Bruce Bentzman's
Suburban Soliloquies #


Many dream of escaping the city, to have a house of their own, on a piece of property large enough to insulate them from their neighbours. The wish is to be able to open a window and have only quiet, the smell of a cut lawn or leaves burning. The ability to go no further than the back yard to lie down and bask in the sun, to park the car next to your home, even in it, this is the ideal. And people desire to feel safe, to distance themselves from the crimes of the city. Safe for the children, with many places for them to play away from traffic, and provide each child with a room of their own, what more can you give them?  This is why people leave the city in droves to live in the suburbs, but the suburbs are an illusion.

The street I live on is 8/10ths of a mile long (1.3 kilometers). I live near one end; Dan and Diane lived near the other. Dan and Diane were married for seventeen years. The relationship produced three daughters. They moved out of Philadelphia and into my neighbourhood. A quiet family, many of their neighbours didn't even know them by name. I don't believe that I ever met them.

Dan, thirty-five, was six feet tall, medium build, and his brown hair
already turning gray. He adored his children, was described as an excellent father, and was not known for violence.

Diane, thirty-seven, was also very concerned for her children's welfare, caring and warm. She was a petite woman, brown-eyed and dark blonde hair. She had dropped out of high school because she didn't like it and then worked very hard, but willingly. She loved life and possessed the strong desire to live it. Eventually, for reasons I don't know, and they are none of our business anyway, she fell in love with another man.

In their privacy, living out their lives anonymously, they came apart. Dan left their suburban home and went to live with his mother in Philadelphia. One Wednesday morning, while the children were in school, he returned to his home at the other end of my street, to work things out with his wife. It was about 10:00 a.m. If the neighbours heard anything, no one thought it their right to get involved. It was the last any of his neighbours saw of Dan.

Not much more than an hour later, shortly after 11:00 a.m., a 1988 Ford Taurus station wagon belonging to Dan, stopped on the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge, a bridge that spans the broad Delaware River between Pennsylvania and New Jersey.  He had quit his car where the trussed arch of green girders begin to arc above the roadway and across the central span. The two motorist stuck behind the Taurus watched a man wearing blue jeans and a flannel shirt, climb out of his car and step over the guardrail on to the walkway. The man gazed over the edge of the bridge at the pier. Seeing below the abutment lined with fenders, it didn't suit him. Perhaps it struck him as too messy, or too much of a sure thing. He ran fifteen feet back along the walkway, to be over the river, and there he jumped the railing. At this point he voluntarily forfeited any further control over his life, but had given them over to natural forces. He plummeted seventy-five feet (23 meters).

Ronald, who worked at a nearby marina, was in a construction trailer reading when traffic stopping on the bridge caught his attention. Out of the corner of his eye he saw someone fall straight and he saw the splash. Grabbing his binoculars, he searched the river, but whoever it was he never saw return to the surface.

The police found Dan's wallet had been left behind in Dan's car.

At 2:50 p.m. their eldest daughter, sixteen years old, arrived home from school to discover her mother in the dining room, in a pool of blood, among the tossed chairs and the knocked over table. Her mother, dead, had been beaten about the face and neck, and she had been strangled.

Dan stayed hidden in the cold, cold waters of the river for the next three weeks. During a warm spell he rose. Twenty-five days after his jump, his belt buckle caught on a mooring 1 1/2 miles (2.4 kilometers) upriver from the bridge. He had been found by a fisherman. The Philadelphia medical examiner pronounced Dan dead at the scene. The body was identified, later, by the serial number on a heart valve installed during a 1988 surgery. Dan had had a bad heart. Someone had invested in him by having it fixed.

We shall now examine Dan's heart. Do we say Dan was so much in love that he had to kill the woman he loved and himself?  I consider the devastation to his three daughters, his mother, to all their family and friends, and it is boggling; yet, some there are who might call this love.

That was seven years ago. Diane's lover still visits her grave.

Bruce Bentzman

This is the thirteenth in a series of regular reports from the life and times of Mr Bentzman. If you've any comments or suggestions, the writer would be pleased to hear from you.