I recently re-told this story to some friends, so I thought it deserved a write up, being that it remains to be one of the weirdest yet most wonderful days of my life. So, one summers weekend a few years ago we had our friend down from London for a visit. We went to a botanical gardens, had a pub lunch, played petanque (boules) and my friend Jamie spilled a whole pint of beer down his trousers. It was hilarious. It was one of those rare days where it was actually really hot and I have a habit of generally misjudging the weather on those days and end up burning myself. I did exactly that. So after losing terribly at several games of petanque, I dropped the boys off at another pub whilst I went home to walk the dogs and sort out my rapidly reddening skin. The plan was to meet the guys at the pub later for food and carry on drinking, standard weekend behaviour. When I got home, I started to get a headache (probably heat-stroke, that’ll be the Welsh side in me letting me down) so thought it best to have a nap to sleep it off. At the time we only had Billy, but my Mum had gone on holiday so we were looking after her dog too.
My afternoon nap was rudely interrupted by the door bell ringing (you know how I feel about unannounced visitors) so I grumpily got up to answer the door to find there was nobody there. Awesome. Thanks invisible door ringer! I decided to try and re-attempt a nap and returned to the bedroom, only to find that whilst I was asleep, my Mum’s dog had chewed the heel off a very unique pair of stilettos. Ones I had been given to wear as bridesmaid for my friend’s wedding, which had my initials engraved on the bottom of the shoe. Brilliant. As you can imagine, I was pretty unimpressed, so I decided to take myself and the dogs for a walk in the woods to clear my head and get some fresh air and hopefully improve my mood.
We’d walked around the woods for about an hour and I was on my way back home when I heard some shouting. It sounded like a man’s voice, but I couldn’t quite make out what he was saying, so I ignored it and carried on. I heard it again. Now, it didn’t sound like the fun sort of shouting, or like the arguing type of shouting. It almost sounded like….’help’. Third time I heard it, it was definitely someone shouting help. Shit. I’m in the middle of the woods, and although it’s the afternoon the sun was shining and I was with two dogs (well they were somewhere in the nearby vicinity chasing squirrels), I was essentially alone and quite vulnerable. Doing my job makes you uber suspicious of everything and I considered that it could be a trap. Whilst I cautiously started walking towards the noise and weighing out the possibility that this was a rapist/murderer trying to lure me into some ditch, I heard it again and this time saw where the noise was coming from. It was a man and he was up a tree. And he was hanging, from his neck, desperately grasping at the noose around his throat to give himself some extra air in order to scream help with his last few breaths. Fuck! Common sense thrown immediately out of the window, without thinking I ran as fast as I could towards him. I stood directly underneath him and grabbed his legs so he could put his feet on my shoulders, hopefully giving him enough space to loosen the rope and release himself. Now I’m not the tallest person in the world (5’3″ on a good day) but on this day, it was enough and we both fell to the floor in a crumpled heap. Heart racing, adrenilin pumping the first thing I said to him was “What the fuck were you doing?!” Sympathetic as ever. Not, “Are you alright?”, “Can I get you anything?”, “Is there someone I can call?”. I did eventually say those things, but at that point I just wanted to know how he got to a point where you decide that hanging yourself in the woods was a good idea, but then once you’d jumped out of the tree, you then change your mind. But then I realise that the guy in front of me is a mess. Clearly you;re not in a good place if you consider doing that, let alone actually going through with it. I notice he’s drunk a bottle of vodka (empty at the foot of the tree) and had used a dog lead to hang himself. I don’t think I was in a position to start lecturing him, or be angry at him. He looked at me with tears in his eyes and said “Can I have a hug?”, that poor young man had almost died and I denied him the one thing that could’ve made him feel better. I kind of regret that now, but I guess I still felt pretty vulnerable and didn’t really want to hug a bare chested stranger in the middle of the woods. Instead, I asked him all those questions I listed before, as well as what his name was, where he lived etc. Unsurprisingly, apart from lighting up a cigarette and telling me his name, he wasn’t very talkative.
Now, luckily his screaming didn’t only alert me to his situation, but there was a couple of teenage girls who had also heard his shouts, one of which had walked through the woods to see what all the commotion was about. At this point, I was trying to convince (Matt I think his name turned out to be), that he should get checked out by an ambulance because the dark red ligature mark around his neck was concerning me, as was the state of his mental health, having just attempted suicide and all. He was having none of it, but when the girl came over to offer help I asked her to sit with him for a bit so that I could go and find my dogs, and the dog leads which I had apparently dropped somewhere when I had rushed over to help. Whilst he was distracted, I hid behind a tree and called the ambulance service and attempted to explain where we were. We weren’t too far from the entrance of the woods and I reckoned I could get him there without raising too much suspicion. I returned to my new found buddy, who himself was on the phone to a friend, who he was in the process of asking to come and pick him up. His friend obviously wanted to know why and Matt just said that he would explain when he got there. Perfect. So we walked through the woods to the car park entrance.
As we got to the car park the ambulance pretty much arrived, as did a police car. Matt was not happy and tried to do a runner but I persuaded him to stay and get checked out. His friend arrived just as Matt was being checked over by the ambulance crew and obviously wanted to know what happened. I explained that Matt had tried to hang himself but I had helped him down. Matt’s friend, clearly upset then threw his arms round me and thanked me for saving his friend’s life. Which up until that point, hadn’t really hit me. Bloody hell. I’ve actually just saved someone’s life. Before I could fully comprehend my experience, the Policemen asked me to show them where the ‘scene’ was, so they could recover any evidence. After helping them out and eventually locating both dogs, I returned home. On the way back I phoned my other half and explained what had just happened. I was fairly cool about it and said that I’d see them in the pub in about an hour and no he didn’t need to come home to see if I was ok. I was fine.
When I entered the pub later that evening, word had obviously gotten round and I was greeted with a round of applause, cheering and people wanting to buy me drinks. It was a pretty good feeling, I’m not going to lie. It was also slightly embarrassing having to re-tell the story to every drunken person that wanted to hear it. I spent the rest of the evening being treated like a hero and there were several serious/drunken conversations about of what sort of cape I was going to get. For one evening, I was a superhero.
When I got into work the next day, I had an email from one of the Policemen from the woods, thanking me for my help and informing me that the ambulance crew and the hospital staff both agreed that my actions did indeed save the guys life. It made me feel pretty good about myself but actually, it the grand scheme of things, it is a pretty insignificant thing. There are tons of people in this world that save lives every single day. Firefighters, people in the Forces, aid workers, doctors/nurses…the list is endless. Now I know they choose to do those things, but they are the real heroes. I got a taster of what it would be like, a moment in the life of an actual hero. And as much as it made me feel like I was on Cloud 9 temporarily, I could not put myself through that everyday. Not everyone makes it. My guy was lucky. It must be a hard pill to swallow when you’ve done your best, but men, women and children still die. I take my hat off to all those people in those jobs. They’re the people who deserve the credit. They’re the unsung heroes who deserve a round of applause every time they walk into a room.
On occasion I still think of Matt. I hope that his experience on that day made him appreciate life, and that he is still out there. That there was a reason he changed his mind. That there was a reason that I was walking my dogs at that exact time, in that exact place. I hope he is happy, and that despite not getting his hug, that girl who saved his life is kinda alright.