Kevin and I were walking along the edge of the Rio Grande River gorge, ogling the river’s mysterious darkness 600 feet below us and peering along the rocky canyon walls for mountain goats that make this stunning work of nature their home.
Our eyes saw only the early morning beauty of the river as it carved its way through the New Mexico landscape. Our view was crystal clear under a cloudless sky… until a man we happened upon at the edge near the bridge told us this was where his brother and his girlfriend joined hands and jumped to their death.
Our hearts stopped for a second at the horror, the senselessness, his pain. Suddenly, we saw the gorge with altered vision. Its purity paled as he told his story.
He had moved to Colorado after his brother’s death, but returned every year on the anniversary as some sort of one-man memorial. He wasn’t a well-off guy, so most years he had to hitchhike his way back; this time it took three different rides to get him there. His family owned land nearby, but he wasn’t interested in living on it. He didn’t much like New Mexico anymore and his fractured family apparently didn’t much care.
He told us about his brother. We let him talk. We told him over and over we were so sorry. We told him we wouldn’t forget his story.
We later searched the Internet and discovered the bridge across the gorge—so fun for us to bravely stand upon—is a popular spot for people seeking to end their lives. There have been more than 120 suicides there in the past 20 years and the most recent, just a few months before our visit, was a young man whose mom saw him jump as she raced forward to stop him. She since started the Gorge Bridge Safety Network to advocate for suicide prevention measures at the bridge, the seventh highest bridge in the United States at 650 feet above the river.
We realized as this sad and gentle man talked that there was a bigger purpose for our being at the gorge: to be reminded that nothing is ever as it seems. We had arrived just at sunrise and initially saw it solely through tourist eyes: a majestic river that had carved a spectacular home for itself through the Southwest United States and Northern Mexico.
In reality, it is that. But it is also a place where many lives have ended and many more have been altered by those deaths. Even people who don’t know the victims or their families are affected, like the firefighters who brave treacherously steep paths to collect the mangled bodies in order to give family members closure, and community activists seeking ways to prevent future suicides.
We realized as this sad and gentle man talked that there was a bigger purpose for our being at the gorge: to be reminded that nothing is ever as it seems.
In truth, every place we go there are things unseen. When my first husband died, I walked zombie-like through the grocery store, realizing no one there had a clue about my horrific new reality. All they saw was produce and anonymous shoppers; no one saw broken hearts. We sit in churches and look at families and think they look so perfect, only later to find out they are fractured and damaged. We see what we want to, or what we know we’ll see (like groceries) but we don’t contemplate that in every place our eyes settle, there is much beneath the surface.
We ended the day spotting mountain goats at the gorge—we were close enough to walk toward them and take pictures. They are special photos to us. When we look at them we do see the exact image we once saw, and yet we also captured a moment and memory that represents so much more to us.