May 24, 2006 is a day I will never forget.
In my real estate marketing position, I had four Southern California offices located in Torrance, downtown Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, and Westwood. On this particular day, I was free to go to any office I wanted and chose the Westwood location since I enjoyed the staff there the most. Like most days in Southern California, it was sunny, warm, and beautiful. I was peacefully working on a marketing campaign in my office on the ninth floor when, in the corner of my eye, I saw something fall.
For a split second, I thought I was imagining things. After all, I only slept for four hours the night before. I heard a crashing sound, followed by a disturbing thump, and immediately knew I wasn’t imagining anything. It reminded me of the time when I was younger when we threw a mannequin out of our window on Halloween to scare people. I only hoped it was some sort of mannequin, but my instincts told me that it wasn’t. I hesitantly looked out the window and my eyes recorded the most horrific sight I have ever seen. I won’t go into specific details.
I didn’t want the rest of the office to see the girl lying in a pool of blood with her neck completely turned around like a broken doll. Instantly, I knew this scene would affect me for months, even years. But my coworker, Julia, could see the horror in my face and the tears forming in my eyes. “Daryl, what’s wrong?” she hesitantly asked. I pointed to the window without saying anything. Julia walked over and at first, didn’t notice anything. When she moved her eyes to the right side, I heard a huge yelp like a stranded dog. For the first time, I was able to talk.
“Julia, don’t tell anyone. Please, they’ll freak out.” I said. But everybody could hear Julia’s screams. It was obvious that she was just as upset as I was. Soon, other people came to the window. The office manager, Roberta, was affected the most since her son had committed suicide four years prior. We had to sit her down and comfort this poor woman, who looked like she was about to have a heart attack.
The police soon arrived on the scene. I knew they were about to turn her over, but refused to look. However, a morbid curiosity infected my body and my eyes soon witnessed something so disturbing that I vomited right in my office. Not everybody was upset. One coworker immediately got his digital camera out and started taking pictures. “This stuff would be great for the Ogrish website,” he explained. Another coworker, who used to manage several apartment buildings, wasn’t too upset either. In fact, he kept making a joke of the whole situation since he'd witnessed the same thing before.
As much as I tried, however, I couldn’t get back to work. It got worse — I later found out it was a woman from the office upstairs. I had seen her on the elevator several times. She was a beautiful woman in her early forties — long red hair, a Barbie doll body, and smooth pale skin, which I always found attractive. I always thought that she must have been a vegetarian. However, I noticed that she was always shaking her hands while on the elevator. She always seemed disoriented and gave the impression she wasn’t friendly. I never said anything to her on the elevator, not even “hello.”
Angela (not her real name) had a husband and three children, two of them teenagers and one of them only seven years old. I don’t even want to think about their reaction to the event. At first, I felt incredible anger at Angela for doing such a selfish thing; her suicide hurt many people, including coworkers and family. It hurt me, the bystander, as well. I felt that I needed answers.
For the next several nights, I had strange nightmares. In one, a really ugly dog came to me for help. Since the dog was so ugly, I ignored it. I could hear the dog actually cry at my refusal to be his friend. He was so angry that he ran into the yard of a farm owner and started harassing his dog. The owner came out with a shotgun and blew the dog’s brains out as I watched in horror and guilt.
In another dream, I found myself in grade school getting my report card. In my family, getting anything below a B in a class was considered a sin – and this was before grade inflation. I got a C in mathematics and was afraid to go home and face my parents. Instead, I found a way to get to the school roof. My feet slowly walked to the ledge. I closed my eyes, jumped, and could feel “stomach drop” like on a roller coaster. It seemed as if I was falling for ages. Instead of hitting the ground, I woke up screaming.
The most horrific dream after witnessing this event occurred about a week later. In the dream, I was working in a tall building that appeared to be the World Trade Center. At first, I didn’t make much out of it. But I looked at a calendar and saw the date — September 11, 2001. There was absolutely nothing I could do to stop fate. I tried to get on an elevator but it would never come. I tried finding stairs, but they were nowhere to be found. Suddenly, I heard an explosion on one of the lower floors and felt the ground below me shaking. Soon, I ran back into the office and everybody was overwhelmed with smoke. It become apparent that if I stayed in the building, I would burn to death. My only other choice was to jump out the window. Before doing so, I thought of how I had insulted Angela for jumping to her death. “Will I go to Hell?” I asked myself. Before I could think any more, a huge fireball came towards me. I climbed on the ledge of the window, closed my eyes, and leaped. Instead of feeling “stomach drop” like I did in the past dream, I instantly woke up and couldn’t sleep for the rest of the night.
The major nightmares eventually stopped (I sill had other dreams about this), but I was still very angry at Angela for making me go through this. I felt that I had a right to know why she jumped to her death. I tried to talk to several people in her office, but they felt uncomfortable. One woman told me that nobody understands why she jumped, but that, like me, others noticed her erratic behavior.
I soon started to have a recurring dream, where I was the only one working in the office building. I knew Angela was somewhere in the building. Instead of fearing Angela (or her ghost), I tried to pursue her because I had to know her situation. I could see her, from the back, in the main lobby. But as soon as I'd get there, she'd disappear. I kept calling out her name, but she never answered. I chased her up the stairs and was able to hear her breathing hard. Soon, I saw her more clearly: her body was mangled but it didn’t stop her from trying to escape. Rather than getting scared, I found myself getting angrier. She then ran into an office and closed the door. At this point, I knew I could open the door. For the first time in the dream, I became scared. Instead of opening the door and facing Angela, I woke up.
After having this same exact dream at least once a week, I knew the suicide’s after-effects weren’t going away anytime soon. Witnessing the suicide hit a nerve in me that I couldn’t understand. I soon became obsessed with the notion of suicide, researching the topic on the Internet for hours and talking to people on message boards who experienced the suicide of someone close to them. All my coworkers, who were so over this event within a couple of weeks, were wondering why I was still obsessed.
Through the help of real estate brokers in my office, who can find out the address of anybody or anything, I found out where Angela had lived. Some people told me going over there was a huge mistake, that I was being completely selfish. Part of me believed them but I felt I needed closure on the situation that was haunting my life and would go to any lengths to get it.
On September 15, 2006, I used my GPS receiver to locate her address. I arrived sooner than my GPS navigator told me I would and started having doubts. Instead of just knocking on the door, I parked across the street. I wondered if I should really get out and knock on the door. After about twenty minutes, I saw a Toyota Corolla park in front of the house. A dark-skinned man, possible Middle Eastern, got out of the car. He was tall and almost perfectly built, but looked like he had the life beaten out of him — his hair looked like it hadn’t been washed for days and his clothes were wrinkled. Even though he was of a different ethnicity than Angela, my instinct told me that it was her husband. For the moment, I was relieved not to see the kids, because the sight of this man was sad enough.
He instantly noticed I was looking at him. I turned my head, but could notice he was staring at me from the side. I started to get really nervous, especially since he came walking up to my car. I didn’t know what to expect. He looked very mean until he actually came up to my window. I rolled it down. “Hey, you worked with Angela, right?” he asked in a very friendly tone. I hesitantly told him I did, even though I only worked in the same building, not company. He indicated that he remembered seeing me several times when going to pick Angela up from work. Instead of asking what in the hell I was doing there, he asked me if I would like to come in and talk. His name was Amir.
Their home looked big and expensive, except at the time, nobody was cleaning it. When I asked about his kids, he told me they were staying with their grandmother. Both of us wanted to talk about Angela right away, but were too uncomfortable to start the conversation. Taking a deep breath, I explained to him why I stopped by. I explained that I think of Angela every single night and day. I even admitted that I had witnessed her suicide. Even though his stare was blank, I could sense that he appreciated what I told him.
“You can probably tell I don’t sleep very well,” he indicated, pointing to the bags under his eyes. “I don’t want to even talk about the nightmares I have,” he continued. I wanted to talk, but realized Amir needed to get a lot out. He talked about how they met at a Dodgers game, the only one he’d ever been to. He talked about how Angela could make a joke out of a horrible situation in order to make surviving it easier. He also indicated that in the past year, something had gone wrong. I didn’t let him know that I only knew Angela from our silent encounters on the elevator; I felt he had revealed too much and it would be a letdown if he knew I was almost a total stranger.
“I saw her in the elevator shaking her hands nervously,” I mentioned. “She looked really nervous or scared about something,” I continued. Amir indicated that he knew something was bothering her, but was afraid to ask because both of them were very sensitive. He now lives with the guilt of not knowing what he did wrong or if it had something to do with him in the first place. I spent the rest of the visit fixing his computer. When I drove home, I realized that this visit had not done anything but confuse the issue even more.
For the next couple of months, I continued to have dreams of chasing Angela around in the office building. They would vary a little bit: in one dream, her body was mangled and in another dream, it wasn’t. In one dream, she had long red hair and in another, her hair was completely cut. I could never get myself to open the office door and always woke up.
Finally, in the very early morning of April 9, 2007, my subconscious finally faced Angela. The dream started out with my usual pursuit of Angela. Except this time, I told myself that I would pursue her all the way no matter what. She ran into the same office she had entered in perhaps 50 other recurring dreams. It’s an office that doesn’t even exist in the building she jumped from. I didn’t know what the consequences of opening the door would be, but I did so with both courage and fear.
As soon as I walked into the office, it turned into the elevator where I had my previous casual silent encounters with Angela. There she was: tall, pale, and beautiful. She was shaking her hands very nervously and her mind was racing faster than her body could keep up with. She was waiting for me to say something. “Angela, what's wrong?" I nervously questioned. She then stopped shaking and turned her head, looking at me straight in the eye.
“How come you never asked me that question before?” she asked in a very soft, but stern voice. Suddenly, I felt fear, guilt, and anger all hit me at once. Those seven words made sense, almost too much. I didn’t know how to answer. "It's okay," she continued. "You weren't the only one."
As she looked at me, my body started to shiver. But when she smiled, I felt immense comfort. I woke up and finally had the closure I had been desperately trying to find for almost a year.