After I got kicked out of New Hope, I was released into the care of my parents. As soon as our blue minivan was parked in the driveway, I ran into the house, threw my bags on my bed, and took off in search of Strom. I told my mom I was going for a walk to enjoy my new freedom. At the other end of the park, I spotted Strom’s Chrysler LeBaron on the street outside of his parents’ trailer. I ran across the street, knocked on the door, and sprang into the trailer before he answered. He was sitting on the brown couch underneath the window in the living room.
“I’m back.” I plopped down on the couch next to him.
“Hey kid, I missed ya,” he replied, tousling the hair on top of my head. “Like five minutes after you left that morning, the cops showed up at my house.”
“Did you get busted with anything on you?”
“I only had like a half on me. Lucky we got rid of the last of our shit to Charlie. His place got raided too. He’ll be goin’ to jail for a long time. Sucks for him, but my ass is free.” He was rolling a joint on the coffee table in front of the couch.
I laughed. “Did you know some chic called my mom and told her that all of this shit was going down?”
“Yep, some stupid bitch is a narc. That’s how they got a search warrant.” He threw me the joint. “If I find out, I’ll bust up her face. I don’t care if she is a chic.”
“I’ll do it,” I cried out. “So, what kind of trouble you in?”
“Well, the pigs brought me down to the courthouse and I had to piss in a cup. Let’s just say I failed.” He laughed. “I did ten days in jail. My court date is coming up. I think I’m gonna use the treatment card. Just go to outpatient or some shit.”
I lit up then said in that short, choppy way you talk while holding in a hit, “I’d rather be in jail. Seriously. They try so damn hard to sober you up. It’s just like Bobby said. A lot of whining and crying.”
“Was it really that bad?”
“It sucked. I don’t even wanna talk about it. Can ya chop me up a rail?”
Crank had become my favorite drug since I’d done my first line. It brought clarity to my mind and made me feel like I was invincible and untouchable. I’d dreamt about it many times while I’d been away. I’d awakened many nights covered in sweat and tasting the familiar putrid drip in the back of my throat. I needed it now. I’d find some answers once I was high. Everything would become clear while the tingling energy flowed through my body.
I sat next to Strom on the couch, doing lines while we watched TV. I kept waiting for the startling clarity to hit, but it didn’t. My mind moved faster and faster, but none of it made sense.
You can’t even stay sober for two hours. Big deal, I never said I was gonna try. The cops are gonna come. They’re out to get you. Everyone is in on it. Talk to Strom. I don’t know what to say. It’s Strom. You always know what to say. What’s wrong? I’m paranoid. It’s been a long time since you were this high.
I tried to quiet my mind by focusing on the TV, but it was useless. The images from the screen passed by my eyes without registering at all. Strom chatted on as if nothing was unusual, telling me stories about who’d gotten into trouble while I was gone.
I couldn’t concentrate on anything he was saying. After a few more hours, I decided I had to go home, even though I didn’t want to. It wasn’t a good idea for me to disappear right away. Also, while I was in treatment, my parents had received lots of education on drugs and the signs to watch for. I had a sinking suspicion that it wasn’t going to be so easy to fool them anymore.
Strom brought me home, dropping me off a block away, like he always did. I cheered myself on as I walked the block. Act sober. Don’t look at her. She doesn’t know you’re high. My plan was to make my parents trust me again and eventually be able to do whatever I wanted to.
“You’re high,” my mom declared, looking into my eyes. “You just got home.”
“I’m not high.”
“Oh, right,” my mom huffed, walking away. I looked at the ground and walked down the stairs to my bedroom, flopping on the bed.
I can’t stay here all night. I’ll go insane. I looked around at my familiar walls and the candles burned down to the same familiar spots. I stared at my Jerry Garcia picture, wishing I’d been born twenty years earlier, when doing drugs was more acceptable. After a knock on my door, my mom stuck her head in and handed me the phone.
I took it from her and waited for her to shut the door behind her before I answered. “Hello?”
“Hi, Heather,” a deep voice responded. It’s Dave Bateman! Ohmigod! Why is he calling? The silence stretched out before he spoke again. “I was upset when I came to work today and found out you were gone.” What do I say? Should I just hang up? What did he care? “I was really hoping that if you stayed long enough, you’d begin to trust me. You might have even started to believe that life could exist without drugs. I wish you would have given it a shot.”
“I did.” Why did I just say that?
“Did you stay clean and sober today?” he asked.
“Pretty much. I just drank a little and got high a couple times,” I said quickly. Why am I lying?
A long pause followed. As usual, I couldn’t deal with silence.
“I’m gonna stay off the hard stuff,” I blurted out. “Just a little weed and I’ll probably drink some, but I’m not gonna get all strung out again.” You’re already wired.
“Hmm,” he said softly. “Well, good luck to you, kid. I care about you and I’m not going anywhere.”
I responded quickly, “Thanks, bye,” and hung up the phone.
The night dragged on endlessly. I paced my bedroom back and forth with the music of Courtney Love turned up in an attempt to silence my thoughts. I lay on my bed trying to sleep, but it was no use. I felt as if I was going crazy. For the first time, I wanted to come down. I want to cry. What’s wrong with me? They messed you up.
As soon as I heard the sound of footsteps upstairs, I jumped out of bed. I trudged up the stairs to find my parents sitting around the table in the kitchen eating breakfast. They looked rested and refreshed.
“Eat something,” my dad instructed. “We’re going for a drive after breakfast.”
“I’m not hungry.” My stomach was in knots, twisting and turning. I didn’t think I’d be able to swallow. I went outside and sat on the front steps smoking cigarettes until they were ready to leave. I wonder where we’re going? Probably to get a piss test. Great. It wasn’t long until we piled into the minivan.
“Where are we going?”
“You’ll see,” my dad answered.
We drove straight out of town. I looked over my shoulder and saw my black duffle bag on the seat behind me.
“Hey, wait a minute. What the hell is going on? Where are we going?” I demanded.
My dad stared straight ahead, refusing to speak. I turned to my mom in the passenger seat. “Mom?” I pleaded.
“You need help,” she answered softly.
“I don’t need help. I just need to be left alone.”
We kept on driving, hitting the interstate and heading north. I wanted so much to jump out of the car, but I was trapped. We drove all the way to the Twin Cities, parked in a ramp and walked across the skyway into a hospital. The elevator took us to the fourth floor. When the doors slid open, there was only one metal door in front of us. The sign on the door said to press the intercom to be let in. My dad pushed the button on the intercom. The sign above the intercom said “Redview Adolescent Locked Unit.”
My dad spoke into the intercom. “We’re here with Heather Harrison.” There was a buzz and the door swung open, leading into a room with a receptionist’s desk. The walls of the small room were lined with doors, all leading to places I didn’t know.
A big Latino woman stood in front of us. “I’ll take her with me,” she announced. She took my bag from my mom.
“Can’t we even see the place?” my mom asked, looking around at the cold gray walls.
Without an ounce of emotion in her voice, the woman said, “I’m sorry. You’ll have to go now.”
My mom reached towards me, wrapping her arms tightly around me. I stood there, unmoving, with my arms at my sides. My dad touched her shoulders and pulled her away. “C’mon,” he instructed. “Let’s go.”
They left me standing there with the big Latina. She punched a code into a pad next to the door and let them out. My mom looked over her shoulder at me, waving her fingers in a meek gesture. Tears filled her eyes as the door snapped behind her.
“Come with me,” the woman ordered, leading me through one of the doors on the left and into a hallway. She opened a door on the right with a key. The room was a small bathroom with pea green tiles. It had a bench against the wall and a shower with a flimsy white curtain pulled around it.
She immediately ordered, “Take your clothes off.”
“Take your clothes off.”
“Listen, we will sit here as long as it takes for you to get undressed.” She sat down on the bench and stared at me. I stared back at her defiantly. I don’t know how long we stayed locked in our stare-down before she spoke, but it seemed like forever.
“If you are not dressed, you will spend your first day here in the seclusion room,” she informed me.
“What’s that?” I asked.
She explained, smiling, “A very small room that’s completely empty. It’s just you in there. You can’t see, talk, or hear anything other than yourself. How’s that sound? You’ll just stay in there until you can follow the rules. I don’t know where you’ve been before, but in here we follow the rules.”
I sat there contemplating my choices, then started to undo my pants.
“Can you at least turn around?” I asked, sliding my jeans down to my legs.
“Nope,” she answered with a grin. “Gotta make sure you’re clean.”
I stripped down to my bra and underwear, covering my chest with my arms.
“Take it all off,” she ordered.
“You have got to be kidding me,” I declared.
She shook her head. “We don’t play games.”
“You don’t have to be such a bitch.” I wanted to slap the grin off of her face. She is enjoying this way too much.
I decided to do as I was told, pretending that being completely naked didn’t bother me in the least.
“There.” I put my hands on my hips. “Pretty damn sexy, huh?”
She frowned. “Turn around and bend over.”
I turned around and bent over. “How do you like this view, lady?” This is so fuckin’ humiliating. This has to be against the law.
“Spread your cheeks.”
I want to die. Right now. “Do you want to lick me where I pee too, dyke?” I answered hotly.
She looked me over from head to toe and in every crack while I willed myself to disappear into the nasty green tiles. Once she finished, I had to take a shower while she watched. She handed me a towel as I stepped out. I wrapped the towel around me. She handed me a pair of blue scrubs like surgeons wear at hospitals.
“You can get your clothes back when you earn them,” she sharply informed me. I spent the next few weeks in my blue scrubs.
Every door in the place locked. Every room we entered had to be unlocked by a staff member, and we had to knock and wait for a staff member to let us out of any room we were in. We went to bed at 8:00 and woke at 6:00 in the morning to file into a long hallway. We stood in a line while we were ordered to do jumping jacks, sit-ups, and
push-ups for the next half hour. We were locked in our rooms at all times except for meals and groups.
Each room had two beds bolted to the floor and a long cabinet to hold our clothes. Every wall was completely bare and painted white. My roommate was also named Heather. The sign on our door read “Heathers.” She laughed at me the first time I met her, when I asked if there was any way to get high.
“Girl, the most high you’ll get is flushing bananas down the toilet with me.” She laughed. “And another piece, don’t go ‘round askin’ people ‘bout getting high. No one wants to be here, and talking ‘bout that shit makes ya stay longer.”
I trusted what she said since this was her third time here. There were twice as many staff members at Redview than there had been at New Hope. The staff were either big black men who looked like bouncers at a club or white men who looked like washed out hippies. Whenever we were out of our rooms, they circled us like vultures waiting to catch us doing anything that was against the rules or that mimicked “street behavior.” Street behavior was acting like we did on the outside. Any gesture, speech, or clothing could be labeled street behavior and increase your stay.
“Pull your pants up, Marcus! That’s street behavior.”
“Put your hands down, that’s street behavior.”
“You’re being threatening, that’s street behavior.”
It went on and on. If you didn’t quit doing whatever you were doing, you were only asked one more time to stop. If you still refused, you were thrown into the seclusion room. The big Latina had told the truth. It was a padded room with no windows. You weren’t allowed to eat while you were in there. You stayed in the seclusion room until you repented for whatever bad thing you had done. One time a kid spent six hours locked in there, screaming and cussing at the staff. I admired him for his determination.
Most of the kids locked up with me were in gangs. This was new to me because there are no real gangs in small towns. When staff wasn’t looking, they flashed signs to each other and threatened to kill each other on the outside. I was pretty much ignored and left alone. Except for once, when I doodled GD on my notebook during group. On the way out from group, a large girl with wild bristly hair grabbed my arm.
“What you claimin’, white girl?” she hissed in my ear.
“I ain’t claimin’ nothing.” I jerked my arm away.
“You claimin’ GD. I seen you write it on your notebook. Don’t be lyin’ to me, bitch,” she sneered.
“Look, Maleeka or Makeela, whatever the fuck your name is. GD means Grateful Dead. The band? Jerry Garcia?”
She stared at me through her big brown eyes, trying to figure out what I’d said, as if I’d spoken a foreign language. Finally, she threw her head back and started laughing. “That’s some funny shit. You white chics are strange.” She thumped me on the back with her hand. “Anyways, the name’s Maleeka.”
I spent the majority of my time sleeping in my room or staring out windows with mesh and black bars. I daydreamed about getting high. After a few weeks, the staff members decided I’d be transferred to Park Meadow. Park Meadow was a treatment center focusing specifically on chemical dependency, not like where I was at, with kids who had stabbed other kids and were just waiting to get placed somewhere. I felt lucky to be getting sent to treatment because I was sure most of the other kids’ fates would be a lot worse.
Park Meadow was a huge mansion at the end of a long gravel road with trees surrounding it on all sides. It was painted red with white trim and if I hadn’t known better I’d have thought I was being brought to some sort of vacation home. But the inside of the facility was anything but homelike.
The house had three levels. The main level had a massive room in the center, lined with cafeteria tables and a huge window that took up an entire wall on the north side. To the left of the big, open room with the window were two rooms where group was held. The group rooms were filled with couches and soft padded chairs, a welcome break from the hard aluminum chairs at Redview. Across from the group rooms was a medicine room where a nurse worked. To the right of the main room, a hallway led to all of the girls’ bedrooms. The upper level of the house, where girls were never allowed to go, was where all the boys stayed. Downstairs was a game room with a pool table, a makeshift classroom for school, and the counselors’ offices.
The room where I stayed was big and had a huge sliding glass door that couldn’t be opened but that let in a lot of sunshine. There were five tall, wooden bed frames with mattresses on top of them. Two of the beds had teddy bears lying on the pillows and the others seemed to be unoccupied. I chose the bed in the corner.
I shared with Goldie, a tall Native American girl who was only 12. She’d never done any other drugs besides huffing spray paint, but she already had enough brain damage to make her eyes cross and roll around involuntarily. My other roommate was Ines, a short, chubby Latina girl who always had a smile on her face.
By this time, I’d been sober for almost a month. I felt like I was coming out of a deep sleep and was halfway between waking and dreaming. The longer I stayed sober, the more awake my brain became. It seemed strange to remember my days, endless with so much awake time. The nights were terrible because my body had become rested and I couldn’t sleep. My mind replayed things that had happened during the day and fragmented pieces of my past. My thoughts whirled, trying to somehow make sense of it all. I didn’t let anyone know what was going on in my head.
To all outside appearances, I was the same angry, defiant girl. I walked around cold and defensive at all times, ready to do battle. I didn’t let on to the fact that I didn’t mind some of the parts about being there. We got to go outside. Spring had arrived and the air smelled fresh and clean with the promise of summer. Birds chirped and squirrels chased each other up and down trees. I realized it had been a long time since I’d noticed
There was a paved court with a basketball hoop and the guys let me play with them. It was the only time we were allowed to push and shove without getting reprimanded. I discovered I still had a pretty good shot. For the first time in a long while, I thought about when I used to play basketball, but it made me sad.
My mind became a battleground of thinking and at the same time trying not to think. Without drugs, it became harder and harder for me to push away and ignore the thoughts that were serious or disturbing. Because of this, I hated group. My ability to check in and out was difficult to accomplish in the midst of such intensity. I was uncomfortable when people cried.
Frank, the counselor, was a big man with a short brown beard and fake teeth that clacked together when he talked. He took his job very seriously and rarely smiled. He’d perfected the art of intimidation, but I refused to let him intimidate me. The focus of group at Park Meadow was the same as it had been at New Hope and Redview: our “issues.”
“What are you running from, Tyler?” Frank began one day.
I crossed my arms and slid down in my chair. It was like he was talking to all of us, even though he used Tyler’s name.
“Nothin’, I don’t think.” Tyler twisted his long blond ponytail.
“Really?” Frank leaned forward in his chair. “What about what we were talking about in group earlier today?”
Tyler shrugged his shoulders and stared at the floor. His lower lip quivered. Frank scanned the room.
“Do you guys remember?” he asked.
Of course we do. We’re not stupid. We all nodded.
“Tyler, what was it like for you at home when your dad got drunk and hit you?” Frank moved his chair closer. His chair was the only one on wheels.
“It sucked,” Tyler said softly, still keeping his focus on the carpet.
Frank’s voice got louder. “Say more about that. How did it feel? How did it feel when your dad beat you, Tyler?”
Tyler blinked rapidly to keep tears from spilling onto his cheeks. “It sucked.”
Frank slapped his leg. “C’mon, it sucked? You can do better than that. Did you laugh? Did you cry? Were you pissed? Shit, I’d be pissed if my old man beat the shit out of me. Christ, he was your dad. I bet he hit you all your life.”
My hands began shaking. Stop! Shut-up! Leave him alone! I wanted to choke Frank to get him to stop. I tucked my hands under my legs.
Frank went on as he always did. His voice kept getting louder and louder. I wanted to cover my ears. “What did it feel like when you were a kid? What was it like before you got so damn tough?”
Big tears rolled from Tyler’s eyes and he gulped. “I hated it. I felt like I did something wrong. Like I always tried to be good, but it was never good enough. I always did something wrong.”
Frank suddenly changed. He moved his chair so his knees touched Tyler’s, and then he softly placed his hands on Tyler’s knees. He spoke gently, “It wasn’t your fault.”
Tyler broke down sobbing, which sounded like big hiccups as he gasped for air. Andy, the kid next to him on the couch, handed him a Kleenex. “I (gulp) just wanted to (gasp) die.”
I looked away. I couldn’t stand the raw pain, the air so thick with it that I couldn’t breathe. I felt as if his pain was mine and realized I’d thought the exact same things that he’d just spoken out loud. My dad didn’t beat me, did he? He’s hit me and thrown me around, trying to punish me. It was just me being punished. But I feel like Tyler does. But my dad didn’t beat the shit out of me. Is it still wrong?
I thought about the only time I ever saw my dad cry. I had a flash of a memory of myself as a little girl sitting on my dad’s lap in my bedroom. He was apologizing for hurting me and saying he would never do it again. A tear had rolled down his right cheek.
What happened that day? I couldn’t remember what came before or after.
But I did remember other days of my childhood clearly. I recalled the day my dad had thrown my brother off his chair at the dinner table for laughing. They knocked other chairs over in their struggle. My dad wrestled my brother to the ground. I grabbed Rebecca by the hand and ran with her downstairs to my bedroom. I held onto her while she cried.
“I’m scared,” she sobbed.
I took her little, chubby face in my hands and looked into her big, blue eyes. “Becca, we have a mean daddy. Sometimes he can be nice, but other times he’s mean. Do you understand?” She nodded her head. I cautioned softly in my nine-year-old voice, “We have to be careful of the mean daddy, okay? I’ll protect you from the mean daddy, okay? You don’t have to be scared.”
Memories from my childhood flashed through my mind in group, each time one of the other kids talked about theirs. The fragmented images bothered me. I willed them to stop but they were stronger than I was. I hated the way Frank attacked the kids and crumbled their insides.
In one of my daily private sessions with Frank, I challenged him, “Why do you always have to make everyone feel like shit?”
“Because kids like you guys have a lot of pain.”
“But what’s the point in talking about it and feeling like shit? I don’t see how it does anything.”
“I think you’re just scared.” He moved his chair closer to mine.
I shrieked, “Don’t come near me!” Pushing my chair back against the wall, I continued, “Seriously, stay away.”
“Whoa, whoa.” He moved his chair back, further than it had been. “What are you so afraid of?”
I snapped. “I just don’t like people in my space.”
“Okay.” He leaned back. “Kids don’t run away if there’s nothing to run from. Drugs help you run away. If you deal with what you’re running from, then maybe you won’t have to run anymore.”
I do drugs because I like them. But why does it scare you to live without them? I just like my life better that way. Really? Do you really like puking, getting into trouble, losing time, and being up for days? It’s not that bad. Oh yeah, do you really like the guys who put their dicks in your mouth when you’re passed out in the back of a trailer someplace you don’t even know? Shut up!
At that moment, I split into two completely distinct voices in my mind. The voices argued back and forth with each other. I don’t know whose voice was the real me or if they both belonged to a part of me. I just know that two voices were born. They began a dialogue that would torment and haunt me until I sat with the barrel of a gun in my mouth, contemplating pulling the trigger to shut them up.
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