Today is the one hundred and thirty-third day of my voluntary imprisonment; this is the day that I will kill myself. I have made all the preparations, like a Japanese warrior who has been shamed and will shed his blood to save face; the instruments of my destruction are laid out, gleaming in the artificial light of my prison: a large kitchen knife I have never used, a white handkerchief to cover my eyes and allow me the courage (the site of blood makes me faint of heart), a pillow to rest my head on once I slit my throat. I have dressed in my finest garments; the suit that I wore fifteen years ago at my wedding, picked out by my wife and packed by her prior to my leaving for this ordeal. I am now sitting down to write my last will and testament, the final act before the final act, I’ll never know the denouement.
I, being sound of mind…that’s a lie, and I seem to recall through a thin fog of memory that I wrote a last will and testament prior to my going away. I had bequeathed all my worldly possessions to my wife and children, as it should be. Good, that’s all taken care of; now to the business of my death.
As I kneel before the pillow, the knife seems awfully shiny and awfully sharp, I’m realizing that this could be painful and messy—ah yes that’s what the blindfold is for. I put on the blindfold and hold the knife in my hands, it’s surprisingly light; I fumble around for the sharp blade and slice my finger, ouch! I take off my blindfold, a small pool of blood is collecting and about to drip off my finger onto the pillow, the white pillowcase stained red, my finger throbbing, my nerve gone. Wait a second is this the one-hundred-and-thirty-third day of my voluntary imprisonment? I can’t even remember; I lost track within the first few weeks. Maybe it was the thirty-third day or the even the twenty-third day, it was possible; who knew anything anymore. No need for suicide just yet, I’ll file that notion for now. I was bored though; the boredom will surely kill me before my own hand will. Death is not a coward, but death comes slow and living is the slowest form of death there is.
I have done some rudimentary calculations and by my reckoning it is now the one-hundredth day of my incarceration. My previous day’s delusion must have been due to a lack of sleep, which again by rudimentary mathematics calculated with the assistance of daylight and darkness coming through my two-foot by two-foot hole of a window in the high wall of this dungeon, was six consecutive days and nights without. Sleep deprivation does strange things and time is usually the first victim.
I have just finished eating my last can of corned beef, it was my fiftieth can of corned beef; the cupboards had been stocked with fifty cans of corned beef, fifty cans of tuna, fifty cans of baked beans, chili, etc. All the nonperishable food my constitution could deal with. I was given a hot plate to heat things up, some hard bread that was supposed to last awhile and some melba toast. The bread was gone after the first month, so I was on the melba toast and corned beef, until this final can, I suppose I’ll have to move on to the tuna or Spam for the next few days. I’ve definitely had my fill of corned beef. The water in the small fridge is beginning to taste like salad dressing; the cases lined up against the wall will surely taste like motor oil in a few weeks.
Today is the one hundred and eighty-second day; I’m sitting in the middle of the room and the walls and ceiling are within inches of my naked body. I have just finished providing my most recent update to the hungry, bored masses sitting in their living rooms waiting for my death. The camera on the wall above the desk is the main camera to which I have to deliver a state of the solitude address whenever the red light comes on; there are three other cameras scattered throughout the ten by ten living area, I’m spared a camera in the very small bathroom. The ceiling is about seven feet high but today it is on top of my head, I look to see if any of the red camera lights are on, this tells me that I’m being watched, nothing, too bad they would get a glimpse into the encroaching madness, the ratings would spike.
I have secretly been devising a plan to murder the executives at the network. The network is the architect of this little drama, yes I was complicit, I signed the waivers, the contract, the chance at two million dollars; one year in solitary confinement, without any contact from the outside world, without stepping outside this prison, and $2 million would be mine; $2 million, net, to allow me to quit my dead-end job and set up my family nicely for the future.
My wife was opposed, my kids cried, but I, stubborn as a mule, wouldn’t hear another word about it. This was our meal ticket. At my rate of pay it would have taken me approximately eighty years to make $2 million; how much harm could one year out of my life inflict on my world? One year of misery for a lifetime without worry, it was a good trade-off.
I hadn’t factored in the cost of my sanity, and that is what the network honchos were counting on. They were banking on a complete meltdown, live, prime time with a huge ratings share, and the people would eat it up, the people loved a car wreck, the people loved a freak show. The two million the network was putting up was a drop in the bucket to what the advertising would bring in.
So I was plotting, upon my release, to meet with the executives for a celebratory dinner, at the fanciest of restaurants to show my appreciation to them for choosing me out of thousands of applicants. I’m still not clear on why they chose me other than what they told me; I was the most erudite of the applicants, I was fairly well educated, had a family and a happy life. It would be interesting to see if someone who was so far from the breaking point would crack. I had to go through a battery of psychological tests, physicals, stress tests, and I passed them all to the satisfaction of the brass; I was their man. Now I plotted, the restaurant would provide me with the proximity to somehow poison their drinks, or I could go for the ambush, late at night as they left their offices to go home to their trophy wives and phony existence; I would lie in wait and one by one murder them in the parking lot as their driver sat, also dead, engine running. The scenarios were endless and they occupied my mind as I waited for the red light to come on.
I believe strongly that I have reached the two hundred and fiftieth day, but I have no way of knowing for sure. I have taken to throwing canned meat and fish at the camera when the red light comes on; it’s always cleaned up in the morning. In fact I’ve smeared gelatin on the walls, I’ve urinated on the floor, I’ve smashed the table and chairs but it’s always somehow cleaned up, furniture replaced, all done in swift silence whenever I sleep.
The cracks in my armor were beginning to show. My weekly address to the watchers in TV land is often incoherent, profanity laced, and delivered in the nude. The few lucid moments I can conjure fill me with dread, my children, if they’re watching, must feel shame.
I have been hallucinating death, dressed in white, knocking at the door, day and night the constant knocking, but I refuse to answer, the knocking is in my head now, it’s a fixture; this figure in white will not leave. I yell obscenities toward the door, the knocking continues. I envision opening the door and stabbing death with my large kitchen knife that I have never used; seeing the scarlet ooze widen from the point of entry outward in a circle, bright red on white, dramatic; then I realize that I can’t kill death, death is dead; it is the ultimate dead.
I have books; they allowed me as many books as I could fit in the place, I brought a collection of Shakespeare, poetry by Blake, Whitman, Keats; novels by Hemmingway, Dostoyevsky, Kerouac, Celine; philosophical works by Aristotle, Plato and others, historical biographies of great people, and the Bible (not for religious purposes, but because it is a good read). I haven’t read one book from cover to cover. I was drinking it all in for a while but once madness sets in the last thing you want to do is read. I am writing though, writing is the perfect bedfellow for madness.
My hygiene has completely fallen apart, I haven’t shaved in months; I haven’t showered or brushed my teeth in weeks; I smell terrible and look like a homeless beggar. The red light just came on, excuse me, I must deliver my address.
“Hello people in TV land, greetings from the abyss. I hope you are all comfortable in your family rooms in front of your big screen HD TV’s, how do I look in HD? Shocking I would think. I trust I have not disappointed and met all your expectations, am I deranged enough? Do I look sick? Because I am; I’m not sick of this self-imposed prison, although it is a symptom, I’m getting paid for this, if it kills me I’m getting paid, and isn’t that what it’s all about, getting paid? Does all the intelligence or goodness or kindness in a person matter anymore? No, what matters is getting paid. Some of the most idiotic, evil, inept people in the world get paid, either through dubious means, through sheer determination and absolute love of money, or through some form of prostitution; which brings us to my situation and the sickness that erodes my being. I have whored myself out to the network in order to finally get paid, to get my slice of the pie. I am the sick whore and you, you all are my clients and I am sad to say you are now afflicted with disease. This is reality TV; the reality you seek through me is not reality, this freak show you tune in to every week, is exactly that; a freak show. Whatever perverse thrill you derive from rubbernecking on this car crash is a symptom of your illness; go heal yourselves. Go do something other than sit in your prisons, confined by your own volition or lack thereof.”
The knocking on my brain is unceasing, I can’t stay in any one place; wherever I stand my flesh is being eaten by madness. There is nothing I can do but exist, wait for death and the knocking is the only thing in this world I can hear. Last night I sat at my table and had an apparition that my wife and two children sat with me. We had a pleasant meal and chatted; then we sat and watched a movie on TV. Later we put the kids to bed and went to our bedroom to make love. I fell asleep with a feeling of utter contentment.
Death will not go away. The knocking is only ever interrupted by a constant ringing doorbell. I’ve made up my mind to answer the door; there is no other recourse than to let death through the threshold and let death take me.
The walk to the door is a long journey, through which I watch a film of my life, my eyes are filled with tears for my children and my wife, my family, my friends, but there is no other option for me now, death is the only freedom. I open the door with trepidation as the knocking and doorbell ringing reaches a fever pitch. On the other side of the door, there is no figure in white, death has fled; I stand in a wilderness, lost, amidst a horde of TV cameras, reporters, network executives, and millions of viewers.
It is the end of the three hundred and sixty-fifth day of my imprisonment.
Vincent Oppedisano is a poet, a writer and a promoter of literature to anyone who will listen. He is living life, observing the living and writing it all down on the outskirts of Toronto with his wife and two children.