill herself, but not for real. She was 15 and hated school and her parents and everyone she had ever met. The one thing she liked about life was the deceptively thin line everyone walked just to stay on this side of things. It was the possibility of death that made it so appealing, the absolute ease of the act. If you kept yourself from killing yourself, did just this one small thing, you usually got to pass to the next day. And if you wanted to bail out, you bailed out. In the end, no one could stop you, not even your mom.
Lila, head full of suicide statistics, left the house early one day and walked past the school bus stop. She walked with purpose, teenaged, wispy legs carrying her developing body, developing heart. This was not the first time she had skipped school to lie face down on the mute train tracks or hang off Overlook Cliff, but this was the first time she’d left the house with a plan.
While her destination wasn’t always clear, Lila always walked to the same pleasant thoughts of an imagined future. She liked to picture what would happen after she was gone. Not the immediate horror—she didn’t like picturing her hysterical mother, her father, mute, the laughable “moment of silence” her classmates would be forced to observe in her memory. And she didn’t like to imagine too many years down the road, either, the way her classmates would refer to her in their senior essays, how they’d write that her death taught them to appreciate life and be nicer to their little brothers. That whole scene made her want to puke. It made her want to stay alive.
But she did like imagining what the world would be like those first few months after she became a giant black hole to herself. The new silences that would exist because she had acted. She liked to picture the Lila-sized gaps in the world, empty space where she could have been standing, space that would change, just a little bit, how everyone felt, acted, understood. She imagined how she could change the real path of things with her absence. Lila walked all six miles down Cedar Street and thought the calm repetitive thoughts of gone, hollow, goodbye, until she came to a tiny bridge on the edge of town that made all her imagined futures slip to the edge of her brain and settle.
She knew this bridge, just a little. It was a bridge that all the kids she hated liked to jump off in early summer. A bridge she’d driven over with her parents many hundred times. It was the way out of town. Sticking both hands in her jean pockets, Lila surveyed the deep, dirty green of the river, and kicked in a plum-sized rock. She watched its perfect fall, the way it carried its destiny all the way down to the bottom without hesitation, and took a deep breath.
But really, deep down, Lila knew she was too interested in death to wipe herself out completely. It was a quiet song she sang to herself several times a day for safety.
She had never been at the bridge alone before, or even set foot on the actual wood planks. She liked the view, all those dark willows lining the river, saying something sad. The place had always seemed to her a tourist stop, a place for dumb games and dumb observations, it’s so pretty here, but now the whole scene seemed to her strange and beautiful. Dark and light, both.
Lila set her sandals on the edge of the bridge and climbed up the wood railing. She stood tall and looked down, and thought about how she wanted to jump. Not to kill herself, but just to do something everyone else did. She wanted to jump off the bridge, fully clothed, and tuck the memory of it inside for harder times. She wanted to jump off, and think about death, and slide safely into the Snake River. She wanted to come up for air and have it feel like coming up for air.
Lila, young and desperate and optimistic, wanted to jump, but before she took the leap, she heard a noise from below, clink, turned her feet opposite directions, and lost her balance entirely. In one quick rush she spilled over the back side of the railing and hit her head on the bridge so hard it cracked open.
And into the world fell a Lila-sized gap, following her the short way down, an invisible reminder of the new way things had to be imagined.
It was, sadly, a gap that people could walk right through.
Lila's body lay perfectly still on the worn wooden planks, but one of Lila’s shoes, pushed by the force of her fall, did make it into the river. It followed an old path, working around rocks and branches and bends until its loose strap trapped a fish. Just minutes after Lila’s body was moved from the road, just seconds before her family would hear the news, a young boy found the fish and the strap, the whole clean mess of it, and took it to his mother.
And his mother comforted him. She held him close and worked the fish free. Tossed the shoe in the garbage. Full of a desperate kind of hope, the kind that mattered, the woman held the hand of her child, and released the gasping fish into the water, and prayed an old prayer of protection that went out to everything.