The second time I tried to commit suicide was by gassing myself. I was 19.
I had tried overdosing on tablets about eight months before, but that had proved a bad idea as I was shit at Chemistry at school and I just ended up having my stomach pumped – not pleasant – and being briefly in a mental home until I discharged myself.
It was all over a girl, of course. Well, two girls. Nothing serious. Just silly teenage angst.
If you want to gas yourself, you need a gas appliance. The traditional appliance is a cooker and all you have to do is switch it on and put your head in.
Except it is not as simple as that.
If you put your head in a gas oven you have, of necessity, to open the oven door of the cooker. This means a lot of the gas which enters the oven will escape. Presumably most of the gas. And, once in the room, unless you have very good double glazing, some of the gas will escape through little cracks round the window frames, doorframe, even the keyhole.
Now, dear reader, you probably think this must be all bollocks. Because gas does not flow into the oven, does it? The oven is just heated up. The gas fumes only exist if you light the hobs on top of the cooker and you then extinguish the flame. But this was in olden days when gas really did go into the oven.
When you are obsessed enough to want to kill yourself, your brain is befuddled.
And sometimes the befuddlement lasts.
And I know my memory is shit, so I had to phone up my friend Lynn – who has a gas cooker – to ask if even my memory of trying to kill myself was befuddled. She reassured me that putting my head in a gas oven when I was 19 was, indeed, a practical thing to do. She did not give her opinion on whether is was a good idea.
Anyway, I know my 19-year-old thinking process went that you have to cover the cracks and potential cracks with towels and dishcloths. And you need quite a lot of those. If you are in a kitchen on a corner, as I was, it has two exterior walls and sets of windows.
Then there is the not-inconsiderable matter of how you put your head in the gas oven.
Gas ovens are not primarily designed for suicide attempts. So the height of the oven is wrong.
Very often, under the gas oven, there is a storage space for trays and suchlike. This may be as much as eight inches high. This means you cannot just lie on the floor and put your head in the gas oven.
It means you have to kneel on all-fours. But the top of the storage area under the oven (which creates the ‘floor’ of the gas oven, compared to the distance between your on-all-fours knees and your torso when bent over, when taking into consideration the height of the ‘ceiling’ of the oven, means that you cannot just easily kneel down with your head in the oven. It means you have to kneel with your head bent slightly but not remotely wholly down.
And then there is this factor of kneeling with your head slightly down in an oven in a room with towels and clothes round window frames and door (how do you attach a towel to the vertical edges of windows and doors?) and the fact a lot of the gas is escaping out of the cooker into the room.
How long does it take for the escaping gas to fill the room and/or the gas remaining inside the open oven to combine with it to have an effect?
Eventually, after about half an hour or so, my memory is that the incongruity of the whole thing overwhelmed my suicidal self-absorption and I gave up.
A few years later, I read the great Dorothy Parker’s poem Resumé:
Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren’t lawful;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.
I don’t regret my first attempt at suicide. The one with the pills. Pity it did not work. Pity I had no natural aptitude for nor interest in Chemistry at school. But, of course, in the un-self-obsessed light of day, you morally can’t kill yourself anyway – because it would affect other people. Even if only slightly and only a few. But it would. Bit of a bum fact of life, that. You have to laugh.