There were three buildings at my place in Liberty, New York. The first building was the foremost and closest to the road with a semi-circular driveway. The lawn inside the indentation of the circular driveway was slightly overgrown. The Blacktop was cracked and bulged from the roots of a tree that grew in the lawn. This was the main building where I first made my entryway to undergo 42 days of in-treatment drug rehabilitation. This is house is where the patients spent the entire day. The tall white home had an old world charm. Slightly Victorian, the house was large with an entry foyer, high ceilings, white walls, and a staircase to the right that led up to the upstairs rooms.
To the left of the front entryway was a double-door entrance to a large open room with glossy hardwood flooring, white walls, somewhat high ceilings, and a few long tables with white paper tablecloths covered over them with either tan, or orange plastic chairs bolted to stainless steel legs placed around, and neatly tucked under the tables in the empty lunchroom.
Stepping into the lunchroom, a hallway immediately to the right lead directly to a large kitchen where a whitehaired man, usually unfriendly, and perhaps unhappily sober longer than twice my age was the chef. He had a familiar last name. It was a name familiar to me because it was the same as a drug buddy. However, when I asked about the relation, the old unfriendly man snapped back, “Yeah, I know that little son of a bitch. So what of it?” After this conversation, I stood clear of the old cook.
Passing the lunchroom from the entryway, the hallway led to a large back room with brown marble-like linoleum flooring. There was a bench that wrapped around the wall of half the room. This was a meeting room as well as a recreational area.
Up the stairs led to different rooms in the house. The rooms were not large but they were large enough to serve a purpose. The once bedrooms to an obviously large residential home that sat on long stretch of road in Upstate, Liberty New York, was no longer used for sleeping. The home was made over and the rooms were now used as offices. It was in these offices where I underwent hours of uncomfortably intense therapy and group meetings.
The main house had a strange aroma. At least it did to me. Upstairs smelled like an old house. Maybe “Moldy,” is an accurate description.
The old, commercial grade carpeting covered the flooring. Seats, which were similar to that of the lunch room sat in the rooms where we met, argued, complained, and often wept to the counselor on duty.
This place was my second stop on my journey of rehabilitation centers. My first was a 28 day adult facility. This being my second, I felt a bit sure of myself. I suppose my entire 28 days of sobriety meant (at least in my mind) that I knew everything there was to know about alcoholism and drug addiction. My interaction with others my own age in treatment, until this point, was non-existent.
I suppose, in my own arrogance and behind the image I used to disguise and protect myself—I thought I was the best of the worst. I believed I had done more, seen more, drank more, and certainly used more than anyone else my age. Quickly, however, I found out this was certainly not the case. The stories I learned about and the people I lived with, ate with, and spoke to were unlike anything I ever imagined. I listened to their experience of abuse, teenage prostitution, heroin sickness, crack-house gun violence, jail-time beatings, and desperate stories of neglect. They were considered to be the lowest of the low in their towns and households. And behind each story, underneath the hard exterior of each unfortunate action and outcome was the beating heart of a beautiful teenage kid.
Behind the main house were two other house type buildings. The style of them was less traditional than the original main house on the large property. These were the dorms. One of the dorms was empty. The population was few in my time at this place.
There were only five, or maybe six girls living in the treatment facility. I was never sure where they slept. I only knew we were not allowed to step anywhere near the girl’s quarters, otherwise, any patient having any physical contact beyond a brief handshake or quickly supportive hug was immediately removed from treatment. In many cases, and cases like mine, this meant a phone call to the court systems of the patient’s hometown. And in some cases, this would mean a New York State trooper would arrive to escort the patient from the premises and take them to the otherwise prison sentence.
Our bedrooms were small with two twin beds—one on either side of the room. Bunkmates or roommates tend to become very close in places like this. Aside from the changes and heightened emotions that come from long hours of soul searching, and in addition to emotional probing during one-on-one therapy sessions, and digging into the facts of addiction, bunkmates share the experience together.
At night when the lights are out in a darkness that seems darker than anywhere else in the world, two young men slept in the same room and spoke honestly to one another. We were either scared of what we revealed about ourselves in group—or we were trapped somewhere between running away, thinking of a ways to sneak drugs and smoking cigarettes after we sprayed them with Windex for an experimental fix, or simply wishing we could be home, or outside somewhere with our friends from the neighborhood.
The dorm had two levels. There was an upstairs and downstairs. My room was up the stairs, second door on the right.
Chris was abandoned when he was just a little boy. He knew of his parents; he knew their whereabouts and he more often spoke of his grandmother and aunt. Chris was tall and strong. Had Chris been given some direction, perhaps his ability on the basketball courts would have certainly landed him a scholarship and a chance to get a college education. Given the right environment, Chris could do wonders with a basketball. It was too bad that anger got the best of Chris. And so did the law.
Chris went through several different boys homes. He would settle in, stay for a while, and then get into a fight. Chris usually fought after feeling exposed. He became enraged when the physical abuse of his childhood came into light. I suppose this is where all of his rage came from. I believe this is why Chris enjoyed the physical pain that came with fighting. He enjoyed seeing the damage he could create. This was comfortable to him and something Chris understood. Bleeding, be it his blood or someone else was Chris’s way of materializing a pain that always went unspoken.
Chris was my first bunkmate.
Monday through Friday, our days were scheduled with schoolwork, which was mostly laughable. Many of the patients, including myself, were far from students. We all had some form of learning disability. Nearly all of us had already been expelled from one school or more, and none of us cared enough about living a healthy, sober lifestyle, let alone the value of a proper education.
I tell you we were all learning disabled. Yet, each patient was brilliant in their own way. Uneducated as far as schooling was concerned; I say everyone I met during my 42 days in this place was a true and absolute genius.
Weekends were an easier time. We had less direction. We were allowed to play like young men outside if the weather permitted. This being the end of September and entering the changing of seasons into October, the weather was kind enough to give a nice autumn breeze.
Around this time my roommate came to a certain revelation. He came out of the closet, so to speak, and for the first time, Chris stood outside of himself and pushed aside the years of terrible physical abuse. after living a lie, Chris decided to stand on his own two feet and admit the fact that he was gay.
Aside from his one-on-one counselor, I was the first person Chris spoke to about this.
“You don’t have a problem with that do you?” asked Chris.
“I mean, you don’t see me any different than before. Right?”
Chris was the first person I ever met that dared the subject. He was the first person I ever knew that dared to be brave enough to admit, not only to him, but to the outside world, “This is who I am.” It is safe to say I admired Chris. I certainly never dared to be so open about who I was or what I thought.
I was too scared to be open. I hid the things I liked because I was afraid no one else would like the same thing. I was too scared to stand alone. I would change my preference because I was afraid the things I preferred were not preferable to anyone else.
I hid my opinions and changed my taste to acquire the flavors that was more popular or acceptable in the small world around me. To be myself seemed too daring. Rather than stand alone, I stood in line to be like the others around me. I never dared to admit which girl I liked. I preferred girls with size and curves. I had interest. I desires. I had the chance on more than one occasion to spend time with a girl I preferred; however, I was too weak and frail-minded. I was too afraid of the ridicule from my so-called friends. And like Chris, though our taste and preference was different; I was too afraid to be myself.
Chris was a young capable man. He was a true physical specimen, and dare I say handsome. After years of self-induced physical punishment and emotional anguish, at last, Chris chose to step away from the image he created and decided to be “Chris,” for a change.
It was late at night when Chris told me the news. We were in our beds, laying in the dark after lights-out. Of course the immature heterosexual in me needs to define that we were in separate beds, each bed being on the other side of the room. As I listened to Chris’s tearfully brave plea to be accepted as he is, I lay with my hands beneath the back of my head as it sunk in my flat single pillow; elbows pointed upwards, legs straight out beneath the covers, eyes gazing up at the flat ceiling in the dark, Chris asked, “We’re still brothers, right?”
I comforted my friend by asking, “Were we brothers this morning?”
“Yes,” answered Chris.
“Then we’re still brothers now,” I told him.
“Thanks, Benny. You’re a good kid.”
Not long after this, perhaps only a few days, Chris fielded a few questions from some of the others. Not everyone was as understanding as Chris wanted them to be. Another inmate, tall, lanky, and mentally off had the uncanny ability to always say the wrong thing at the wrong time. I believe his name was Chris too.
It was the weekend and my roommate had counseling session. I was never sure what came up. I believe it had something to do with Chris’s father. After coming out and honestly admitting to the world about his Life, Chris seemed less hostile. There was a different air about him. He walked as if he felt confident. Or better yet, Chris walked around as if he at last felt accepted for who he was.
Something happens when we are faced with the sharp edges of truth. Sometimes the truth of our past cuts too deeply and words fall short to express the pain. I suppose this is what happened when Chris had to speak to his family. Later on, my roommate would once more find himself in trouble for fighting. This time it was for grabbing the throat of a tall, lanky mentally-off boy whose name was also Chris.
Stopping short of an actual punch, Chris shook the scrawny neck of another boy for making a comment about a father not accepting a son for being gay.
I was not there when this happened. I was on punishment for marking the freshly painted walls in the bathroom with a poem that read, “They paint these walls to stop my pen but the shithouse poet strikes again!” Chris was quickly sectioned away for the safety of the other patients. I was allowed two minutes to say goodbye.
That was the last I ever saw of Chris. By lights out, I returned to my room. The bed across from mine was empty. The shelves where Chris kept his things were also empty. His clothes were no longer in the closet, and neither was Chris.
I always wondered what happened to him. As for the other Chris, I suppose he gave his life away to smoking crack. I would be surprised to learn if that Chris was still alive. As for my roommate, I think of him sometimes. I think of his story often. I think of the stories he shared with me in those dark hours after lights out. Again, of course, the insecure heterosexual in me needs to define these stories were not sexual. However, it is truly an intimate thing to have a bunkmate and expose and exchange stories which were pertinent to our lives.
Looking back, I think of what I learned in my 42 days of treatment. I think of what I went through while living in a place where I had yet to make the determination of my sobriety. I think of Chris and the stone he has become in the foundation of my life without the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Wherever you are Chris, if we were brothers that morning . . .
We’re still brothers now.