Cornell is bisected twice by The Gorges, and both are crisscrossed with bridges. As you walk across, you see the stratified rock improbably drop straight down to the rushing water. The Hawthorne bridge in Portland greets pedestrians with a suicide hotline and a narcissus flower. He looked too long into the water, we giggle.
If you see a spider's web revealed by the dew when you wake up, can you resist messing with it? When it's been dried incognito by the sun, can you avoid breaking it to get where you're going? Once I was delineating a wetland in a field of tall grass. Huge yellow spiders lurked (this was their aspect!) in every gap between grass clumps. (This is what I assumed, once I accidentally walked through one.) I am someone who has slept on the couch after encountering a spider in my bed. Traversing the grass induced an unlocatable crawling sensation. And webs stick to you.
Cornell's bridges used to be partitioned on both sides with fences high enough to prevent casual suicide, like the 2oz limit on carry-on liquids prevents casual terrorism. They prevented bodies going over the edge and they prevented gazes falling into the water. They were unsightly on a campus of huge, empty lawns, century-old trees, and student lounges where one expects cigars and brandy or a teddy bear named Aloysius. I don't know if walking through a corridor of fences is akin to standing paranoid and still or stepping boldly through webs (going where many have gone before).
In place of obtrusive fences (though that was the point), there are now nets spanning the gorge below each bridge. "Each one is unique," someone who walked across those bridges for a year of his life tells me--"a snowflake." One is triangular, inviting some ambitious (the wrong word?) individual to find just the right point to jump beyond its geometry. Another is a square so skimpy it presumes that the suicidal have waxed brains.
I'm told the nets are designed on the theory that most suicides are impulsive, which must be taken to mean amnesia about the nets you see every day on your way to class. In this I hear an idea that preventing suicide is about nets. If all the gaps are covered, nothing can escape. Or everyone will know the exits are blocked, and perish the thought. Maybe next the school store will stock razors with plastic covers that read "REMOVE BEFORE USE."
If someone does get caught in the act, so to speak, what then? They freeze to death in an Ithaca winter night? Maybe that would be preferable to Cornell, because their preventative measures remain on display. There's no way off the nets that I could see, other than a plummet slightly shorter than the one they are designed to interrupt. It is as if all that is asked of the net is to impart a "thou shalt not" before allowing the act, like legislating dissuasive literature to be passed on to the patient before an abortion is performed.
Why can't I stop laughing, when suicidium interruptis, as far as I know, actually works? It can't be because I expect an institution to care about something other than its image. That would be unreasonable. It can't be because I don't believe in the value of life after attempted suicide. I'm pleased about the survivals I have known and know. Obviously not for their sakes (what would that mean?), but for my own.
Is it because, as fishing goes, an expected catch of six in a decade (this was the number at Cornell, pre nets), does not seem worth the trouble? The incomprehensible complexity of city plumbing seems, by comparison, a more productive result of frantically burying what we don't want to think about. You'll have to excuse the mixed metaphor, ignore the sticky silk.