Saturday, July 12, 2008

In Memory of Cristina Reed

I found it shocking to hear that on July 4, Cristina Reed decided to plunge to her death by leaping off the Perrine Bridge and into the Snake River . Although I only knew Cristina from delivering her products, while I was a cab driver, the kindness she exuded towards those of us living on the edge of society became legendary. For some reason she strongly identified with us. Without question, Cristina was our best customer and most generous tipper and for years after I ended my brief taxicab stint, when we intersected, the drivers occasionally mentioned that her sincere kindheartedness never waned.

Another reason that Cristina’s death hits home so hard; is that back in 2006, I sent in a well-received suggestion to the Idaho Department of Transportation, regarding the importance of considering a feasibility study for improving suicide prevention measures on this very same bridge.

Writing the above linked letter was literally a dizzyfying experience. Halfway through it, I had to pause to catch my breath, and stood up to walk around and regain my bearings. Finding yourself up on that high bridge to imagine what is flashing through a troubled person’s mind can be electrifying and intensely sad. I wonder what other writers’ feel, when they report on horrific stories like this.

When I was a newspaperman, the chief editor explained why we sometimes go into detail, when a distraught person decides to end their life and it doesn’t go off exactly as planned. As hard as it is for that person’s family to hear, by reporting on the extended pain they felt; crawling with a broken back below a cliff, or suffering in a crippling death swim beneath the Golden Gate Bridge, may prevent other distraught people from making the same rash decision.

In addition, when someone shoots themselves in the head, we name it “self-inflicted gunshot” rather than suicide, since they might have changed their mind at the last millisecond, but too late because they already pulled the trigger. By the same token, in SFGate’s seven-part Lethal Beauty series; some of the jumpers who decided to take the drastic plunge off the Golden Gate, and actually survived, say that as soon as they jumped, they gained a completely new perspective, by realizing it was the wrong decision and that none of the problems in their life could have been that bad compared to this brand new problem.

Back to Cristina and the cab service: I remember those hard November days of slack when the evenings were so slow we would wish for any type of call, to make a couple of three bucks to relieve our cursed tedium. Then Cristina would sometimes ring our dispatcher to become our savior. For her friends, she sometimes enjoyed ordering a wine, called Chalk-Hill Chardonnay. I believe it was around 27 bucks or so, back then at the Circle K. It was the most expensive wine they carried. Once, while delivering a bottle, a friend of hers, sensed my curiosity, as Cristina went downstairs to retrieve her purse, and the friend remarked that yes, deep down Cristina was an extremely kind person.

Those Chalk-Hill experiences left enough of an impression, that a few years later, when climbing Mount Borah, I secretly packed along a jug, lugged it up the steep hill and hid it among some glacial-like ice, beneath a long gnarled tree stump, below Chicken-Neck Ridge. During the return from our victorious summit, I surprised my co-hikers, by revealing the perfect-temperature bottle and ceremoniously whisked it from a vortex beneath the ancient log.

It was such a good experience that even now I can still taste that everlasting wine on my buds. And since we never proposed a toast that day on our way down from Idaho’s tallest peak, I would now like to dedicate that precious moment in our hike posthumously to a wonderful woman that so many of her friends and family must now miss –Cristina Reed.

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