88: Goatman’s Bridge

88: Goatman’s Bridge

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Touched by an Angel

Goatman’s Bridge

Although we may not see them and they don’t make a sound, whenever they are needed, our angels are around.

~Author Unknown

My world was falling apart. I was twenty-four and going through a period of bad luck, loss, tragedy and drug abuse. I felt I had no way out. One August day, with a heavy heart, I wrote my goodbyes to my roommate on my mirror with a dry erase marker. I packed a small bag with a picture of my little brother and sister, and a photo of my mother and me, and I also brought along my video camera to film my final goodbyes. All of this happened before I took the pills.

I don’t know how many of the dangerous pills I took, but I knew I took enough to do the job. I was going to end all this hurt, all this heartache, for both myself and my family. I started walking in a daze, and before I knew it I was at a landmark in my hometown called Goatman’s Bridge.

Goatman’s Bridge is a historic bridge that has quite a bit of acreage around it and a hiking trail. I went there frequently for solace — to walk among the trees and stare pensively into the creek that ran softly by. I don’t know what drew me to this place at that moment, considering it was a significant distance to walk. But the pills must have driven me there because of a memory, perhaps a memory of a happier time. This was where I would end my life.

I travelled along the hiking trail deep into the woods for about a mile, and then went another hundred yards further into the forest, where I was positive no one would find me until it was too late. I sat against a giant oak tree and contemplated the leaves for a bit. I knew I would never look upon their particular color of green again, and I was okay with that. It did hurt to know I’d miss the beauty of such things, but death was better than another day of horrendous misery.

The pills were beginning to take effect. As I filmed myself saying goodbye, through the screen, I could see the color draining from my face. This was it.

“Momma, don’t blame yourself,” I said into the lens as I leaned my head against the tree. I held the camera at arm’s length and stared directly into it. “One final shot,” I murmured. “I’m sorry.”

I shut off the camera and lay my head back, awaiting the eternal sleep I craved. I was at peace. I was slipping away, finally… I was….

“Ma’am?”

The voice surprised me so much that my eyes popped open and I felt a surge of adrenaline. This sudden startle from my peaceful float into slumber caused my body to react to the pills and I began to retch. I vomited violently for a few moments before I finally looked into the face of my visitor.

A man stood not even five feet away from me, and looked upon me with a calm that I almost cannot explain. His whole presence was indescribable — peaceful, ethereal, though he looked completely normal. He was dressed in a white T-shirt and denim shorts, he was in his early thirties and his dark eyes twinkled behind a set of wire-framed glasses. He casually leaned against a tree, coolly watching me with a look of steady presence. “What’s your name?” he asked calmly.

I was shocked. Not only had I not heard him walk up — the crunch of dead August leaves underfoot would have easily given away his approach — but how on earth did he find me? What was he doing so far off the beaten path, alone, no less? He wasn’t dressed in hiking gear, and no one was at the park when I arrived. I also knew without a doubt that I was way beyond anyone’s exploring range. I had made sure I was hidden. I just wanted to be left alone. I wanted the pills to do their work. And right then, I wanted that man gone.

“Haley,” I answered as I wiped my chin and lay back against the tree with my eyes closed. I didn’t want to talk, and I knew I was giving him that impression of coldness, but still he did not move.

“Haley, huh? I like that name,” he said. “Where are you from, Haley?”

“Denton,” I managed to choke out before another violent retch caused me to vomit more of the pills at his feet. My body was reacting to the poison, and the longer he kept me conscious, the more I was able to vomit the rest of the pills.

I was on my hands and knees vomiting violently, but he did not even seem to notice. Instead he patiently waited until I was done, and then continued asking me simple questions about my life when he saw my eyes begin to droop. Each question brought about more uncontrollable nausea, and I would vomit until tears streamed down my face.

What’s your favorite color? Do you have brothers or sisters? What’s your favorite song, Haley? These are a few of the dozens and dozens of questions he asked to keep me conscious. He waited patiently as I threw up, then would start the whole routine all over again. He was keeping me involved in conversation to keep me awake, and the longer I stayed awake, the more my body reacted to the overdose. He was getting the poison out of me.

It was then that I realized that this was not natural. Given the circumstances, and the vulnerability of my position, it was obvious what I was doing out in those woods. Any other person would have offered to call emergency help right away. They would have tried to get me to stand up, to get to a car or other source of help, but not this man.

Not once did he ask if I was okay. Not once did he ask if I needed help or what I was doing out in the middle of the woods. Not once did he reach for a cell phone to call emergency help. It was like he knew what was happening. He knew how to handle the situation… and he did. He kept his poise, his calm. His voice was soothing, as he never broke his gentle stare toward me. He leaned against that tree as if he were talking to a lifelong friend about the weather.

Once I realized what he was doing for me, combined with the serenity of his presence, I came to terms with what I was doing. And it was stupid. It was something about looking into his eyes, those dark eyes with the glint — the twinkle of something more than I could understand — behind those glasses. His presence was comforting. Even though at first I wanted nothing more than to be left in peace, I found myself not wanting him to leave.

I was then on my hands and knees in the grass with my finger down my throat. I did not want to die. Somehow this stranger had instilled a new hope in me, and I was determined to get the poison out of me, for my family. I wanted to live. I needed to live. His being there reignited my passion for life!

I raised my head to thank the stranger, but he was gone. He had disappeared just as mysteriously as he had appeared. Not a word, not a sound came from his arrival or departure. He did not say goodbye, just as he had not announced his presence.

I was never a religious person until the occurrence in the woods. That was no man. That was a protective spirit sent by the divine. His purpose was simple: to tell me it was not my time. He kept me from doing the one unforgivable sin, and I thank him for it. I hope he sees now how productive a person I am today. I have told my story to others who are in the same situation. I will never forget what happened that day in the woods or what I learned from that gentle, wise stranger. In the times when I need him most, I just hope I will see him again, standing guard over me.

~H.B. Cunningham

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