Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment. A doctor in the psych ward of a hospital finds Kate Gompert curled up on the bed in her room. Kate is on suicide watch and has a staff member observing her 24 hours a day. The doctor tells the current staffer on duty that he needs some time alone with Kate. He looks through Kate’s notes and sees that she suffers from depression and has been hospitalized four times in the last three years. Her latest suicide attempt, which has landed her here, was “serious, a real attempt,” and the doctor is worried about her.
This scene presents us with a new kind of institutional control: that of medical institutions, and specifically psychiatric care. Kate’s suicide attempt has led her to be placed under 24-hour surveillance, which—although obviously implemented for her own safety—has the same infantilizing effect of E.T.A.’s control of its students.
Kate describes what she remembers of her suicide attempt to the doctor. When the doctor asks why she tried to hurt herself, she clarifies that she was not trying to hurt herself but kill herself. Kate says she knows some people attempt suicide out of self-hatred, but this is not why she did it. She simply did not want to keep living, because the feeling she has now, which she cannot shake, is worse than feeling nothing at all. She has always thought “depression” does not capture the feeling well, and that it feels more like horror to her than sadness.
Sometimes the novel suggests that there is truth in clichés—this is particularly true in later sections on alcohol and drug recovery. However, in this moment Kate asserts that the clichéd understanding that suicide is about self-harm is mistaken. She seems to feel that suicide was actually a rational response to the psychological agony she was experiencing.
The doctor points out that Kate’s depressive episodes have passed before, but she replies that in the midst of them, she is absolutely convinced she will feel that way forever. She then explains that marijuana is a factor in her depression, even though this seems ridiculous because it is not considered a particularly serious drug. Yet she explains that her addiction to weed has ruined her life. Periodically she quits, but each time she does the terrible feeling she has been describing returns. Kate tells the doctor that she has received electroshock therapy before and that she would be willing to have it again.
Kate is now the third character in the book with a serious marijuana addiction, which is strange considering that (as Kate herself points out) marijuana is not considered to be a highly addictive or debilitating drug. The fact that so many characters are addicted to weed suggests that something about the world of the novel compels people to seek out a calming, numbing effect more than a stimulating one.
In a brief passage, the medical attaché’s wife arrives home to find the medical attaché watching the entertainment cartridge in a “soiled” state. Although she cries out and touches him, he won’t respond to her. Eventually she turns to look at the screen too.
The medical attaché is usually rather helpless when watching entertainment, but has clearly somehow become paralyzed by watching this particular cartridge.
The Head Coach and Athletic Director of E.T.A., Gerhardt Schtitt, has a reputation for using corporal punishment, although it is also generally believed that these stories are exaggerated. Now he is almost 70 and less strict. He is fond of having long conversations with Mario in which he mostly talks while Mario listens. One day, while Schtitt and Mario are talking, three teenage boys walk past and make fun of Mario’s appearance. Mario and Schtitt then get ice cream, as is their habit. Schtitt laughs at his own thoughts, and Mario joins in, spilling ice cream on himself.
Many of the adults who run E.T.A.—including Uncle Charles, Avril, and Schtitt—behave kindly to the students. Yet at the same time, they subject the students to immense pressure to succeed (as evidenced by the rumor that Schtitt uses corporal punishment). Placing this amount of pressure on young people arguably undercuts their otherwise kind and gentle treatment of them.