Everything I write about in this blog is true. Despite how poetic or descriptive I try to make it, there is not one lie or empty word.
In this case the words are mine, but this story really belongs to a young girl I have never met, and missed bumping in to by about five minutes. The trauma belongs to the under-paid and under-trained security guard who told me the nights events as he walked with me and my friend around the Albert Dock in Liverpool; and the aftermath belongs to me. I am going to try my best to get this down into words that give the story the attention it deserves, and if that fails I will have at least attempted to clear my mind of the nights events and lift the weight of guilt I have felt since.
Christmas is a really hard time for people. ‘Experts’ call the first working day after the New Year ‘Divorce Monday’. I personally know this to be true as it was ten days into January, and I had not made it out of Divorce Monday unscathed. This on top of my already crippling bout of depression (the worst I had felt in years), had left me needing some escape from the room I had locked myself in four days earlier. A surprise visit from my friend Teresa gave me the kick up the arse I needed to get dressed, and we decided to take a drive into Liverpool, and down to the Waterfront – my favourite spot to find some peace of mind.
After parking my car, we walked toward the Pier Head. The modern smooth stone slabs we walked across shone in an elegant grey colour as we walked towards the ferry terminal. The moisture in the air felt nice against my face, although I could feel my hair getting more agitated the damper it got. We were overlooked by the Three Graces. Gorgeous old buildings that sat majestically between the river and the City. Their facades where lit up by purple lights, which made them look warm and comforting. Four figures were frozen at the end of the pathway between the Mersey and the road that served the people in the three buildings behind; and it didn’t take a genius to work out that these figures were statues of Liverpool’s favourite sons and its biggest tourist attraction. Paul, George, Ringo and John stood facing the river, their larger than life sculptures providing endless photo opportunities for passers-by, who asked strangers to take pictures of them whilst they hugged and posed with the Fab Four. It was hard not to do. I was brought up on the Beatles, and my family (who lived close to John Lennon’s old house) had been friends with the band before they were famous and before McCartney got rid of Pete Best because he was getting all of the girls – according to my Grandad. Despite this, I still wanted to hug George Harrison like a crazy fan girl every time I was there.
The new museum seemed to hover mid-air and block my view of the arena and the Wheel, which were the other side of the Albert Dock. The museum was top heavy and appeared to thin out towards the bottom. It reminded me of a horrible, square tadpole. (Worst description ever). The light from the museum complimented the purple on the buildings behind it, and its façade matched the grey paving stones I was stood on beneath it. Lights installed in the ground highlighted concrete blocks that divided the waterfront into sections. Each had chunks cut out of them, creating some uncomfortable concrete seating for visitors. The benches closest to the river gave off a romantic glow as they were lit up by imitation Victorian lamps that lined the river edge all the way down to the Albert Dock. There was light pollution either side of the waterway as modernity had built up around it, providing offices and residential building unhindered access to the view. Despite this, the river looked black and dangerous. The artificial light gave off enough glow to highlight the other statues and monuments that dotted the area, but at this time of night it was hard to read any of the inscriptions without shining your phone on them – not that I was in the mood to read any of them. I was so pre-occupied with trying to breath and fake smile, that I really did not care about anything other than myself.
I came here for clarity, and I have done since I was 19, tonight was no exception. Teresa had come with me this time because she was going through a rough time herself, and she was a firm believer that getting out of the house and going for a drive was the best cure. I was delighted when she decided this trip would be a good idea, because I was petrified of coming here (my favourite place) alone at night. I appreciate the irony there, but I have an irrational fear of deep water; so much so that I very rarely sit on one of the uncomfortable benches because I have images of a strong sea wind pulling me in to the abyss, or even the modernity behind me shoving me towards the river. To prevent these unlikely but very threatening event from happening, I never really stop to sit and look out or back at the view as I never want to have my back to either monster. I always maintain a comfortable distance between myself and the river. If you stare at the Mersey, you can occasionally catch the greyish shine of the waves as they make their way out to see and pass by the lamps – although I can never look at them for long/
As we advance towards the Albert Dock, we noticed a couple of police cars and an ambulance parked near the front of the museum in silence with their blue lights still flashing. We thought nothing of this and carried on with our journey. The struggle between modernity and tradition gets more apparent the as you get further down the waterfront. The ground changes from the flush grey stone into old brownish cobbles. They are the kind of cobbles that would make the lovely clip-clop noise if a horse walked across them, but for a girl in 2018 they were a challenge to walk across if your shoe had the slightest heel on. There are signs dotted about warning visitors the floor is uneven, and I wondered if these warnings were there because somebody in the past wasn’t paying attention and nearly fell in to the river. My anxiety rocketed the more I thought about it, so I decided not to read any more signs and just focus on where my feet where going.
Teresa did not share my fear, and was leaning over the rail staring down into the water. I adored how unafraid she was, and smiled to see how much she and her mustard coloured coat stood out against the black rail she was leaning over. The lamps lit her up, and the orange lifesaving ring which was hung on the rail near her thigh added another vibrant colour to my view, which made the river look even more threatening. At least if she goes over I’ll be able to spot her and save her, I thought. Before I could plead with her to move away, she resumed walking on the route we had chosen, and I followed at her side – obviously the side furthest away from the water.
We soon reached the black swing bridge, which sat between the Pier Head and Albert Dock signs. Technically this made it a no-man’s land and no-man’s bridge, and I was keen to get across it safely, so we could continue our journey. After we had completed our first lap, peering in restaurants at dinners and resisting temptation to jump on moored private boats, we made our way back to no-mans bridge around the back of the restaurants; passing by tourists who were amazed with the view.
There was a noise coming from the river that sent chills up my spine, and looked over the bridge (on my tip toes nowhere near the rail) to see the water frothing. Looking back, I realise it was the water getting caught between the open river and the calmer dock area, but I became really concerned for the eight ducks (and one nasty seagull) that had gathered near us. We noticed them fighting over bread, and Teresa pointed out a man in a yellow security guard jacket and a black woolly hat throwing what looked like his left-over supper to them. I felt uneasy staring at the man and couldn’t understand why ducks would leave their nice calm lakes for the turbulent Mersey; so in an attempt to distract myself I analysed the clock like mechanics of the swing bridge to give me something real to focus on, but this too made me uneasy. The interior of the old circular stone look-out building near the Pier Master’s house glistened with modern controls that were used to move the bridge. It didn’t feel right, and I really wanted to see this bridge manned by actual people. It would comfort me to know that a person was keeping the angry river from breaching the dock.
The man in the yellow jacket called us over and asked what we were up to. My mind threw countless reasons at me, but my mouth could not speak the words. Teresa told him we were a bit down and we wanted some fresh air and a walk. The rest of the conversation become uninteresting to me, as the man took every opportunity to chime in with the opposing argument for every statement I put forward, and I was not in the mood for beat down. Yellow Jacket pulled his hat lower over his ears, and sparked a cigarette as he walked with us on our way back to see George and John (I don’t care for the other two much). Before we knew it, our trio was back at the lopsided museum and the police and ambulance were still there, but their flashing lights had stopped. I wondered if they were just having a break or something.
“Can’t believe they’re still here!”, Yellow Jacket used his cigarette to point towards the vehicles, “Some young girl, probably about your age just tried to jump in. I had to grab her and pull her over”. My heart sank when he said this. I was upset for the girl and that she thought death was her only option, but I was equally upset because Yellow Jacket had delivered the news to us in the same way blasé way he had just spoken about the ducks he had just thrown his left-over sandwiches to. Teresa gasped and held her hands across her mouth in shock, before she began asking more questions. Looking back, it may have seemed like we were only asking questions for the sake of gossip, but it most certainly was not the case. Teresa had never suffered with depression to that extent, and she needed to understand how and why a girl ‘about our age’ could feel so bad that jumping into the river was her only option. The thought of missing this girl by a few minutes made me sick. If we hadn’t have stopped for those touristy pictures of me hugging George Harrison, we may have seen all of this unfold and the thought of seeing another human so distraught make me nauseous.
Yellow Jacket continued to tell his story and described how he had noticed her climb over the rail, and place herself so her feet were on the edge of the platform. She was crying hysterically and her whole body was shaking. I imagine this was partly due to the freezing January temperature, and the pain and adrenaline that must have been enveloping her. I visualised the scene, and could see this sad, sobbing figure looking over the edge of the water, petrified of what had been and what was to come. She would be reasoning with herself that this was the only way, whilst trying to stop her body from resisting the next step. Her depression would be telling her to jump but her soul would be willing her legs to move backwards and away from the edge, fearful of the impact the jump would have on her body. In my mind I could see her body recoiling, thinking about the freezing water and the turbulent tide that would hammer her head down beneath the water and suffocate her slowly. I don’t care what anybody says, the human body is hard-wired to survive, and it will fight to do so, even when it is too late and death is hovering just beneath the waves. I don’t even want to think about how it would feel to regret that decision. Everything makes me feel nauseous nowadays .
I wonder if she saw Yellow Jacket coming towards her, or if she even noticed him as she cried and shivered on the edge of the abyss. He told me that he had to pull her over, and I replayed this image in my head. In my mind, he grabbed her in a tight bear hug around her waist, and lifted her over the rail and back to safety like a wrestler trying to suplex an opponent, before getting into a fight. I don’t know if she resisted or if there was a struggle, but (I imagined) his arms would stay gripped around her waist and they would remain face to face and he walked backwards, her feet following his lead like dance partners. Performing a suplex salsa or a piledriver waltz.
We continued this macabre discussion until we were interrupted by his colleague who had been walking around looking for his friend who had the keys to the warm office.
“We’ve got two jumpers!” Yellow Jacket shouted, using his cigarette to point at us. I didn’t find it funny and neither did Teresa, who tried to defuse the situation in her diplomatic way. I anxiously shouted something about us being woolly jumpers – I was prone to outbursts of bullshit when I couldn’t find a way out of an uncomfortable situation. The other man did not look impressed with any of us, and my plan to change the conversation had bombed. The other man had witnessed the event that night too, and their different reactions to it made me feel hopeless. These men patrolled the docks every night, occasionally finding bodies floating or seeing people take their own lives by jumping in the open water. It was clear they both handled this trauma in very different ways. When Disappointed Man had left, (much to my relief) I enquired as to whether they received any training or had counselling after things like this, to which Yellow Jacket shook his head left to right, telling me how ‘even the cleaners are on more money than me girl.’
We waved goodbye to Yellow Jacket and made our way back to the car and home, but I could not stop thinking about that girl. I didn’t know it was possible to be haunted by someone who was alive.
To be continued….