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A Mind That Found Itself: An Autobiography

Creator: Clifford Whittingham Beers (author)
Date: 1910
Publisher: Longmans, Green, and Co., New York
Source: Available at selected libraries

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Page 38:


The bit of glass, which the attendants had overlooked, was as large as my thumb nail. If I remember rightly it was not a part of the broken globe. It was a piece that had probably been hidden by a former occupant, in a comer of the square opening at the side of the door. At all events, if the pen is the tongue of a ready writer, so may a piece of glass be, under given conditions. As the thought I had in mind seemed an immortal one I decided to etch, rather than write with fugitive graphite. On the topmost panel of the door, which a few minutes before had dealt me so vicious a blow, I scratched a seven-word sentiment -- sincere, if not classic: "God bless our Home, which is Hell."


The violent exercise of the morning had given me a good appetite and I ate my dinner with relish, though with some difficulty, for the choking had lamed my throat. On serving this dinner the attendants again left me to my own devices.


The early part of the afternoon I spent in vain endeavors to induce them to take notes to the superintendent and his assistant. They continued to ignore me. By sundown the furious excitement of the morning had given place to what might be called a deliberative excitement, which, if anything, was more effective. It was but a few days earlier that I had discussed my case with the assistant physician and told him all about the suicidal impulse which had been so strong during my entire period of depression. I now reasoned that a seeming attempt at suicide, a "fake" suicide, would frighten the attendants into calling this doctor whose presence I now desired -- and desired the more because of his persistent indifference. No man that ever lived loved life more than I did on that day, and my mock tragedy which I successfully played about dusk was, I believe, as good a farce as was ever perpetrated. If I had any one ambition it was to live long enough to regain my freedom and put behind iron bars this doctor and his tools, the attendants. To compel attention -- that was my object.


At that season the sun set by half-past five and supper was usually served about that time. So dark was my room then that objects in it could scarcely be distinguished. About a quarter of an hour before the attendant was due to appear with my evening meal I made my preparations. That the stage setting might be in keeping with the plot, I tore up such papers as I had with me, and also destroyed other articles in the room -- as one might in a frenzy; and to complete the illusion of desperation, deliberately broke my watch. I then took off my suspenders, and tying one end to the head of the bedstead made a noose of the other. This I adjusted comfortably about my throat. At the crucial moment I placed my pillow on the floor beside the head of the bed and sat on it -- for this was to be an easy death. I then bore just enough weight on the improvised noose to give all a plausible look. And a last life-like (or rather death-like) touch I added by gurgling as in infancy's happy days.


No schoolboy ever enjoyed a prank more than I enjoyed this one. Soon I heard the step of the attendant, bringing my supper. When he opened the door he had no idea that anything unusual was happening within. Coming as he did from a well lighted room into one that was dark it took him several seconds to grasp the situation -- and then he failed really to take it in, for he at once supposed me to be in a semi-unconscious condition from strangulation. In a state of great excitement this brute of the morning called to his brute-partner and I was soon released from what was nothing more than an amusing position, though they believed it one of torture. The vile curses with which they had addressed me in the morning were now silenced. They spoke kindly and expressed regret that I should have seen fit to resort to such an act. Their sympathy was as genuine as such men can feel, but a poor kind at best, for it was excited by the thought of what might be the consequences to them of their own neglect. While this unwonted stress of emotion threatened the attendants' peace of mind I continued to play my part, pretending to be all but unconscious.


Shortly after thus rescuing me from a very living death, the attendants picked me up and carried my limp body and laughing soul to an adjoining room, where I was tenderly placed upon a bed. I seemed gradually to revive.


"What did you do it for?" asked one of the attendants.


"What's the use of living in a place like this, to be abused as I've been to-day?" I asked. "You and the doctor ignore me and all my requests. Even a cup of water between meals is denied me, and other requests which you have no right to refuse. Had I killed myself, both of you would have been discharged. And if my relatives and friends had ever found out how you had abused and neglected me it is likely you would have been arrested and prosecuted."


Word had already been sent to the assistant physician. He hurried to the ward, his almost breathless condition showing how my farce had been mistaken for a real tragedy. The moment he entered I abandoned the part I had been playing.

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