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December 17, 1946
Screams. Incessant screams. Waking to the sound of torture every morning has been my life for the past three months. I still can’t stand it. Letting my eyes slowly flutter open, the rays of sun that escape through my barred window blind me. Blinking, I roll onto my side and look at my roommate, Mary. She was staring at the ceiling, unmoving, and obviously trying to forget where she was. The screams prevented that.
My mother put me into Western State Hospital for my depression. She had absolutely no right. I was nearly twenty, therefore not a minor, and not under her control. She also came home drunk almost every evening, with some new beau on her arm, yelling and screaming at me to leave the house. No wonder I’m depressed. Yes, I admit to cutting myself, and yes, I regret doing so. It never makes you feel better, only worse, and it doesn’t distract you at all from your emotional pain.
I started the cutting about two years ago, when Dad died. Cutting yourself is the realization that you would prefer physical pain over emotional pain. I didn’t want to face my father’s death, and cutting was my only outlet. For my mother, it was drinking. And yet I’m the only one trapped in a mental hospital. I’m the only one undergoing their insane treatments, and relentless taunts.
At that moment, I was then forced out of my daydreams by my nurse, Nurse Karen, who was here to take morning attendance. Looking up from her clipboard, she scrutinized us with her cruel blue eyes. Her voice sent chills down my spine as she called out our numbers.
“Twenty-seven? Nineteen?” she screeched.
“Here.” Twenty-seven, or Mary, whispered.
“Here.” I spat.
Instead of being called our names, we are treated like objects, and are assigned numbers. They replace the numbers who died with new patients, so I am mostly likely the one-hundredth person to be called Nineteen in this asylum. It is absolutely sickening. My stomach lurches every time I am called, and I hate Nurse Karen more than anyone for calling me by a mere number. Realizing my nurse was still there, I look up at her, and discover what she was doing.
She was grinning broadly, staring at the fresh tear in my hospital gown. The night before she had stolen a scalpel from Doctor Freeman, and had enjoyed torturing me with it. None of the other staff stopped her. Then again, they enjoyed watching us writhe in pain too. It was a common practice of entertainment here.
When Nurse Karen finally left us, I could see that Mary was shaking. Mary was a frail girl, with short, brown hair and green eyes, and as she stared at the ceiling, I watched a tear slowly slide down her cheek.
“Are you alright?” I ask timidly.
Sighing, I inquire, “What’s wrong?”
“My lobotomy’s tomorrow.”
“Oh.” I murmur, not quite knowing what else to say.
“I’m scared I guess. I don’t know.”
“Yeah.” I manage to mutter.
“It just that;” pausing she wipes her tears away, “It’s just that I don’t want to become like the others.”
By the others, she was referring to our previous roommates who had all undergone their lobotomies. Either they would die instantly, or they would slowly begin to recover, and then disappear suddenly. They would start having certain…glitches. They would randomly be unable to talk, or wouldn’t be able to dress themselves in the morning. They would all laugh it off, but when they looked away, their expressions were always grim. We all knew what happened to those whose operations failed. They were sent to the cremation chambers.
Finally I manage to choke out, “Mary, I know you’re scared. And I know it looks horrible, but I understand. My lobotomy is in four days. I mean, at least we’ll be in a better place, right? It’s better than being here.”
Beginning to cry, I look across the room to Mary who was looking at her hands. They were shaking uncontrollably and she sat silently, staring at them. Her eyes were wide, and her mouth lay agape as she gradually turned her hands over. Her grasp on reality was slipping.
“Mary!” I called out to her. She didn’t move; she didn’t even flinch, “Mary!
Her head slowly moved to look at me, but her eyes stared into nothingness. They were blank, and as I realized this I ran over to her and slapped her hard. I hate doing this to her, but it was the only way she would escape from her trances.
She claimed she could see the future. When she went into her trances, she would dig what she saw into her skin with her fingernails; which caused her parents to first send her here. She now blinked slowly, lifting her eyes to mine, and tears began to trickle down her face.
Still looming above her, I knelt at her bedside, and held her tightly. I slowly rocked her back and forth and whispered nursery rhymes in her ear. When she stopped crying, I stopped rocking her, and looked into her eyes. They were full of fear, and I wished more than anything that I could take that fear away.
We stayed that way for hours, not speaking a word, merely thinking about what was going to happen to us. We didn’t bother going to lunch (we wouldn’t be able to keep down the food anyway), and we spoke only when Nurse Karen came in for nighttime attendance. She called out our numbers, and whispering “Here,” we split apart and crawled into our separate cots.
“Sleep well, Mary.” I whisper, “Dream happily tonight.”
“’Night. You too.”
Turning on my side I looked out the window. The moon’s face stared back at me, and as I watched the stars appear I wondered what it would really be like to die. When I was younger, I always hoped to die in my sleep, but that seemed impossible now. Realizing that I learned long ago that hopes are childish, I drifted off to sleep.
The next day we were both due for our weekly hydrotherapy treatments. We’ve learned that if you don’t scream, they won’t make you stay in as long. Nurse Karen came early that morning, and escorted us to the hydrotherapy room. Taking our clothes, she forced us into separate baths of chilling cold water, and then placed a heavy cloth over each tub.
My body grew stiff and rigid in the water, and I silently talked to myself until I finally was allowed to leave. I left earlier than Mary simply because she cried out when she first got into the water. After putting my clothes back on, I walked down the hallway, back to our room. After realizing I had been sitting alone for over an hour, I suddenly grasped what was happening. Her lobotomy was today.
And I didn’t even get to say goodbye.
At that moment, Nurse Karen came into the room. Looking at me, she grabbed my arm and pulled me to another room that I’d never been to before. Inside it, Mary was strapped to a bed, where Dr. Freeman was putting two electrodes on either side of her forehead.
Crying, all I could manage to whisper was, “I love you Mary; you’ll always be my friend.”
Shakily she replied, “I know I love-”
At that moment Freeman sent two jolts of electricity through her body and she started seizing. Watching in complete shock, I looked at my nurse who was grinning at my horrified expression. Mary eventually stopped shaking, and sunk into total unconsciousness. Freeman then took an ice pick and shoved it into her left tear duct. He forced it in with a surgical hammer, and then wriggled the instrument fiercely to remove it. The room began to reek with the metallic smell of blood. He repeated the process in her right eye, as I stared at my friend’s unmoving body. She was dead.
I turned away, uncaring of what the nurse and doctor would think. I walked silently, slowly, to my room, and once there sunk into my cot. I lay there until they brought my new roommate in. I don’t know who he is. I don’t care. Mary is dead. And I’m next.
I can’t move. I can’t think. All I can do is close my eyes and plead with God to let me sleep. Let me forget for just a few moments what is happening in my world. I tried to imagine my life before the hospital. I tried to remember Vincent, my fiancé, who I was forced to abandon when I came here. I tried to remember his smile, my friends’ smiles, and my smile. And without realizing it, I silently fell asleep.
I awoke still screaming from the remains of a nightmare in the middle of the night. Nurse Karen walked in, stuck a shot in my arm and then walked out again. I was unconscious in seconds.
That morning, I awoke to the sound of my new roommate singing. His rough voice faintly traced the tune of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” and as I listened, I turned to look at him.
He was a tall man, about thirty, with long brown locks of hair. His arms lay limply beside him, and looking at them, I realized there were sharp, deep cuts lining both of them. Lifting my arms, I looked at my own scars and began to cry. He stopped singing, and turned to look at me. I felt his eyes try to catch my own, but I ignored him anyway. After a few moments of silence, occasionally broken by my sobs, he finally spoke.
“What’s your name?” he asks.
“Nineteen.” I mutter.
“Your real name, I mean.”
“Violet.” I pause as I mouth my name again, savoring the sound of it, “And yours?”
“Forty-six,” he laughs, “or David works too.”
“David,” I whisper, trying the name, “pretty.”
“Thank you,” He smiles, “so how long have you been trapped in this dump?”
Laughing, I reply, “Um, I think it’s been about three months now. And you?”
“Fun. I was just brought in yesterday. My wife thinks I’ve gone mad.”
“Same with my mother.”
“Ah.” He whispers, nodding his head, “Was she just as crazy as we all are?”
“And yet we’re the only one’s in the asylum,” he chuckles.
My eyes widen; I stare at him unable to speak. It was as if he could read my most innermost thoughts. Then again, it may have been that we were simply both insane.
Finally bringing myself to nod, I whisper, “Exactly.”
“You scheduled for a lobotomy too then?”
I stared at my hands for a few moments, and realizing they were shaking, I knew I was in Mary’s exact place. Tears streamed down my face, and when David realized this he came and sat beside me.
“Sorry,” he repeated.
“When’s yours?” I choke out.
“A week from tomorrow.”
“I apologize for leaving you beforehand.”
“Oh, you don’t know.” I pause, trying to find some gentle words in my mind, “Everyone who gets a lobotomy has ended up dying. I watched my last roommate, who you replaced, die from the operation just yesterday…”
We both sat in silence.
“Sorry.” I whisper.
That was the last thing David and I said to each other. The day passed as usual, but I wasn’t quite conscious mentally. My mind wandered constantly, and I couldn’t quite grasp reality. That night, I lay awake, shaking and sobbing silently. As I watched the sun slowly rise outside, I wiped the tears away, forcing myself to be brave. Dying couldn’t be terrible.
Freeman sent for me two hours later. I walked with Nurse Karen down a white hallway that seemed to go on for eternity. Finally reaching the lobotomy room, I smelled the scent of blood buried beneath the walls. I didn’t fight as the doctor strapped the electrodes to my head. I didn’t scream as I felt the three jolts of electricity stream through my body, forcing me to shake uncontrollably.
I grew still as I felt the cold darkness slowly seep over me. I felt the dull pain in my eyes and skull, and yet I didn’t make a sound. Dying wasn’t so bad. It hurt a little, but other than that, it was peaceful in a way. I laughed as I caught myself thinking of this.
I heard the nurses gasp because of my outburst, which made me laugh even harder. I felt Freeman jolt me several more times, and yet I couldn’t control my laughter. Their sheer terror was so funny.
Maybe I was insane. Maybe I was the crazy lunatic that my mother thought I was. But I then realized that I truly didn’t care. I loved who I was. Realizing this, I saw a light in the shadows. Looking back at the painful darkness, I laughed for the final time as I skipped toward the light, still chuckling.
Dying isn’t so bad.