Friday, June 05, 2009


Tyra is lying on her back, half in and half out of the en-suite bathroom, a tastefully arranged study in suicide, her head turned to the left, her glossy hair spread around her on the black and white tiled floor, her left arm crooked up so the fingers of her left hand can brush against her cheek, her other hand curled delicately in the lap of her flower-patterned lycra trousers. Her knees are drawn up half way, balanced inwards, one against the other.
‘She took an overdose and cut her wrist. She wanted to kill herself.’
James, ‘not her partner, just a friend’, a pale and sharply anxious man, bristling with angles like a geometric theorem made human, adjusts his thick black glasses and paces about.
‘Help her. Please.’
I step into the bathroom and squat down beside her. Even this small disturbance makes her eyelids flutter.
‘Tyra? Open your eyes, Tyra. It’s the ambulance.’
She holds herself quite still.
‘Tyra. I know you’re not unconscious. Please open your eyes and tell me what’s happened this morning.’
There is a light swipe of blood on her trousers just visible beneath her hand. I lift it up and see that Tyra has scraped at her wrist with a safety razor, but the wound is ineffectual, nothing more than a graze.
‘Is this the only cut you made, Tyra? Please talk to me. It’s silly otherwise.’
Suddenly her eyes flip open and she looks at me.
‘I didn’t want anyone to find me,’ she says. ‘I didn’t want to wake up.’
‘Let’s sit you down on the bed and have a chat about what’s happened.’
James buzzes around behind us. As I offer my hand to Tyra to help her stand up, he squeezes his way in beside me and tries to take her under the shoulders.
‘Thank God I found you!’ he says.
His assistance actually makes it more difficult for Tyra to stand and leave the bathroom. Rae takes him aside.
‘What pills has Tyra taken?’ she says. ‘There are some empty packets here.’
‘No. Those are mine,’ James says. ‘She took some of these ibuprofen, and these – the amitriptyline.’
‘How many of each?’
Tyra is sitting on the bed, looking off into a corner of the room as if this is a socially awkward scene she would rather not have to endure.
‘As many as I could,’ she sighs. ‘I didn’t want to go on living.’
‘We need to know as accurately as possible how many you took of these pills, and when you took them.’
‘I don’t know. I wanted to kill myself. I wasn’t concerned about the time, was I?’
‘Roughly though.’
‘An hour and a half. Ten of the ibuprofen and one or two of the amitriptyline.’
‘Are the amitriptyline pills your own?’
‘No. My mum’s.’
The simple use of the mum word has a powerful effect on Tyra; her wide black pupils swivel four stops into focus.
‘Please don’t tell her. Oh my god! They won’t tell mum, will they, James?’
‘You’re twenty one,’ he says watchfully from the end of the bed. ‘You don’t have to tell anyone anything.’
Meanwhile Rae has fished another empty packet of pills out of the little wicker waste bin by the dresser.
‘What about these?’
And as unexpectedly as Tyra was energised by the thought of her mother, a simple mention of James’ wicker bin seems to sting him into a rage. He unfolds his arms and drops them down by his side.
‘I fucking hate ambulance people. How dare you go rooting around my personal stuff? Insinuating all kinds of shit. How dare you!’
He stomps around the room, leaves, comes back, leaves again. He reminds me of a furious house dog, conflicted by the need to protect and the need to run away.
‘James. Calm down for us, could you? It’s not helping. I don’t understand why you’re getting so worked up.’
‘No. You wouldn’t, would you? I can’t stand this fucking attitude. You come up here with your sniffy looks. You pry and you poke around. Who do you think you are? I won’t fucking stand for it. Sorry, Tyra, but it just makes me furious.’
‘Well you won’t be able to come with us to the hospital if you don’t moderate your language and behaviour, James.’
I sound like a school teacher. I feel like one.
‘Go and stand outside.’
He does. We hear him crashing about and swearing in another room. But after a moment he sidles back in to give Tyra her mobile, and help lead her down the stairs to the ambulance.
As we open the door to step outside, she puts her hand over her face.
‘I don’t want anyone to see me,’ she says.
But it’s half past four in the morning. There really isn’t anyone.

On the ambulance, Tyra sits in a seat, chewing a nail and staring through the slats of the window. James hugs himself in a seat just in front of her.
‘Who’s your doctor?’ I ask.
She smiles without looking at me. ‘I don’t go to doctors,’ she says. ‘I wouldn’t know.’
‘Is that your home address?’
James sighs.
‘Yes it’s her home address.’
‘Do you know the postcode?’
‘Yes, I know the postcode. I live there, don’t I?’
‘Could you tell me what it is then?’
He snips it out, then reaches over to stroke Tyra’s hand. ‘It’s okay,’ he says. And then to himself: ‘These fucking interrogations.’
‘James. Remember what I said about your language and attitude? These are simple questions I have to ask so Tyra gets the correct treatment. Okay? If you carry on like this you won’t be allowed in to the hospital.’
‘I’m sorry. I just don’t appreciate your tone.’
Tyra looks at me. She looks as if she is stifling a laugh.
‘But I want him there with me.’
‘Fine. But you must behave.’
The ambulance bumps along.

Once we have wheeled Tyra into a cubicle, we look for sanctuary and coffee in the reception office. As Zoe taps in the details, we cradle our drinks and mull over the job. Suddenly Rae clamps up, and I realise that James has come to the window.
‘How can I help?’ says Zoe.
James looks across at the two of us sitting on our swivel chairs. I nod at him, but he turns his attention back to Zoe without acknowledgement. After a pause, he adjusts his glasses, and says quietly:

‘The nurse says I need to book a blood test.’


Chimera said...

Love your ability to convey an entire character in the description of a simple gesture or an askance glance You write about these incredible characters you meet at the edges of the morning with such weary patience and tenderness.

Loved 'Tony Blair' and his fillium.
Wonderful stuff!

Deborah said...

Weirdo. he's probably not helping the poor girl one bit.

loveinvienna said...

What kind of blood test? Was there some medical reasoning behind the Jekyll and Hyde change?

Sorry, I'm firing questions at you today, been away for a while so I'm catching up! :)

Liv xxx

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks for that!

I love that phrase: 'edges of the morning'. That's just how it feels at about four or five. A strange plateau-land, where nothing feels fixed or particularly real.

The old guy raving about Tony Blair made me laugh. A little behind the times, but fair enough...

Deborah & Liv,
I don't think he was helping her, either. In fact, we had our suspicions that his role was rather more than described. Especially when he suddenly presented for a blood test. What could that mean in terms of ODs of one sort or another.

It struck us that his hostility may have been based in events - chemical or otherwise - we weren't wholly aware of!

Thanks for all your comments!

Anonymous said...

Its scary to think that somebody can turn so quickly. I have great respect for what you do Spence but I'm glad I'm on the other side of the screen.

Spence Kennedy said...

Mostly I feel OK about judging whether someone's going to be trouble or not, but now and again I get taken by surprise. James certainly was a volatile character, but luckily for us he wasn't ever a physical threat. It's good to be reminded of these things every so often - it keeps you on your toes!

Thanks for the comment ;0)

Nicholas Hough said...

Great writing mate!

I presume he too had taken an OD?

Mum's the word said...

You write so descriptively.
It's like you're bringing us along with you.
I look forward to reading the next one.

Spence Kennedy said...

That was what we thought.
In so many of these cases you only get a fraction of the story. In this one I think we got a fraction of a fraction - and most of that was probably fantasy!

Sometimes I worry about putting down all the bad language. There's a warning at the top of the site about it. Maybe that should be bigger! But I do want to get across what it's like as realistically as I can, so I suppose that means it has to stay in. (Although having said that, the guy in 'Venus' was particularly awful and I just couldn't bring myself to put down all the racist things he said. Even I baulked at repeating that!)

Thanks v much for your comments and support! SK

Michael Morse said...

The older I get the less tolerance I have for people bringing attitudes into my enviornment. i don't mind the sick ones, it's the carers of family that get shown the door quickly.

Great stories, Spence, I do look forward to reading them.

Strange fact...The congressman from my district is John F. Kennedy's son, Patrick. His dad is Ted Kennedy. Patrick lives a few miles from me. Small world.

Spence Kennedy said...

I'm the same. I think I've become a lot tougher about it lately, (inevitably).

In retrospect you can often find reasons why people behaved badly. In this case I guess he was jumpy because he was implicated in the OD. At the time it's often not easy to understand why some people blow up, and all you can do is try to control the situation - or leave!

It's odd, you know. When I came up with the pseudonym Spence Kennedy, I didn't think about JFK or that whole dynasty. Spence is one of my brother's middle names (it's a long-standing family thing), and I happened to be reading 'The Big Picture' by Douglas Kennedy...

Hope things are good with you, Mike. Cheers for the comment.

Robert said...

I have been following a dozen or so ambo bloggers this last year and this is by far the best of the best. Your writing is truly amazing.

I bow in respect and awe.

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks, Robert! Thanks for coming back to the blog so regularly - and for making such warm and encouraging comments. Greatly appreciated. :0)