Let Me Die!

Let Me Die!

From A 4th Course of Chicken Soup for the Soul

Let Me Die!

Open your eyes and look for some man, or some work for the sake of men, which needs a little time, a little friendship, a little sympathy, a little sociability, a little human toil.. .. It is needed in every nook and corner. Therefore search and see if there is not some place where you may invest your humanity

Albert Schweitzer

As he was crossing an overpass on the Auto Mall Parkway outside San Jose, California, Rajon Begin couldn’t believe what he was seeing. A muscular young man, dressed only in gym shorts and tennis shoes, slipped around an eight-foot-high, chain-link safety fence that bordered the overpass and started inching his way onto the narrow outside ledge.

“That’s foolish,” Begin thought, frowning. “What in the world is he doing? Is he some kind of daredevil? One slip and he’s a goner.”

Begin glanced into his truck’s rearview mirror in an effort to see what was happening. But the road dipped, and he lost sight of the man. A moment or so later, he turned onto a ramp leading to U.S. 680 and home.

It was a warm September afternoon in 1994, and Begin had promised his three-year-old daughter, Monet, that he’d take her to the park. From the looks of the thickening rush-hour traffic, he was going to be late. Checking back as he swung onto 680, he could see the man still on the overpass. Something about his posture—the slumped shoulders, the bowed head—brought Begin to a sickening realization.

“My God!” he said out loud. “He’s going to jump!”

Begin knew exactly what the man must be going through. When he was a boy, his father was seldom around, forcing his mother to work long hours as a secretary to support him and his sister. When his mother remarried, Begin and his stepfather did not get along. Begin ran away at 15, living with whatever family would take him in. More than once he contemplated taking his own life. But even in the darkest times he thought of how his mother had struggled against great odds and survived. If she hadn’t given up, how could he?

Now, at the age of 27, Begin had everything he’d ever dreamed of—a wonderful family, a good job as a sales executive with a commercial printing company and a comfortable home. “I’ve got to go back!” Begin suddenly thought. He realized that he had no choice. It was his responsibility to share what he knew—that life gets better if you give it a chance. He owed to others the sort of kindness he had been shown in those earlier difficult times.

Veering off the highway at the next exit, he bogged down almost at once in heavy traffic. “I can’t get stuck here!” he said out loud, and drove up over the curb, down an empty sidewalk and through a shopping center parking lot. Within minutes he was back on the Auto Mall Parkway.

At the overpass he slammed on his brakes and parked his truck on the wide concrete divider. The guy was still there. “Hey!” Begin yelled as he ran across the highway, dodging traffic. “Don’t do that. Let’s go have a beer and talk it over.”

For a moment the eyes of the would-be jumper and the rescuer met. Then the jumper turned his head, staring down at the train tracks 50 feet below.

“Hold on,” Begin called. “”I’m coming out there.”

“Stay away,” the jumper warned. “Nobody cares what I do.”

“I care,” Begin said, encouraged that he’d gotten a response. “I almost killed myself racing my truck here to talk to you.”

Adrenaline pumping, Begin climbed onto the narrow ledge and edged his way, step by step, toward the man. Begin realized that he was the smaller of the two. He estimated the other man to be about six feet tall, weighing more than 200 pounds. The guy was facing the wire-mesh fence, clinging to it with both hands. His back was to the tracks below, and he was staring at them over his shoulder. As Begin got near, he noticed the man was shaking violently.

“Can I get to him in time?” he thought, inching closer and closer. He had begun to formulate a plan. But if he made one tiny miscalculation or the big man lunged at him, Begin realized he, too, could plummet to his death.

Still he acted without a second’s hesitation. Gripping the fence tightly with his left hand, he swung his right foot out and around the jumper, planting it firmly on the ledge on the other side of the bigger man. Then he grabbed hold of the chain mesh with his right hand. With his body now spread-eagled behind the jumper, Begin had him pinned to the fence. The man couldn’t jump without taking Begin with him.

“Let me go, damn you,” the jumper pleaded. “Let me go. I want to die.”

“It’s okay, man,” Begin said. “It’s okay. Everything is going to be just fine.” And for a moment the bigger man seemed to relax back against Begin’s chest.

“I’ve bought some time,” Begin thought. “But if I don’t get help soon, we’ll both die.”

Brian Gundy, 41, a manufacturing manager at an engineering firm, usually worked late. But feeling restless and unable to concentrate, he had left work early that afternoon.

Obeying a sudden urge, he swung onto the Auto Mall Parkway, a route he hadn’t traveled for nearly two years. He was daydreaming when he reached the overpass and noticed someone clinging to the outside of the fence. No one else was stopping, but Gundy, a devout Christian and a member of his company’s emergency-response team, knew he had to act.

His first impulse was to call the police, but he could find no phone nearby. Pulling off the road, he ran toward the fence. Sizing up the situation as he approached, Gundy felt a surge of admiration for the man who evidently was risking his own life to save the jumper. It was, he thought, a remarkably brave thing to do.

“What’s your name?” Gundy asked the big man gently when he reached the fence. It was the only thing he could think to do at the moment, hoping to distract and calm the man. To his surprise he got an answer.

“Charles. Charles Crawford.”

“Charles, I’m Brian. What’s wrong? Can we talk about this?”

Crawford was crying and barely coherent as hemoaned, “I want to jump!” He began to push away from the fence.

Realizing there was no way he could help the rescuer maintain his grip, Gundy prayed aloud: “Please God, keep them alive. Give Charles the will to live.”

Meanwhile, Chris Eyre, a 47-year-old money manager who was battling his way westbound in the heavy traffic, had also caught sight of the men clinging to the overpass fencing. As a Mormon lay minister, he had often counseled distraught people. He called the police on his cellular phone, then pulled onto the shoulder and ran to the scene.

At six feet, five inches, Eyre was 10 inches taller than Gundy. With his height advantage, Eyre was able to reach up the fence and wrap his fingers around Crawford’s. He knew he couldn’t prevent the man from jumping. It was simply a gesture of caring, of trying to calm him until police arrived. A powerful struggle began to play itself out, with one man begging to die and three others pleading with him to live.

By now Begin had been clinging desperately to the fence for almost 30 minutes, his chest against Crawford’s back. Pressing close enabled him to keep a tighter grip, but he also wanted Crawford to feel in touch with another human being.

“Do you have a family?” Gundy asked.

“Three half-sisters,” Crawford answered, his voice barely audible. “My birthday was two days ago. They didn’t call. Neither did my mother.”

The three continued to probe gently, hoping to keep Crawford’s mind off his problems. In short, choppy replies he told them his age and that he lived nearby with his grandparents. Not much, but at least he was talking.

The pressure on Begin’s fingers grew intense. Crawford turned and looked over his shoulder at Begin. “Get out of my way,” he demanded. “I don’t want to hurt you. I just want to die.”

Begin wondered how much longer he could hold on. Looking up, he noticed that four police cars and a fire truck had arrived on the scene. An officer approached slowly.

“Don’t worry about my uniform,” he said to Crawford. “We’re all just men here. We want to help. Do you want to get off the ledge now?”

Crawford shook his head no.

Eyre had hoped that a police crisis negotiator would take over. But the police thought the three men had forged a bond, however tenuous, with Crawford and had a better chance than strangers to talk him down.

Noticing Crawford’s powerful build, Eyre had a hunch. “Did you play football in high school?” he asked.

Crawford nodded. “Yeah, I was a linebacker at Irvington High.”

Eyre thought quickly. Eric Widmar, a young man in his church, had also played football at the same school. He asked if Crawford knew him.

“Oh, yeah!” Crawford said, visibly brightening. “We played together.”

“At last,” Eyre thought. “Some common ground.”

For what seemed a very long time, the men talked— about football, the San Francisco 49ers, fishing. Slowly Eyre began to realize that an inexplicable bond was growing among the four men. And soon the painful story that had compelled Charles Crawford to want to take his life came tumbling out.

It was eerily similar to Begin’s. Difficulties with his stepfather had driven Crawford from his mother’s home at an early age. He struggled in school, got into frequent fights and ended up in a juvenile detention center. Still he seemed to be turning his life around—until that September day when his fiancee announced she was breaking off their relationship. It was then that he had heard a voice urging him to jump. “It’s the best thing,” the voice said. “Nobody wants you.”

“Charles,” Gundy said finally, “if you come over to this side of the fence, we’re not going to forget you. A friend of mine has a boat. We can all go deep-sea fishing together.”

“Just get out of my way and let me die!” Crawford cried. “Nobody cares.”

“Look behind you!” Gundy responded. “There’s a guy risking his life to save yours. Please don’t do this.”

Crawford turned and stared at Begin. Sobbing, he said, “Let me go!”

“No way,” Begin answered, his face ashen but resolute. “If you go, I go! I’m not moving.”

Crawford stared at Begin and then at the two others. He shut his eyes and stopped pushing. Finally he said softly, “I don’t want to be out here anymore.”

After the two exhausted men were pulled to safety, Crawford was whisked away by ambulance. Begin gave his story to the police, then drove slowly home, his mind spinning. He opened the front door with a shaking hand as Monet raced across the living room.

“Daddy!” she cried. “Where have you been? Are we going to the park?”

Kneeling, he hugged and kissed her. “We’ll go tomorrow,” he promised. “Today I had to help a friend.”

In the days and weeks that followed the incident, all three men kept in touch with Charles Crawford. True to his word, Gundy arranged a deep-sea fishing trip for the four.

Crawford has become friends again with his former fiancee and is trying to deal with his painful past. He feels that he’s been given a second chance to live. “I have gained strength from what these men taught me, that people do care about each other,” he says. “One of them risked his life to save mine. I can never forget that.”

Michae l Bowker

You are currently enjoying a preview of this book.

Sign up here to get a Chicken Soup for the Soul story emailed to you every day for free!

Please note: Our premium story access has been discontinued (see more info).

view counter

More stories from our partners