On August 9, 1994, Patricia Ruth Bernard Grim jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge. Doesn't that bother you? What a strange word that is... bother. But still I can't think of another word to describe the feeling. It doesn't annoy me. It doesn't freak me out. It disturbs me slightly. It kind of comes and goes through the back of my mind on certain days. I gnaw it. I push it back and forward.
Pat Grim, former Post Mistress of Navarro jumped off the fucking Golden Gate Bridge! How does that happen? I don't get surprises very often. I can clock people. I'd be dead a long time ago if I couldn't clock people. But Pat gave me a start. Never saw that part of her, not the will to suicide I mean, the way of acting it out.
The fact that she committed suicide is no surprise. Emerson must have had someone quite like her in mind when he wrote “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.” Certainly I saw that in Pat. Suicide had crossed my mind as something she might do one day unless it seemed too untidy for her. The thought of her perfect children coming into her perfectly tidy little cabin to find mother's brains splattered all over the walls for them to clean up, and the stench of rotting meat permeating all the linen... No, Pat would not have made that mess. So in a sense it makes sense.
The bridge is quite tidy. No unsightly mess. A lady's way perhaps. What jarred me about her death was that it was so public, so dramatic. Pat was afraid of making a spectacle of herself. You remember that don't you? Your mother's face peering down at you imperiously, “Do you have to make a spectacle of yourself in a public place? Go sit in the car until you can act like a lady!” Pat had a mother like that. She was a mother like that. I could see it in every line of her dissatisfied face.
But the fact is she did it. She would not have made the short-list of people I think might jump off the bridge someday if I had been asked to draw up such a list. But she is the actually the only one I know personally who took that big jump.
I suppose she wanted some attention. I suppose she imagined stories would be written about her life. How she needed love and never got it. How she wanted to love but didn't know how. That sort of thing.
She got zip. Quite a few people knew she did it. Some said that this one or that one should write something for the paper. The people who find my writing rather raw did not suggest that I write anything. I suppose they wanted something tasteful written. Something that put a good face on it. That's what these people wanted. So I waited. After all, they are her sort of friends. I don't even know if I liked Pat Grim. I sort of did but then I didn't.
Nothing was written.
The thing is, jumping off the Bridge, scary and desperate as it may be, made me like Pat more. She was in a conundrum. She could not escape. She could not keep living her life. She could not change her life. She did what she could. She shattered her body in the air and put a stop to it.
No matter how you felt about Pat Grim (so aptly named), still you have to give her credit. It takes balls to jump off that bridge.
I am honored to have known a woman with that kind of balls, because no matter how you natter on about suicide being the coward's way out — it takes some nerve to drive out on the bridge, stop your car with the yuppies honking, jabbing wildly with their middle fingers like they were Uzis pointed at your head, grinding their newly capped teeth and smashing faces twisted with hate up against the windows of their air-conditioned Lexi bound for Marin.
She must have come on from the San Francisco side. It would have been all wrong going into the City, because you would have to get there one more time, to walk down Grant one more time, to sit in a the Cafe Trieste and have one last Cappuccino, one last playing of Figaro on the jukebox before the end. I would think so.
What is in Marin? Nothing. Wall to wall yuppies. Just a bunch of upscale Walmartians. No, she drove on the Bridge from San Francisco. Then she pushed through the startled Japanese tourists, dodging a nasty, spandexed, sweat soaked cyclist hoping he doesn't break the code of their cult of total Zen self involvement and suddenly extend a white stinking arm to snap her away from the edge.
But no one stopped her. Of course not. These people are on schedules. “Is she going to jump? 20 minutes of self improvement time left.” “She just wants a better view,” A tourist from Kansas wanting another perfect Kodak moment. “Aren't my hamstrings getting enormous?”
And then she is scrambling, pulling herself up. The process of death is at last purely physical. Getting it done, she is climbing the metal support. It is cold, surprisingly cold to the touch. But then again it makes sense. The Bay's got a grip on it at the bottom, the dead cold Bay down there. And she pushes herself hard, away from the bridge to avoid getting mangled on the way down.
What did you think about on the way down Pat? “Hey now, that will show them!” or did you picture when the authorities opening up your door in Lucerne and someone noting how clean it was for a suicide.
Certainly her house was in order. Pat would not have left anything unfinished. Not even a dirty orange juice glass or a jam smeared plate in her sink. Not even in the dish drain. No, she put everything in its place before she left her cabin that day.
Obviously her life did not flash before her eyes. Her life had been flashing before her eyes for some time. Her life must have played, replayed and played in reverse, at high speed, at low speed, and at dead stop in the middle of every night.
Pat had a big hairy brown German Shepherd. He died of cancer six months before the jump. She did not get a new puppy. So that meant she knew. She knew even then that her commitments should abbreviated. Cut short. Not begun anew. Or did she know even before that? Did his death open the door to her death. Because, of course, she could not commit suicide while he lived. It would be an unnecessarily hurtful act. Pure selfishness on her part. Because all that dog had was her. He loved her as only dogs can, unmistakably and without qualification. You can beat a dog into the ground, next minute it will lick your hand and say he's sorry. Beat a horse like that and he'll never forget, he'll lay in wait 'til the day he can get you and he will one day. Beat a cat and that cat will be gone forever. But dogs take it all upon themselves. They think if only they were a better dog then the boss would like them better. Because the boss is perfect and the object of complete devotion. A price is paid for such devotion. You must then live your life for the dog. Taking care of it, loving it because it loves you. And you can't commit suicide because if you do what will happen to him? Who wants an old ugly German Shepherd that belonged to a dead woman?
Puppies are cute. That's not cute. Just a burden. Either someone has to take him in, your children, perhaps (but they won't have the space), or they will have to take him off to the Humane Society where he will be humanely thrown in with Tuesday's batch of unwanted in a sanitized windowless cubicle while the air is sucked humanely and inexpensively from the room. First he will take short panting breaths and wonder when you will come for him because he is scared, then he will take huge tearing breaths of non-air and finally the whole pack of lost and unnecessary dogs will collapse into death, piled at the door where they scrambled to get free. Hopeless of course. There is no exit from this room.
The shelter assured the family that every effort would be made to find a home. Every effort. Of course that is true. Every effort is made. But they reminded the family that older dogs are hard to place. “Surely,” The family thinks, “a dog like this, a purebred with papers can find a home?” They would not call to inquire of course, not wanting to know the rest of it.
So Pat must have deferred her death until finally cancer took him. What if he had lived longer? Would she have found something, something to live for? Something she had looked for all her life and had almost given up on finding?
Somehow I think not.
I read mysteries, fiction or fact. Currently I look for Rendell/Vine or Joyce Carol Oates writing murder as Rosamund Smith. I read true crime. Ann Rule, Jack Olsen or according to the type of crime. I recently read the story of Sacramento's Dracula Killer and the story of Jeffrey Dahmer. But all that aside I remember reading in one of these books that the key to solving a mystery often lies in the life and character of the victim. So if you read that life like a book you may find the key to the murder.
And what about suicides? You can say and it would be true that murder sometimes just happens to people. They walk into a Jack in the Box at 4 PM exactly at the same moment another disgruntled, disoriented Vietnam vet reaches critical mass in the parking lot. Whammo you're gone. By chance. Another victim of the war. But suicide? Does that just happen to people? Are they pre-ordained? Is it a gene as the Chronicle recently postulated? Is it inherited? If someone in the previous generation, your father, mother did it you are far more likely to do it. Did Pat have suicide in her family? I don't know. I know little about her past. She was not unduly interested in talking about her history. Not the way some people are, the ones who recite it, rehearse and regurgitate it all. As if it mattered. Just a fiction. That's what memory is. A sort of fiction. Not even good fiction in most cases. But Pat wasn't that kind. She was above it.
The key to death was in her face. I could see it. It was in her attitude. The way she looked with such displeasure on to life. The way she held her body. But then lots of people like that just go on being bitter, being unhappy until they die an unhappy bitter death in a nursing home at 90. So what made her jump? How was she different?
She had three children. I know that from the invitation to her wake... I mean memorial service, where you sit around and tell warm fuzzy stories instead of the old style wake where you stared in horror at a heavily made up corpse and then worked yourself into a frenzy to hurl yourself at the body crying and shrieking in pain until someone hauled you away to the bathroom to wash your face with wet paper towels. I suppose they had to stop that because of the paper towels. No paper towels. It wouldn't be right to just shove someone's head under the hot air machine. No, her children had a proper modern memorial service. No big hurry either. Six months after her death and in Marin. I did not attend. I did send a note of condolence.
She had an ex-husband I heard her mention once or twice. She was an ex-teacher from Berkeley. When I met her she was running the Navarro Post office. She seemed to be overwhelmed by all that responsibility. She fretted over the Postal system's endless volumes of rules and regulations. She was trying hopelessly to follow them. To do the job right. I suppose the ever growing club of mass murderers who were recently terminated from the Post Office had been like that. Trying to do it the Post Office way. The trick is to ignore those Postal Procedure books. Throw them promptly into the trash. Don't even read one page. If you can't figure it out call Richard in Philo and ask him. Pat seemed to think of the customers as the enemy. She looked trapped back there in that tiny cell behind the half door. When I had the same job I couldn't stand it in there. I got out every chance I had. Pat didn't come out. A request for stamps was a trauma for her, like you were asking just too much or at the wrong time. Saturdays she worked happily with the top half of the door closed. Once my box was broken so I called through the door, “Pat, my box won't open. Could you hand me my mail?”
“We can't do any window service on Saturdays. That's the rules.”
Finally she was persuaded much against her will to break the rules. She admonished me to make sure I got window business done on the proper day in the future. She would not bend the rules again. I apologized energetically and thanked her profusely.
Not long after that she quit the job. Melvin “Woody” Wood took it. Woody had an entirely different view of it. He laughed a quiet chuckle as he tossed a new book of Postal rules into the trash and went off to have a beer with the boys under the drunk tree, actually drinking alcohol while representing the United States Post Office. Even I could not have done that. It was startling. And in sharp contrast to Pat's reign.
Suddenly she moved to the top of Clow Ridge road, one hour up a dirt road. She even moved her mail pick up to Philo. I rarely saw her and when I did I barely recognized her. She got thin. Out of the pudge a whole new face emerged. I learned that despite her rigid conformation to inexplicable Postal edicts she was in fact capable of sudden and radical changes.
A year later our paths crossed again. I was house hunting, a difficult process in Anderson Valley. Bruce pointed me in her direction. She wanted off the mountain. The commute was too much for her, she said. The road was hell. I wondered how she could live like that. All alone except for a dog in a tiny, perfectly kept cabin. But I suppose she could not live like that. Once again Pat wanted a change. The last year she wanted away from the Post Office rabble. The noise of downtown Boonville. She wanted isolation, peace, quiet and a view from the mountain. She got all that plus mud and wind and downed trees, earth shifting under the only road out, lightning, complete isolation in a poorly insulated cabin in the shade of the redwoods. A price to be paid for everything. She left the mountain, unwilling or unable to pay the price of the view from the top of a coastal mountain just a few short miles from the retching and sucking of the great western sea.
So I learned that Pat was a rather whimsical person who really could not settle on what she wanted and ride out the hard parts. She moved to Lucerne. We moved to Clow Mountain. I got a couple of friendly letters.
She left me a great chunk of shiny obsidian. Obsidian from Clear Lake or Konocti mountain. I sat it up on the rail of the deck. Great black glimmering rock. Hardly like a rock at all. It sat there keeping itself clean and in perfect order for several years. Then it disappeared. One day I noticed it was gone. I could not remember when it stopped being there. But it had. That is the way with rocks I've found. They come into my life. As if they had meaning. A rock comes to you. You take it home, wash it up, place it on a window sill, or a shelf or in a velvet lined box with other stones, and bones, beads, teeth and cat claws, or you put it on the rail of the deck. These must be transported with all your things from one house to another. They can not be thrown out with the trash. They will disappear one day. They often do. I no longer have a rock from my thirties and where did they go? I have no idea. Maybe at night they leave quietly through the back door or the window, taking nothing with them. Until they go, however, it is my job to carry them with me. After-all each rock has some special meaning, doesn't it? But what is the meaning?
This is not a proper obituary. I have not listed what clubs she belonged to, where she graduated from college, where she worked, who she spawned, who is left crying in the night for her.
Pat Grim jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge. And didn't get a story in the AVA. That ain't right. So I'm setting things right for her.
So long Pat. Good to know ya!