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Thursday, April 1, 2010

Mind the Gap


I just had a terrible idea for a ghost story.

Here's the set-up: earlier this week, at the 116th St. train stop on the 1 (my stop), a young man--maybe 19--jumped in front of a train, splattering himself along the platform and losing pieces of himself as the train pushed him along the tracks. Also this week, another young man (21, a junior at Yale), took an elevator to the observation deck of the Empire State Building, got up a good run and jumped out into the air, cleared the protective fencing designed to prevent such things, and smashed into the concrete below, knocking off his shoes and 'shattering (in the words of witnesses)' his body. He landed, by the way, in front of a Bank of America.

Anyway, so I was standing on the 116th St. platform, where the 19 year old had jumped in front of the train, and thinking about these two guys. Suicides. Both young, and clearly both miserable. As my train sped into the station, I considered, for a moment, jumping, just to see what it's like, just to see what thoughts rush through one's brain as one's brains rush through (and out) of one's head.

I should add here that I'm not at all suicidal. It was just a random thought, with no impulse attached. But when one leaps--as opposed to blowing out one's own brains, say, or overdosing on sleeping pills--there's the Gap.

The Gap happens, too, to people who have been decapitated, allegedly. A doctor in France during the time of the guillotine once wrote about this Gap. After a prisoner named Languille had his head summarily separated from his body, Dr. Beaurieux, in 1905, in Paris, seized the unfortunate man's noggin from the basket set up to catch it, took it to a (very) near-by trailer, and ran some tests. His tests mostly consisted of shouting the prisoner's name:

I saw the eyelids slowly lift up, without any spasmodic contractions ... but with an even movement. ... Next Languille's eyes very definitely fixed themselves on mine and the pupils focused themselves. I was not, then, dealing with the sort of vague dull look without any expression, that can be observed any day in dying people to whom one speaks: I was dealing with undeniably living eyes which were looking at me. After several seconds, the eyelids closed again, slowly and evenly, and the head took on the same appearance as it had before I called out. It was at that point that I called out again, and, once more, without any spasm, slowly, the eyelids lifted and undeniably living eyes fixed themselves on mine with perhaps even more penetration than the first time.

Charming, right? What, if anything, was actually going thru Languille's mind?

And what, if anything, was going through the young man's mind as he leaped from the platform to the front of the train ("Mind the gap," as the MTA posters tell us)? Afterward? And they say it takes around 8 seconds to take the express from the top of the Empire State Building to the sidewalk in front of Bank of America--did the young Yalie have time to reconsider? Did he become more resolved, or more resigned?

The Gap between absolute life and certain death is a wide one. Which is why I was thinking about it as I saw the two headlights of the train quickly approaching, and it's a dumb thing to consider, but also an absolutely pure thing to know, since it's not likely I'd be able to share my answer with anyone else.

Now. The ghost story.

Say there's a spot where someone died, by their own hand. For convenience sake, we'll say the person jumped from the platform to the tracks just as a train was pulling into the station. And after, whenever a person stood in that same spot, she felt two hands push her into an oncoming train. Apparent suicides begin to pile up (so to speak) at the suicide station.

A medium is called, because authorities are at a loss to explain why the station has suddenly gained a reputation for suicides. Most of the dead people are, after all, exceedingly happy and successful--why are these people hurling themselves in front of trains at an alarming rate (say, two or three each week)?

The reason is this: The first suicide, the only ACTUAL suicide, has been released from his miserable life, and now sees how beautiful, how wonderful, the universe beyond our dingy, messy Earth existence is. He's seen the Horsehead Nebula with his own "eyes," he's seen the redshift of galaxies, he's seen inside of a black hole, etc. The assumption is that the suicide-ghost is a miserable, angry spirit, but the medium discovers he's not miserable or angry at all; by pushing all those people to their deaths, the ghost thinks he's liberating them. Saving them. Sharing with them something wonderful.

The suicide ghost is essentially practicing tough love, I suppose.

Anyway, I think it's both a good idea, and a terrible story.

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