My name is William Asa Dean. I have never been insane. I scribbled this in a scrap of paper in my cramped room at the Onondaga County Asylum and crammed it down behind the bars that block the only window. I wrote it because it's the truth, and maybe someone will care to know that someday.
The room I stayed had the one window toward the left corner of the northern wall. At least there is a view of a cream dogwood tree. To the right was a cot with a coarse navy blanket. Against the left wall was a small dresser with my clothes, which were mostly my own old garments and the clothes local churches would sometimes donate after the parishioners gave them up.
And that is it. That is the room where I have lived over the last sixteen years.
My sister Lucy turned eleven when I was fifteen. It was on her birthday that we all went out to eat at a diner outside Jamesville, New York. She was so lively. She smiled and chattered up a storm the entire time we were out. Summer rain showered us as we drove home on a particularly winding road. Dad smiled at Mom in the passenger seat and laughed.
That second changed everything.
The wheatgrass colored Sedan veered aside. Dad overcorrected and the world went into a spin cycle. At least, that's what they told me. That part seems to have been erased in my mind. I do remember split second images of blood. Banging on the windows as people try to help us. Blood in the strawberry blonde hair of my mother and sister. The petrified expression on my dad. So much blood…
My heart thunders and my breath races at the visuals. My muscles tremble out of control.
And then there was the brick Syracuse orphanage. That was where I spent the next year of my life. But the accident messed me up inside. I never slept well. I burst into anger often. I panicked at the smell of one of the teachers' perfume, which reminded me of my mother. I got scared anytime someone asked me to get into a car, and more panicked when the driver looked away from the road.
I was insane, they told me. I needed help, they said.
And so here I am. That "help" has never existed. The patients (or inmates) who cause little trouble are rarely treated. I was sedated once or twice when I arrived. There was some hydrotherapy in the beginning and when I panic. Thank God I was never deemed in need of electroshock therapy.
My note was sufficiently crammed into a crack in the cement window sill. I stared past it at the autumn colored dogwood leaves. Good Lord, what I would do to be able to be outside and be able to sit beneath a dogwood. The wind and the crisp, dampened aromas of autumn were some of the things I sincerely missed. We had a courtyard in the asylum, but it was one that was plain so that no one could get hurt and start an investigation. The asylum and everyone in it seem scared that anything suspicious will draw attention here. Perhaps it was because of the degrading –
A bolt slid and clicked. I spun around as the door behind me creaked open and an attendant with a brown moustache stood with crossed arms. I could see a stun gun in a holster attached to the right side of his suit trousers.
"Time for breakfast, Mr. Dean. Let me escort you to the dining hall."
I complied. He wrapped his hand around my right arm with a solid grip when I met him at the door, and he escorted me down the narrow hall streaming with other patients and attendants. I did not know the name of this attendant, or most of the others. Likewise, they rarely cared to know ours.
We reached another door that opened into a sort of cafeteria. Here, attendants sat their patients down with a tray of food and stood watch to make sure there were no scuffles. This is the one time where I understand their leeriness. I am sane. Many of the people here are sane. Some are out-of-this-world crazy and unpredictable.
"I want to eat with Andrew Quinn."
"Point him out."
I searched the crowds of people eating until I saw a man with a sandy crew cut picking at his meatloaf with a plastic fork. I pointed at him.
"That sandy blond guy at the end of the table."
"Go and get your tray, then."
I made my way to the end of the line. Each man at the head would grab his tray at the window and go sit down while the attendants watched. It was similar to being a perpetual toddler.
When I got my tray, I returned to where I saw Andrew and sat down beside him. I did not make a habit of starting relationships here, but he was an exception. He and I had similar symptoms of "insanity" that send us here. Eventually, he admitted the source of his. He was part of the 80th Infantry Division in World War II that liberated Ebensee.
"At least it's meatloaf and an orange this time," I said.
"Or so they say," he replied.
A young man with an auburn Ivy League haircut suddenly darted out his hand to me. "Mark Dansen."
"Says he's undercover for the newspapers," Andrew snorted.
"Really," I answered as I shook his hand. So the guy believed he was some sort of reporter. Whatever it takes to deal with being locked in here. Wondered what story he was convinced he was assigned to.
"It's true!" he hissed with wide, excited eyes. "Some questions have arisen about the quality of care in several facilities around the United States, and even the world."
Andrew and I exchanged a look.
"Yeah, I was shocked, too," Andrew sarcastically ripped a bite out of the meatloaf. "Who would question the care of thousands of people all locked in a secret building?"
Mark Dansen seemed unphased. "Speaking of shocked, have they done that sort of thing to you?"
Why not indulge him a little? "Not us. We don't cause enough problems to really get their attention."
"So what have they done to you?" Mark planted his elbows on the table and leaned closer. Clearly, we were more interesting to him than that lousy excuse for a lunch.
"With me, hydrotherapy," I answered. "And some sort of injection they claim does some good."
"They give me space," Andrew answered. When I mentioned I had some anger problems, I should mention that his were much more notable. "And the injections."
"Interesting," Mark met each of our eyes and nodded. Then he leaned back and crossed his arms. "You fellas seem pretty sane to me. What do they have you locked up for?"
"Not for actually being insane," I answered. That was all he needed to know.
"Why are you here?" Andrew challenged. "Delusions?"
"I really am a reporter! That was the truth," Mark insisted. He leaned even closer and dropped his voice. "But I smashed a pint of whiskey at the local bar and started ranting and raving. When the hospital evaluated me, I gave them the creepiest stare I could and refused to answer anything. My parents played along and everything, saying they had no idea what got into me lately. It was a blast!"
Andrew and I stared at him. Never considered being stuck here "a blast."
"Still having a blast?" Andrew seemed to read my mind.
"Are you kidding? This is the most exciting assignment I've ever done!"
That may have actually been true, assuming this was a real assignment and he really was undercover to expose the mistreatment in insane asylums. I shoved the last orange wedge in my mouth.
"Attention!" an attendant called out at the head of the room. "Breakfast will end within five minutes. Please return your trays to the cafeteria window on your way out."
Dansen looked scared. Couldn't help but feel sorry for him.
"We shall see," Andrew answered lamely as he gathered up his tray and stood.
And so we stacked our trays on the counter and wandered toward the door like a herd of cattle, hoping to be allowed some grazing time. An attendant stopped us at the door, however, and pulled a sheet of paper out of his suit pocket.
"Patients who are to receive injection therapy this afternoon are—"
Great. I do not enjoy these. And I honestly have no idea what benefit they're supposed to have. They say it should keep me calm, but I really never feel different.
"Brady, Dansen, Dean, Giovanni, Hill, Jackson, MacGregor, Sergei, Stanislawski, and Quinn."
My shoulders dropped. Mark had reason to look nervous. I'm sure his assignment didn't include getting strapped down and jabbed by nurses with needles. Brady curled his arms across his chest and scrunched his head down, staring at his shoes.
The attendant allowed us out the door, but directed us down a hall separate from everyone else. My muscles tensed. I hated not having control of my body. I hated being strapped down. I hated needles.
"What do they inject into you?" Mark murmured to me.
"They never say," I answered curtly. "The more you resist, the worse it gets."
Brady quaked with fear. He was a small, middle-aged man with a balding head and almost invisible eyebrows. "Does this mean we get poked with a needle again? I don't like needles."
"You'll be all right, Brady," Andrew assured him.
And then we arrived at another door. We crowded around it until it opened. We could see metal gurneys and medical tubing and nurses preparing equipment. I wanted to run.
Andrew sucked in a deep breath. "Well, boys, here goes another round."