THE sound of the alarm on the door goes off, startling me out of a restless sleep. I sit up and look around to get my bearings, at first confused by the unfamiliar wall color and bed I’m sleeping on as well as the smell. My nose wakes up rather unhappy to be assaulted by the reek of dirty socks, body odor, and urine. Urine?! I quickly reach under my sheets, which are as soft as my favorite Suicide Silence t-shirt and remind me of home, feeling the soft fabric surrounding me like a cocoon to see if that smell is coming from me. My hands find only soft dry cotton. Relief floods my tight chest only to be filled again with anxiety and apprehension. Where am I? And what was that alarm going off for? Then I remember. I’m in another new place sleeping with other new people about to get up and prepare for another day where everything is new.
ABOUT six weeks ago my parents sent me away. Literally. Apparently I was no longer wanted or needed and just too much stress for my family so they sent me away. Away from my friends. Away from Facebook and Spotify. Away from my phone. Just away.
THEY called it a boarding school. “This school will help you finish school. It is very important that you graduate from high school,” they said. Yada yada yada. I should have known then that they were totally lying to me.
STRICT is what this place should be called. I used to think some of the rules at my house were a bit ridiculous – no M rated video games? Ludicrous. No swearing? Outlandish. No dating until I was 16? Unreasonable. Going to church every Sunday for three hours? Simply absurd. Those are baby rules. Here they pull out the big guns. I can’t wear a belt until I “earn” it. No sharpies for me, ever, until I “earn” them. No ball point pens. No disposable razors. No mouthwash unless it is alcohol free. No spiral bound notebooks – because you never know what I might do with that little piece of metal binding, or what someone else could use it for. Apparently there are a lot of cutters here. I can’t open drawers or cabinets or the fridge at the host homes until I “earn” that privilege. Seriously? Seriously. Someone has to help me put my lunch together for the next day, then write my name on it for me. My pockets and socks are searched every night before I take off my clothes and any time I use the bathroom. Once I have the “privilege” of wearing a belt, they’ll take that away before I use the bathroom too. When my parents informed me of this bogus plan, the thing that bugged me the most was that I’d have to wear a uniform. Well, that and I wouldn’t be allowed to use my phone. Wow, was I ever wrong.
ALL of that aside, the worst thing about this place is that I can’t go anywhere by myself. That’s right. No alone time. Ever. Well, ok, I am only alone when everyone else is asleep. And then, it is awful. Dark and quiet and all my failings and missing home and friends and life the way it was before sneaks up on me and drags me down into a seemingly never-ending spiral toward hell. That’s why I wake up every morning groggy and innocent, surprised again and again by my surroundings. I’m so incredibly tired.
AN average day here is crammed with stuff. I guess they try to keep us busy. Something about “idle hands,” is one of their favorite quotes. We start by being ripped from sleep at 6:00 AM. At first I thought that wouldn’t be too bad – fishing starts at 4:30 and seminary started at 6:00 so I had to get up by 5:30 then. But there is no slack here. Get up, take our sheets off the bed, get dressed, ring the alarm to be let out to use the bathroom, get out and have breakfast, gather our overnight bag and back packs and then be at the school by 7:00. Some day I will be able to wake up most mornings in “my host home.” I have to reach a certain level to “earn” that though. Could take me forever.
EXERCISE is the first thing we do after we arrive at the school. Some kids have to get their meds and if there were any issues the night before those have to be discussed. So far I haven’t had any of those. We play soccer or rugby or go to the gym. Sometimes we go to a rock-climbing wall. After a little free time we start in with therapy. My parents said this was a boarding SCHOOL, they said nothing about this being a shrink tank or a treatment center. All they want to do here is talk. We have little groups and big groups. Family group (yea Skype! Not), and personal therapist time. There is even a specialty-group time. They are still trying to figure me out so those groups are still a bit of a mystery to me. But I think those are groups for people with certain substance addictions like drugs and alcohol, stealing, gender confusion, sexually deviancy and stuff. Maybe they have one for people who are always mad and pissed off. That would suit me just great. What will be epic is when I can play my electric guitar during specialty-group time. They have a band here and they also meet during that time. I can’t wait to show off my amazing guitar skills and play my music again.
LUNCH is next in my day. It’s what I packed last night. Boring. Sack lunch in a plastic bag. Sometimes we get healthy good food from our host homes, other times its not so healthy and yummy (corn dogs are my current favorite), and still others it is just disgusting cardboard pizza or whatever was cheapest and on clearance. Either way, it is lunch and time to hang with my friends.
I KNOW, it surprised me too. But I’ve actually found some friends here. Guys my age and some a bit younger who are pretty decent. They are here because they are addicts, mostly. Then there are two guys who annoy me beyond anything I could have imagined. One talks constantly and is always pushing my buttons and I can barely keep a clear head whenever we are in-group or class together. The other guy is just weird and totally creeps me out.
AFTER lunch, we meet to learn study skills. This class is pretty lame but I have to admit it has helped me with my grades here. I can’t believe it but I am actually getting good grades for the first time in my life. History is awesome because we are learning about the wars here in the US. English is fun. We are doing Shakespeare. Never would I have thought about Shakespeare being fun! But I love reading about Macbeth and we all do accents and I guess that dude is ok. Plus my English teacher is pretty funny. He makes me write though. I hate writing.
THERAPY takes up most of my early afternoon. Big group is where we all get together and are supposed to talk. I just listen and think about how many crazy people are here and wonder what the heck I’m doing here with them. Am I crazy too? Therapy treatment was not part of the deal I made with my parents. Talking in front of that many people is just plain embarrassing and I’m not crazy or an addict so what the heck am I even doing here. Big group just gets me mad.
SCHOOL is in the afternoon. How cool is that. I’ve got art and math, US History and English as well as PE. PE is just exercising in the morning, which is always different and pretty fun. My classes are small and again I am doing pretty well. Like A’s and B’s. That’s sick. My mom kept telling me I was smart, but I didn’t believe her. My dad expected me to get good grades like he did when he was in school. Maybe they’ll both be happy now and let me go home already.
BY 7:00pm I am wiped out. We eat dinner and then get ready to go to our host homes. I hate never knowing where I am going to sleep that night or who I am going to be sharing a room with. I guess things can change during the day depending on who has whatever issues going on. The reasons they keep us in the dark of where we will be spending the night, at least until we “earn” a permanent host home, is because they don’t want addicts to be able to make arrangements for drugs, or they don’t want us to somehow talk to somebody to help us escape or run away. All I want is to go to the same home every night and have some sort of family experience.
THE people here are crazy and I really don’t think I belong here. I have finally realized that if I tolerate all the rules and stuff, maybe I’ll earn the levels more quickly and get out of here sooner. I may tolerate these things but I sure as hell am not accepting them.
SO we head to our host home with our overnight bags. Once we check our stuff in and our bags have been looked through, one of us will go shower while the other two start on lunches. Before I can go shower though, my pockets have to be emptied out and my socks turned inside out. Then I go into the shower where the door alarm is turned on. I knock when I am ready to come out and the host parent then unlocks the alarm, lets me out and one of the other boys goes through the same thing. I sit down at the kitchen table and we shoot the breeze with the host parents. Most are pretty cool but there are a few who are not. I ask one of the other boys to put my name on my lunch bag and then someone else to put it in the refrigerator for me. Then we end the night by filling out our pink sheets. Here I have to answer stupid questions about what I am happy that I did today, what goal did I reach, where did I have problems, what will I do to make tomorrow better, yada yada yada.
WHEN the clock reaches 9:30 we all head to bed. Every single night I get sucked into thinking, “I am so tired I will be able to fall asleep in three seconds flat! No problem.” And every night I lie down, the lights go off and there goes my head. Off and running, anxiety and thoughts of home, my friends and my life here compared to how it used to be, all start coursing through my brain and I can’t shut them off. It seems like it takes hours to get the rest my body needs, but in reality I don’t really know how long until my exhausted body simply takes over and I fall into a restless sleep. Only to awake again in the morning and experience the same horrible few minutes of remembering where I am and where I am not, once again.
MOM, please take me home.
ONLY two days until we go to The Ranch to work with the horses. Maybe I can survive until then.