It was World Suicide Prevention Day last week and it seems only right that I should contribute. Suicide is not a laughing matter. So don’t fucking laugh. Okay?
This is a chapter from my best-selling book, Ben Trovato’s Art of Survival, which quickly went out of print and went on to win no awards whatsoever.
A recent study released in Stockholm revealed that everyone contemplates suicide at one or other point in their lives. The Swedish researcher ended up killing himself when the institution that commissioned the study refused to pay him on the grounds that his findings were so blindingly obvious that a child raised by a family of meerkats could have come to the same conclusion.
And while all South Africans think about suicide, some more than others, only seven or eight thousand people a year progress from mere contemplation to the act itself. Even more worrying is that 20 people try to kill themselves every hour – and fail. What kind of message does this send to the rest of the world? There is something seriously wrong with a nation when not even its broken-hearted, manically depressed, chronically ill, substance-abusing, debt-riddled no-hopers can kill themselves properly.
Even people in happy countries like Sweden and Norway have a higher success rate than ours. In Scandinavia, ordinary people like you and me think nothing of flinging themselves off buildings or into the path of oncoming trains. Sure, alcohol plays a prominent role, although in their case it seems to be the obscenely high prices that drive them to it.
How Not To Do It
Like brain surgery and cunnilingus, surviving suicide is harder than it sounds. Much of the art lies in preparing the groundwork for your attempt. You do not want it to look as if you were engaging in a spot of late afternoon autoerotic asphyxiation; nor do you want people to think you were cleaning your gun when it accidentally went off. Or even that you inadvertently swallowed the wrong drugs.
Bear in mind that this section is not advice on how to kill yourself. This is advice on how to make it seem as if you have tried to kill yourself. You don’t actually want to die. You want to live. But you want people to think you want to die. They will treat you better and keep giving you free stuff for a long time afterwards.
In South Africa hanging seems to be all the rage, with shooting and poisoning lagging behind in the popularity stakes. If you have chosen hanging, avoid using the hangman’s knot. You will need a knot that works itself loose less than three minutes after you have strung yourself up. It may seem hard to believe, but there are over 1000 knots to choose from. If you are the obsessive-compulsive type, try to stop yourself from going through all of them. If you are a nautical type, you might want to try a gaff-topsail halyard bend or a gripping sailor’s hitch. If you prefer something more exotic, consider the tumbling thief knot or the twined Turk’s head. In the end, though, it is probably safer to stick with the bottom-loaded release hitch. The only real problem with hanging is that it comes across as dull and uninspired. Try to be more creative.
Shooting yourself will certainly attract the attention you crave. For this, you will need a handgun. Shotguns have their own romantic appeal but few people survive suicide attempts when they choose a weapon that sprays lead pellets. Try to get your hands on a .22. The bullets are small and the gun itself is easy to handle. The next thing you have to do is write a suicide note. This will make your attempt seem genuine. Try not to make spelling mistakes. Even close family members will regret that your attempt failed when they find your note saying, “I is going to kil myslef becorz i does knot wont to liff no more becors my gurlfrend left me.”
Now give some thought to where you are going to do it. Estate agents are right when they say location is everything. It’s just a pity that more of them don’t try suicide themselves.
Avoid remote areas. Remember that you want to be found and rushed to hospital. You don’t want to be crawling about a field in the middle of nowhere bleeding to death and weeing in your broeks while a cow looks at you with dumb, uncomprehending eyes.
Your bedroom is always a good choice. Or even better, your parents’ bedroom. That way they will at least feel guilty every time they go to sleep at night. And isn’t this one of the reasons you are going to so much trouble? Philip Larkin might well have been considering some kind of action when he wrote:
“They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.”
Now lie down on the bed and shoot yourself. But not in the leg or arm. This will look like an accident and you won’t get nearly as much sympathy. You will need to shoot yourself in the head. Your best bet is to place the barrel of the gun under your chin. Angle it so that the bullet will exit through your nose. Any higher and you risk taking out a chunk of your frontal lobe. On the other hand, a lobotomy may be just what you need.
Even though you will require cosmetic surgery after tearing yourself a third nostril, people will get the impression you were deadly serious about killing yourself but that you had a miraculous escape. They might even say this was a clear sign that god wanted you to live – that you have an unfulfilled destiny; a higher purpose to serve. They will probably want to give you a car so that you can start doing god’s work. Take the car. Fuck the work. God has enough indentured labourers.
This will only work if you are known to have a soft spot for pharmaceuticals. If you are a gun nut, nobody is going to believe that you tried to kill yourself with pills. If you have never taken anything stronger than aspirin, you need to start developing a tragic air about yourself at least a month before the event. Leave scraps of poetry lying on the floor. Try not to plagiarise. You don’t want anyone finding a poem in your handwriting that starts off:
No more of mirth and rural joys,
The gay description quickly cloys,
In melting numbers, sadly slow,
I tune my alter’d strings to woe;
Attend, Melpomene, and with thee bring
Thy tragic lute, Euphranor’s death to sing.
Right off the bat, they will think you are barking mad and have you committed the moment your stomach has been drained. Rather write something simple like this:
I would rather die
Than tell a lie
And this is why
I want to …
Let your handwriting trail off the page. Smudge it a bit with water so that people will think you were weeping as you wrote.
If you choose pills, make sure that you take enough painkillers, antidepressants or benzodiazepines to warrant a stomach pump. You don’t want your mother or wife slapping you back into consciousness and telling you to stick your fingers down your throat. That is strictly for amateurs.
In all of these cases – hanging, shooting and overdosing – you need to ensure that somebody is aware of your intentions. There is no point in surviving suicide if no one knows you even attempted it. That’s a bit like having nobody around to hear the sound of one hand clapping when a tree falls in the forest.
How To Actually Do It
If you live in Durban, the quickest way to shuffle off this mortal coil is to hire a Mercedes SL500 and cruise the back streets of KwaMashu on a Friday night at the end of the month with your windows open and Steve Hofmeyr on the CD at full volume.
If you live in Johannesburg, start hooting at the driver in front of you before the traffic lights turn green.
If you live in Pretoria, cut a broomstick into equal lengths and tie them to your body, wrap a dishcloth around your head and take a long run at the American embassy. Wave your arms about and shout incoherent gibberish.
If that doesn’t work, slip into a pair of leather lederhosen, hang a brace of Canon digital cameras around your neck and take a leisurely stroll downtown. Any town. Any city. You won’t have to go far before a varmint hoves into view. If he grabs your cameras and walks away, call him back. Tell him you have some more stuff that he might want. Then stand on your tiptoes and hold your wallet and phone up where he can’t reach them. If he is taller than you, hide them behind your back and make him guess which hand has the phone and which has the wallet. Tell him he can only have them if he guesses correctly. At this point, he will shoot, stab or bludgeon you to death.
Suicide by Proxy
If you are serious about wanting to end it all but lack the courage to do it yourself, you should consider the option of getting yourself murdered. There are many people in South Africa who will quite happily kill you in return for your car, the contents of your wallet, your phone or that banana you have in your hand.
The benefits of getting murdered are obvious. For a start, most insurance policies refuse to pay out in the event of suicide. Getting someone else to do it for you means that your family will at least benefit from your death. Secondly, a lot of people who commit murders do it only once in their lives. Homicide is a bit like homosexuality in that way. Once they have done it, their curiosity is satisfied and it is out of their system. They might think about it from time to time, but it is unlikely that they will want to do again. In other words, by letting the one-off killer pop his cherry on you, so to speak, you could be saving someone else’s life.
Even though danger lurks everywhere, it is quite possible that weeks could go by without someone making an attempt on your life. Don’t give up. Stay weak. You have already lost the will to survive. Keep it that way. Here are some helpful hints on how to go about getting yourself killed without jeopardising the insurance payout.
Be aware of your surroundings at all times. You do not want to miss an opportunity to be killed, no matter how slight it may seem at the time. Keep your eyes peeled for cash-in-transit vans. They are not unmarked, as you might expect them to be. Instead, they resemble urban armoured personnel carriers. They have names like Coin Security Group, Fidelity Services Group and SBV Security emblazoned across their doors. Their reinforced smoked glass windows clear up any misconceptions that they might be transporting chickens instead of great steaming wodges of money.
Once you spot one of these vans, follow it. Don’t let it out of your sight. If it is going in the opposite direction, make a u-turn and stick right on its tail. Sooner or later, a BMW with no licence plates is going to come out of nowhere and slam into the side of it. Stop your car and get out. This is exactly where you want to be. There will probably be a shoot-out between the robbers and the guards. However, crossfire can be notoriously unreliable and you may find that the bullets keep missing you. Your best bet is to run up to one of the robbers and try to grab the boxes from him. At the top of your voice, shout: “This is my money, motherfucker!” Now you have the attention of both the robbers and the guards. Unless everyone is blind drunk, it will be almost impossible to survive the shitstorm of bullets coming your way.
If you are looking for something a little less dramatic, you might want to try staging a high-speed car smash. You don’t need a particularly fast car. In fact, the older and more run-down it is the better. The last thing you want is an airbag going off or any kind of German engineering ensuring the car retains its shape after rolling 17 times.
Forget about driving into walls, lampposts or over the edge of cliffs. That kind of thing makes insurance investigators jumpy. What you want to do is find a two-way road that is used by heavy vehicles. The N7 between Cape Town and Namibia is perfect. Head out of town as if you were planning to see the Namaqualand daisies instead of planning to cause a terrible head-on collision. Thinking of flowers will help take your mind off things. Sooner or later you will see a cattle truck coming towards you. Make sure there are no other vehicles in the immediate vicinity. There is no point in taking other people with you, even though there is a very good chance that they are also driving along thinking up new and innovative ways to kill themselves.
When the cattle truck is roughly 20 metres from you, swerve into its path. Aim directly for the steel reinforced bull bar. Cattle trucks are built to withstand collisions, so don’t fret about the driver’s safety. He will barely feel the impact. The worst thing that can happen, apart from you surviving the smash and having to spend the rest of your life in a wheelchair, is that the driver will swerve and the truck will overturn. But, in a way, this is also the best thing that can happen. Those sheep or cows he is transporting are on their way to be turned into mutton chops and hamburgers. This way, even though there may be a certain amount of collateral damage in the form of dismembered livestock, a substantial number will escape into the veld where they will be able to live out the rest of their lives as free animals. You will have saved innocent lives by sacrificing your own. God loves this kind of thing and I imagine He would have some kind of special surprise waiting for you in Heaven.
One of the best, but not necessarily quickest, ways to kill yourself is to walk and walk and walk until you collapse from hunger, thirst or cardiac arrest. Before you set off, remember to take your passport. If you are relatively fit, you could easily reach the Zimbabwean border and still be going strong. Cross the border and keep walking. If you have remembered to bring it along, put on your Democracy Now! T-shirt. It won’t be long before a member of Mad Bob’s Central Intelligence Organisation picks you up and takes you to CIO headquarters where you will be tortured to death. Okay, so it’s not quite the same as dying from walking, but it’s good enough.
People who run have a death wish, whether they know it or not. More people die jogging than they do sitting in front of the television drinking beer and eating pizza. You may, however, be one of those with the heart of an ox, in which case no amount of running is going to make it explode. Instead, you are going to have to run into heavy traffic or into the path of an oncoming train. Make it look like murder by throwing your arms up and pretending that someone has pushed you to your death just as you run past them.
The sea is full of animals that can cause you grievous bodily harm. But don’t for one moment think you can simply pitch up at the beach, wade in to the water and hope that something will jump up and bite your head off.
What you need to do is call the Natal Sharks Board and get an idea of where the best shark-infested beaches are located. There are an average of six shark attacks a year in South African waters. In the past 16 years, only 12% of attacks have been fatal. With such a pathetic strike rate you would be forgiven for thinking that sharks are hopeless when it comes to dishing out a decent savaging.
You don’t want to waste your time with second-rate sharks like Zambezis, Makos and Hammerheads. Let alone that big aquatic pussycat, the Ragged Tooth. For a start, you would have to slap them around a good deal to get them angry enough to take even a foot or an arm, which isn’t at all what you want. You need to find Carcharodon carcharias – the Great White – the most feared animal in the sea unless you happen to be swimming at Umhlanga in December. You can make it easier for the shark to find you by following these simple instructions:
- Do not swim at netted beaches.
- Use a razor blade to lacerate your legs and arms before entering the water.
- Swim only at river mouths at dawn and dusk.
- Make sure you are the only person in the water.
- Swim out into deep water and splash vigorously while squeaking like a seal or whatever the fuck seals do.
Water In The Lungs
If death by shark is not an option (you might, for instance, want to have an open coffin with your head on), the next best alternative is to drown. Again, this has to be staged carefully to avoid attracting unwelcome attention from your insurance assessor. Take a packed lunch to the beach. Spread out a blanket and remove some of the goodies from your picnic hamper. Leave a book lying open and have a bottle of Dom Pérignon in the cooler box. Nobody in their right mind would kill themselves while there was a bottle of Dom to be had. The book shouldn’t be anything by Sylvia Plath.
Before going into the water check to see where the dangerous rips and currents are located. A good place to swim is alongside rocky outcrops where, if the tide is right, you will find a dangerous undertow that will suck you out to sea. Your first instinct will be to struggle. Don’t. Give in. Let the current take you right out into the shipping channel. It will only be a matter of time before you die of hypothermia. You should be warned, though, that the moments preceding drowning are generally filled with a fair amount of unseemly thrashing about. You need to override the survival instinct. Done properly, drowning can be one of the most graceful acts imaginable. I would go so far as to say that it compares to a prima ballerina performing a perfect pirouette, only wetter.
Phlebitis might sound like nothing more serious than an infestation of blood-sucking parasites, but you will be pleased to know that it can be a life-threatening occurrence. All you need do is book a round trip economy class ticket to Sydney, Hong Kong, Bermuda and New Delhi. Make sure you sit as still as possible on every flight. This will increase the chances of the blood in your legs turning to sludge. With a bit of kneading, you should be able to pry loose a clot that will lodge in your heart, lungs or brain once you are at cruising altitude and far from the nearest airport.
If the plane happens to crash in the middle of the ocean and you have not managed to induce phlebitis, you could well find yourself adrift in an open boat for weeks on end. You will develop painful blisters across most of your body. The only way to turn them into weeping sores is to squeeze them. After that, infection is not far off. At the same time, drink lots of seawater to ensure that your lingering death is made more pleasant through a series of colourful hallucinations. If you are dying and some do-gooder on the lifeboat tries to give you the kiss of life, quickly stick your tongue into their mouth and make moaning noises. That should deter them.
This is one of the easiest ways to kill yourself without it seeming deliberate. Book yourself a cabin on a cruise ship. The travel supplement in your local newspaper will have a listing of various cruises available. My favourite is from Cape Town to Nowhere. You spend two nights drifting aimlessly around the Atlantic and then you come back. Or, in your case, you don’t.
On your second night, go for a walk around the deck. Do I really have to continue? Head for the stern. It is always quieter at the stern. You may come across a couple of crewmen shagging passengers from Bellville. Wait for them to finish. Then, when the coast is clear, climb over the railing and let yourself go. The captain won’t know you are missing until the next day. And it’s not as if he would give a damn, anyway.
If you can’t afford R4 500 for a cruise (no wonder you want to die), then get yourself a berth on a yacht. Skippers are always looking for crew. Tell them you can cook and have no morals and they will take you on immediately. There will probably be seven or eight of you on board. This presents a minor complication as you don’t want to get caught jumping over the side. You’ll need to start getting rid of the others. Every time you are alone on deck with someone, sneak up and give him or her a powerful shove into the water. Pretend to have a coughing fit to drown out their cries for help. When you can no longer see the person, raise the alarm. Tell the others there was a terrible accident. Repeat until the boat is deserted. Now it is safe for you to jump.
The plan sounds a little loose on paper, but if it could work on the Marie Celeste, it could work on any boat.
Although they are not always aware of it, South African men regularly bring themselves to the point of death by drinking so much alcohol that it would induce organ failure in smaller men with more delicate constitutions. Japanese men, for instance. However, the most serious thing that happens is that they miss work on Monday. Over time, these men sustain varying degrees of brain damage, but since ours is a society highly tolerant of aberrant behaviour, nobody really notices.
If you have decided to drink yourself to death, first go to the video shop and take out Leaving Las Vegas. Nicholas Cage does it with style and panache. He also does it with a hooker, which is a lot more fun than doing it with a wife who keeps nagging you to stop drinking so much.
Next, go to the bottle store. You will already have seen how Cage does it. Fill your trolley with bottles of every shape, size and colour. Leave the beer. Nobody can drink themselves to death on beer. All that will happen is that you will get more and more bloated and possibly suffocate on your own noxious emissions, which is a horrible way for anyone to die.
Go home, lock all the doors and draw the curtains. Set up the bottles so that they are within easy reach. Start with the vodka. By the fifth double, you will feel a lot less depressed. You will start thinking that maybe life really is worth living. This is just the booze talking. Ignore it and switch to brandy. After the first bottle, you may find it difficult to pour a drink without it sloshing all over the carpet. The main thing is to remain calm. Panic will cause your throat to close up. This will interfere with your ability to continue drinking and you will need a friend to come around and hook you up to a drip to enable you to finish the rest of the alcohol intravenously. Drink as rapidly as you can. Don’t worry if you vomit. You won’t be around to clean it up.
Depending on your size, you should be able to induce a coma after three litres of spirits. By the time anyone finds you, your brain should be in a vegetative state. Don’t be afraid that nobody will be able to tell. They will. And you will be rushed to the nearest hospital (if you are not on medical aid, you will be driven slowly to a rat-infested clinic in the next province). After a couple of weeks on life-support, a member of your family will be called on to decide on pulling the plug. If you are lucky it will be your wife. She will ask for a few minutes alone with you. Then, when everyone has left the room, she will bend down, take you by the throat and whisper, “You filthy good-for-nothing son of a bitch, how can you leave me with unpaid bills, you sorry-arsed selfish pig of a man.”
By the time everyone returns, her tears will be genuine. Less honest will be her reason for taking you off life-support.