I enter the house and Cleaver greets me, tail wagging. I drop several frozen hunks of steak onto the kitchen counter before turning to wash blood from my fingers in the sink. I wipe my hands on Carlie’s towels- oh yes; her name was Carlie Johnson- while thinking about finding new towels at a store down the road. I was getting sick of looking at these little pink ones with neat stitches running through them.
Cleaver is licking a frozen steak.
“You get it cooked for you! Cut that out.”
I pull it away from him, and walk back to Humpty and Dumpty. I need to find a name for them. Amazingly, for how much Carlie allegedly loved them based on the long since banished pictures, she deigned to put their names in any obvious place. Thing 1 and Thing 2 have served me well so far, but perhaps something even cleverer would be appropriate. Although everything I come up with now is at once the cleverest and the least clever thing ever thought up. That anyone but me would know. Is that right?
I drop the equivalent of a frozen cow into their pen and the dogs attack it. Their muscles are rippling as they must have been before I met them, and they are learning commands from me faster than I thought they would. They seem well behaved enough, but I’m still weak, although walking is easier. I’m not quite ready to let them run around. A few more days.
After I roast up a few sirloins on Carlie’s extremely efficient and expensive barbeque and Cleaver and I have each had our fill I clap at him to follow me.
“We are going on a fun errand today.”
His tongue wags in the gentle breeze as we go to the garage to shut off the generator. Electricity cut out a week ago tonight. Just after my last warm shower.
We jump in the truck and we head towards the university’s library. A place I used to love, it has now been plunged into darkness like the rest of the town. I haven’t been here for weeks.
Cleaver and I walk through the open front doors and I pull the shotgun I found in Carlie’s closet three days ago from its resting place over my shoulder. I round each corner with the barrel pointed at shadows. After a while I relax. It’s unlikely that the dogs would be interested in this building, there isn’t any food here. It’s probably least likely they would come here.
I begin scaling the shelves, slowly as my ankle is far from healed and the damage in my calf still pinches every once in a while. I’m looking for more survival books, some on farming too. A few days ago I penned up a couple chickens in the backyard, a wise decision to mix German Shepherds and chickens. But if I am going to leave I need to know how to keep them alive while I’m gone. But the real priority now is survival in the winter. Provided I am alone this winter, I will need to know everything there is to know about that. Which, at the moment I certainly didn’t.
Military survival manuals, emergency food storage, disaster preparation, and worst-case survival handbooks are weighing me down and I am almost out the door when I walk by a large bookcase towards the exit marked Psychology.
I set down my pile and take a slower pace until I find a tattered brown reference hardback called The Effects of Solitary Confinement and Social Isolation on Mental and Emotional Health. In a familiar but useless gesture of insecurity I look around the library before opening it.
Inside the Table of Contents I see five tabs marked Prisoners, Children, Holocaust, Experimental, and Undocumented Theory.
“Wow, we picked a winner,” I say, stroking Cleaver’s head as he licks my hand and then trots off to another section to sniff.
Not fitting any other section that I know of, I open to Undocumented Theory. After several minutes of flipping through accounts of prisoners of war, regular convicted criminals that experienced solitary confinement, and others I come to yet another passage.
Confinement applies that the prisoner is not trusted or respected therefore they should not be able to move freely amongst other citizens. Prisoners must obey rules and there are restrictions placed on what goods they may have with them and when. Also loss of autonomy suggests that prisoners are under the control of officials. Combined these psychological deprivations lead to a destruction of the human personality.
My hands are shaking so violently that I rest the book on an adjacent desk to continue.
In one complaint filed against the Connecticut Department of Correction in August 2003, social isolation and sensory deprivation drove some prisoners to "lash out by swallowing razors, smashing their heads into walls or cutting their flesh."
It is difficult if not impossible to pinpoint the exact reasons why social isolation and sensory deprivation in solitary confinement situations causes mental and emotional breakdown in prisoners. How does the absolute denial of freedom, the denial of any kind of personal power or influence over one's life, affect the way he thinks, feels and acts?
Are the patterns in reactions solely human or do they extend to other animals, for instance, animals that are caged or otherwise restricted in pet stores, zoos or circuses? Do all animals, including human beings, feel and understand injustice on some level and therefore react to it similarly? Or are humans reduced to more stereotypically animalistic behavior when they are trapped and controlled?
Symptoms resulting from confinement have ranged from increased paranoia, a heightened sense of uneasiness and a preparation for death. Others have experienced anxiety, sensory illusions, or even distortions of time and perception.
A choking sob stops me. I feel hot tears rolling down my cheeks and even though my eyes aren’t finished I slam the book shut with a resounding thud that echoes through the empty marble floors.