We were standing in the hall.
“I’ve stopped caring about you,” said mum, before absenting herself.
“If you really wanted to commit suicide, you’d do it properly and drink some Jeyes Fluid,” instructed dad. Scathingly.
I went to bed. It was late and I was tired. I hadn’t slept properly for two days.
The following morning, mum phoned Bootham School to arrange for my return. A date was agreed upon. It was decided that I should go back there a week on Saturday, in ten days time.
Ten days during which mum and I were sharply focussed. We were each goal-orientated. We were, the pair of us, clear about our purpose throughout this time interval.
Mum was sharply focussed.
She was determined that I should take ‘O’ Level examinations. This was paramount. This was vital. This took precedence over all other considerations. I was to be re-installed at boarding school in order to sit ‘O’ Levels. I would return home, next summer, triumphantly laden with armfuls of glittering academic trophies to lay at her feet. I was subsequently to take ‘A’ Levels, pass ‘A’ Levels, and be delivered unto University.
Thus would I receive mum’s approval.
“You’re going to be a professor at University!” Frequently, maddeningly, wrongly.
“You’re going to be an absent-minded professor at University!” A baffling, disagreeable enhancement to a misguided fantasy, but this was how I would secure her approval.
Because mum, the headmistress of New College School, was the self-appointed dispenser of approval. She disbursed approval, disapproval, commendation, condemnation, praise, criticism, and published her judgement with a red ballpoint pen.
She wrote, in red ballpoint, at the bottom of exercise book pages, in the margins of exercise book pages and in the lower right-hand corners of exercise book pages.
Wrong! See me!!
3/10 v. poor!!!
Pay attention in class!!!
She presided over a universe of binary outcomes, handing down her verdict with a tick or a cross. She was the arbiter of right or wrong, good or bad, moral or immoral, success or failure.
Success was good. A credit to the school!!!
Failure was bad. (the fault of the child, the parents, the background, the upbringing).
Failure meant letting the school down.
Which, to be fair, was entirely understandable. A fee-paying school can only survive on the strength of its reputation. I was too self-absorbed to see an obvious problem – how would it look if New College’s principal was known to be the mother of a self-destructive failure? It wouldn’t look good at all.
Mum, however, enlightened me….
“How does this reflect on US!” she accused.
Furiously. Intensely. Her eyes unnaturally, maniacally widened. Heavily emphasising the “US“. Pointing at me with her index finger, lest I should be in any doubt as to who might be responsible for this potentially tarnished image.
And there it is! There! She said it! Right out loud!
She wasn’t looking at me at all. She was looking at my reflection. Her attention was exclusively trained upon the destination of the light which might irradiate me. The light which would then be reflected and scattered, some of it incident upon multitudinous pairs of eyes, all of whose gazes were fixed upon New College School. Mum only saw my two-dimensional representation, reflected from thousands of retinas, corroding the good standing of The School.
I didn’t exist in her three-dimensional model. I only had length and breadth, the virtual image of how others might see me.
My virtual image was letting mum down, letting me down, letting the whole school down. Redemption would only arrive in the form of ‘O’ Levels, ‘A’ Levels, and University. The measureable, countable, graded academic qualifications which define success.
Success was good. A credit to his mother!!!
Failure was bad (the fault of those psychiatrists)
Those psychiatrists! Those psychiatrists!
Those psychiatrists who didn’t know what they were talking about. Must be more attentive in class!!!!
Those charlatans who had said (no they hadn’t!) that my problems were all mum’s fault. 0/10! v. poor work!!!!
Those impostors who had recommended that I should remain in hospital for a few more months. A troublesome & disruptive influence!!!
Well! They didn’t matter now. They were gone. Those psychiatrists had been expelled. The school will not tolerate disobedience!!!
I was to be returned to boarding school, wherein I would miraculously recover, and duly fulfil mum’s ambitions. And that was the end of the matter. Write out 100 times ‘There is nothing wrong with me’!!!
I was sharply focussed.
I was determined to kill myself, and now I knew how.
Why had I never heard of this before? All that time-wasting with the gas-tap, the sleeping pills, the aspirins! All that pointless research into the toxic properties of plants!
Deliverance had been here all along! Right in front of me! In the school cloakroom!
Occasionally, when no-one was around, I went to look at it. A business-like tin constructed of no-nonsense rectangles. Unscrewing the metal cap, I could see that the tin was almost full. Good! I had ten days (and counting!) to gather sufficient courage to drink a cupful of this hitherto unremarkable liquid.
I’d settled on ‘a cupful’ as being the required dosage, although I can’t rightly explain why. Possibly it was because dad had said to drink ‘some’ Jeyes Fluid, which would have implied, to my way of thinking, that it wasn’t necessary to drain the entire can. If it was as effective as he’d indicated, then one full cup ought to be enough.
It wasn’t going to be easy though. I tried to visualise myself drinking this stuff. A few gulps and it would be over. It wasn’t too much to ask when you looked at it like that.
It’s ironic. People often say ‘I’d rather die than…‘ as a precursor to describing something they’d rather not do.
I actually meant it.