This is nothing more than a personal ramble.
In fairness, I am not sure what you (the reader) will picture or what you will imagine if you decide to follow along. I’m not sure if this will even make sense to anyone else but me. Still, a ramble is a ramble and this is just that—a ramble .
I am driving up to see two of my most special friends this morning. Had it not been for them and others like them when we all lived together on The Farm, I would not be the man I am now. Had it not been for them back when The Old Man passed or when I was at my worst and fragile stages of addiction and entering sobriety, I am not sure if I would have stayed the course. My sobriety was new. I was so terribly confused and struggling to understand the changes I needed to make.
I am not exactly sure where I was on this day back in 1990. I was gearing up to return home after an 11 month stay on The Farm. I had grown at this place. I was a part of something crazy and good. I meant something to the people there and they meant something. I was a part of this place and being a part of this place felt much better than not being part of anything at all.
In fairness, I should admit that while yes, The Farm had its own cult-like feel, there was no one trying to get me to drink the Kool-Aid. There was no one telling me, “The end is near,” or preaching about doomsday.
The place was simply this; we lived together on a farm, us, a bunch of crazy kids with crazy parents and crazy problems. We were drug addicts and alcoholics. We were the behavior problems in our homes, in schools, and in our towns. We were just kids—at least most of us were. Some of the members in the house were older. Some had lived on The Farm for quite some time, and some were passing through, leaving, only to return again.
By this time or on this day in 1990, many of my friends had moved from The Farm. They had either returned home or moved to someplace new.
Paulie was gone. Timmy left but he came back. John W left. He was hard to say goodbye to because John was my sponsor. Dominic left, only his discharge was not quite as comfortable. Dominic was a good friend and a good man. However, the New Jersey court systems did not seem to know about the changes Dominic made. They never knew about the man he became or at minimum, the New Jersey court systems never knew what kind of friend Dominic was all of us. Nevertheless, a sentence is a sentence, and though Dominic did more than his share of time on The Farm, upon completion Dominic had to serve another 10 months or so in a correctional facility to pay for his previous lifestyle.
Heather had already moved out. Debbie was gone, and so were Kerri, and Jen. Eric had been gone for quite some time now. Brian G left and so did Trip.
I was on deck to return home, which was a far-out thought, especially since I never thought I would ever go home again. I went through 11 months of farm life. I woke early and did chores. I did my homework or else I wore a sign around my neck.
Actually, for a short period, I was made to wear a sign around my neck that said, “Ask me why I’m a spoiled brat.” The sign was not huge. It was certainly big enough to read. It was on a white paper (or maybe it was white a white index card) with a string tied from the top of one side to the other and then laced over my head.
I had to wear this sign and if anyone asked, I was to explain why I was given the sign in the first place, what happened, and what I needed to change about myself so I could take the sign off
I was yelled at and confronted. I was sat in corners, and punished to dish crews, or cleaning crews. I jumped in pig pens and cleaned the worst kind of droppings beneath cows that often kicked when passing too closely behind them. The sheep were off in the field. I never minded them. They never bothered me, but Cali the Dog loved to run after them. Cali the Dog loved to chase the two white geese as well. We had a peacock too, but the peacock was not too much of a social bird.
The house was a typical farmhouse; however, we were not typical in any way. We were all unique in our own way. we were all crazy and wonderful. There was mandatory prayer. You ate everything on your plate at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Nothing could be left over, and if I couldn’t finish or I simply did not like the taste of my food, the food would sit in front of me at every meal until I ate it.
Each meal began with a song that went as followed:
“Praise God from whom all blessings flow.
Praise Him all creatures here below.
Praise Him above thee, Heavenly Host.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen“
I have not sung this song in a a very long time. But I remember every unforgettable word of it
Safe to say, I was a pain in the ass in the beginning. There were girls there, but there was no flirting. I never crossed the line with anyone of the girls until my very last day. I never played footsies under the table or passed any notes. I followed most of the rules but not all. Safe to say I spent a lot of time while sat in a chair, facing the corner of a room, and treated like a kindergartner for having a temper tantrum. I did my share of washing dishes in the kitchen, peeling onions, or potatoes.
Safe to say, I did a good share of time on my knees, hand waxing floors upstairs in the dining room. I cleaned and I worked. I was yelled at when I slacked off. I was told to move faster and to “Stop spacing out!” I was out of my bunk in the morning before the dorm leader or dorm supervisor counted to 20. At this point, my bunk was made, my area was cleaned and I was rushing to shower, brush my teeth, and dress myself appropriately.
Yes, I was called a “Stupid man!” and a, “Masturbating idiot!”
I was reprimanded and punished. I was made to stand on a chair and told to recite the lyrics to a Slayer song in front of the entire house. Music like this was not allowed. I was yelled at by Tony and Betty who were like Mom and Dad and owners of the house. I was yelled at Kevin, Jim, Kiera and Karma, E.J. and John S too.
I was also loved by them—or at least, most of them.
And John S . . .
John knows all about this because he was there. He was there when I left on the bus to say goodbye to my Old Man. He was there when I left to bury my father and he was there when I came back to The Farm. John was there to love me and help me the way an older brother helps a younger.
I am not sure if I could properly explain this place.
The Farm, I mean.
There was a big red barn with a field behind it. We had dirt roads and mountains around us.
There was a large field behind the main house, which was a good place to sleigh ride—only we never had any sleighs to ride. This is when Elise came up with the idea to use garbage bags. I’m not kidding. We used big black garbage bags.
We cut a hole to pop our head through and two on the sides for our arms. Then we put the bags over our heads, laid down flat, and slid down the hill. To some this may sound corny or even pathetic. To us on the farm this day was one of the best we had ever had.
I understand that no kid would willingly want to be here. Truth is, none of us were there willingly. The definition of fun on The Farm would not match the normal teenage definition. This place was not supposed be fun. This was treatment. This is where we came to change. And change we did. In spite of all the rules and some of the insurmountable bullshit—I can tell you there were good times here.
I remember The Farm very well. I remember waking in the middle of the night to do fire-watch and stepping outside the bunkhouse.
There is no interference from the city lights in a place like this. We were far up and away from the city—tucked between mountains with a view that was unlike any other.
At night, the stars were so bright and the moon is truly breathtaking. If you’ve never seen a full moon shining down over the snowy pastures of an Upstate field, then you should make a plan to see this before you die. The white snow takes on a bluish hue from the moon. In the midst of all my turmoil, this was my view and my view was absolutely and unforgettably perfect.
I arrived on The Farm, a shaggy-headed kid, wearing a black leather biker jacket, jeans and boots. Safe to say whichever t-shirt I wore upon my arrival, it was either one of my concert t-shirts from some loud or aggressive band, or (and I think I may be right on this one) it was a blue and white tie-dyed shirt. All these things including my Walkman with my music were taken from me. I was no longer allowed to wear things like this. I was not allowed to reference the music I loved and listened to or even sing so much as one note from any of the songs I knew so well. I had all the symptoms of drug addiction and alcoholism. I had behavioral issues and learning disabilities. More importantly, I had a will that was yet to be broken. I hate hate in my heart that pumped like venom through my veins. The Farm changed all this.
I went to Church, which was an unwilling thing. I went to group counseling sessions and one on one sessions, which was also an unwilling thing but it was certainly a mandatory thing.
As I was gearing up to leave The Farm after my 11 month stay, so was Mike T. So was Amy P and Vicky C, and Michelle S too. My hair was cut short. I had grown both physically and mentally. This is where I learned to be sober. I can’t say that I was the same after I left. I can’t honestly say that I practiced all these principals in all my affairs. All I can say is that had it not been for this place, I would not be the man I am today.
In a short while, I will drive up to see two very special and dear friends. I wish the circumstances were better. I wish the reason for my visit was on a better note and that all would be happy. Regardless, I will see two people that have a very special place in my heart. Same as they were there for me all those years ago, I plan to return the favor and be there for them.
I love these people.
If you would have asked me then, I would never have told you I loved the days. Looking back now, I have to say it—those were some of the best days of my life.
The two-minute showers weren’t so much fun. The rules we followed, and some of the members in the house were not always the greatest. Not everyone got along and not everyone wanted to. I guess I’m just grateful that somehow we all managed to get back in touch.