If there's one national plight facing today's youth that gets overlooked in a sea of drug use, sexually transmitted diseases, school dropouts, and awful fashion trends, its teenage suicide. Now, I've grown up in a relatively safe, stable, and comparably peachy little society where a kid's biggest problem is usually convincing their parents that the extra insurance costs are well worth buying them a hot red new car. Still, like a magnet shoved in a box of really depressed safety clips, I've attracted more of this city's screwups than I care to count. Its gotten better with age, but a few years back, my second question when meeting someone new was an inquiry as to why they were contemplating suicide. It was that common. This was back in high school where my biggest goal was to insinuate to everyone else that I was a nutcase, so I'm not sure why all these people thought I'd make a good psychotherapist, but I'm not complaining since there's no therapy better than realizing the rest of your friends are twice as fucked up as you are.
Course, most of these suicides-in-wait were just pleas for help. When someone tells you they tried to kill themselves last night and follow up the statement with 'yeah, I took 4 Tylenol PMs', its usually more of an indication that they just want you to make 'awww' noises, not that they actually want any obituaries written. Still, if someone even seems remotely interested in being known as a suicide case, they probably need a little help. Personally, I've never much understood the attraction of putting a bullet in your head. If things ever got to that point for me, I'd probably seize the opportunity to kill off a few really annoying celebrities first. I mean, you're gonna kill yourself anyway, what's the point in holding out on going completely psychotic? Religiously speaking, you're going to Hell if you kill yourself no matter what, so why not steal a really expensive car and drive around shouting curses out of a bullhorn towards every old lady you see for the week prior? By the time you got through acting all psychotic and uncaring, you'd probably have way too many great stories to want to end it.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to make light over someone's very unfortunate personal circumstances. Ever since I saw Lionel Richie fold up a piece of paper into a 1" square while singing on an old Disney parade special, I'm well aware that the world can be a twisted place, and some people really get fucked by it. Yet, I've seen, firsthand, a good number of cases where suicide was viewed more as something cultishly fashionable than a way out. For those kids, I just want to remind you of one thing. No matter how enticing it sounds to have everyone in your school finally pay attention to you when they hear you're dead - you're still gonna be dead. You won't know about it. By the time anyone confesses their years-long crush on you, you'll just be another reason for MTV to program something other than music videos. And, from personal experience, I've known people who've been 'down there' and have overcome things I'd never hope of with absolutely no regrets. Besides, as a general rule, you shouldn't try killing yourself until you've kicked everyone who brought you to that point square in the nuts.
In short: teenage suicide, don't do it!
But don't take my word for it. I'm just a jailbait geek with a collection of Maoi Tiki God tumblers, what do I know? I think you need to actually see it all in action. So let's take the above slogan and put it to work, courtesy of the best movie to come out in 1987 starring Shannon Doherty, Heathers. The flick had a lot of subplots ranging from the chain of high school command to the best flavor of Corn Nuts, but perhaps the greatest lesson can be learned from Sherwood, Ohio's answer to Harry Henderson, Martha Dumptruck.
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Westerberg High is your typical high school. There's the in-crowd, the jocks, the geeks, the extracurricular participators, the overeager guidance counselor, Renée Estevez, and yes, the obese lonely girl who gets a whole lunch table to herself. While all that extra legroom might seem like a perk, all Martha Dunnstock wants is a friend. But in a fishbowl society where you're only as important as who you're eating hamburgers with, Martha is sadly the outcast. And it's really sad, because deep down, Martha is one Hell of a chick. Nice, sweet, gregarious, oddly willing to share her fries, and virtually the only living testament of remembrance to the late, great Andre the Giant. Still, no one wants to go to the movies with her. Remember, this is high school. Evil isn't defined by being a bitch, a liar, an asshole, or a fan of Mary Reilly. Instead, the only veritable ways to solidify the lowest spot on the social totem pole are to be really fat or to have a wardrobe composed entirely of clothes from Sears. Unfortunately, Martha fits both categories.
Picture the poor girl's life. She hasn't got a friend in the world, much less a guy to take her to the prom. When she gets lunch in school, she's perpetually afraid to buy the dessert cookies cuz she knows someone behind her will start giggling about it. And let's face it, those cookies, however disgusting they might be, are basically the only completely edible facet of the high school cafeteria. Martha may like to eat, but for her to reach this Huttese level of largeness, its clear that she's got some genetic problems. Its not completely her fault that she's 3 tons, yet still - she can never taste the sweet pseudochocolate of the 45-cent school cookie without feeling guiltier than a guy who just beheaded his mother to get to her collection of glass duck statues.
Course, it doesn't help matters any that the school's most popular girls are generally all beautiful and sadistically vicious. In a perfect world, Martha's size would be construed as attractively rebellious in a 'dare to be different' fashion, and all the popular girls would welcome her into their high society of illegal drinking and frat house blowjobs with open arms. But Westerberg isn't a perfect world, and having the villain queens do the right thing ten minutes into the film wouldn't sell anywhere near the amount of tickets needed to compensate the immense cost of getting the same guy who played Otho in Beetlejuice to play the Eskimo-shilling priest in this film. Martha's as much a victim of circumstance as she is of cruel jokes. If only chips made with Olestra were available back in '89. We can dream, but dreams don't amount to much in the end, especially in such a feudalist high school lunchroom.
But maybe there's hope for poor Martha yet.
It seems like every other day for our heroine - alone at the lunch table, a spork in one hand, chocolate milk in the other. Its a Wednesday, so she's wearing her prettiest sweater in the hopes that some boy will take notice and will still have enough time to muster up the courage to ask her out by Friday. This has been the same sad scenario every Wednesday of the school year, for as long as Martha cares to remember. But today, the formula's a little different. She's used to the sweater, the milk, the traditionally cold mashed potatoes - but what's that folded up note doing on her tray? Martha certainly likes to eat, but don't misjudge: the girl doesn't eat paper.
As she reads it, the incredible unfolds: looks like the school's star quarterback, Kurt, has taken an interest in Martha's own unique charm. Wow. You've got to understand, this isn't just a chance for Martha to finally land a fish, its a chance to show the rest of the world that she's not a demonic wildebeest solely meant for exercises in avoidance and sharp, quick insults by her fellow students. Dating a popular guy like Kurt would open all sorts of social doors for Martha...maybe even the top tier girls would sit up and take notice that she's not as bad as they thought. Course, these kind of girls would need a lotta convincing. Let's meet the Heathers.
Heather Chandler: (croquet ball color: red) HC is the original ringleader of the Heathers crew, a girl with such incredible villainous influence that she's able to convince the rest of the school that hideously oversized grey blazers with 2' shoulderpads are indeed fashionable. This Heather maintains control of the school basically by fear - cross her, and she'll crush you. Her road to school dictatorship was a tricky one with a price - in order to seem cooler than the rest by attending college frat parties, HC's weekends are usually spent drinking gasoline out of Busch Gardens mugs and spitting mouthwash at mirrors in disgust after blowing anyone with a fast car. Her favorite pastimes include taking lunchtime school surveys and accidentally killing herself by drinking liquid Drano. Credited with starting the suicide movement in Westerberg, and also for inspiring Frizz-Ease to seriously update their formula.
Heather McNamara: (croquet ball color: yellow) HN isn't so much part of the Heathers crew by choice - she's pretty, tall, blonde, and stupid enough to be easily trainable by her student superiors. As a general rule, if you're hoping to take full control of the school, your best bet is to get all the girls the guys want to fuck the most under your control. This Heather isn't without her fair share of personal problems: she's flunking out of school, she lets football players take her out on cow-tipping dates and basically rape her just because its the fast track to the prom's longest limo, and she wears ugly broaches. That said, she gets by on looks alone. She's not quite as evil as the rest of the Heathers, but the fact the she keeps a bottomless bird cage in her room is enough to warrant a few punches to the stomach. Credited with being the Heathers clique's contribution to the cheerleading squad, and for being the only person in the movie to turn down pate.
Heather Duke: (croquet ball color: green) At first, it seemed like HD was in the group by accident. The lead Heathers didn't treat her with too much respect, and she certainly wasn't in any position to offer up opinions or suggestions. Still, this is Shannen Doherty afterall, so you know she's pure evil. Sure enough, once Ms. Chandler kicks the bucket, its Heather Duke who seizes the reigns as Queen Heather, marking an era of destruction for the poor students of Westerberg. She's going to have to work really hard to keep up the charade, as its only a matter of time before the truth goes out: as a child, she was actually friends with Martha Dumptruck. Credited with rewriting Moby Dick to contain the word 'Eskimo,' and for leaving 90210 before it degenerated into a solid hour of 26-year-olds sitting around in silence trying to look pissed off.
Veronica Sawyer: (croquet ball color: blue) The accidental Heather. Veronica was getting a little too popular to fly as a solo act, so the girls snatched her up in a continuing mission to mold her in their convoluted image. Fortunately for the school, Veronica's held on to just enough of her humanity to not turn into the archetype bitch. After a series of personal disappointments and follies, Veronica's powerful virtues shined through in the end, as she ultimately ended the tyrannical reign of the Heathers at Westerberg High. Credited with bring the monocle into modern cinema, and for dating a Christian Slater character before a Christian Slater character would keep you from watching the movie.
Point is, these were four beautiful and popular girls. Martha was neither...the polar opposite. And likely bipolar. And the size of a polar bear. Very, very polar girl. For a football star like Kurt Kelly to fall for her...jeez, this was a big deal. So, with all the courage she could muster, Martha stood from the segregated lunchroom table that's been her personal prison for all these months, marched right over, and prepared for complete and total bliss. In other words, she was too stupid to realize this was all a big cruel hoax. Football players don't date fatties.
When posed with the question over whether to cry or laugh, Kurt remembers that he's a man's man and can't shed a tear, so he simply laughed heartily in Martha's face to the cheers of his football compatriots. As it turns out, this was just a cruel prank played by the Heathers, who forged a love note in the hopes to confuse Dumptruck into believing that anything with a pulse could possibly be attracted to her. As a rule of thumb, its definitely not *completely* impossible for Martha to find love, its just way more likely that the source will come from some prison penpal program or a blind guy who lost the feeling in his hands. Don't yell at me, these are society's rules, not mine. Personally? I think the world would be much better off if the standard of beauty was someone like Steve Buschemi. That way, we'd all be gorgeous. But just like that bar fight alongside Vince Vaughn may prove to be his fall from grace, the only falling Martha's been doing is from the ugly tree.
Well, that's about all the poor girl can take. We're talking end of the rope, last Twinkie ever, last dive at sea, final curtain call, slap mah fro suicide attempt. Martha's ready to end it all. She just needs the straw to break her camel-like back. And at this point, it could be anything. Anything can push Martha over the edge. A pencil tip breaking. Stepping in a puddle. Missing leftover chicken. Or the end-all, be-all, the most basic ultimate pisser-offer known to man: spilling soda on a white t-shirt....
Its bad enough to spill soda on your Big Fun t-shirt. Its even worse when you clearly finished every last drop of the soda before spilling it. With this seemingly unimportant little nuance, a rush of memories from a lifetime full of depression and chips swarm into Martha's oversized coconut of a head, and the solution, the painful solution, mounts its ugly head right in the midst of a dank, empty gymnasium: Martha Dumptruck Must Kill Herself.
The only question is...how? Let's face it, it'd take enough heroin to kill a whale to do Martha in. And its not like anyone's going to sell the girl a gun. They'd take one look at her and know full well its either for suicide or for shooting and eating the neighbor's dog. Sherwood, Ohio isn't famous for its many skyscrapers either, so what's left?
Martha can't drink cleaning fluid or have a torrid lesbian murder/suicide pact, because its already been done by the popular kids, and if she could do something the popular kids did, the whole point in killing herself would be moot. Conversely, while suicide has become the in-thing at school, Martha's intentions are legit. She's not planning to do this as a segue into a nice, trimming black wardrobe. She really wants to die. Understand the chain of events here. If Martha bites the bullet, someone else has to take her place. Every high school has a Martha Dumptruck. The poor slob to take her place could be anyone, even you. So, even if you're too cold to pity the poor girl, at least consider this: its only the beginning of the suffering.
By simple process of elimination, Martha determines that the only thing with enough force and overall heavy enough to kill her is a bus-in-transit. Its not exactly the shock suicide aspiring realist thespians dream of, but it'll get the job done. Maybe the afterlife will be better to Martha. Maybe she'll have long, flowing blonde locks instead of Peter Deloise's haircut. Who knows?
As fate would have it, even suicide is something Martha can't meet with any degree of success. She does write the suicide note, and she does step in front of a bus, but because of the endless protection blubber bestows upon its victims, Martha survives the endeavor with flying colors. She's not going to have use of her legs for awhile, but she's alive and well. And its a good thing, cuz its given her some time to reflect on things a bit.
Why should Martha kill herself just because she's fat? 99.5% of the population is fat. She needs to view it as a big contest. Yes, everyone's fat, but Martha's the fattest. She wins. And you never know, to the victors go the spoils, and the big prize in this just might be a big ol' cake. Furthermore, why end your life simply because the dead football player didn't like you? Even if he did, what's the use in having a corpse as your love interest? She's not a necropheliac. And I know that spilling soda on your favorite shirt is a bitch, but its certainly no call to end it all. Martha needs to look at the bright side. This was 1989. Things were still good. That's My Bush wasn't around, Eric Bischoff hadn't ruined pro-wrestling yet, and mid-afternoon television was still swarming with those ultracool Bubble Tape commercials. This was a golden age. She should at least wait till '95. Then at least all she'd have to do is kill herself wearing an In Utero t-shirt, and the press'll handle the rest. No need to spend all that good killing time writing a suicide note berating the little people.
Fortunately, this quiet time, Martha's personal renaissance, has given her the chance to realize that she doesn't want to end it. There's too much good in the world to see. You can't be dead and go to the aquarium to give the finger to the dolphins. You can't be dead and do that cool noise by blowing into an empty beer bottle. You can't be dead and watch reruns of Tales From The Darkside. These are only things you can do when you're alive, and to all of you who've ever considered snorting Ajax, let me tell you: these are things worth living for.
Besides, Martha gets to spend prom night with Winona Ryder. Not just Winona Ryder....1989's Winona Ryder. The cool one. If that's not just cause to wake up every morning smiling, I don't know what is. Martha may have learned this life lesson the hard way, but the important thing is, she did learn it. And so should all of you. Teenage suicide...don't do it!