Towards the end of the year, Stan went out drinking with friends one night, and when they got back to his place Stan got it into his head to take his car for a joyride. The guys with him, Tim and Jay, tried to talk him out of it, but once Stan got something in his head it was impossible to get it out of there. The best thing to do was chaperone him and make sure he didn’t hurt himself or anybody else.
Stan jumped into his car, while Tim and Jay followed in Tim’s. Only Stan sideswiped a telephone pole. He drove his damaged car home and, upset, he grabbed a knife and stabbed himself in the belly before Tim and Jay could stop him. Tim stemmed the wound while Jay called an ambulance.
More was to follow – Stan was caught trying to sneak out of hospital the following morning. He was committed to the same mental hospital that had been offered to me
The news disoriented me. Stan and I had shared a lot over drunken nights. We’d speculated about suicide, but never seriously. I did know, though, that when Stan drank his mood could become black. Then he lost all reason and it didn’t matter what you said.
I held onto that, because if Stan could snap and try to suicide, then what hope did I have? Would I go the same way? Was this the way it worked? That it built up inside you, waited for just the right moment, and then off you went?
Tim, Jay, (another friend) Ron and I visited Stan. The hospital had been converted from a big house, separated into wards for the women and men. The doctors and nurses (or whoever they were, I never identified them) mingled with the patients.
You’d think somebody who’d attempted suicide would be down or contemplative, but not Stan. Stan was Stan. He could’ve been at a summer camp. It suggested that suicidal impulses could exist in isolation, and the rest of the time you could be yourself. That wasn’t assuring, that all you needed was one wrong moment to be your trigger.
There were also other patients whose behaviours scared me. Like Alan, a guy in his thirties, short, affable, charming – the type of guy you might have a chat with in a pub over a beer. But then he told us stories about how he was capable of switching identities and turning into Bruce Lee. There was Tina, a blonde, eighteen or so, who sat fidgeting in a chair, complaining to her mum the television was talking to her. Her mother – in a tone that sounded not just strained, but broken – insisted that it wasn’t real, but Tina kept saying that it was.
Stan pointed out a twenty-something guy – Brett – seated in the corner, watching everybody with a wry grin on his face. Brett had been charged with assault and had faked craziness when he was arrested. At court, the judge had given Brett the option of jail or institutionalisation. Stan said Brett had claimed everybody in the place was crazy but for himself and Stan.
I knew the patients’ problems – like Pat’s – were in a postcode different to mine, but I couldn’t help worrying I’d bought a ticket that was going to get me there. It was lucky I had never ended up in this place. I would’ve scared myself into experiencing the same symptoms I saw in the other patients. There was something my imagination wasn’t good for.
Stan got out the following week and behaved like nothing had happened. We talked about his suicide attempt once. He told me it was a lot harder to see through than he anticipated, that once he felt the knife going in he couldn’t push any further. So, some part of his rational mind had survived through the attempt and had told him, This isn’t on.
And that was the other thing: he had survived.
I could do the same.