We were basically children at the time.
We were children playing adult games and sent to a farm in a small town on the border of New York and Pennsylvania.
Everyone in the community came from their own background, and each person had their own unique personality, which oddly made us similar.
No one was sent to the farm for good behavior. There was no one there for doing too much homework, or going to Church on time.
We were all nuts in our own way. We all had issues and each one of us had been capable of horrible things.
I was sent there instead of prison, and like everyone else, I had the common behavioral disorder as well as the bond of addiction.
I did my time on the farm and grew into a new person. And while years and direction has split me from those I was closest with, I have never forgotten them.
The month of December was hardest on the farm. The Old Man had his first heart attack and I was shook by the reality of life on life’s terms.
I was awakened to the fact that life comes with an end, and the things people so easily take for granted, like having a father, was about to change.
My head was still foggy from the lifestyle. My speech improved and I no longer spoke as if I was high.
I had my struggles and doubts of sobriety, but I knew I was better in some way.
Perhaps my stay had begun to take effect, and the harsh methods of the therapeutic community had somehow found its way through my thick skull.
Mealtimes were interesting on the farm.
The community sat at a series of tables, while the owners, or effectively, the mother and father of the house sat in the center of what was called The Head Table with a selected few at their sides
Depending upon how we viewed ourselves, the students, inmates, or patients took shifts on serving food and pouring coffee.
Decaf drinkers were allowed decaf only. Regular coffee drinkers remained with regular, and tea drinkers drank tea and there was no changing this without asking permission.
After any of our three meals, there was often a topic (like asking permission to switch from regular to decaf) or there was confrontation. This was called, “Being brought up at the table.”
What that meant is if I saw a member of the house doing something wrong or not doing their share, I would bring them up at the table, confront them, and then the entire community would address the issue.
Being brought up at the table inevitably meant someone would be yelled at. The idea was to strip us of our image, break us from our habits, and rebuild us into sober, responsible adults.
I was brought up to the table many times.
I was yelled at.
I was told to sit in the corner and face the wall.
I was told to stand on a chair and sing because the music I sung was considered negative and very much a part of my old Heavy Metal lifestyle.
I do not recall how much of the verse I was told to recite, but the lyrics were from a song called Alter of Sacrifice from the band Slayer.
I had a sign around my neck (that’s what we had to do when we didn’t do our homework) and I stood on a chair in front my peers and chanted,
“Waiting the hour destined to die, here on the table of hell
A figure in white unknown by man, approaching the altar of death
High priest awaiting dagger in hand spilling the pure virgin blood…..”
And perhaps they might have stopped me there.
This was me; still resistant and still refusing to surrender. I refused to acknowledge that I needed to change. And what that meant is I could not pick and choose how. This meant I needed to submit; I needed to stop resisting and, “Surrender to win.”
Had I learned this earlier, I assume my first few months on the farm would have been easier.
But that’s what happens with this thing called alcoholism; we don’t listen. We refuse to give in until life sends a wake-up call.
When life unfolded and I was awakened by the news of my Old Man, I gave in pretty quickly.
On the morning of Christmas Eve, the grounds were covered with snow. The pond was frozen and we chose teams to play dodge ball on the ice.
Two weeks had passed since the news of my Old Man. I was allowed an overnight trip with a shadow, or chaperon from the farm. I was allowed to see my father, and he was sitting up. His spirits were good.
I figured this was a scare.
On the morning of Christmas, I walked to the pond with a few of the inmates. The sky was a blanket of gray and the ground a blanket of white. Snowflakes scattered down from the sky in a gentle flurry, and all was quiet on the farm.
On my way to the pond, I heard one of the counselors call my name. “You have to go up to the house,” he said. “They need to speak with you.”
“What did I do wrong,” I asked.
I never liked this counselor or the way he spoke to me.
He rolled his eyes, as if to explain the news was bad. “You didn’t do anything wrong,” he told me. “You just have to go up to the house now.”
I complained, “No, Tell me what I did first.”
“You didn’t do anything….I just need you to come up to the house with me.”
I followed, but on my way I continued, “I’ll go, but I don’t understand why you won’t tell me what I did wrong.”
Feeling sorry, the counselor repeated, “You didn’t do anything wrong.”
When we walked into the house, we walked into the kitchen. “Do you want some coffee?”
But I defied him. “No…I’m not allowed to have coffee unless it’s coffee time.”
“Ben….it’s ok. You can have a cup of coffee.
I wanted to be in trouble. I would have taken any punishment. I would have taken a call from the judge saying he reversed his decision and the troopers were on their way. I would have taken anything…..just don’t take my Old Man from me.
I was given the news and then told to pack a bag. The Old Man took a turn for the worse. His lungs were filled with fluid and he had suffered another heart attack.
Next thing I knew, a friend drove me to the nearest bus station, which was 45 minutes away. I say a friend because that’s who he was. He was more than a counselor; he was an ex-knucklehead like me.
There are no right words to say in a time like this. Nothing can erase the mind or redirect the pain.
My friend knew that.
We arrived at the bus station in Monticello New York, and purchased my bus ticket.
But before boarding, I went into the restroom to use the facilities.
“Help,” cried a man inside the handicap stall.
“Help me,” he said. “I messed my pants.”
An old man had soiled his pants and there was no toilet paper in the stall. His elderly wife stood outside the restroom and shouted for him to hurry.
“We’re gonna miss the bus,” she yelled.
“I messed my pants,” he screamed back and then he returned to his plea of, “Help!”
I would have done anything. I would have cleaned the man myself. I saw my effort as a deal with God the Father.
I asked, “Are you ok, sir?”
“I messed my pants,” the man replied.
“I have no toilet tissue,” he said.
I rushed over to the paper towel dispenser next to the sink and retrieved a stack of C-fold towels.
I wet some so the man could clean himself, but when I opened the stall door, there he was in all humility.
He was powerless, same as me.
My friend came in the bathroom to let me know my bus was about to board.
The elderly woman kept shouting from outside the door, “The bus is going to leave.”
But the elderly man was in no position to get up from the toilet.
As my friend ran out to stop the bus from its departure, I continued to help the man in the stall.
As I said…
I would have done anything.
My Old Man passed five days later….
I saw a photograph of an old friend from the farm this morning. It is strange to think how young we were then and now we’re adults.
We’re parents now.
No matter where they are or what they remember.
These are the people that saved my life.