I was more than two hours into a three hour summertime drive. I was heading back up to an upstate world. I was miles away from the city and miles away from populated towns and overcrowded streets. After a while, everything looks the same on roads like this.
The road is long, straight, and seems to be unending. There are trees and the mountains on either side of me. The fields, the empty pastures, the occasional barns, the fields with cows, the occasional farm, and the scattered deer alongside the road; everything looked this way, pastoral and peaceful. Everything was so green and calming, of course, like a ride out to the country should be.
Everything seems so distant to me here; as in distant from me and the person I was when I lived around these parts. This world is distant to me as if everything seemed generationally slower, as if the old towns looked like they were stuck in a time warp with old shops decorated in older ways. But I’m not complaining.
I’ve always liked these little towns. I’ve always like the kindness from the town folks and their generosity towards each other. I especially loved the views up here in the winter.
The views were exactly as I mentioned, pastoral, beautiful, like a paining from Norman Rockwell or Thomas Kinkade. To me, it always seemed as if the upstate world was caught in a time warp of a generation before mine.
The towns are small with odd and unheard of names like Beaverkill, or Fishkill, or Deposit. I only know about these names because of the drives I took, both, to and from my place on The Farm.
I will always remembered the town of Deposit. I used to go there for a meeting with other troubled kids. This eliminated the myth that little town kids have little town problems.
This was not so at all. Actually, these small town boys had big-time problems. They had big-time anger and big-time habits.
They were just as eager as me or anyone else. They were eager to rebel and eager to challenge, eager to fight, and eager to resist literally any hand that offered to help them.
I remember the kids I met from deposit. I remember the way they felt about their town and their dead end lives.
They believed the town’s name was fitting to be what it was.
“Deposit, a shit town where shit lives,” is what one of the kids told me.
Although, I was respected and somewhat listened to. Most of what I did and how I lived was a contradiction to them and how they wanted to be. Whether drunk or high, whether in trouble, or lost somewhere in an old abandoned industrial plant, these kids were eager to escape their lives by any means necessary. One dose at a time.
Taking my drive, I found myself in autopilot, which meant my body knew what to do but my mind was elsewhere.
I had music playing in the car but my mind was envisioning the memories I have of a time and a place from long ago.
There is a diner along the way, which is somehow famous but the food is somewhat underwhelming. I stopped here before but there was no reason to stop there again.
Most people stop here. I suppose the location is perfect but the meals never reached my expectation. I suppose this is what changes when we grow older though.
At a younger age, I used to go here and I swore this place was the best. But it wasn’t. It was just nice to be free of my usual routines.
All of these places are places from my past. They are places that I recall from a memorable time in my youth. This is where I went to improve and to heal.
The names of the unheard towns and the sights on the sides of the road, all of this are pieces that link me to where I came from. All of this is a reminder of a place that taught me how to get away from myself.
I was neither active in a poor lifestyle nor looking for trouble here. There were no outside concerns about troublesome thoughts or troublesome crowds, which I needed to be removed from.
I was sent here in order to learn how to re-navigate my life and rethink my plans as in, how do I plan to live (or do I even know how to?)
It was years since my last visit. Almost decades had passed with the exception of a two quick stops.
I was there when the farm was still a farm. I lived there when the atmosphere was limited to simple things.
There was no detailed technology and no computers. No, there was nothing like this.
There was work to do. There was a barn that needed attention. There was schoolwork, cleaning, and kitchen details.
Of course, there were groups and one-on-one sessions with counselors. There were A.A. groups, codependency groups, Al-Anon groups, overeating groups, and there were dart groups, which I hated because the darts groups were mean.
A dart group is where a counselor (who I will remain nameless) would form the group and have one of us kids stand in front. Then the room would literally tell you about your negative and unlikable qualities. I suppose there were things I needed to hear about; however, this was no way to conduct a group.
I spoke to the kids during one of my last visits. At the time, there were 276 kids living at the facility. All of them were like me when I was there age. All of them were in need of help in one way or another.
All of them (of course) wanted to be someplace or anyplace else. But this is how it is when you are young and institutionalized.
No one wants to be here. No one wants to deal with the rules or be forced to live in an environment like this. And I get that. I felt the same way.
I didn’t want to live there either.
Everything is about the rules. Everything feels limited. Everything happens on a schedule.
Early morning: alarm clock goes off.
Wake up, get up, get out of bed, make your bed, get ready, and get dressed.
Get to breakfast (don’t be late or else you won’t eat.)
Get to your fist class or job, don’t be late for that either.
Don’t miss an assignment.
Missed an assignment?
Okay, wear a sign around your neck.
Get through the lunch.
Get through the day.
Go to group.
Get confronted about your attitude
Get pushed. Do better.
You’re capable of better. Don’t quit.
Get through dinner and then head back to the bunks. Get ready for bed clean up after yourself.
Get in bed, lights out, go to sleep
Next day, see the above notes and repeat.
Meanwhile, life is still going on for the rest of the world.
Outside, the world moves.
People do things. They live their lives. They excel. Maybe they do simple things, like easy things, like say, go out on a date or enjoy the simpler concepts of life; like say, go out for an ice cream.
But inside, institutional life is slow and stagnant. You become anonymous to the world. Everything is hinged upon a schedule and everything is therapeutic, which is difficult in larger facilities.
A piece of this of living was cult-like to me. Some of this was helpful. Some was annoying, and some, well, if I was asked back then, I would have never told you what I am about to report to you now.
My time on the farm was some of the most meaningful days of my young life.
I felt like I was part of something here. There was never a shortage of people to speak with. I never felt intimidated. I was never bullied or beat up.
I was always pushed to do my best because anything less was unacceptable. And sure, there were times when it was bad. And when I say bad, I mean there were times when it was really bad.
Sure, I had to wear signs around my neck. I had to sit in corners. I was yelled at, shot down, and put on sanctions.
I scrubbed pots and pans and waxed floors on my hands and knees. I did all those things you hear about in therapeutic communities.
They cut my long hair short. They took away my usual clothes and tossed away my concert t-shirts. They took away my music, which were the anthems of my young life.
My music was the soundtrack of my life. Everything was tied to a song and no sooner did arrive, they cut my hair short and took my music away.
The rules were tough. I admit that.
If we were late for breakfast then there was no breakfast.
We were learned to be on time. We were held accountable for our actions. We learned this because this is real life. And life doesn’t care if we feel bratty or pissed off. Life still happens regardless to how we feel.
Period, end of sentence!
Tough, you have to work.
Don’t like your boss?
Tough, you have to work to feed your family?
Feel scared, Feel intimidated?
Good, then join the rest of the world because everyone’s got something to contend with.
So quit bitching, get up, and get to work.
I cannot say if this was the best approach or not. But I can say the lessons I learned here are some of the lessons that helped me to save my own life.
Meanwhile, outside, the rest of the world and the people in my age group were living life. They enjoyed their rites of passage. They went to proms. They went out with friends. They ate what they wanted and when they wanted to.
But not me.
No, I was institutionalized.
On my last trip up, I had the chance to speak to the kids.
I spoke with them all or at least as many as I could.
The farm was much different for those kids than it was for me.
Then again the intimacy changed with the larger numbers. At most, I think the population of my community was somewhere around 45 people. There were 276 kids there during my last trip.
That’s a lot of kids to look after . . .
grew. It was somewhat unrecognizable to me. The barn was rebuilt and become a
gymnasium. There were more dorms. They built a new chapel. The little pond was
But the hills were still there. The tree upon one of the hills in particular was still there too. And I mention this tree because it reoccurs in my dreams.
I see this as a message to remember where I came from. I see the tree as a symbol to me.
Sometimes I see this as a tree of wisdom. Sometimes I see it as a memory. Sometimes, I see this as a sign, which reminds me to get back to basics because life has a way of getting out of control.
Throughout the years, several people have died from my time on the farm. They were my friends. Some were more like family.
Tony was the founder.
He and his wife Betty where like Mom and Dad to the house.
Certainly not everyone appreciated who they were. I’m not sure if I did or not but in a time of need and after my Old Man passed away; when I was in need of help and even after my relapse, Tony and Betty were there for me.
For this, I say God Bless them
I agree though. It wasn’t the same as when I lived on the farm. The rules were different. There were fewer kids.
When I spoke at night to the entire community, I watched them all. I watched all 276 kids as they watched me.
I tried to see each of their faces because I wanted to see which one would show emotion.
I could see who cared and who wished I would shut up.
I could see who was new and who had been there for a while.
Most received my message with appreciation. The enjoyed my humor about the rules from back in my day. They liked that I was real and not fake or forcing my rhythm to sound a certain way. No, I was honest. And honesty is what they needed.
I stayed for the weekend.
The next morning before I was set to leave, one of the students had a meltdown. I am not a doctor nor was I prepared for an intervention like this; however, my intervention was successful, which left me with a feeling of purpose.
The student was young but he was very big. He had a history of breakdowns. He heard voices and sometimes the voices were extremely unkind. He was crying and carrying on, loud as ever.
“I just want
them all to go away,” he cried.
“I hear these voices and they tell me bad things.”
I’m not sure why this hit me as hard as it did. Possibly this hit me because at one point in my youth, when rage passed the insurmountable point, I would hear the sound of breaking glass and the flashes of violence glimpsed through my mind.
I would clench my body; I clenched every muscle and closed my eyes.
This was not something I enjoyed.
To be honest, the visions I saw flashed like a movie scene behind the walls of my eyelids. The visions were more violent than I care to report. However, I will leave you with the understanding that whenever I felt myself enraged or bullied or weak; I heard the sound of breaking glass and saw bloody, unthinkable visions in my head.
Perhaps this is why I was so moved by the student’s outcry. Maybe I was moved because I understand what it feels like to not have control over my own thinking.
Maybe I just wanted the boy to stop crying.
Maybe it was as simple as I cared.
Maybe I just don’t like seeing kids living a life they never asked for. Or, perhaps, I think of all thefts there is none worse than the theft of someone’s childhood.
I believe this way because my childhood was tough to live through. And because of this, I would never want a child to lose their childhood.
Next, I stood in front of this young man. He was big and physically capable. He told me about the voices and what they wanted him to do.
rather than allow him to submit to the other voices, I introduced him to my voice. I told him about Uncle Benny’s voice.
I wept for him. I cried in front of him because it literally hurt me to see him as he was, crazy and mad, wanting to jump and run away.
It worked . . .
Of all the hugs I have ever received in my life, this young man’s was not only above the most genuine; it is up there in the rankings of the most impactful.
The kid didn’t
want to let go. . .
What a true gift it was to meet him.
We talked for a while. I was successful for the moment. I appointed two of the young man’s classmates to accompany him to get his things and they were instructed to bring the student back to me.
“You should work here,” is what I was told.
I was told this by a woman named Susan. She is among a few others that were still employed when I lived on the farm.
Similar to the hug, of all the compliments I have received, Susan’s ranks high above nearly all.
Back to my drive, I was sifting through my memories. I had arrived down what used to be a dirt road.
Looking around, everything looked the same but at the same time, everything was completely different.
The farm was no longer the farm anymore. The land was sold to someone else.
I drove up just to see what the place looked like.
Also, I drove up to say goodbye to some of the ghosts of my past.
I took this ride to visit a family that lost their son.
And more accurately, I took a drive here because someday, I swear, I will have my own farm.
No one will be bullied here. No one will ever feel alone. No one will be judged. No one will be allowed to settle. And together, we will put a dent in the fight against mental illness.
One day, I will build this
You will help me.
I know you will
Someday . . . .