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If I Can’t Have Her, Nobody Can Have Me

A back page blip announcing an unnatural death rattled around in my head for a long time before I exorcized it by giving it a prose toe tag.

In the November 9, 2005 edition of The Oregonian I’d read, “Amtrak train hits, kills man on tracks in Eugene. An unidentified man died after he was hit by an Amtrak passenger train in northwest Eugene. He was pronounced dead at the scene Tuesday night, the Lane County sheriff’s office reported.

“Witnesses said the man had been walking south on the tracks, but stepped off when the engineer on the northbound train sounded the horn. The man then took off his coat and stepped back onto the tracks, they said. The sheriff’s office is investigating the incident.”


Try tragedy.

But this dead man wasn’t the transient I’d assumed he was, some hopelessly disoriented lost soul so out of it he didn’t see the train hurtling at him.

A surprising number of people meet their ends on train tracks.

There was the guy who was in such a big hurry to get to the other side of the street he drove around the down safety arm and was smashed into oblivion by an oncoming train. And there was a high school kid who somehow got hit by two trains sometime after midnight out at a train yard. He was skateboarding on the tracks with his headphones on and never heard it coming. Lost both his 14-year-old legs, but he lived.

Christopher M. Kalter-Strand, 23, was the third person in a week to be hit by a train in the Eugene, Oregon train yards, but he wasn’t trying to beat the train across the tracks and he wasn’t working out on a skateboard. Christopher M. Kalter-Strand didn’t want to live. He deliberately jumped in front of an afternoon Amtrak headed north for Portland at 60 miles per hour. 

And Christopher was no transient. He was the only child of Allen and Sherly Kalter-Strand, college professors. Christopher spent his early life in securely middleclass comfort. The hyphenated name alone translates as an inside-the-bubble pedigree — private daycare, Whole Foods, a Waldorf primary school, soccer camp, braces, Subaru hatchbacks, family vacations.

On November 9th, Christopher was a lithe, handsome young man in his senior year at Oregon State. He had everything to live for, as the cliché has it. The very week after he chose death Christopher was to have been in Spain for a leisurely semester's study, and by graduation time he not only would have had his college diploma, he’d have his youth, and all of life’s banquet to choose from.

But Christopher despaired because the love of his life wanted a little emotional room, a little time off from him. But she was it for him, The One, and just thinking about her with someone else…

An old man could have told Christopher, “Look here, kid. You’re young. Get yourself drunk and go on. A year from now you’ll laugh at yourself over this. Lighten up, for crissakes.”

But the kid couldn't get over her, he begged her and he brooded, and decided not to go on with her, probably not thinking about the life times of pain he would cause his parents and everyone who knew him. 

Christopher's name wasn’t released until the police were certain of his identity. It took a month to be certain, which is how long the ID process sometimes takes even when the police start out knowing whose remains they’re looking at.

The police brought out a few details beyond the fact that a man had intentionally jumped in front of a train the morning of November 9 in Eugene, Oregon.

“Thomas Ray Crone,” Lane County sheriff's office investigator James Jorgensen wrote, “said he was operating the train. He was northbound from Eugene traveling at about 60 mph. He observed a white male walking towards him on the tracks. He blew the horn and the subject stepped off the east side of the tracks. As the train started to pass, the subject threw his coat down and jumped in front of the train. The train struck him and he flew off the east side of the tracks.”

Investigator Jorgensen also interviewed Michael Lee Isom, Crone’s co-pilot.

“Isom said he was stepping into the cab and saw a brown head directly in front of the train and immediately heard a thump. He observed the body glance off the left side of the train.”

Crone and Isom are identified right down to their heights and body weights — both coming in at 275 and both well under 6 feet. They were victims too, after all. Crone had braked hard to spare the young man looming up in front of him, but trains aren’t automobiles, and Christopher Kalter-Strand, 23, honor student with less than a year to go to college graduation, was killed instantly. 

Marie A, Hattenburg told the investigator that she was one of the train's conductors, and that the train just left the train station en-route to Portland when she heard the train blow its horn.

A short time later she noticed the train braking hard because she was thrown forward like when a car is stopping fast. She said she went to the front of the train and was informed that they just hit someone. 

Marie could not say what happened because she did not see what happened. She did say that the men operating the train told her that they’d noticed a person walking down the train track so they blew their horn, and the person jumped to the side; however, when the train approached the person, he jumped in front of it.

There was no doubt that Christopher had intended to die. The young woman who inspired Christopher’s death said “they had agreed to see other people.” 

Anja Brahmer, a student at the University of Oregon, was the love of Christopher's life. She also grew up in Salem. Anja and Christopher had gone to high school together, and they'd been a couple ever since. They were still a couple, sort of.

When Anja had returned from her year of study in Spain, Christopher had taken a break from his studies at Oregon State to live with her in Eugene.

Anja last saw Christopher when she left for work the morning of the day he’d decided to die. She said there was nothing in Christopher's behavior that so much as hinted that he might kill himself. They’d argued the day before, argued long and repetitiously because Christopher, fatally jealous, kept coming back at Anja with other young men she'd met while she was abroad, and Anja kept reminding Chris that they'd both agreed to take a break from each other.

And then they’d gone to bed. 

The next morning, Christopher’s last, they’d gotten up together. They again exchanged the same opinions about the history and present state of their relationship they’d exchanged the night before. Anja was tired of it. She had classes to attend and a job to go to. She left their apartment, reminding Chris to lock the door if he went out. 

But Christopher didn’t have classes and a job to go to. All he had left were his demons, his envy. As he walked the three miles from Anja’s place to the train tracks, Christopher must have steeled himself to die rather than go on torturing himself with visions of Anja with other young men. If their affection for each other survived Christopher’s torment, maybe it would be strengthened and maybe it wouldn't. After all, they were young, and they'd already been together since high school. People grow, change. There’s a whole literature about it. Songs, too. Christopher understood that in theory. 

But emotionally, Christopher was dying, and in a few hours after his last sight of his Anja he finished the rest of himself off.

Anja had come home from work late in the afternoon to find Christopher’s 11-page farewell on a chair in the middle of the room. Anja knew what the letter said even before she read it.

She called her mother. She called Christopher’s mother. Anja’s mother told her to call the Eugene Police Department. But Christopher had been dead for five hours by the time Anja read his last testament. 

“He was fine that morning,” Anja says. “He said he was going to Salem for a while so I didn’t expect him to be home when I got back from school. If he’d even suggested he might hurt himself, 1 would have acted and so would his parents. We just didn’t see it. Yes, we were going through a rough time in our relationship but we hadn’t broken up. I’d been abroad studying for a year, so we'd been apart. We had agreed to see other people, but I guess he didn’t expect it to actually happen, even though we'd talked about it and he’d had a relationship with someone else, too. But he was very upset and disappointed and hurt about it; not really jealous just very unrealistic, I think.”

Christopher had locked their apartment door as Anja had asked him to do that morning.

“I got home from school and found it and started reading it,” Anja remembers of the day she’s now condemned to remember all her days. “I knew even before the end of the first page what it was and what had happened, and I knew exactly what he’d done. I hadn’t expected it at all. He didn’t say specifically that he was going to kill himself, but I could tell what he was trying to say. He'd told me about two friends of his who'd been suicidal. Chris had helped them to get through it. But he’d never said anything about doing it himself. I was shocked that he was able to help other people but not himself. He was a very quiet person but he never became any more depressed than anybody else gets sometimes. If I'd even suspected he might do something like this I would have gotten him help right away. I didn't see it in him, and he hadn’t said anything that made me think he might hurt himself. He was close to his parents, too. But nobody close to him even suspected he was so far down. I just keep telling myself it was his choice to do this. No one else is responsible.”


  1. ERMA February 26, 2023

    Thank you for this. You write beautifully. I wish would-be suicides would think about others first. They leave utter devastation behind.

  2. john ignoffo February 27, 2023

    What in the hell did the crew’s heights and weights have to do with the tragedy?

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