Wednesday, November 28, 2012

very short stories: superbetter

Last winter I caught an interview with a woman named Jane Mcgonigal. She's a game designer who hit her head, suffered a traumatic brain injury, and spiraled into suicidal despair. One day she decided that she was either going to kill herself, or make a game out of recovery. That's how Superbetter was born.

A month ago I downloaded Superbetter onto my phone. I came up with an identity, chose what I was battling, and created my Epic Win. And then I invented a series of Power Ups- things that would help me feel better, move on and enjoy myself. Things like taking vitamins, exercising, going out with a friend, traveling, writing letters. It's fun. It's colorful and interactive- you can invite your friends to be allies, and the best part is whenever you hit the PowerUp button it makes this little noise, like Mario hitting a gold star and going invisible.

One of my best Powerups is Helping A Friend: anything from giving somebody my full attention,  to running an errand they don't have time to run, to bringing over tea when they're sick. The trouble with my independent, self sufficient friends is that they're fairly conditioned to take on their challenges alone. Reaching out for help, something I've pretty much mastered in the last month, is not their first inclination.

So when Randal asked last minute if I could give him a ride to the airport, I jumped on it. It was the middle of the day, I was working and there was a terrible rain storm. The roads were literally flooding. My first instinct was to just not respond- who could blame me?- but I really wanted that damn power up so I got up and drove to his house.

(Besides which, I once tried to shove a white catheter into Randal's brachial artery without success but with a lot of pain, and then he got me a job on the boat and left me letters in the hangar in Juneau all summer. In a week we're going on a yurt-ski-avalanche-trip together. And his girlfriend Beth has been this awesome, intuitive gift to me. I'd like to think I'd have given Randal a ride to the airport regardless. But who knows.)
So I took him to the airport and then turned back for home. Headed North on highway 99, cautiously in the blinding downpour, I drove over the Aurora bridge that connects Fremont to lower Queen Ann. There was a girl on the bridge. She was talking on a cell phone, and standing up on one of the cinderblocks. Right away I noticed that her hand that was not holding the phone was wrapped around the top of the suicide gate that spans both sides of the entire bridge.

The aurora bridge is the second most popular bridge for jumper in that nation. The Golden Gate bridge is number one.

This doesn't look right, I thought to myself, and I reached for my phone. Then I remembered what some of the fire fighters had said during my recent EMT shift downtown, how cell phones were EMS workers worst enemy because people called in false alarms all day long. I didn't want to call the police on a woman who was just pausing to talk on the phone. (On a bridge. In the pouring rain. Holding onto the top of the suicide gate.)

So I pulled a U-turn and passed her again and this time, it was perfectly clear. I called the police. They were brusque and quick. By the time I had pulled off the bridge, made my second U-turn and was again heading North, patrol cars were surrounding her. She sat with her back towards them, face pressed into the gap between the bars. She was shaking with sobs. A female police officer was standing a few feet away. I knew that by demonstrating suicidal actions she would not be allowed to refuse help. And she would not jump. Not today.

I went home through the sloshing streets and sat in the kitchen. I was thinking about the girl on the bridge and hoping this would be the turn around she needed. This was her rock bottom and she would choose not to die. If I hadn't called, I'm sure somebody else would have called. But in that heavy rain, it would have been easy for nobody to notice.  I'm grateful for that powerup, that I left the house, that it was me who called. I'm glad that Randall got to Minnesota for thanksgiving.



Katherine said...

Goosebumps. She is someone's daughter/friend/cousin/sibling and your actions changed the outcome of her powerful.
Recently found your blog and I'm loving it!!

Adriana Iris La Dulce Vida said...

Super Amazing.

You were the recipient of a universal message a blessing. It was you and no one else. I hope this makes sense.

Holly said...

this american life: this week. tell your story about what happened this week.

Holly said...

share your stories on this american life, a show titled "this week." you should do it.

Catherine said...

Wow... Goosebumps here too... I remember when I was 17 and went to spend a year in a family in Italy since I did not know what to do with my life at that time and figured that traveling would be enlightening... Well, I was miserable there (I arrived in the middle of a divorce... in a very Christian Italian family...!) and really wanted to go back home. My dad said to me: you can come home after 3 weeks of doing something for someone else every day during that 3 weeks. Then, we'll buy you a plane ticket... Sure enough, it was all I needed and it totally changed my outlook on the situation. Needless to say, I decided to stay, fell in love with an Italian guy and had a blast.

Surely said...


Aimee said...

OHmygosh, I just found your blog today and have spent the last hour or so clicking the "older posts" button over and over and thinking how wonderful your tales are and how clear your voice is. Cue the audible gasp as I hit upon this post. You see, superbetter has been saving my life over the last few months and Jane McGonigal is who I've been reading about in my spare time, so it's ever so gasp-worthy that you too play this awesome game (that changes lives) along with all your other adventures. And this particular story therefore makes me tear up (even more than your others, if possible). Thanks for sharing all these lovingly crafted posts. My morning has been made.