It was instant regret.
Moments earlier 19-year-old Kevin Hines had been standing on San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.
“I walked back toward the traffic railing, and I sprinted forward and I catapulted myself into freefall off that bridge,” he recalled 18 years later. “The millisecond my hands left that rail and my legs cleared I had the absolute recognition that I just made the greatest mistake of my life.
“But it was too late.”
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Of the more than 2,000 people known to have jumped from the bridge in the past 80 years, Hines is one of 39 to survive the fall he took on Sept. 15, 2000. He’s one of five who can still stand, walk and run.
Survivor, storyteller and filmmaker, Hines was in Gig Harbor on Monday to share his story. He spoke to students at Peninsula and Gig Harbor high schools, and to about 350 members of the public about his battle with depression, bipolar schizophrenia and suicide.
“I’m always going to fight the pain, and I’m always going to survive the pain,” he said. “And I will never die by my own hands.”
The Gig Harbor and Key Peninsula Suicide Prevention Coalition hired Hines to speak as it works to put signs on the Tacoma Narrows bridges in hopes their messages will stop others from taking their lives.
Today, Hines remains confident he can fight off the problems that nearly cost him his life.
But it wasn’t always like this.
By fourth grade, he was hearing voices in his head. He didn’t recognize them as being anyone he loved or liked. Instead they were telling him to do things he didn’t want to do.
“They were telling me I’m useless, worthless and have no value — that I’m a burden to everyone who loves me,” Hines said. “They were wrong, but I didn’t know it back then.”
The voices went away but came back when he was 17, on the day his “brain broke.”
Hines was acting in a play and looked out at an audience of about 120 people. He instantly felt as if all of them were there to kill him.
The director talked to him about finishing the play but Hines said he couldn’t make out three words in a row that made sense. That lasted for months, he said.
“Why in this country do we look at children when their brains are breaking and say, ‘Snap out of it. Get over it. Move on,’” Hines asked. “You’re damn right it’s in my head and it derives from a disease and it’s as real as the hand in front of my face.”
Between when he was 17 to 19, Hines’ adopted parent’s divorced and he fell into depression. He turned to alcohol to stop the voices and the nightly visits from death, a cloaked figure with a simple message: “Come home with me.”
“Do you think I told anybody?” Hines said. “No, I buried it. I silenced my pain.”
These days Hines has a different outlook on pain.
“Never again silence your pain,” he told his audience “Your pain is valid. Your pain is important. Your pain is worthy of my time and everyone in this room. And your pain matters, because you do.”
He felt differently back in 2000.
His pain was too much. Taking a dozen pills a day couldn’t drive it away. The voices were back.
On the morning of that mid-September day Hines woke up and, for what he thought would be the last time, told his dad he loved him. He wrote letters to other loved ones, saying they would be OK without him.
On the bus to the Golden Gate Bridge, Hines broke down. Sitting in the back middle row, he started crying and yelling at the voices in his head.
None of the other 50 people on the bus said a word — except for the guy next to Hines, who pointed his thumb at the teen and asked, “What the hell is wrong with that kid?”
“And that, my friends,” Hines said Monday, “is what is wrong with society today.
“Our innate human ability to see somebody in the greatest lethal emotional pain they’ve ever experienced but feel nothing but fear of them: ‘That’s his or her problem, but it ain’t mine.’
“I disagree,” Hines said. “I believe that if we are nothing on this beautiful planet, we are supposed to be one thing — together.”
He has a simple request for anyone suffering: Be here tomorrow.
And he offers a message from a poem he wrote when he was in the eighth grade:
He is ancient, yet ageless.
He is ticking, yet timeless.
He runs, not hunted. He chases.
He is a man of many faces.
He is the darkness. I am the light.
I may be cracked, but I may never be broken.
Anyone suffering from depression or who has thoughts of suicide is urged to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.