The Vessel’s name took on new meaning when shortly after opening to the public it became a vessel to whatever comes after life—death. The original intended use of the building ceased and has remained closed to this day because people kept jumping off the top. If I had to guess, the name Vessel comes from the first definition you’ll find in the dictionary—a ship or large boat—because the building lives in the Hudson Yards on the westside of Manhattan. I’m certain the most unique aspect of the design is that it grows in girth as it extends heavenward because I’m not aware of any other building structures like this. While the most obvious aspect of the design being that it’s one massive, spiraling staircase. This big beautiful staircase was designed by Thomas Heatherwick and his studio associates with all intentions of it being interactive. Interactive in that it was literally designed/made for people to ascend the stairs to reach new heights thus gaining new perspectives. It’s all entirely too metaphorical. If you visit the Hudson Yards website you’ll find this quote at the end of their Vessel description, “Each of you matter to us, and to so many others.” The quote is undeniably in response to the number of suicides that have happened from the top of this breathtaking building.
When I first saw a photo of the Vessel accompanied with text in Heavy Traffic Mag Issue One, I truly had no clue what it meant by, “The most architectural thing about this building is the lives it took”; although I admittedly didn’t give it much thought. I just loved the aesthetic of the page in the magazine. Fast forward a year or so and I was in NYC with my family for a long weekend vacation. We deboarded the plane and immediately decided to drop off our bags at the hotel and go for a walk along the High Line starting over in Chelsea. We walked north enjoying the flower gardens but loathing the heavy traffic among other pedestrians. We eventually got up to the Hudson Yards and there it was—the Vessel. I’ll be honest, I was immediately shook, not because of what I had remembered from the image in my literary magazine back home, but because we had literally just happened upon it and it was beautiful. Truly beautiful. It was shiny. And tall. And oddly shaped. The way it grew in width with height made it feel as if it was on top of you—even from hundreds of feet back. Though you could actually stand right underneath and look up at your copper reflection.
I didn’t stop here, right here in picture-perfect view of the Vessel. I made circles around it. I couldn’t pinpoint its façade because it didn’t have one. I had to see it from all angles. I needed to see if it’d strike me differently from the north, south, east, or west. I needed to see if the direction in which the sunlight reflected off its shiny façade would change the way it made me feel—struck by its beauty—entranced.
I entered the building adjacent—a luxury shopping mall—seeking a different perspective. I escalated to the mezzanine and stood in shock again. It was like I was seeing it in my magazine again for the first time, but for the third time. Or was it the fourth, fifth, or sixth time, if I counted all the multiangle gazing I’d done outside? No one keeps count after the first couple tries because it doesn’t matter. The Vessel looked undoubtedly different from in here—behind this glass. The window’s reflection refracted that shiny allure. It didn’t look as beautiful but I could see the top better from in here—standing atop this mezzanine with people a hundred feet below. Or it could have been just seventy-five feet. But what difference would twenty-five or so feet even make if I was to jump.
Somehow, as if teleported, I was back outside craning up at The Vessel with the Hudson River behind me. Still attracted to look at it but repelled to get any closer. I imagined someone jumping from the top of it even though access was closed and the building was vacant. I imagined them hitting the hot concrete a hundred feet in front of me. Would I go check on them to see if they were OK even though I knew they wouldn’t be? I imagined two people jumping together at the same time—a double suicide—holding hands. They were lovers plagued by unfortunate, seemingly inescapable circumstances. I imagined yet more bodies jumping off the top of this beautiful building. The pyre growing steadily.
I closed my eyes and imagined standing at the top.
And Lo, I found it, a new perspective.
Would the desire to jump still exist up there? Would it be stronger? Weaker?
Would I immediately regret it after jumping, knowing that it was too late? Would my body fill with regret before hitting the Earth cushioning my fall?
What would I think up there? I still didn’t know the answers.
I opened my eyes and a tear fell out. The tear was safe though. It just slowly and safely made its way down my cheek. My brother noticed.
“Are you OK?”
“Yeah, it’s just so beautiful.”
I initially wanted to refrain from using the word beautiful to describe the Vessel but that seems to be the best descriptor. And gorgeous would only serve as a misnomer because it’s all-too-human an adjective. This building is not only inhuman but it also hasn’t served to treat humans very well either—maybe even inhumane. And still, do you see what we’ve done? A building is just a building but somehow we’ve managed to humanize this Vessel. We’ve cursed it. We’ve blamed it for the deaths of people. We’ve taken away its purpose and given it a new fucked-up one. We’ve taken its 154 flights of stairs and made it a Stairway to Heaven.
If you are suicidal, there is ultimately nothing anyone can or can’t say that will change that. We can all share I-love-yous. We can exchange smiles. We can give hugs daily. Together, we can try to help make our lives worth living until Something Else gets us first. I don’t necessarily believe in fate but I will share this with you from Clancy Martin’s How Not to Kill Yourself: A Portrait of the Suicidal Mind—“After all, you can always kill yourself tomorrow. Take a breath, get some space: tomorrow isn’t here yet. And maybe you’ll find you can get through today.”
— md is a husband, father, and sometimes a writer. His writing has appeared on Rejection Letters, Hobart, and a few other places online. He runs frequent and vigorous chapbooks. He tweets from @hipcandelori. You can read more of his writing on his website—mdwheatley.us