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I saw a girl jump off a building today.
I wasn't there personally; it was the top story on the evening news. They were playing the clip over and over, the reporters' faces carefully cultivated into masks of sympathy as they shoved her story down the throats of half a million people so they could generate a little interest in their station. I'd never really liked reporters, never liked hearing about all the horrible things that happened to people, but for some reason I couldn't seem to change the channel. It was just too...personal to casually ignore it.
She couldn't have been more than fifteen. Fifteen years and already life was too much for her. But she didn't look like the type of girl to hurl herself off the top of the tallest building in the city. Even through the haze of blurry security cameras I could tell her face was the sort of naturally pretty face no surgeon could ever duplicate. Her skin was a beautiful golden color- not tan, really, but evidence to many hours in the sun. The cameras hadn't really gotten a clear shot of her face, so I couldn't tell what color her eyes were, but I could imagine a soft brown or startling blue.
She'd been wearing a dress. This the anchors were going crazy over. Not many suicidal teenagers, apparently, dressed up for the occasion. There was wild speculation over whether she'd just come from a date: had heartbreak been in the picture? Date rape? Cheating?
But I studied her face and decided that she hadn't done the act in a frenzy of conflicting emotions. For one, there wasn't a tear to be seen; in fact, her face was utterly serene. And there was such a purpose in her step that I couldn't help but think that everything had been planned meticulously out, and that the dress had merely been her way of going out in style. In a way, I understood. If I had the choice, I'd want to be pretty as possible during my last few minutes on earth.
The picture changed abruptly to a new angle. She'd been caught on several different cameras while traversing from the bottom to the top of the building, so nearly every step of her journey- from the stop at the bathroom on the third floor to the time on the fifty-second when she'd gotten off an elevator to flip the bird at a security camera- had been caught on tape. I wondered if she'd known that a mere five hours after her death thousands upon thousands would be watching her take her final steps.
The picture changed from the fuzziness of security tape to the crystal-clear image of a camcorder. Some tourist had been unlucky enough to be filming a street performer across the street when the girl had jumped; there was a half second of the street performer yelling and pointing at something off-screen, a mass of blurring colors, and then you saw her. The performer had seen her on the roof, so most of her actual jump was filmed.
It was eerie, watching a girl jump off the roof. By the time the cameraman had turned around she was already almost airborne. Time seemed to freeze as her momentum failed to carry her up any farther, leaving her dangling over a sickening drop that promised only a swift end on pavement. I found myself wishing that gravity would somehow defy the laws of physics and let her keep going up, up towards the sky, but no miracle happened and her body leaned down towards the ground, into the wind and began to fall. Her hair was unbound and streamed after her, clawing for purchase against the wind. Her arms and legs were splayed to either side like one of those flying squirrels. She seemed so graceful, so beautiful at that moment that I nearly cried. The dress was a nice touch, I thought through my anguish. It billowed out behind her, making her look like a bird.
Suddenly, without warning, the pavement came up to meet her. I snapped my eyes shut, but not before I saw her beautiful body crumple and break against the unyielding ground. The image seemed burned into the backs of my eyelids, and I couldn't help but think that the fall had been exactly like the time I'd seen a baby cardinal fall out of its nest. Her dress had even been red.
I heard footsteps and opened my eyes to my mother. “Why are you watching that?” she asked disapprovingly. “That's horrible.” She reached down and picked up the remote, punched in her favorite channel, and left the room.
I stared at the screen, not seeing what was really going on. All I could see, over and over, was her body hitting the ground. I wondered briefly what had driven her to commit suicide.
Glancing at the door my mother had taken to exit the room, a strange thought crept into my mind. What if she just couldn't stand the way people brushed aside other's misfortunes? I'd always held that misery exists to teach someone a lesson, which it couldn't very well do if everyone turned their backs.
I stood up slowly. No, that couldn't be, I thought. The girl hadn't seemed like the type to make an example of herself so someone like me could be taught a lesson.
Then again, she hadn't looked like the type of girl to commit suicide, either.