When Andy Bodle’s first feelings of love were not returned in kind, he succumbed to desperation.
Trigger warning: suicide attempt.
“Young men make great mistakes in life. For one thing, they idealize love too much.” —Benjamin Jowett, Letters
“Fink und Frosch, von Wilhelm Busch.”
The Ridgeway School contingent crossed their collective fingers as Louise Driscoll elegantly delivered the title of her chosen poem. The four of us had been given the day off school to compete in the 1984 Wiltshire modern languages public speaking competition at a school in Devizes. Louise’s marks in German weren’t as high as mine, but she was more confident, better groomed, and possessed of a luscious, Cadbury’s Caramel speaking voice, and as such our only realistic shot of a prize.
She cast an imperious gaze over the assembled throng. And then … “Fink und Frosch, von Wilhelm Busch.”
The Ridgeway School contingent buried its collective face in its hands. The durr-brain had elegantly delivered the title twice.
On the journey home, in the back of Mr Norman’s battered VW camper van, Louise was inconsolable. But I gave it my best shot. And she must have appreciated the gesture, because the next day, we bumped into each other outside the sports hall cubby hole, and chatted for a few minutes.
The next time we met, the chat was a bit longer and less stilted, and before long we were spending most breaktimes and lunchtimes together. Louise was one of the few girls I knew who could hold a conversation about something other than makeup. She was a member of the local Young Farmers’ Club, she played tennis and hockey for the school, and she liked Stevie Winwood and Fleetwood Mac, which in 1980s Swindon was the height of musical sophistication. Most of all, she was the first person of my age with whom I wasn’t afraid of saying anything too intelligent. It was at the start of the fifth form, when she came and sat next to me in Maths, that I realised she had become my best friend.
To begin with, that was all there was to it. It wasn’t that she was unattractive; she just wasn’t like the girls I had traditionally lusted after (ie she didn’t tie her shirt-tails round her waist or seal her bargains with spit). She also never seemed to be without a boyfriend for more than a few minutes. Whatever the reason, I simply didn’t think about her That Way.
Then, one sunny spring day in 1986, I was sitting watching her playing tennis with a friend. In the third or fourth game, she attempted a drop shot, but the ball hit her racket and looped up in the air, and when it fell, she caught it. She looked stunned for a moment, then burst out laughing. I burst out laughing too – but the laugh suddenly choked off in my throat.
I was thinking about her That Way.
I waited a few days to make sure this wasn’t some sort of funny turn, but the feeling didn’t pass. What’s more, this time, the tingle was not confined solely to my dingle. When I pictured the other girls I fancied, I’d unfailingly picture them naked (which was no mean feat, since, with the exception of the Barbarella night and the time Sarah Nielsen showed me hers behind the boiler in Liden School playground in 1976, I was a complete stranger to lady parts). But when I pictured Louise, she’d be gambolling in a field of golden corn in a relatively modest strappy dress, or holding a buttercup to her nose. I wanted to make her smile, to share things with her.
Oh, shit. So this was love.
The way I saw it, there was only one obstacle between me and eternal happiness. In the two years I’d known her, all her boyfriends had been older, taller, and devastatingly handsome. But they had treated her like dirt. Most of them had cheated on her. Her last beau, with whom she’d broken up a few days before, had been particularly vile. And besides, we had a special connection. She was already spending more time with me than with anyone else. And in romantic comedies, it was always the nice friend who won the day. How could she not say yes?
In the event, it was evidently quite easy. When I plucked up the courage to ask her out, about two weeks later, as I waited with her outside school for her bus, she raised her eyebrows for a second and said: “Don’t be silly.”
I’d been rejected before, and it had never been fun. But this was of a different order of magnitude. The world lurched in every direction at once. I felt an overwhelming urge to cry, but even when I got home and cried, it didn’t let up. In the space of a second, my life had been completely stripped of meaning.
That Saturday, my parents went out with friends, leaving me alone in front of the TV. Once I was sure they’d gone, I got up and went to the garage.
Yup. The beam in the roof looked sturdy enough. I fetched one of the chairs from the kitchen, and positioned it underneath. Just one more item required.
For the next two hours, I searched the house from top to bottom, without success. Typical. The Bodle household was utterly devoid of rope. I’d have to make do with something else.
With time running out, I had a brainwave. There were net curtains in the laundryroom—held up with curtain net wire. I unthreaded it and ran back to the garage.
Anyone who has ever tried to fashion a noose from curtain net wire will know that it’s not the simplest of endeavours. But after about five minutes, I had jury-rigged something that I thought would do the trick. I tied the free end to the beam, closed my eyes, and kicked away the chair.
Then the laws of material science kicked in. The curtain net wire pulled tight around my windpipe … and as I was gagging and choking and tugging frantically at my neck, it stretched, and stretched, and lowered me gently to the floor.
Rubbing my sore neck and gulping in air, I sheepishly replaced the chair and the wire and went back to the lounge to catch the end of Saturday Live.
Mum never noticed that the laundryroom curtains had developed a bit of a sag.
In 1987, the anthropologist Donald Symons coined the term “mate value” to describe an individual’s overall attractiveness in the “mating market”. Others have since demonstrated that people who end up together generally have a similar mate value, as rated by external observers: so, as a rule, men with a mate value of 9 will generally date and marry women with a value of 9, while 3s tend to end up with 3s. While appearance undoubtedly plays a part in these valuations, many other factors can affect one’s mate value. The question is, which ones?
In Canada and the U.S., the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255). In the U.K., ring the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90.
This was previously published on Womanology.
Read more on Suicide.
Image credit: reverend barry/Flickr