The woman next to me flinched, trying to cover her mouth before she coughed, but before I could look up, the doctor had already grabbed her shirt and pulled her forward. I sat as still as I could, holding my breath and closing my eyes tightly as I listened for the inevitable screams. The woman was pleading with the doctor, jumbling her words together with desperate apologies as he dragged her out of the room. The silence was palpable, coating the room with a thick sense of dread the second the door slammed shut.
I slowly turned my head to look at the women beside me, lined up like frightened children on a bench, soaked to the bone and shivering in thin, wet clothing. Not far down the line, a girl, not much more than a teenager, began sobbing, clutching at the hands of those around her, mumbling a prayer. Soon I couldn’t hear her, just the growing ringing in my ears, muffling the voices around me until all I saw was the moving of lips and the red lines of tear stained cheeks. I shakily pulled by knees up to my chest, letting my eyes slide shut and my head fall back against the cool, hard brick, all the while wishing for this to be over.
I remember my editor telling me as he leaned back lazily in his chair, puffing on a cigar, that an exposé about the asylum on Blackwell’s Island would put my name up there with the greats. It wasn’t that hard to get myself committed; actually, the authorities seemed all too eager to ship me off with the others. Upon my arrival, though, I quickly came to realize the true horrors that reside within the walls of this asylum. Women, disease ridden and shackled together like animals, wandered aimlessly, shying away from any doctor in the vicinity. The claustrophobia, the noise, and the fear all mixed together to create a surmounting sense of terror.
My first night at Blackwells, I had been walking toward my room when, out of the darkness, a pair of arms grasped me, turned me around, shook me, and yelled over and over, “Cabhair liom! Cabhair liom! Cabhair liom!”
I stood there, looking into her eyes, and felt her desperation. Help me. Help me. Help me. I just looked at her, and watched as she realized that I couldn’t understand her. The woman released me, stepped back, and with lower lip trembling, numbly walked away.
The next morning I sat down in the dining hall and watched the women around me devour rotting meats, stale bread, and expired milk. I shifted uncomfortably in my seat, trying to refrain from gagging. The girl next to me, though, pushed over a plate of molding fruit and grimaced while looking at my questioning face, “Eat while you can, you don’t know when your next meal will be.”
I smiled at her, and looking down at the plate. Before I could consider my options, a doctor walked in and everything went silent. I quickly looked up, glancing at the women around me. The doctor was walking up and down the rows, pointing to certain people—those of which go deathly white. He reaches my table and stops opposite me. Smiling, he points his gloved blue finger directly at me; I slowly get up, and follow the growing line of women out the back door. That was the first time I was sent to the quiet room.
My eyes snap open, quickly adjusting to the dull light. The girl has stopped crying and the other women have huddled together near the back of the room. No one says a word. I grasp my hands together in an effort to stop the shaking, but it does no good. I concentrate on my breathing, in and out, in and out. The door opens quietly. All eyes are on the doctor, who is taking off a pair of bloodied gloves. I look away. One by one, we all get up and leave through the door. The doctor leads us down a hallway back toward our rooms, but before we reach our block, he stops and motions to a dark, dirtied storage closet. I peer into the darkness, gasping when I see something move.
The woman, the one from the quiet room, broken, bloody, and bruised. Those around me turn their eyes downward, but I can’t look away. I can’t hear what the doctor is saying. I can’t feel the arms pulling me roughly away. I can’t see the doctor motioning for two nurses to help him as I struggle. I can only see the woman. And then I’m screaming. I’m screaming and sobbing and kicking, but I don’t feel anything.
“I’m not insane, I’m not insane, I was faking, please believe me!” I continue to scream.
“I’m a reporter, I was never supposed to be here, I’m not crazy!” I scream until my throat is raw.
Help me. Help me.
“Please, please, call my editor, I can’t stay here anymore!” I scream and scream and scream.
I scream until my eyes get heavy and all I can think about is that woman, bloodied, misunderstood, abandoned. And I’m still screaming when the darkness washes over me.
Help me. Help me. Help me.
Photo Credits: Techn0zoNe