The Height of Despair
Most of us see the Coronado Bridge as a quick way across San Diego Bay. Some see it as a drive toward their final destination.
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A YOUNG WOMAN, barely 17, sits on a concrete ledge high above the deep, unforgiving waters of San Diego Bay. She is prepared to shuffle off this mortal coil and leave everything—aspirations, fears, her history and her future, her passion and her pride—on the other side of one fatal leap into darkness. Seventeen years old.
How can you fathom what is going through her mind? What can you say to silence her inner demons?
This was not a neatly wrapped hypothetical facing Coronado police officer Bob Kline one balmy afternoon as he sat engaged in conversation with a woman intent on ending her life. They talked to each other on the very edge of the San Diego–Coronado Bay Bridge, a gusting wind pushing at their backs and a sheer drop of 200 feet facing them, straight down into the chill waters below.
“She was sitting on the ledge with her feet hanging over the side,” Kline recalls. “She had failed her entrance exam at Stan - ford, and she felt like she had let everybody down.”
The two of them sat there at that dizzying height for more than two hours, while Kline ever so gently drew her out and pieced together her story. “I still remember her telling me about her family,” he says. “Her brother was a doctor. Her sister was a lawyer. Apparently, her father was pretty upset about her failing the exam.”
Finally, Kline was able to talk her down from her precarious perch. “I told her, ‘Look, you’re just 17 years old. You still have so many chances. But if you go over the edge, you don’t get another chance. Jumping from this bridge isn’t going to give you another day. There won’t be another day.’”
The encounter took place years ago. Some details—the color of the young woman’s hair, the clothes she was wearing—have faded from memory. But Kline says the words they exchanged stay with him still.