Jennifer Green remembers many things. Mostly she remembers voices shouting: "We're coming!" There was so much relief in those words.
Because Green realized in that moment that she wanted to live. Thirty years later, the Chicago native returned to Minnesota to make peace with that decision.
On Feb. 7, 1990, a despondent 20-year-old Green tucked her identification card into her pocket and sneaked away from a mental health facility in Faribault where she had been a patient for six months.
She stepped onto a nearby bridge and jumped 25 feet into the frozen Straight River.
It would take Green three decades to rebuild physically and emotionally. For the past 10 years, she has entertained the idea of returning to the bridge to reflect on how far she has come. But she just wasn't ready.
And then she was.
"Finally, you know what? It's time," said Green, a 51-year-old teacher of children and adults with autism. "I need to go. I need to see it. Put it behind me."
Green, the middle of three sisters, grew up in a Chicago suburb in what she now realizes was a dysfunctional family. At 13, she attempted suicide for the first time. She began therapy at 15 with a school counselor during her lunch hour.
"I'd sit there with my head down and my hands in my lap," Green said in a recent interview.
"I didn't want to tell my family secrets. I thought I would get in trouble."
Those secrets included sexual abuse beginning at age 10 by a now-deceased family member. She thought she was to blame. She wondered what would happen if she got pregnant, how she would tell her parents.
She "got through" her freshman year of high school, but began self-injuring during her sophomore year. She quit drama and choir, both activities she loved. She quit seeing friends, too, and stayed in her room. An overdose led to a six-week hospitalization.
Diagnosed with bipolar depression and bulimia, she was put on antidepressants and began seeing a psychiatrist.
By her senior year, Green was on the honor roll. She was doing so well that her doctor took her off her antidepressants before she headed to college.
Within months, she spiraled down again. Her parents picked her up from college and took her home.
Desperation to inspiration
In August of 1989, Green's parents brought her to the Wilson Center, a now-closed psychiatric treatment center in Faribault. In its heyday, the center served as many as 90 young people at a time, with an average stay of 15 to 18 months.
On the February day she jumped, Green slipped out of the center without her coat.
She shattered both feet when she landed. She had three compression fractures in her back, a broken right wrist and internal bleeding. Her orthopedic surgeon told her "it was like putting a puzzle together without all the pieces."
She was in the hospital for three weeks, then used a wheelchair for three months. She returned to Wilson on a different unit.
"Everybody was so supportive," she recalled. "I came back to the dorms and everyone wanted to see me. I still keep in touch with some of them."
Her life became a series of surgeries and infections, and healing from surgeries and infections, of therapy and rebuilding her life, which included giving inspirational talks.
She found her way to a field she loves, working with people with autism, teaching them social skills, how to read, how to develop independence.
She started thinking about returning to the bridge in 2010. In 2015, she heard about a reunion of Wilson Center clients, "but I wasn't ready. Money-wise, it was an issue, too."
But she did take one step forward, approaching media outlets in and around Faribault (including the Star Tribune) in hopes of identifying the people who had found her and called for help. She wanted to thank them.
Two women immediately recognized her and stepped forward, but wanted to stay anonymous.
They told Green: "We saw you there. We're glad that we could be there. We're glad you're OK."
After turning 50, Green's desire for closure was growing intense. She originally planned to be at the bridge on June 17 and had a large rock engraved with that date. But personal issues delayed the trip until July 7, when she left Chicago with her cousin, Sara Feazell. Despite a 15-year age difference, the two women grew close in 2017 when Feazell invited Green to her wedding.
"I didn't really know her background," Feazell said. "She was just this ditzy cousin of mine."
About three years ago, Green began to share her past with Feazell, hinting that she needed to return to Faribault at some point for closure.
"I said, of course I'll be there," Feazell said.
After their uneventful five-hour drive from Chicago, the women first walked around the grounds of what used to be the Wilson Center and the accompanying dorms. Then they drove a few minutes to the bridge, pulling off on the side of the road.
Feazell stayed in the car. Green got out, approached the bridge slowly, feeling "pretty scared and nervous.
"I looked over it and then looked at where I'm pretty sure I landed. I think I only looked for maybe two to three minutes. It seemed like forever. I started thinking, I'm here. I got back in my car and I told my cousin what happened. I started to cry.
"I kept thinking, wow, I could have gone home in a box."
Green planned to leave her rock near where she had fallen but ultimately decided that she would keep it with her. On it, she had engraved the words: "She conquered her demons. And wore her scars like wings."
That night, Green lay in her hotel bed unable to sleep. She felt agitated, couldn't get her breathing under control. The bed shook as if the hotel's laundry room were just beneath her.
"Then I realized it was me that was shaking," said Green. "My heart was vibrating, racing. I just couldn't believe I was actually here after 30 years."
Green released a sigh of relief as that reality sunk in: "I've done it."
Two days after the bridge visit, a relaxed Green sits in a Faribault restaurant eating breakfast with Feazell and a special friend who has joined them.
Paula Pridie was on the Wilson Center mental health staff when Green was there. They had kept in touch but hadn't seen each other since 1991.
"She took me under her wing," Green says of Pridie, then laughs. "I put her through the wringer."
"She never did," Pridie said. "I loved her."
As her two allies listen, Green shares her gratitude in now being able to see herself in a new light, where there is no more shame.
"In the past, I always thought, I'm not successful," Green said.
"I'm on disability and I can't work full time. But what really measures success? Success doesn't have to be working full time or being married or having kids … it can mean having a family member that's also your friend," she said, looking over at Feazell.
"I am successful. I've been able to work in a field I love."
She's moving into a new apartment and considering writing a series of children's books.
Green still deals with chronic back pain and sometimes uses a cane to walk. Yoga helps, as does regular talk therapy and distractions such as scrapbooking and going shopping and playing board games with Feazell.
"People say, wow! What a story. People say they suffered from depression and didn't get help. It brings you to a different form of understanding with people," Green said.
"I want to tell them, don't have any secrets. There's no reason to be ashamed. You're not a bad person."
Years ago, when she considered returning to the bridge, it was fear that stopped her. "I was afraid I would jump again. My therapist said, 'No, don't go.'
"This time, I told my therapist, 'I'm ready now.' She said, 'Yeah, I think you're ready.'
"She'll be happy to hear about it. I'll show her pictures."