I tried to kill myself twice as a kid.
I say twice but in all actuality I only really tried once. The first time I just talked about it, freaked out my family and landed myself in years of counseling.
We were living in Dallas, having just moved there from Florida so it had to be somewhere around 3rd grade. We had recently moved in with my mom’s friend Dan, who she’s mentioned one day in passing had gone from friend to husband some time ago. The wedding had been a secret. I don’t really remember, but honestly I don’t really remember caring much either. Dan was a nice enough guy for the most part, but had a bit too much of the “I’m going to be your new father and role model” thing going on at times. He also had a dumb beard. I put up with him but definitely recall thinking he was a dick at some points. Like the time he suggested I be taken out of the private school I was currently attending and go to public school. He’d gone to public school and figured he turned out all right though I think he was sort of annoyed at the idea that his new wife’s kids were getting a better education than he’d had and that he was providing for his own daughter from a previous marriage. That is my overly thought out speculation at age 35 looking back on something that happened before I was 10 so I could be totally making that up. Maybe it was just too expensive.
Anyway, I’d moved around a lot before that, going from school to school and more importantly one group of friends to another. It’s pretty rough on a kid to get taken away from the people he considers to be friends and thrown into a new group of people he might not get along with. I don’t think my mom realized how often that was happening. In the few years since my parents divorced we’d moved from Maryland to Florida, from one part of Florida to another, from one school to another, and had now packed up and landed in Texas. I hated it. I missed my old friends and had finally gotten used to the new ones and this new proposal was the worst thing I could possibly imagine. That was what got to me. When Dan sat me down and told me they were going to be moving me to the local public school all I heard was “we’re going to rip you away from those kids you are finally getting along with and shove you into a bunch of new ones you don’t know.” I didn’t give a shit about private vs public, I just didn’t want to leave my friends again.
Dan used to sit me down to talk about things a lot. He was a big fan of the “sit down and talk.” I don’t remember what most of them were about, but I have a lot of shadowy memories of my mom sitting quietly next to him while he tried to explain something he felt was important to me. He’s the one that had “the talk” about sex with me in a similar fashion and to this day that remains one of the worst descriptions of it I’ve ever heard. He also had a betamax VCR and because it was his he’s the one who decided what we’d watch on it. And somewhere around this time he decided to watch Amadeaus. Some people claim that movies influence kids behaviors, but having a bit of a flare for the dramatic anyway, I realized just talking about the behavior did the trick, I didn’t even have to actually do anything. The opening scene where Salieri slits his own throat really stuck with me. Perhaps because I was an little kid and seeing blood gushing from someone’s neck after they’d just run a knife across it was a new thing for me. That is what first gave me the idea, I’m surprised no one ever made that connection.
So at some point I decided that I’d had just about enough of this and the thought of leaving my friends was just too much. If I couldn’t stay with them I didn’t want to live anymore. I think I proclaimed this quite loudly but it wasn’t until I said I was going to kill myself that the folks took note. I don’t remember how exactly I presented it to them, but I remember countless psychiatrist visits after that where I described in detail taking a knife from the kitchen, locking myself in the bathroom and holding the knife up to my throat with the intention of slicing it wide open. I remember saying “then I’d just go to heaven and wouldn’t have to worry about living anymore.” One psychiatrist, a nice lady we met with a few times who seemed to have a fondness for beige power suits, responded “But, there’s no wonderful place you go to when you die, dead is just dead.”
That was the first time anyone had ever suggested the lack of an afterlife filled with angels and clouds and perma-joy. I was left contemplating the notion that this life is all there is, though too young to understand that fully.
Of course I never actually did all that knife business, I was way too afraid it would hurt, but it sounded good and I got to stay at the school with my friends so all was well.
Looking back now it’s all pretty silly, I didn’t even get along with the kids at that school all that well. I had 2-3 friends, but the kids I thought were the coolest really didn’t want to have much to do with the likes of me. Hindsight and whatnot.
While that attempt was all talk, the next time wasn’t. In fact, that first faked attempt taught me that anyone who really wants to kill themselves just does it. Anyone who doesn’t really want to will talk about it. Not saying they won’t go through with it, lots of people talk about things they want to do, but anyone who has truly decided to punch out doesn’t want to risk other people fucking up those plans.
In a not too dissimilar situation a few years later, after my mom had divorced Dan and we’d moved back to Florida, I was attending an acting class and for one of the first times I can remember there was a girl who I thought was cute who didn’t seem completely disgusted by me. I might have been all of 12 years old. We hung out in the class and talked on the phone when not at class. She’d invited me to meet her at the mall and I’d gotten permission and everything. It was going to be awesome. A real date. I suspected we’d walk around and look at things that no one was there to buy for us, and if we were lucky we’d split a cookie from the food court. This was my master plan. I had it all mapped out and had already decided it was going to be the greatest day of my life. That is until I found myself grounded for something. I don’t even know what, but I knew what it meant – no mall date for me. Some kids got grounded for the weekend, or maybe a week. I think the shortest time I was ever grounded was for a month. I’d get a C on a test and get grounded for 6 weeks at a time. Protests resulted in having to hear the story, the same story every time, about how lucky I was to just get grounded because as a child the punishment my mother had received was a slap across the face, her own mother’s diamond ring slashing giant gashes on her face. To hear the stories it’s amazing she wasn’t unrecognizably scared for life, but in my older and wiser age I suspect more than a little embellishment.
So I was grounded and crushed that I was going to miss this date. The worst thing that could happen to me had, I had nothing else to loose. I had given up on all decency and was probably throwing a massive Grade-A temper tantrum. I mean, why not right -what worse could happen? I may have even kicked a chair over or something. Well let me tell you, I got hit with a psychological H-bomb. I was informed that even though I was grounded, the plan was to let me go on the date anyway, but because of that last outburst that was scrapped. I was now being told that I was losing things I didn’t even know I had. As if the punishment wasn’t bad enough the first time, might as well go ahead and multiply it. This was devastating and I was faced with the reality that things I didn’t even know existed could be used against me. To this day that was probably one of the most emotionally crushing situations I’ve ever been in. And since then I’ve been through a divorce. I can’t ever remember crying as hard as I did that afternoon. I’d fucked it up for myself not only once, but twice, the second time without even knowing it. This was just too much for 12 year old me to deal with.
That evening I was left home alone, and I decided that was the time to end it once and for all. There was no way I could be a part of such a cruel world any longer. I was over the throat slitting business and while I knew about wrist slitting it still seamed way too painful of an option. I needed painless, and so the obvious answer was pills. Lots of them. I went into the bathroom where all the meds were and looked around to find what ever would be the most lethal. I guess through some luck there wasn’t anything really hardcore in there and the worst I could find was some mild headache stuff. I grabbed the mostly empty bottle and swallowed every last pill in there and washed it down with whatever the brown liquid that was kept in a crystal decanter in the living room was. It tasted like hell but I figured that was the point.
I wondered how long it would take for the drugs to do their job and put me out of my misery. I recall questioning if I’d just pass out or if I’d get sleepy and feel the need to take a nap then just never wake up. I hoped it wouldn’t give me a stomach ache. I remember looking at a lamp in the living room that suddenly got really blurry and then I woke up in my bed. Many hours later. I’d failed at the attempt, but there were no more pills left and I just chalked that up to one more thing I couldn’t do right.
I’ve never talked about that second attempt. There was no reason to brag about something I’d messed up trying to do, and while the first time got all the attention, the second time was the real thing. It’s been almost 25 years since then but I still think about it on occasion. I think about everything I would have missed out on had that attempt been successful. I think about how my presence or absence would have impacted the people around me today. I think about how selfish it was and what that would have done to people who cared about me. I think about how you only get one go at this life, and as bad as things get you always have the choice to turn them around. I think about that first psychiatrists words, that dead is just dead, and how if you are dead you are guaranteed not to have a good life, where as alive, even in the worst moments, you still have a chance at something good. Since then I’ve known several people who have killed themselves and I always think about how lame it is that they chose the only path that there is no way they can improve. I think about that and the people they left behind.
I think about all those things every time I find myself on a (hypothetical) ledge that I need to talk myself off of which happens more frequently than I have ever admitted. I’ve written before about how once you learn something is an option, you can’t unlearn that. It’s always somewhere on the big buffet of life choices laid out for you. I’m glad that since then it’s always been the least attractive option. I can’t imagine having missed out on everything I’ve been through up to this point – It’s been amazing, even the really bad stuff. I wouldn’t have wanted to miss a single one of those moments. And the ones that haven’t happened yet, I don’t want to miss them either.
* This post is part of a series of serialized posts that would have been chapters in a book I never finished writing. I’m calling it ‘Bits and Pieces’ at the moment. Click here for info about this as well as links to the other stories/chapters.