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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.This much I knew at the start of freshman year when I stood next to my sister by some trash cans in a common area, waiting for the first bell to ring. The barrage of positive attention was something I had never experienced. Much like the town in which we lived, I took his and everyone’s words as insincere, fraudulent.A group of giddy girls with braces asked if I was new in town. They asked if I wanted to hang out with them before the bell. This all made me feel more powerful, more in control, cunning and guileful — what I’d always wanted.The man seemed like he was twice my height and ten times my weight. When he let go of my arms and stood up, the meeker man stepped closer to the bed and placed next to me a pair of my oversized jeans and a tattered T-shirt. The windowsills were lined with beer cans and bottles. With the exception of the two men, everything seemed as it should. For years I believed it was impossible for me to live past eighteen. I blew Ketamine in the backseats of Mercedes C-Classes speeding down Route 9 in New Jersey. For months after I was born, I was stuck inside an incubator with a cautionary heart murmur. But I never shook the notion that I was living on borrowed time.
It did not hurt, but the helplessness was suffocating.
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.
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.
I was overcome by adrenaline and sobriety when we stopped in front of an olive-green three-story building.
The woman sat next to me and reached into the back.