Dating in the first year of sobriety
My mother and father peeked through a crack between the two bedroom doors. Around the time I wrote in my journal a list of traits I wanted but lacked.
It was a particular set of ideas — a person I wanted to become. A year and a half later, midway through my sophomore year, I had built a reputation as defiant, a rebel who was at all times high or drunk or both.
Look it over, she said, and ask your counselors if you have any questions.
I thumbed through the sparse pages quickly like it was a flipbook.
Antenna and wires stuck out of the pointy rundown roof.
Two figures, a man and woman bundled up to their necks, trudged toward the SUV and stopped beside a doorway. They reported to the figures that I had been quiet the entire ride, then opened the door and let me out. “It’s gonna be a cold one.” He had a gnarly beard and wore a wool cap.
They asked me to put my clothes in the container and handed me cotton briefs, a polyester shirt and pants, a skintight fleece shirt and matching pants, thick heavyweight wool socks, leather hiking boots, down-filled booties, shell snow pants, an orange fleece hooded sweatshirt and a hooded down jacket. We need to make sure you’re not carrying anything up there.” * * * The man and the woman carried the pack and a pair of snowshoes out to another Chevy Suburban.
The woman faced away as I changed in front of them. “Before you put those on we need to have you get into a catcher’s stance.” “What? We drove to a small town where I was taken to see a physician.
But this wasn’t a random abduction—just my first step into the world of controversial boot camps for troubled teens. They called me by name, asking me to get up, get dressed. I was still hungover and had hoped to sleep, something I rarely did. Nuzzling my pillow, I remember thinking this couldn’t be happening, not to me.I went with them, not knowing anyone there, leaving my sister standing alone. Our family’s insurance would not cover my stay at Carrier Clinic. Jonbarry and Fred were mediators, or escorts, hired by my parents through a company called Right Direction, a crisis intervention group. One went to get food while the other waited with me in the backseat of the white Chevy Suburban. I stared off, my forehead against the child-locked window.When word quickly traveled to classmates that I came from a military academy, everyone had questions. After I was labeled chemically dependent and diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, after I attended the AA meetings and secretly smoked cigarettes, exhaling into a toilet paper roll filled with dryer sheets to keep the staff from noticing, my mother picked me up and we drove me home in silence. They specialized in interventions, transportations and runaway services. Sun eventually shone through leafless birch and we stopped once along Interstate 95. I noted mile markers on the drive, trying to read road signs that I hoped would help me when I made a run for it. We eventually turned off onto progressively smaller roads and suburbia became wilderness – spruce and pine and hemlock everywhere, dusted with snow that seemed to rise higher against the bark the farther into the woods we went.We moved to the large house in a Jersey suburb after my parents split. In the basement of that house, removed from whatever happened on our cul-de-sac, I spent hours huddled over computers that I built from scratch, fashioning cases and cooling components out of aluminum, Plexiglass and other materials I ordered from a catalog the size of a phonebook. In one semester, I had 200 absences and a litany of out-of-school suspensions.My sister and I chose to live with our mother in the hushed community. When the machines were built I began coding; at first, a simple script called “Hello World.” Then I tinkered with hacking BIOS and wireless networks. It began, “Kenneth is in violation of the school disciplinary policy,” and continued with: No one seemed to figure out why I went to class some days (for the girls) and then simply walked out (mere boredom), or why I was combative and argumentative (because I was high).
But looking out across the service station parking lot, I realized there was nowhere to turn. The final gravel road crossed a squat single-lane timber trestle footbridge over a creek, nearly frozen.