For Evelyn McHale

Last week I read an article about a very famous photograph. The picture included with the article showed a young woman seemingly in repose. It was the picture that attracted me to the article in the first place, as there was something ‘off’ about it. The beautiful young woman in the photo had just committed suicide by jumping from the observation deck of the Empire State Building. A photography student happened upon the scene and took the now iconic image of her body, almost peacefully splayed across the top of the vehicle her body had landed on.

I don’t know about these things, so I don’t know if the 86-floor fall would have killed Evelyn first, or if she would have, however briefly, felt the impact of her slender frame against the rough and weathered metal of the car, and that the impact itself would have been what ultimately took her life. I don’t know.

There are a few things about this story that break my heart. One is that Evelyn was only 23 years old when she chose to die. So young. Two, she was engaged to be married, and according to the internet, her fiancee never married. There is no way to prove that it was Evelyn’s tragic death that kept him from finding love again, but the romantic in me imagines it must have been so painful for him to lose her that he never recovered from his broken heart. Three, her suicide note. It’s not dramatic or fulsome in any way. It is actually very short and succinct. But, it made me cry, because of the emotions her words hint at but that she was never able to express, in life or in death.

And fourth…

The very first thing Evelyn wrote in her suicide note was this:

I don’t want anyone in or out of my family to see any part of me.

It didn’t occur to me the first or second time I read Evelyn’s note, or the article that it was posted in. I was too distracted by trying to figure out why she wanted to die so badly that she was able to step, stone-cold sober, from such a merciless height. But, that one last request that poor Evelyn made, the one thing she asked for, was promptly and completely disregarded, first by that photography student who took the picture of her dead body and then distributed it to any interested party, then by every slavering media outlet who, at the time, would have circulated the photo nationwide in every newspaper, and finally by the various modern publications – online and off – where the photo has been published and continues to exist for anyone who knows how to use Google to see.

I hope that, wherever the molecules and the magic that made Evelyn who she was were able to eventually find rest, and peace.

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