This blog contains material I wrote and posted on between the years 2005 and 2011 only. It does not contain any new material. For newer writing, please check my main blog (Bill the Butcher).

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Experiments With Death

At about seven one evening, a long time ago, a sad, fat, lonely teenager lay on his back on his bed, with the inner door of his bedroom locked, but the outer door (there was a door opening outside) closed but unlocked.

There was a strange feeling in his stomach, a metallic taste strong at the back of his tongue, and his heart was hammering. For the fifth time he re-read the suicide note he had written for his parents (and for whose convenience he had left the outer door unlocked) and then lay back and waited to die. He should have a couple of hours before someone checked on him, and that ought to be more than enough.

It would happen soon, he was sure. The packet of blackish grey crystal he had filched from the school chemistry lab should do its job (if the accounts were correct) very soon indeed. Any moment now, he would feel the poison begin to work. He did not know how it would feel; a kind of numbness, perhaps, or a burning within, or something entirely different. But what he looked forward to what came afterward with eagerness – the end of everything, the feeling of death, and doors opening into an unknown.

He had read a lot about death in the months since he had decided to die. He had devoured every word he could find in his local library on the subject, and read with fascination of killers and victims, of the Reverend Jim Jones and of Vietnamese monks who had immolated themselves in Saigon in protest against the American occupation, of Hiroshima and the like. He had read it all and wondered what those dead people had felt as they died, and speculated on what, if anything, they might be feeling now.

He was glad, happy, relieved to die. He had never been happy in life, had never made friends, had never been attractive to girls, and knew with an ache that his parents most certainly did not love him (though he had informed them in the note that he knew they loved him – it seemed the decent thing to do). His life had been a constant ache of loneliness until he made up his mind to die. After that it had suddenly brightened – his sun had shone, his birds had sung, his flowers had bloomed in the last months. He had taken his final exams in complete peace of mind, knowing the results didn’t matter either way, wanting to get them over with before terminating his existence only because he wanted to tie the loose ends up. He had got the chemical from the lab and kept it hidden in his room. And, a half hour before he had dumped the entire packet in a glass of water and swallowed it down, he had laughed and joked with a neighbour without a care in the world.

Potassium cyanide – he had heard – works almost instantaneously, by combining with the haemoglobin of blood and turning it into haemocyanin. It doesn’t work instantaneously, actually, but it works fast enough. He fully expected to be dead within fifteen minutes; twenty at the outside. He hoped there wouldn’t be a mess, but at that point he really did not care either way.

And so he waited, alternately looking up at the ceiling and closing his eyes, and waited for it to take effect.

Nothing happened.

All that he felt after half an hour was queasy. The metallic taste was only getting worse and he was feeling real nausea. Finally he got up, went to the bathroom, and vomited the blackish crystals out. He vomited till there was nothing left to vomit, and then he decided the stuff hadn’t worked, and tried to think of how to go about doing it again.

Two days later he tried to hang himself. In an encyclopaedia of criminology he had read accounts (and seen photographs) of suicides who had hung themselves with strips of cloth from window bars and the like, and he knew that it was perfectly possible to hang oneself without one’s feet leaving the floor. He tried it in the bathroom with an old shirt torn into strips and made into a crude rope. It was an embarrassing failure. The thing wouldn't tighten round his neck, and he chickened out anyway.

Then it was that his thoughts turned to sleeping tablets, and he gathered them by raiding the medicine cabinet. There weren’t many; benzodiazepines for the most part. There were some blood pressure medicines, too, and others he wasn’t sure of, but he took them all anyway. And then one night he swallowed them – maybe forty or fifty all together – and put himself into a coma for three days.

He woke in a hospital bed, bitterly disappointed that he had not died, and wanting to try again...

That boy, as most of you will have realised by now, was I.

(And in case you’re curious as to how I survived the first attempt – I discovered later that what I thought was potassium cyanide was actually potassium ferrocyanide, which happens to be harmless. For the second attempt, I just was a coward, I suppose. And for the third attempt: benzodiazepines don’t kill, unlike barbiturates, though you can knock yourself out with them.

(I must say I was lucky I had no access to firearms, or I would certainly have used the gun. Then there wouldn’t have been any way I’d have survived the episode: a shotgun cartridge fired through the roof of the mouth does not very pretty things to the base of the skull, take it from me. It may be true that a determined suicide will find a way even without guns, but guns make it far too easy to do it. Another reason to oppose them.)

Since then, I’ve been suicidal many times (I’m cyclically depressive, as many of you know), but never so much that I wanted actually to do it, and at least for now I do not plan to try again. And after two family members and a couple of beloved dogs died literally in my arms, I have no longer the same fascination for death as I had before, though my curiosity about the actual process of death is undiminished.

Often at night I lie awake and try to project my imagination into the moment of my own death, to wonder what it will feel like. Can death be experienced? It’s a fascinating intellectual exercise, highly recommended. I find it’s impossible to actually (except on the level of intellect) believe that I am going to end, and there’s always the hope that somehow I might survive my death to come back and tell of what happens, even though I believe neither near death experiences nor any account of an afterlife.

And what happens after this fascinating mental exercise? After a few minutes, I fall asleep.

Thanatos is an excellent soporific, I find.

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