A teenage suicide prompted the conversation.
‘Well, if he hanged himself, he must have wanted to die’.
‘No, he didn’t.’ I said. ‘What he wanted was the pain in his head to go away and he thought that dying was the only way to escape from it.’
There was a look of incomprehension.
At one seminar on suicide prevention that I attended, one of the particants asked, ‘Why would a boy of fourteen or fifteen want to die by suicide?”
There was no answer forthcoming.
Feeling a need to make a point about boys being misunderstood, I spoke up, ‘Because it’s horrible being fifteen’.
Of course, it was a ridiculous answer. It wasn’t an explanation, it probably only raised questions in the minds of the others.
There had been a moment’s thought of trying to talk about Inspector Morse, the fictional television detective played by John Thaw who, together with his lieutenant Sergeant Lewis, investigated murders in Oxford from the 1980s until his sudden demise in 2000.
Introducing someone who did not even exist to the conversation would probably have only further mystified those who could not understand why suicides had taken place.
It was some thirty years ago in 1992 that Morse talked with Sergeant Lewis about thoughts of suicide. Maybe Morse would have understood boys:
Morse: She didn’t do anything special against me. It was just the steady accumulation; the drip, drip, drip of humiliations . . . hatreds, when you’re that age.
So I suddenly thought, ‘Sod this. I’m getting out of this; it’s not worth it’.
Lewis: You ran away?
Morse: I decided to kill myself. I thought of all the ways of doing it, then I put them in order: one, two, three . . . all the way down to about fifteen; which would hurt me the most; which would hurt dad; which would Gwen. I even thought of which would hurt little Joycey the least. I liked Joyce.
Then I thought, ‘That’s pretty bloody clever what you’ve done’, because I’m vain. I was vain even then!
And then I thought, ‘If you’re clever enough to have done all that: well, it’s the waste of a good mind’.
Lewis: I can just imagine you saying that.
Morse: No-one can imagine someone else’s pain, Robbie. It’s the human tragedy.
But I made a vow, I wouldn’t forget. I would never forget how awful it is to be fifteen.
I’ve forgotten, of course, everyone does. But I’ve been trying to remember.
It was horrible being fifteen, in that no man’s land between childhood and adulthood.
Perhaps it being horrible is not a sufficient explanation, but perhaps it is the start of an understanding.