Not so long ago I used to play a game with myself. I would assess my situation in life:
hopelessly infatuated with a young man who could never feel the same way in return;
struggling to finish school and enter the semi-mythological state of adulthood
; trying to
cope with the idea of most of my friends leaving, and me still trapped in this tiny town
with few opportunities for genuine human contact. I would look at all these factors and
try to extrapolate the direction in which my life was headed.
I drew up rules, criteria by which to judge my progress through life. "If I haven't made
something of myself by age 40," I thought, "then it isn't going to happen." I fretted about
the exact definition of "making something" of myself. I
decided it included having had at least one meaningful, two-sided relationship. It
meant holding a fulfilling, meaningful job at which I excelled. Mainly, though, it meant
having found someone with which to share at least a portion of my life. I wanted (and still
want) to find a mate. Maybe we wouldn't stay moored to each other forever; if so, no cause
for concern. The important thing is having had the experience.
This was my yardstick of success. And sometimes it seemed like I would never measure
up. As I fell deeper into the hole known as love/lust/obsession I came increasingly to this
conclusion, and began to plan for the eventuality. I decided on a contingency plan. If I
found myself alone on my 40th birthday, that would be my cue to make a quiet exit from
this life. If I hadn't done something meaningful by then, my obligation to do my best
would be released.
As the year progressed, I began to move the date forward. A feeling previously
unknown to me began to creep into my worldview. I was…old. Twenty-three already and
still no direction in life, nobody to be with. So I moved my target date to 30. Then I
decided that even 30 was a cop-out. After all, it is notoriously difficult to get somewhere
when you don't know where "there" is. Thus did I begin, in my darkest moments, to plot
a more immediate demise for myself.
Killing oneself swiftly and reliably is much harder than we are led to suspect, mind you.
The logistics involved are quite daunting, especially to someone who is already
depressed. I suspect that many chronically depressed people will never kill themselves
for the very reason that it is too much work. Firearms are messy and finicky, and can
leave you horribly maimed if they fail to kill. Jumping is simply inconceivable for someone
who is afraid of heights. Electricity, cold and starvation are all nasty in their own
individual ways. The only recourse for a safe death, then, is poison.
Don't get my wrong: poison has its problems. Poisons are hard to obtain, and tricky to
work with. It's hard to get the correct dosage. If the dose is too great, the body's natural
defenses may induce vomiting. If the dose is too small, it may cause permanent damage
without killing. In any case, death by poison is almost guaranteed to be excruciatingly
Cyanide seemed the best candidate for an effective poison. With plenty of industrial uses,
cyanide compounds are readily available to the ambitious seeker. A cyanide death is
relatively quick and painless. Best of all, cyanide is beautifully symbolic. As his last act,
Alan Turing ate an apple dipped in cyanide solution. Zyklon-B, a gaseous form of
hydrogen cyanide, killed innumerable Jews in the gas chambers.
I spent a month researching cyanide. I garnered advice from crackpots; anarchists; fellow
suicides-to-be. I swapped recipes with chronically depressed people the world over,
compared notes with nihilist chemists. At the end of it I had a few good recipes. I could
either obtain a cyanide salt in solid form from a chemical supply—after forging the
proper business licenses—or I could mix harmless hexacyanoferrate with concentrated
H2SO4 to produce hydrogen cyanide gas, to be inhaled and enjoyed with all haste. A
cubic foot of gas would be enough.
With these tidbits of knowledge safely in hand I got on with my life. Somehow I feel
more comfortable knowing that I have a way out. A few days of fasting, or an afternoon
of distilling battery acid, and I will find myself comfortably close to death's door.
I imagine drawing up a last will and testament—nothing too fancy, just an addendum to
the suicide note. The note itself wouldn't say much. Then I would take that last, long step off a
short and narrow plank.
Don't misunderstand me—I'm not saying that I will take this way out. I'm not saying that
I won't, either. Things have gotten better, and I am ready to admit to myself that I cannot
predict what the future may hold for me. The best way to find out is to embrace the future
and try to bend it to my own ends.
What I'm saying is that I feel better knowing that suicide is an option. Suicide is a selfish act,
often committed without proper forethought or consideration of the consequences. Just the same, I feel better knowing
that I have an alternate exit strategy for life.