EMG

1971. Ann Arbor, Michigan. Two of us were in a small dark windowless room. I was nine years old and leather straps bound me tightly to a gurney. I was unable to move. Needles had been pressed into the muscles of my upper and fore arms, my abdomen, my thighs, calves, feet and hands. The needles were connected to wires plugged into a control board that housed a row of potentiometers. A young man sat at the board. He turned a dial and electricity surged into my right deltoid. The current stung, burned, caused my muscle to quiver. I screamed. He returned the dial to neutral.

Mother sat in the basement corridor outside the room. She was born in 1921 on a ranch in deep Baptist Texas. She had been raised by her parents to follow the rules and, this morning, she was commanded by a young man half her age who was donned in a white lab coat to leave her third grader and sit in the hall, and she did what she was taught to do. The young man turned another dial. Another muscle stung, burned, quivered. I begged, “Please, please, please, please, I’ll do anything you want me to. Please, please, please stop. I’ll do anything you want.”

When I was five, we lived in Muncie, Indiana, where I pressed a safety pin into an electrical outlet in our living room. The current coursed through my fingertips and I fell to the floor. 

Another surge of electricity traveled from the board into my body. It stung and burned. I quivered and screamed. Outside the room, her hand on the door, my mother wept.