Dr. Baraku Bexley
"I've been thinking about suicide lately. A lot."
"How often is 'a lot'?"
"At least once a day, although sometimes I may go a couple of days without thinking about it."
"When you say you've been thinking about it, what does that mean? Are you imagining ways of doing it? Are you thinking about where you would do it?"
"No, I know how I'll do it."
"What kind of pills?"
"Painkillers. I've got hidden away on the outside eighty-seven hydrocodone tablets. You know: the generic of Vicodin. I got them from a friend who had a prescription for a hundred and only used thirteen. She had some kind of really bad disk problem in her back, but they fixed it and she didn't need the pills anymore. So she gave them to me. I figure I could take the whole batch in three or four swallows and within a few hours I'd be dead."
"What if you don't die?"
"Oh, I'll die."
"How can you be so sure?"
"I did my homework."
"What does that mean?"
"I looked up hydrocodone on the Internet. The lethal dose, depending on tolerance, could be anywhere from around fifty or sixty milligrams up. If I take all eighty-seven, I'll be getting over six hundred fifty milligrams, which should be plenty for someone my size. I'm only a hundred nine pounds. Some kid who weighed eighty-nine pounds died from taking only ten pills. I'd say eighty-seven ought to do the trick."
"Yes, I suppose it would."
"Plus I forgot to tell you-I'm going to down them with tequila."
"You're talking like this is a done deal."
"No, of course not. I'd have to get out of here first, right? And in all probability, that's somewhat unlikely. It's just that you asked how I would do it, so I told you."
"Could you tell me why you think about killing yourself so much?"
"Are you depressed?"
"What does that mean?"
"Are you filled with a sense of the utter meaninglessness of life? Do the routine activities of life like eating, working, reading, watching movies, having sex, and other normal events hold no interest for you? Do you spend a lot of time sleeping?"
"No to all of the above. I don't think life is meaningless. I love to eat, I don't normally mind going to work, I read constantly, I'm at Blockbuster at least twice a week, and if I'm not in a relationship in which I'm having regular sex, I masturbate a lot. As for sleeping all the time, I wish. My life is-was-so busy I can barely squeeze in six hours a night."
"Suicide is usually looked to as a last resort solution-what someone will consider when their life becomes unbearable, unlivable. You sound like you're engaged with your own life and relatively content."
"I am. At least I was . . . until I got locked up, that is."
"So I'll ask again. Why have you been thinking about taking your own life?"
"Don't you want to know where I would do it?"
"You asked me if I've been thinking about where I would do it."
"Yes, you're right. I did. So, have you?"
"And where would that be?"
"I don't know."
"Are you toying with me?"
"No, not at all. I'm telling you the truth when I say that I have been thinking about where to do it. I just haven't decided yet."
"What's holding up your decision?"
"Lots of things. Like who will find me. What kind of mess I'll make. I know I'll . . . make a mess when I die, and I don't want whoever finds me to have to clean it up. For a while, I was thinking about walking into the ocean. Maybe down at Fort Hale Park. But then I risk the chance of no one finding my body. And I want to be cremated, so they'll need that."
"This conversation is leading me to a conclusion I do not want to make."
"Oh? And what's that?"
"I think you have already decided to kill yourself and that all these assurances to me that you're not going to do it are your way of deflecting me from further inquiry or action. I think you know that I am obligated to act if I feel that you are a serious danger to yourself, and you are thus trying to convince me that this is all just an intellectual exercise rather than your true plan."
"I'm not going to kill myself. But I do think about it. What are you going to do? Ha-ha, have me committed? Last time I looked this was still America and I was free to say and think anything I fucking want to."
"That may be true in most situations. But this is not a typical situation. If it was, you would not be sitting there, would you? I would not have voluntarily come to you to discuss these things, right? So the normal rules do not apply, and if I think you're on the verge of suicide, I have to put it in my report and act."
"Court-ordered bullshit. I'm already on a suicide watch, for Christ's sake."
"Perhaps. Shall we move on?"
"Okay with me."
"Tell me why you're here."
"You know why I'm here. I'm incarcerated . . . is institutionalized a better word? . . . and the court is making me talk to you."
"I want you to tell me what you did and why you did it."
"You know what I did. As for why I did it, you'll have to figure that out yourself. Isn't that what they're paying you for?"
"In a sense."
"Well, then . . ."
"Let's put aside the reason you are here and talk about some other things that are-were-going on in your life."
"Fine with me."
"Can you tell me about your job?"
"Sure. But isn't all that in my records?"
"Yes, but I'd like to hear it from you. What is it you do?"
"I'm a certified animal euthanasia technician. I make $451.92 a week. That's a whopping twenty-three five a year."
"And what is a certified animal euthanasia technician?"
"Every Friday afternoon, I euthanize all the cats and dogs in the animal shelter that have not been adopted by then."
"How do you euthanize these animals?"
"We use a gas chamber."
"What is your role in this process?"
"Process. You guys are funny. Only shrinks would describe mass execution as a process. Did you all get that from Auschwitz? I understand the Nazis were big fans of euphemisms."
"Please do not trivialize or make fun of the Holocaust. I lost my grandfather at Auschwitz."
"So, what is your role in this process, please?"
"I take the animals from their cages and place them in the gas chamber."
"Don't they try and run away?"
"They all have choke chains around their necks, even the cats, and the room has steel rings embedded in the floor every three feet in a grid. We start in the far left corner and hook one animal to each ring. We can do around a dozen animals at a time, although usually it's only five or six."
"What happens after they're all hooked to the floor?"
"I close the door and bolt it with a sliding bar. The room is airtight once the door is closed. Ironically, the animals would probably all suffocate to death if we just left them in there. The air would run out after a while. But that would be traumatic and painful. And take a long time. So we try to get it over with as quickly as possible."
"What happens after you bolt the door?"
"I sign a form."
"What kind of form?"
"It's a form that lists the animals I put inside the gas chamber-you know, one brown terrier, one black-and-white cat . . ."
"And then what happens?"
"I hand the clipboard to my supervisor, Jake. He double-checks everything and then he signs it. A copy of this form has to go to the state every week."
"What does Jake do after he signs the form?"
"Well, usually, he goes back to his office and finishes eating his lunch. He likes a late lunch."
"You know what I'm asking."
"We both walk over to a computer panel on the wall outside the gas chamber. We then go through a specific procedure that I had to learn cold before I could get my certification."
"Jake does all the talking. 'Nine animals confirmed for euthanasia. Door seal confirmed. Quantity of lethal agent confirmed for nine animals. Initiating.' Then I push a button. But I forgot something."
"And what is that?"
"Before we start the procedure, he puts on a CD."
"He plays music? For the animals?"
"No, they can't hear it. He plays it for us, although he really plays it for himself."
"What does he play?"
"The White Album."
"I see. What happens after you push the button?"
"A thermometer lights up."
"A gauge that looks like a thermometer lights up on the main panel and a red light starts to rise to the top of the tube."
"On the side of this tube are numbers from one to ten. Supposedly, once the red hits the two, all the animals are asleep. I've never looked to see if that was true, though. There's no window in the door. Once it hits five, they're not supposed to be breathing anymore, and when it gets to ten, their hearts have stopped. That's about a six percent CO concentration. Fatal."
"What happens after it gets to ten?"
"Nothing. Jake goes back to his desk and I go do whatever else I have to do."
"What about the animals?"
"A timer starts as soon as the gauge hits ten. A bell rings after fifteen minutes. Then we can get them out."
"Who opens the door?"
"Me. I'm the tech."
"Could you talk about that, please?"
"Because I don't want to."
"I think it would help your situation if I wrote in my report that you were cooperative. Plus I do believe it will also help you personally to talk about it."
"What do you want to know?"
"Take me through what happens after the timer bell rings."
"The first thing I do is go into the rear storeroom and get the disposal cart."
"And what is that?"
"It's a big folding cart on wheels. It holds a thick rubber bag that is stretched open. The bag has a heavy zipper running across its top."
"The animals go in this bag?"
"Their bodies do. Yeah."
"Do they all fit?"
"The bag holds the equivalent in weight of about a dozen cats or six dogs. Sometimes we need two bags."
"I wheel the cart over to the gas chamber and place it on the right side of the door. Then I put on thick rubber gloves and a mask and then I unbolt the door and open it." "Doesn't gas get out into the room?" "There's a reverse exhaust system that sucks out all the gas and then runs it through an afterburner that renders it nontoxic. It's an OSHA thing. By the time I open the door, the air inside the room is perfectly safe. In fact, I'm pretty sure the door won't open until the gas is completely cleared. And there are CO detectors throughout the building too."
"Why the gloves and mask, then?"
"It's a mess inside the room. The animals' bowels and bladders let go when they die."
"I see. What about the smell?"
"The exhaust system gets rid of some of it, but it's still pretty rank."
"What do you do next?"
"I start with the animal closest to the door. I unhook the choke chain, pick it up, and carry it outside to the disposal cart. Everything goes in the bag. The collar, the choke chain. Everything. They're all made of copper or tin, so they melt in the crematorium."
"What do you think about as you're emptying out the gas chamber?"
"Anything but the animals."
"I don't think about the animals and I don't look at their faces."
"Could you talk about that?"
"I knew these animals. Even though we only had them for a week or so, I got to know every one of them. They each had a personality too. And they were all so trusting. They were always happy to see me. And they were incredibly grateful for any attention I gave them."
"This is difficult for you to talk about."
"You bet your ass it's difficult. These animals were my friends. And I had to kill them. What bothered me the most was that they came with me willingly, just happy to be with me. And then I locked them in a room and fucking killed them. I completely betrayed their trust in me."
"Why did you take this job in the first place?"
"I thought I could do some good."
"You know . . . helping find homes for animals . . . helping kids pick out a pet . . . that kind of stuff." "But you knew you'd be involved in euthanizing them too, didn't you?"
"By the end of the job interview I did, yes . . . but that's not why I applied at the shelter."
"Why don't you tell me about that?"
"I applied at the shelter for an office job. I wanted to man the front desk and take in the animals people found or couldn't take care of anymore. Like I said-to help. A lot of animals came from elderly people."
"What do you mean?"
"A lot of elderly people have pets, and when the old person dies, no one in the family wants to take their animal. So they bring it to us."
"What do they tell you when they bring in these animals?"
"Usually that there's no one to take care of it and they want us to find it a good home."
"What do you tell them?"
"That we'll try."
"And do you?"
"Absolutely. People come to the shelter every day looking for a cat or dog. And we always take our time with them and make sure that they are comfortable with the animal they pick out. We don't like anyone to walk out without a pet."
"So why all the killing . . . euthanizing?"
"Because we don't have the money or the space to keep animals longer than a week. They come in all the time and there's just no way we could keep them all until they were placed with families."
"You keep them a week?"
"Yeah, but it's not a calendar week. It's seven whole days. We start counting on the day after they arrive, and they are euthanized on the first Friday after the seven days are up."From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Dialogues by Stephen J. Spignesi. Copyright © 2005 by Stephen J. Spignesi. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.