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November 17, 2017
The sound of banging on the cell bars wakes me. I can just tell it is going to be a long day. Last night I was restless and kept dreaming of this little girl. She looked like a younger version of me running around the asylum. She kept gesturing for me to come near her. Each time, I refused. I followed, but would not go any closer to her than I had to. She led me through the well known corridors and some lesser known stairways. Each time I dream of her, it begins with her showing me a painting she has made with her name signed at the bottom. The name is Emily. It is written in sloppy handwriting, but it is completely legible. She’s always so excited to show me, like she hasn’t had company in years. Her dress is always a yellowing white, very clean except for the ring of dirt around the bottom. She was obviously a rambunctious child. I just didn’t know who she was.
At least it will be breakfast soon. The food is lousy but at least I am being fed while I have to be in here. The floor is freezing when I stand up to do my morning ritual. In my cell I am allowed a bucket for a toilet and a small twin bed that is hard as a rock. I might as well just sleep on the ground with how beat up it is, it would probably feel about the same. Anyway, to start my ritual I use the provided bucket then comb through my hair with my fingers. The blonde curls often frizz but I’m long past caring about how I look. Then I strip and wait for the doctor to guide me to the public shower room. I am allowed five minutes, no soap, and the water is often luke warm at best. After my short lived attempt at cleanliness, I go back to my filthy cell to get dressed and go to breakfast. Many of the others admitted don’t get a regular shower because they lash out.
Breakfast in the main hall is often sad and dreary. Many other patients are restrained and force fed because they are a “danger to others”. I don’t get why they aren’t just fed in their damn cells. Pip is who I sit with. She has very short dark hair. The doctors cut it last year because they thought she was too vain. They’ve kept it short ever since. Everyone here usually has a certain seat they go to. Ours is in the very back shoved against a wall. This way, if something goes bad or a fight breaks out, we’re out of the line of fire from the guards. Most of the time they don’t even see who’s fighting, they just start swinging those solid batons around coming in contact with whatever human flesh they can find. After living here almost a year now, you learn a few survival tips, especially if you’ve still got your wits about you like I do. I do slip up sometimes by wearing at the guards and lashing out but not often. Most of the time I just sit back unnoticed and quiet. The time seems to go by faster that way. Just watching and observing.
For breakfast, it is the grey mush that they call “breakfast casserole” as always. It looks like the slop you feed to pigs. If you don’t breathe through your nose while eating it, it’s not so bad. Today, you can find bits of yellow and red. It’s pretty much just lumps of meat inside of gravy. At first I couldn’t hold it down so I lost almost fifteen pounds when I got here. I’ve learned to choke it down so I don’t get so sick. It must have some sort of nutritional value because I’m about as strong and healthy as the day I was admitted. Today, so far, no fights have broken out. These aren’t often but they’re not rare either.
After breakfast, we are allowed an hour to be outside in the garden. Not everyone has this privilege but I am one of the lucky ones who do. Pip, on the other hand, does not. This is awful because she is the only one I really trust in this hell hole. Anyway, in the garden, there are all sorts of plants and bugs that crawl around. I always try to sit near the willow tree and the hydrangeas. The flowers are absolutely breathtaking and the blue and purple hues make me forget about the white on the inside for a while. The garden is a decent sized square enclosed by the walls of the asylum. The layout of the facility is like a hollowed out cube. Personally, I have been able to see all of the main hallways for reasons good and bad. I’ve seen one or two because they’re where the hydro therapy and shock therapy are. The others are because I’ve followed the rules and have been allowed to accompany the nurses and doctors. Most of them like me but some have had bad experiences with me. I’m not crazy, I just have a temper.
On this particular day, a bee buzzes past me seeking out pollen. I hate the sound of bees. It reminds me of what the room sounds like right before the shock of the machine comes, just a quiet, constant buzz. It truly is terrifying. Just waiting for the shock to happen. When I first arrived, I was in that chair a lot, always restrained by my arms, legs, waist, chest, and neck. I learned to hold my tongue after a while.
The sound of the buzzer saying it’s time to go back inside is peircing. As it goes off, the guards shout at us until we are in a uniform line and ready to go back inside. We then go back to our cells until lunch. Some patients have daily “treatments” that they go to. I think the doctors just call them treatments to justify when they really don’t do anything to help. For those people, the doctors take them to their designated room with their corresponding treatment awaiting inside. In my cell, I take a nap so that I know I will not be in trouble with the doctors for saying something out of line. It is hard to sleep but I manage to most days. On occasion, when it has been a while since an incident, we are allowed to linger in the common area that houses a beat up record player and a few couches. It also has tables set up with cards, chess, and other common board games that can’t be used as weapons.
We are allowed to use them if we are not considered violent. The music calms most people. It is always the same upbeat tune that is played. It is committed to memory whether I want it to be or not. There are no words to it, but I am always finding myself humming it. Today, Pip plays me in checkers. The table itself is the board for the game. It is built with two different colors of wood, one a deep mahogany and the other a gorgeous oak that has only mineral oil instead of stain. The checker pieces are crocheted instead of being plastic or wood so they are less dangerous. The game is back and forth and goes quickly. This is one of the games we play the most in our time in the commons hall. Pip loves it and gently hums the music in the background without realizing it.
“Pip, do you think the treatments we go through really help anything? The doctors all say they do but I was sane coming in and not a thing has changed. If anything, I feel worse and mentally weaker than before.”
I don’t think they work. Nothing they do works, it’s just to torture us when they need a little bit of entertainment. Personally, I think if they gave me a shot, I could entertain them plenty without the treatments. Anyway, you need to stop thinking like this. If they hear you, you’ll go to solitary again. We both know how that went last time AnnMarie.”
They thought cutting her hair would changer her and it hasn’t in the slightest. She’s still the same old self centered and vulgar Pip as the day I met her. “You know I don’t like to talk about that. Besides, all the guards and staff that care about us talking like this are with the patients who actually need to be here.”
“Yeah I guess, but I still feel like they’re always listening whether we know it or not.”
It was my turn to move a piece of mine. Pip was winning like she always was. I think she likes it so much because she’s better at it than me. I beat her all the time in chess and I never see her offering to play that. After I move, she quickly sees her opportunity to strike and jumps over three of my pieces before telling me to king her.
“You really need to try harder when we play. It’s no fun when you just give up after the first move.”
The bell sounds for us to go to our cells before going to dinner. It’s a cell in the sense that there are locks only on the outside and bars over the part of our wall that looks into the hallway as well as the one facing the garden but other than that we can make them pretty homey. All of the artwork we make can be hung up and our families are allowed to bring us certain things for us to have while in here. I guess if you make the most of it, it’s not that bad. A lot of the people here take the little things for granted and those little things are usually the things that get me through the day. I miss my mother but the photograph hung crudely on my wall makes it a little better.
She was my best friend before I was thrown in here. I didn’t have very many friends and she was one of the few. She hasn’t been able to visit for a while but my brother has. Visiting hours are generally around noon on Sundays. This gives people time to go to church and eat lunch before they come to visit the ones who still have all of their privileges. I’ve lost them once and it was the most horrible month I’ve gone through in here. After that, I got my act together and started behaving so they wouldn’t be taken away. When Edward comes to visit, he always makes sure to tell me how mother is doing. He knows it tears me apart when she doesn’t come. He’s the only one I’m closer with than her. Today, it is just him here to visit.
“How are you AnnMarie? I know it’s gotta be hard in here but I promise that I’ll find who really did it. The police don’t know what a mistake they’ve made.”
“Edward, I know you mean well but you can’t be out there getting in trouble. You’re my lifeline to the world outside of this place and I need it to stay that way. If mother won’t come next weekend, can you ask her to write me a letter? I do miss her.”
“Of course.” Leaning down, he pulled a small music box from his satchel. It’s the one mother and father got for me when I was little. “I thought you’d want something from home so I brought this.”
“I love it Edward! It’s just what I’ve been needing as a pick me up.”
The small box is a deep mahogany that shines like polished glass. I remember the countless nights I would wake up from a night terror or just be upset and my mother would wind the box and play it for me and all of my troubles would slowly dissipate. It’s my security blanket.
We talk a while longer about what’s going on out in the real world and I tell him about my most recent therapies. He doesn’t think that they’re going to help anything because he knows I didn’t do it. He swears on our mother’s grave that he didn’t do it either but my mind keeps thinking it was him. He saw how he treated me and always said how he wanted to get rid of him for good. It scared me when he would talk like that.
The final buzzer has sounded and it’s time for Edward to leave. I hug him and say goodbye. He promises to have mother write as he’s being ushered out the door by a large male nurse who doubles as a guard. His large biceps tighten as he closes the door behind Edward. He is always the last one to leave and most of the guards know him but this one is new. He’s too rough with him. I want to run to his side to help but I know that if I were to do that, I would be put in solitary.
All I can do is watch him walk out the door.
The rest of the day is always a blur. Most of the time is spent doing what we want between our areas and the commons hall. Most Sunday’s I spend sleeping. This place really takes the energy out of you. It’s like being a car, stuck on the side of the road because it’s out of gas. Unable to move. Unable to go on. Sunday’s are my bad days. The music box I now have seems to help though. It makes it a little bit easier to get through to dinner.
Dinner looks the same as breakfast does. Just grey mush that passes for real food because it isn’t ever seen by anyone but us. The doctors sit at their own table and generally have real food with them. Tonight, they’ve been prepared roasted chicken with baked potatoes and steamed asparagus. The aroma makes my mouth salivate like a dog at your feet during the holidays. It drives me crazy that they can just sit there and know they have it so much better off than we do. They disgust me.
I can’t take it anymore. One of the doctors throws their food away and gives their tray to the cafeteria ladies to clean. I walk by the trash and can’t help myself. The chicken is relatively clean so I brush it off and shovel it into my mouth as quick as I can. If they see me I don’t know what kind of trouble I’ll be in but it won’t be good. I try and savor the flavor but there’s no time to.
“Hey! What in the hell do you think you’re doing?!” I whip my head around to see an angry doctor. I’ve never been assigned to him but that’s because I’m usually stuck with McGinty. This man is stout and a little pudgy. His belly jiggles a little as he runs toward me. I take a hard slap to the face and know that there’s no coming back from this.
“I’m sorry sir! I was just so hungry and it smelled like home. I don’t know what’s come over me!”
“That is no excuse! You know the rules as well as anyone else here does and I expect you to follow them. Eugine, what do you think this calls for?” By this time, all of the doctors and nurses from that large table were gathered around me, smiling devilishly like they had a secret.
“Throw her in solitary and I’ll deal with her when she’s ready to come out. By then, I’ll have regular therapies ready for her to commence. I’ll need time to think of which ones will be effective for a case like this but I’ll come up with something.”
He walked away from me and guards rushed to my side. I think they understand why I felt the need to eat the chicken because they weren't as rough as they usually are.
I spend the rest of the day in solitary confinement along with the next two weeks. The walls are blank except for the occasional splatter of blood from other patients who have been locked in here. The once vibrant red has taken on a dull brick color the longer it sits there on the walls. The room is about 15 feet long and the same across. It’s not big but it’s bigger than some of the ones I’ve been shoved in over the course of me being here. The room is enough to drive anyone mad but I won’t let myself lose who I was. For most of the duration of the two weeks, I sleep on the cot provided, usually waking up to some sort of nightmare or terror. The real nightmare though is living in here like an animal being herded around.
Knock knock knock.
Dr. McGinty must have thought of my punishment and is here to get me. I hear keys rattle outside of the door and back away toward the far end of the small enclosure. The door finally swings open, hitting the wall with a loud thud. Two female nurses come in and usher me out without saying a word. I think they feel bad for us in here. I am brought to a room that looks almost like a closet from the outside. It has a metal door with a small window at the top and is flush with the walls.
As I enter, I see McGinty standing by a wooden chair that looks to be decades old. The smug look on his face throws me for a loop and I double back, afraid of what will happen next. I remember this room. I can’t remember where I’ve seen it or why but I know that it is the shock therapy room. The chair has straps along the wrists and ankles with metal wiring through them to send the shock places other than just the brain. The rest of the straps which go around the legs, waist, chest, and neck are a rough burlap that seems to be fraying at all sides. It looks menacing, like it knows what is to happen next and it plans to consume me.
McGinty just points his arm to the chair gesturing for me to sit. I do as I am told and walk slowly, carefully toward the death trap. This is my first shock therapy. Up until now, they have only put me in solitary and had me go to the counselor. The game has just changed.
The machine had been used often. I would not be the first or the last to take a go at it. Since they believe that I have murdered my father, they believe I am insane. And what better treatment for the insane than to shock it out of them? Apparently nothing. They sit me down in that worn and fraying chair and set the cap on my head. One does this while two more nurses strap my hands, feet, waist, chest, and neck to the chair. The cap is made just as an electric chairs cap would be except you can control the intensity of the shock with a dial. Unlike the chair, there does not have to be a wet sponge. The purpose is not to kill, but to “cure”, which is a bullshit lie. All it is is torture.
Once I’m all strapped in, the doctor asks me a series of questions.
“What is your name?”
“Why are you here?”
“The supposed murder of my father.”
“What does my name tag read?”
“Eugine McGinty.”
“Nurse, we are ready to begin.”
The straps were uncomfortable. They itched. I couldn’t stop moving my wrists back and forth. This chair was too restricting. I could hear my heartbeat as I sat, waiting in fear for what was to come next. The nurses all looked at me and I knew it was about to happen.
The shock went through my body. The sound of my heartbeat quickened and I couldn’t breathe. My whole body convulsed and I had no control. The doctor then asked me a series of questions.
“What is your name?”
“AnnMarie.” It took everything I had to answer. I was so weak.
“Why are you here?”
“The supposed murder of my father.”
“What does my name tag read?”
“Eugine McGinty.” He smiled devilishly.
“Nurse, she’s ready for round two.”
And the switch was flipped, this time, with the dial a notch to the right. It was so much more painful than before. My body convulsed once again. My heartbeat was even quicker. My blood was hot beneath my skin. I could smell a hint of singed hair from where the cap was sitting. My body went limp when the shock stopped. I felt almost numb with the exception of the searing pain on my skin.
Eugine asked the same series of questions for the third time.
“What is your name?”
“AnnMarie.” I had no breath.
“Why are you here?”
“The supposed murder of my father.” I would not say I murdered him, even though it was shorter and would have left me with a hint of strength left in my body.
“What does my name tag read?”
“Eugine McGinty.” I used all the energy I had left to spit in that man's face.
“Nurse, turn the dial double for this last round.” He wiped the spit from his face with exaggeration.
“But Sir, she surely isn’t ready for that. This is her first treatment.”
She did as he said. The look on his face said not to argue with him. I watched her turn the dial. With his signal, the nurse flipped the switch and I again lost all control of my body. I lost control of the bodily functions. I was sitting in my own filth. My dignity was gone. I could no longer feel anything. The only reason my head was still up was because of the straps of the chair. He asked my name and I didn’t have the strength to answer.
“Get her the hell out of here.”
“Yes sir. Shall we wash her down?”
“No. She can stay like that until tomorrow. Do not place her in her bed. Place her on the floor. If she wants any form of comfort, she can muster the strength to do it herself.”
He left the room. He walked by my cell the next day and stopped. I was still on the floor. He smiled down at me and asked my name. I did not answer.

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