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.

Gay Times Magazine - - ESSAYS - Words Philip Bald­win

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.

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