Bo Anderson ’18
Creative nonfiction (also known as literary or narrative nonfiction) is a genre of writing that uses literary styles and techniques to create factually accurate narratives. Creative nonfiction contrasts with other nonfiction, such as technical writing or journalism, which is also rooted in accurate fact, but is not primarily written in service to its craft. As a genre, creative nonfiction is still relatively young, and is only beginning to be scrutinized with the same critical analysis given to fiction and poetry. It is sometimes referred as docufiction. To learn more about the events that took place, click the link at the bottom.
Fresh air. A gentle gust brushed past Jonny Benjamin’s face as he continued pacing aggressively without looking back at the last of the hope left in his complicated life. How could you leave behind your needed support for mental health? He had heard that raspy, enraged voice before, but he refused to listen to it this time. For some reason it always seemed to appear at the most significant moments in his life, and as he aged, the voice gained an angrier and more threatening tone.
He approached the magnificent Waterloo Bridge as internally drained as a heartbroken dog owner gently embracing his breathless golden retriever. Its four elegant curvatures defined the beauty of the masterpiece while allowing spectators to remember the British victory in 1815 over the French, abruptly ending the ongoing, torturous dispute of the Anglo-French wars. The billions of blurry automobiles raced over the elegant overpass with myopic humans saddled in them rushing towards their next destinations. You’re worthless. You don’t belong anywhere in this world. Jonny slugged onto the Waterloo, spending what felt like all the time in the world. Joggers with dangling headphones passed by Jonny without acknowledging or wondering about his life. The screech of tires constantly rang in his sensitive ears, and he carelessly dragged his two pound jacket behind him which, he realized, was a symbol for his own life: a tiny, useless object lugged around by a manipulative superior with antipathy. Jonny slowly glanced to his right towards the triple-railed blockade on the edge of the Waterloo. He had found his spot, and he pictured the rugged concrete in front of him with his feet imprinted in it: his soon-to-be final engagement with the earth. Carefully, he grasped the glossy, smooth railing with his undersized paws, feeling every miniscule, out-of-place particle of paint press into his skin. There’s no reason to turn back now. I doubt your family would notice your absence. Jonny slung his lanky legs over the threshold, but continued to squeeze it with overwhelming nerves. You’ll be happier this way. It will only hurt a little.
“SHUT UP!” he shrieked, hoping the wicked voice would end its manipulation. You can’t get rid of me, I’ll always be here with you. The constant utterances refused to stop, and they began to lift his weak fingers off of the beams. Legs dangling, arms quivering, he felt his life slipping away―literally. He couldn’t handle the pain, the voices, the struggle, or the hopelessness anymore. He knew he was ready, he just needed to―
“Excuse me, sir,” an angel whispered from behind.
* * *
“…From behind the black doors. You must then proceed through the hallway until you reach a dead end. Turn left, then follow the signs posted on the walls to reach the ballroom. Any questions?” Jonny attempted to reorganize his thoughts, hoping that he would remember the directions towards the main ceremony.
“Hey, can you believe this guy? He thinks we are delirious little kids,” a man sitting to his left exclaimed. “I just can’t believe I’m here. THE Buckingham Palace. I’ve always dreamed of coming here one day,” he added. The man appeared to be a hard-working professional, but besides that, he did not have the most “attractive” features. His unfortunate hairline receded in a half-circular fashion, and he had overflowing sideburns that could latch onto an object if he was not careful. He had hazel eyes that squinted like an old man attempting to find his ragged, rusty spectacles. “I’m Danny Stone, by the way. I am the secretary of the All-Party Group Against Anti-Semitism. What brings you here?”
“I’m Jonny Benjamin, and I’m currently a mental health campaigner.” You should punch him in the face. Wouldn’t that be hilarious? “I have schizoaffective disorder – which is a cross between schizophrenia and bipolar,” Jonny responded.
“Well yeah, I bet a lot of people have schizo-whatever,” he rudely stated, “but you had to have done something important to receive an MBE from the Queen. So what’s your story?”
“Well, about eight years ago I was in hospital for my mental health. I…really didn’t enjoy it. I just thought to myself ‘what the f*ck does anything matter anymore?’ and that I had no way out. So I left hospital, and I went to the Waterloo Bridge: one of my favorite places. I was all alone that day, and I climbed over the sleek railing on the bridge, hoping to end my misery. I knew that I was ‘done with that worry, that fear, that dread’ that was manipulating my thoughts. All of a sudden, I heard a voice…”
* * *
A voice, it was, that sounded like any other British individual’s, but the words calmly wafted into Jonny’s ear canal, vibrating the delicate drum as they sent their message to the brain. He deciphered the message within two hundredths of a second, but was not sure if the remark was towards him.
“That doesn’t look very safe if you ask me,” he uttered again, carefully. Jonny twisted his head around just enough to catch a glimpse of the stranger. He appeared to have an unfortunate, sloppy layer of orange fuzz covering his peaked scalp. It was somewhere between a buzz and an average-length cut, and his nose bulged from the center of his face like the Wicked Witch of the West. But his innocence: that’s what caught Jonny’s attention.
“Leave me alone,” Jonny murmured, hoping for the stranger to lose interest in him.
“Well, you aren’t safe up there. I feel obliged to help you down.”
“I’m fine.” Of course you aren’t ‘fine’, you’re dangling from a bridge. A person in this type of situation CAN’T be normal.
“You ever swam in this river?”
“What?” Jonny questioned, not sure of the meaning of the unexpected inquiry.
“I asked if you ever swam in this river before. ‘Cause I gotta tell you, it’s bloody chilly. My mother brought me here one November night to take a dip, and it had to have been thirty degrees outside. We were freezing, but she insisted on continuing,” he told Jonny, keeping a steady pace and a peaceful tone throughout the story. “I jumped in, and my body goes numb, right? There was nothing I could do but think. Nothing to feel, say, or smell. But as I came to the surface, I realized that this was a moment that I would remember. As insignificant as it seemed, it was a brill adventure. My mother showed me that moments like those don’t appear out of thin air. Great moments must be shared. They can always change a mindset or ascertain the importance of our lives. It’s one thing to listen to other people trying to support you, and it’s another to proceed with it. So please, take my hand.”
He stretched out his less-than-average-sized arm and spread his chubby fingers while pondering the millions of thoughts nervously bouncing around in his head. ‘What will I do if he falls? What if I didn’t say the right thing? Maybe I made things worse?’ It was hard not to contemplate the horrific scenarios, but the stranger, determined to help the man on the railing, suddenly lunged forward with a firm front leg planted into the concrete. His meek, scrawny arms wrapped around the depressed, hopeless human with his bulky fingertips plunging into Jonny’s stomach. With all 190 pounds of his body, the stranger yanked Jonny’s torso towards himself and over the threshold. Jonny’s limp figure flopped freely onto the rigid earth, and he attempted to regain his thoughts…
* * *
His thoughts forced his emotions to release as Jonny felt his sight began to blur from an excess amount of water.
“It came from behind me. It was like an angel appeared at the perfect moment. The sweet, gentle sound flowing through my ears brought me back into the right state of mind for a moment.” As he continued, he realized he would break down into tears soon because of the overwhelming memories. He noticed Mr. Stone’s curiosity towards his storytelling due to his intriguing facial expressions. Although the man nodded very often like a four-year-old nods to his parents during one of their ‘you need to stop doing this’ lectures, Danny Stone appeared to show interest and sympathy. “Because of the haunting voices in my head, though, I was in constant risk of climbing back over the railing.”
“Well then how the hell did you manage to escape that dark moment if your mind was gonna throw you off that bridge?” He asked pleasantly.
“Well, all of a sudden, the stranger grabbed me by the stomach and hoisted me back onto the bridge. I…was in shock. It was all a blur, and the voices stopped for a moment. To be honest, I thought I was dead,” Jonny confessed. “In that moment, I truly felt like a corpse. My lanky, frail physique had no movement, and everything went numb. The only memory I have of that time frame was when the stranger felt my chest to make sure I was still breathing.”
“Damn, that man is a hero. Why isn’t he receiving the MBE?” Mr. Stone asked jokingly, but Jonny didn’t think it was very funny. Jokes never settled well with Jonny.
“For your information, SIR, I have been through…you―you don’t understa―” This guy feels bad for you. He’s actually successful and deserves the MBE. What did you do? Stand on a bridge? Complain about your problems to other people so they would feel sympathy? Yeah, keep whining. “I―I don’t appreciate that Mr. Stone. You don’t know what it’s like to be me. You will NEVER know what it’s like to be me. You’re lucky to not have voices screaming at you throughout the day. So I suggest, sir, that you quickly get away from me before I follow the voices’ orders: to punch you in the face.”
Jonny’s abrupt conclusion to their conversation may not have been polite, but he had reason to end it. The rude secretary fearfully sprang from the suede, red cushion as he aggressively proceeded towards the ceremony. The director, flamboyant and restless, suddenly screeched a striking, assertive demand at Jonny.
“MR. BENJAMIN. WOULD YOU PLEASE FOLLOW EVERYONE ELSE. THANK YOU!”
* * *
“Thank you…Thank you…” Jonny woke up whispering to himself. The bright light beamed into his eyes, causing temporary blindness.
“Somebody call an ambulance,” a concerned female ordered her husband. She hovered over Jonny, kneeling without worrying about the puddle of coffee under her left leg. While making sure he kept himself conscious, Jonny could only lift his heavy eyelids halfway.
“Whe―Where is he?” Jonny asked.
“It’s okay. Everything’s okay. We are going to get you to hospital.”
“Where is he?”
“I don’t know who you are talking about,” she stated honestly, wondering why he would ask such a silly question at a time like this.
“The man. The man that saved my life. Where is he?”
“I’m not sure. I was one of the first people to notice you on the ground like this, but I didn’t see anyone.”
* * *
“…See anyone you want here! The queen, the prince, maybe even some cute babes.”
Jonny could hear Mr. Stone at the front of the line trying to impress the other men with his confidence.
The passageway was intimidating. The men dressed to perfection in their luscious tuxedos and pin-point bowties, and the women conservatively wearing massive hats and lengthy scarves. The whole event did not feel right for Jonny Benjamin, though. It all felt like a mistake. He did not deserve the MBE: it belonged to Neil Laybourn.
The blaring orchestra began its symphony, and the line leader, Danny Stone, swaggered into the ballroom. Everyone in line shifted forward one by one, but Jonny couldn’t handle it. His thoughts swooped in without consent. ‘Neil was his savior. Neil was the reason he survived. Neil gave him hope and purpose in his life. Neil’s sympathy forever strengthened Jonny, and he did not want to take that honor as his own.’ You’re a thief if you think you can take this award away from Neil. He deserves the glory.
For the first time in his life, he agreed with that demon-like voice. Finding Neil after the bridge incident gave Jonny a new goal to achieve in his life. The determination to find Neil after that day was the only reason for waking up every morning, and by starting the campaign “Find Mike,” due to Jonny not knowing Neil’s name at the time, he would be able to thank the mystery man that took time out of his busy existence in order to sympathize for another being. And it worked. Jonny found Neil, he thanked him for saving his life, and he inspired so many other suicidal humans around the world. His message of finding reason in life and happiness has saved hundreds of men and women, most of whom he has never spoken to before. But maybe that’s why he earned the award. Maybe that’s why so many people see him as a savior. And yet, all it took was a small act of selflessness.
The voices in his head faded away as he prepared for his introduction. He knew they would come back tomorrow and would continue to stay throughout his life. He knew that his glory would not last. But this was a moment he would remember. THE moment. It was like he was swimming in a bone-chilling river with his mother.