The following day was a Sunday, not a schoolday. Marianne was at boarding school, so there were only the three of us at home. Upon waking, I heard the sound of crashing coming from downstairs which meant dad was in a Mood about something. It transpired that mum had blamed him for my mental condition, and he had responded by smashing things up.
They quickly realigned themselves by turning on me. It had to be my fault.
This was how it worked in our family. Whenever there was a problem, mum’s top priority was to establish who was responsible. If she blamed dad then a Mood would follow, thus generating a build-up of anger which would need to be earthed. Marianne or I were the natural conductors. It didn’t matter whether or not we’d actually done anything wrong, there was always some historical misdemeanour available for resurrection.
They also had an astounding ability to invent fantastically illogical arguments to support any position they cared to adopt. In this instance it went as follows: I was the cause of the problem, therefore my actions were deliberate, therefore I wasn’t mentally ill. A bit like ‘Catch-22’, but from the opposite perspective.
Mum must have felt this structure to be unstable, for she erected a central pillar of unreason: There’s No Such Thing As Mental Illness.
“Those Psychiatrists Don’t Know Anything” she was partial to saying.
“You’re Only Storing Up Trouble For Yourself You Know.”
“This Will Count Against You Later In Life.”
As far as I was concerned there wasn’t going to be any Later In Life, and had now applied myself to researching the toxic properties of plants. It had turned out to be surprisingly difficult to carry out the supposedly simple task of extinguishing one’s own life. I didn’t have the courage to jump off a high building, which was depressing in itself. Running in front of a train or a moving car could be psychologically disturbing to whoever was driving the vehicle. Slashing my wrists just seemed too messy. So I’d settled on poisoning myself which, apart from anything else, seemed somehow … fitting.
It felt quite exhilarating to undertake this research. It felt positive, constructive.
There wasn’t a great deal of reference material at my disposal: The Encyclopaedia Britannica, The Observers Book of Trees and a couple of others. From what I could make out, Deadly Nightshade was a bit of a let-down. It caused extreme hallucinations but didn’t appear to actually kill you. The leaves of the Yew Tree sounded much more promising, although there was no information about how many one needed to ingest.
Warwick School had expelled me, or so mum said. I suspect they might have advised that I was unfit to attend school, an opinion which would almost certainly have run aground on the rocks of her new-found conviction.
She started looking elsewhere and tried Princethorpe School, but the application was rejected. This was hardly surprising because I can’t have been a convincing interviewee. My face was expressionless, my eyes were vacant, my enthusiasm was nil. The headmaster must have said to himself ‘Really? I don’t think so.’.
But there was a boarding school in York, Bootham School, which had a policy for admitting ‘Problem Children’. She enjoyed the sound of those words, always enunciating them with undisguised pleasure, making them the focal point of the sentence, carefully voicing each phonetic element with resonance and precision. I was a Problem Child.
(Nana & Grandad helping with building school Science Block, bottle of Aspirins, sent to Bootham)
I lasted about an hour before the pressure of so many new faces overwhelmed me. I walked out of the school and, eventually, found myself in Nottingham where I was picked up by the Police for acting suspiciously. I’d been sitting on a garden wall for an hour or so, just staring into space. It’s easy to see why how this might have been unsettling for the local residents.
They contacted home, and Dad drove up to collect me. He berated me all the way back, the gist of it being that he had…
“Better Things To Do With My Time”
…than drive all the way to Nottingham…
“For Your Benefit.”
We arrived home, where mum informed me that she had stopped caring about me. This was actually surprising because I wasn’t aware she’d even started. Dad followed through with this observation:
“If you really wanted to commit suicide you’d do it properly and drink some Jeyes Fluid.”