WORLD AIDS DAY 2018: VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE.
This World AIDS Day, Philip Baldwin speaks for the first time about contemplating taking his own life following his HIV and hepatitis C diagnoses in January 2010.
It was windier here. I looked over the parapet. I wondered how many people before me had stood there. I tried to imagine their motives. I was scared to confront it, but I knew deep down that the reason I was here was because I was thinking of ending my life. I reflected that many people must have jumped from this bridge since its construction in the nineteenth-century. I could hear the wind rushing past my ears. Flecks of water, either rain or froth from the river below, brushed my face. The moon appeared from behind a cloud, illuminating the grey water below. My knees were pressed against the balustrade. I could feel the solidity of the bridge through the fabric of my trousers. Looking ahead, towards Charing Cross station, the river curved to the left.
London looked beautiful at this time of night. There were so many happy people living behind that silhouette. I imagined their perfect lives. The sort of life which I now perceived as completely beyond my reach. I was envious. My life had been perfect a few months ago. The confident young graduate with a stellar future ahead of him was gone. I felt grief. I longed to experience the same trivial concerns – mortgages and careers and credit card debts – which had seemed huge problems prior to my diagnoses.
It felt like the old me was already dead, only no one had acknowledged the loss. Every day I went into the office, as if nothing was wrong. My parents asked me mundane questions about my career. In these moments, all I could think about was the pain they would experience when they found out I was HIV positive. I raised my body upright, my chest and face pressing against the wind. The air surged past, sucking at me. It was racing around my head. I felt the texture of the sandstone beneath my fingers. It was only at this point, leaning over the edge, that I could hear the waves of the river lapping beneath me.
The platform seemed to wrap itself around the pier, supporting the bridge. I looked directly down. It spread into seven decorative segments, before combining to form a wedge, like the bow of a ship, splicing wind and water. The river churned beneath me, foaming in pools at the foot of this huge pier.
The further I leaned over the balustrade the louder the lapping of the water became. It seemed to be inviting me in, one second a terrifying darkness and the other a playground. Would I hit the pier as my body fell from the platform? If I were to jump, would I be conscious when my body made impact with the water? It would hurt if I hit the pier. I didn’t want that.
I knew that I would try to swim, if I was conscious. I would fight passionately for every last breath. The currents might reach up from the river bed to suck me down. The brown water would probably explode into my lungs. I also wondered what lurked beneath that dark surface. The Thames is full of debris, not just rubbish, but even submerged branches. Would this beat
against my flailing body? Would I become entangled in the detritus? Would ropes or old netting wrap themselves around my arms and legs? I might even make it to the river’s edge. I could just about see the black slime which covered the masonry on the bank. I imagined myself pressed against it. I imagined myself desperately trying to climb, falling back, trying again and exhausting myself until eventually, inevitably, the waters would close over my head.
I thought about how my mum would feel when she found out I was dead. My death would destroy her. Was I being selfish? I was about to do such a horrible thing. Fleetingly, I experienced anger that my parents loved me so much. I did not deserve their love. I speculated that it might be many weeks before anyone knew of my death. Who would ever know that I had jumped from the bridge? I had not left a suicide note. My body might get washed out to sea. Even if my body was found people might assume I had fallen into the river by accident. Would my parents cling to this idea for the rest of their lives? As some sort of comfort or self-denial? How long, if at all, would it take for people to piece the jigsaw together? Presumably my employer would report me missing after a few days. My mum had a set of keys for my apartment. The only correspondence relating to my HIV diagnosis was the letter confirming my initial appointment at the clinic. I had thrown this away. There were no clues that I had been diagnosed with HIV. The burden of telling my parents about my HIV would fall on my friends. Would my parents blame themselves that I had not confided in them?
Then something clicked in my head. My fear of death was greater than my fear of life. I moved backwards. The river suddenly seemed terrifying. As I pulled away, I experienced first relief and then a sinking feeling. My life had gone to hell and there was nothing I could do about it. I felt very cold. And helpless. I observed again how deserted the bridge was. It was a desolate place. Slowly I retraced my steps, this time in the direction of my apartment. I was desperate to lie in my bed.