WARNING – This is about an actual suicide by freight train I witnessed so please read with caution because it’s sad and gruesome and there’s no silver lining. I’ve changed names, times, and locations to protect the witnesses as well as the suicide victim and his family. I’m also pretty sure this was kept out of the media so as not to encourage others.
Sunday morning and the air is soft like spring, the sun warming our faces. A close friend, I’ll call Jane, and I are walking, coffees in hand as we do most days. We’re Still comfortably ignorant of the life-changing event waiting for us as we trudge along.
We stop to stretch as a freight train goes by and we begin to cross once it’s safe. We start to speed up as we notice another train is rumbling towards us in the distance. Once we’re across the tracks we notice something isn’t right.
What looks to be a man is walking robotically calm toward us along the tracks, train behind him, white shirt leaping out in contrast to the dark coloured Engine and cargo behind him.
Jane and I stand back from the tracks, both straining our eyes to see better and discussing the situation, wondering if we’re both seeing the same thing. As it all draws closer panic begins to set in. He can’t possibly be on the tracks!
As the scene draws ever closer to us it becomes obvious he is on the tracks, freight train bareing down on him and he is unflinchingly, eerily calm. He just continues plodding forward, radiating all I can describe as despair.
The train whistle is blaring, breaks are squealing against tracks, we’re both screaming, watching in suspended horror as he’s hit, thrown up almost casually at a right angle like a ragdoll.
Suspended animation snaps back into real-time and adrenalin combined with crisis instinct kick in for us both. Jane is calling 911 and I am running, slipping on the oversized loose gravel, knees skinning, hands scrapping. If there’s any chance to help I want to be there.
A man, I’ll call him John, who had pulled up to a stop just after the impact is running with me soon, I fall and wave for him to keep going as I stagger to my feet and keep running.
Reaching the tracks I begin running parallel to them, checking quickly under the freight boxes. I’m hoping desperately he’s still walking on the other side. Maybe he dove out of the way and he needs first aid or maybe he’s not dead but needs to hold someone’s hand as the last of life leaks out… maybe. I’m willing him to be alive, begging time not to take him as I stumble forward.
Coming upon John, who’d run faster than me, seconds after he arrives where the majority of the young man has landed, Shaking my hands out I will myself to move forward to take in the scene, I quietly whisper, “he’s dead?” Although I already know the answer in my heart, because it’s breaking.
John is moving in closer, quickly checking for a pulse but soon he’s shaking his head, tears springing to his eyes, “There’s nothing we can do, he’s dead.”
Soon we’re hugging each other tightly, strangers no more. Next I’m staring at the victims chest, hoping he will suddenly start breathing, but I can see every bone in his chest looks broken beneath his bare skin. His white shirt was torn off upon the impact from behind. He will never breathe again.
Stepping back from our embrace, we introduce ourselves. It seems an odd formality given what we’ve just witnessed together. John and I step closer toward the victim and he says softly to the deceased, “I hope you find peace at last.” And there is nothing else to say.
There are things I may never tell about what I saw. It’s too horrible and too graphic to lay at the feet of another, but I will never be able to unsee the carnage. It’s seared in my memory with all the raw harshness of a branding iron.
Sirens begin to sound in the distance, coming towards us from every direction. Soon fire trucks, police cars, and ambulances are crowded round the intersection.
We both wait close to the body as more and more sirens converge at the site. Soon we can see the Engineer, looking broken and defeated, coming towards us with a police officer.
Prior to him seeing the body I tell the Engineer I saw he did everything he could and it wasn’t his fault. I utter how sorry I am and ask if I can give him a hug and I can feel the pain we both feel comingling as we embrace, a dreadful stew of horror, the stuff of nightmares.
I tell the police officer I’m a witness, as does John we and assure him we’ll stick around and give statements. I shuffle through the heavy, rugged, gravel, back to the intersection where a crowd has gathered.
As soon as the First Responders close in on the young man dead on the tracks he is reduced to paperwork and clean up. This is what they do and part of how they cope, I realize they see horror like this and worse every day and I am grateful for their vigilance and sacrifice.
As I reach the crowd I’m swept up in a whirlwind of chaotic emotions of the people who’ve stopped to see if they can help. I appreciate their determination to assist but all I really want is to fall into Jane’s arms so we can cry and mourn together, but that is not to be just yet.
Those in the crowd who weren’t witnesses are soon shooed away by those first responders, no doubt used to getting rid of crowds and securing areas.
Us witnesses stick together, trying desperately to get whatever help we need. When a statement sheet is passed to me I latch onto it like a drowning victim finally clutches a floatation device. Something to do helps.
Taking a deep breath I stare at the empty page and whisper to myself, “OK Kim, you know how to write. Do that.”
So I focus on writing, the feel of pen on paper, the weight of the pen in my hand. This is what must be done right now so I take comfort in the familiar sensations and write. My statement is long and wordy but I don’t care, it made a good distraction.
Eventually, we exchange numbers with John and part ways. An EMS worker drives Jane and me to our separate houses. Soon I’m alone and I break down in the shower, crying, keening, hurting for that young man on the tracks and the horror in my head.
Jane finds out through reliable sources that it was a suicide and not an accident for sure. Even though we knew this in our hearts and heads
we are overwrought with emotion, hugging and crying the more we find out. I’m not going to give any more detail about who he was or his reasoning because I want to be respectful to his family and friends.
By staying busy my hope is I’ll be able to block the horrible images that plague my mind. When there is space to fill and nothing to fill it with I just see the whole thing over and over on repeat in my mind. I will talk more about this when I discuss PTSD specifically in Part 3.
I hope reading this account hasn’t been too much to bear but we need to talk about Mental Illness and how awful and real and tragic it can be. We cannot keep shoving this shit under the rug because it’s “uncomfortable”. Fuck Uncomfortable! We need to talk about mental illness and death because it happens all the time. Bringing mental illness to the forefront is likely to help prevent this from happening to so many others.
My point was not to shock but to share so that others might know how tragic suicide really is. And I’ve been there, so close to taking my own life. I’m glad I’m still here, still writing and painting and learning to hold space for the deceased in my heart rather than just seeing his final moments.
In parts 2 and 3 I plan to discuss the issues of suicide and PTSD. I will write these as soon as I can but please be patient as I’m struggling with concentration right now and still trying to come to grips with what I’ve seen.
If you have questions or comments please feel free to post in the comments section or, should you have something more private you’d like to share with me feel free to use facebook messenger or my email addy is firstname.lastname@example.org.
All my love to you dear readers. Hold you’re own loved ones tighter, talk about how you feel, do whatever it takes to not have anyone end up like that poor man on the tracks❤