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A Survivor Talks About His Leap

8 minute read
Amanda Bower

Kevin Hines, now 24, who survived a plunge off the Golden Gate Bridge and is now part of a campaign to add a barrier to the bridge, talked with TIME’s Amanda Bower about his September 2000 jump. Here’s his dramatic account, in his own words:

My birth parents were manic depressives. I’m adopted. In my junior year of high school, when I was 16 years old, my parents filed for divorce at the same time that I was taken off medication for epilepsy. That same pill acts as a mood stabilizer, but we didn’t know I had bipolar [disorder] at that point, and I’d been on it since I was 4.

It first started off as just paranoia. It’s like looking around you, there’s 100 people: in cars, sitting down, standing up, walking, running, and [you think] they’re all following you and they’re all trying to hurt you. From that came the terrible mania, when I would be so happy that I just couldn’t see straight, I couldn’t do anything. For six months after my diagnosis of bipolar, I literally could not read, write or talk. When I would attempt to read the words would stumble off the page. I would try to write, my hands would shake violently. I’d try to talk, and I’d stutter. Before that? I was Mr. Happy Go Lucky, a kid who had everything. It was devastating to my family, to my friends. People just saw me fall apart right in front of them.

I was on medication for two years, 1998 to 2000. In 2000, I graduated in June from high school. All C’s. I went to this doctor, and I had therapy every week, but I began to get worse again. I was on 14 pills a day at that time.

So I began to think about suicide. I did attempt once in 1999. I was hurt by something one of my family members said. My buddy and I had bought these matching knives, and I took [one] and I kind of poked a hole in my wrist. I began to cut down towards my elbow, and I had just purchased a CD by DMX, and basically this rapper was talking to God. He said, “I’m in so much pain when I’m here, Lord, please take me away”. And then God says, “I put you here to do a job, and your work ain’t done. To live is to suffer, but you’re still my son.” So I dropped the knife and taped myself up and didn’t tell anybody.

By September 2000, I was more and more manic, depressed and paranoid. The pills were not helping. I said, I can’t do this anymore. I was tired, I was tired of fighting the disease, I was tired of myself, I was tired of looking at myself in the mirror. I hated myself. It was that simple. I was angry with the world, I was angry with bipolar, I was angry with my parents for making me take these pills.

So I wrote a suicide letter. It ended: “All. Please forgive me.”

That night my dad said he was really worried about me, he wanted to hospitalize me. I said “No, just give me a couple days.” I kind of acted my way out of it, I just baloneyed him and made him think I was okay for the night — knowing full well that I had just written a suicide letter.

The next morning he came into my room, he said, “Kevin, I’m going to take you to work with me, I’m really worried about you.” I said, “I’m fine, I feel much better, I got a really good night’s sleep, I’ve got to go to school today.” I kissed him on the cheek goodbye when he drove me to school. I kissed him goodbye, I had a couple of tears in my eyes, he drove away. I left class early, got on the bus, went to Walgreens, and picked up Starbursts and Skittles for my last meal.

I took another bus to the Golden Gate Bridge. I was crying. I was just so tired, so emotionally drained. I was just looking at people, wanting someone, anyone, to say, “Are you okay?” As much as I wanted that, I was hearing these voices saying, “You have to die.”

I got off the bus at the bridge, and stood there crying. I went onto the span very slowly. Almost reluctantly. The whole time begging myself not to jump, but the voices were too strong, I just couldn’t fight them.

There were tons of people, it was 10 in the morning, bikers, joggers, tourists, workers, cops biking around. I found my spot. And I said to myself, if just one person, just one, comes up to me and asks me if I need help, I’ll tell [them]everything. And this beautiful woman walked up to me, and she goes, “Will you take my picture?” And I thought, “What? Lady, I’m going to kill myself, are you crazy?” But she had sunglasses on, her hair blowing in the wind, she was a tourist, all she could see was this guy standing right where she wanted her picture taken. I must have taken five pictures of this lady. She had no clue.

I thought at that moment, nobody cares. Nobody cares. So I handed her her camera. She walked away. I walked as far back to the railing closest to the traffic as I could, I ran, and I catapulted myself over the bridge. I didn’t get on the ledge to have people talk me down. I just jumped.

I remember every second of it. When my hands left that rail — and my legs curled over — as soon as I left the bridge, I thought, “I don’t want to die.” It’s a four-second fall, and in those four seconds I said, “God, please save me.” I had no idea that you could jump off the Golden Gate Bridge and live. That was foreign to me. You see these websites, they say, “If you want to kill yourself, go to the Golden Gate Bridge.” I’m trying to shut them down now.

So I was in the air, I threw my head back, my feet came around, and I landed at a 45-degree angle. [The doctors] said if I had landed 1 centimeter to the left or right, I would have severed my spinal cord and drowned. What I did do was shatter two vertebrae [in the middle of my back], and they shattered into tiny little pieces. I felt the explosion in my stomach, the vertebrae shot right into my organs.

I went under. I didn’t know I was alive. I was all turned around. I couldn’t see. It was all dark, very scary. Then I said, “Wait a minute — I’m alive, I can move. [But] I couldn’t move my legs. I swam with my arms to surface. I got to the surface, took a big gasp of air, and begged God to save me. I couldn’t yell, I couldn’t scream for help. The current was so strong.

At that moment, I said, “I jumped, I’m in the water, no one is going to save me, I might as well just let go.” But I went down in the water, and I hated that drowning feeling. I thought, “No, I can’t drown, that’s just horrible, I’m alive.” Then I thought, “This is a dream, it cannot be happening.” I actually pinched my right cheek to check.

[Then] the Coast Guard came. Two men jumped in the water, two more pulled me up with their hands. They saved my butt.

[My father] gets to the hospital, and I’m alive. My dad is a tough S.O.B., and he doesn’t put up with any crap. I had never seen the man cry in my 19 years up to that point. And he was bawling like a little baby. That was like an epiphany, like, “Kevin you have to live, fight this every day until you get better, if nothing but for your family.”

I went there that day because it was easy. The common misconception is that someone would just go somewhere else [if a barrier were in place]. The fact of the matter is, people are not going anywhere else. People ask me, “Why didn’t you just shoot yourself?” I’m like, “What are you — nuts?” That scares the crap out of me. Pills were gross. I had already cut myself, it hurt like hell, and I hated seeing the blood.

If there was a barrier that day, I had no money to get back on the bus, no bus pass, I had nothing on me. I would have had to go and tell someone, or I would have been caught by the California Highway Patrol trying to climb the thing. I would have been saved and put in a mental hospital, and then I’d be at home, dealing with my bipolar, hopefully doing it the right way. I still get the voices, the panic attacks, still feel suicidal at times. I’ve just got to fight it every day.”

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