No one is ever ready for bad news. Then again, no one is ever truly ready for life when life happens. No one expects bad news to happen on days like Christmas. No one expects the phone to ring and have someone on the other end say, “You better get home fast.”
I started to tell you about Christmas Eve on the farm. At the time, I was four months into my agreement with the legal system. I was somewhat coasting and flying beneath the radar but the rules on the farm were hard to avoid.
There was no downtime. There was no free time. Every minute was accounted for. There was no room to escape or get away and there was always someone around. There was always someone watching and there was always someone with something to say.
I was introduced to a program and a series of principles that was supposed to change my life. I was on the farm to learn how to live and work in the real world without the use of alcohol or any controlled substances. I was given a pattern to live by. But regardless of what they were trying to sell me, I wasn’t buying it.
I was not a fan of my surroundings. I was not a fan of the people either. There was no music. There was no singing allowed, unless it was church music. And church music wasn’t my thing.
There was no fraternization allowed with the girls on the farm. The idea of sex or any “Private time” with a sexual nature was strictly prohibited.
The farm was my third stop on my treatment tour. The first two places were short-term facilities but due to the nature of my agreement with the courts, I had to commit to a long-term stay. Needless to say, the farm was not a place that I chose to be. No, this place was chosen for me.
Upon my arrival in late October, I immediately had my longhair cut short. I had my clothes taken away. The powers that be took all of my music and my headphones. They threw my leather jacket into a fire with a bunch of other personal belongings. There were no concert t-shirts allowed. There were no items allowed that could be tied to an old image. And let’s face it, I was 17 years old at the time. Everything I wore was based on the concept of an image.
I had no idea what this place was going to be like. I didn’t know that I would be reprimanded on a daily basis. I was yelled at, shot down, put in the kitchen to wash pots and pans. I had to wax the floors on my hands and knees with a little cloth. I had to feed pigs and sheep and cows. I had to do my homework on time. I had to follow the rules and, of course, more than anything else – I had to be sure and make it to breakfast on time. Lates to breakfast meant you didn’t eat breakfast. The reason being is because if you’re late for breakfast in real life, you don’t eat breakfast. So, get up. Move faster. Yes, sir. No, sir. Be efficient and if you can’t be efficient, someone will accompany you and make sure you learn how to work efficiently.
I had to wear signs around my neck. I had to sit in corners and face the wall. I had to surrender completely and should I have chosen not to surrender, there was a houseful of people who would surround me and loudly encourage me to surrender.
I was up before dawn on a daily basis. But worse, the rules in the morning were that we had to be up and out of our bunks by the count of 20. This meant we had to be out of bed with our beds made and running off to our first job within the count of 20. Otherwise, there was a problem. And then there were the two minute showers and the lack of hot water. There were no stalls in the bathroom. Just toilets.
I can say that I have woken up in rough places. I’ve woken up in bathtubs. I’ve woken up in drunk tanks. I’ve woken up in the holding cells when I was just moments away from going upstairs to see the judge.
I’ve woken up in stairwells, outdoors, and in places where it smelled like death warmed over. However, waking up in the bunkhouse to the sound of a dorm leader screaming the count from one to twenty took some getting used to.
Safe to say that I was yelled at a lot. Safe to say that I was told about my belief in God or, wait. No. It’s safer to say that I was told my lack of faith was leading me to hell. I was told that I was hell bound without salvation. The problem is that I was mandated here, which meant that unless I wanted to take my chances with the courts; I had to stay until the completion of my treatment. I was moved around and forced to change. The powers that be stripped me of my will until I submitted.
I kept my secrets though. I kept close to my vest. I figured this was my last stand. Let me keep my lies intact because otherwise, I would give in. Otherwise, I would become one of “Them.”
I played the game to the best of my ability. I acted “As if,” to keep the senior members and the proprietors away and off of my back. However, there was no escaping them. At least, not really.
Everything was close-knit. If I were to hide, then I’d have to hide in plain sight. I’d have to go along to get along. Otherwise, I’d have to face breakfast, lunch and dinner with an entire house of people telling me “You’re giving in to your disease!”
And who the hell calls drinking a disease anyway?
This made no sense to me.
I wasn’t buying it. I wasn’t about to give up my secrets. Plus, why in the world would anyone choose a life without a drink? Why are drugs such a bad thing? I mean, of course people die. But maybe I could tease the edges a little. Maybe I could keep myself high with a basic chippie (or, small-time habit).
The courts had their way with me though. They didn’t make any of this easy on me. I was away from my atmosphere. I was out of the frying pan but not in the fryer. I was clean.
I started to come out of this fog but I noticed some troubles. I noticed that I couldn’t read. I couldn’t think clearly.
I wondered if I damaged something in my brain. After all, I was hellbent to find that absolute balance. I took everything I could to feel the absence of gravity. I wanted to be mindless and weightless.
I wanted to find the right mindset or better yet, I was looking to find a better life through chemistry.
The only problem was my use was degenerative. The more I used, the worse I became.
I wanted to balance the scales but at the same time, the harder I tried, the more I’d have to balance myself again.
I was always chasing something. Nothing good ever lasted long and even when the high was at an optimal level, the crash was always lower. I was always lower than low and to be higher than high, I had to find more and do more. This is the grind people talk about. And one would think this is enough to make people want to be free of this. But quite the contrary; this is the lure. This is what drags people in because for everything to be so desperate, the high must be absolutely phenomenal. It’s true but the politics and the price of the trade was always more than I bargained for.
But . . .
I was out. I didn’t live in the same place. I wasn’t around the same people. No, I was on a farm where people talked about 12-steps and God. And I thought to myself, who the hell asked for this?
My skin wasn’t as sickly looking. And that was good. I was still very thin but I wasn’t as bony.The color of my skin improved. The dark rings beneath my eyes had faded away. I could speak a little clearer. And better yet, The Old Man told me that he wasn’t mad at me anymore. He didn’t complain about the way I looked. He wasn’t criticizing me about the way I dressed or the way I spoke. He told me this, himself.
He said this to me during one of my last home visits. He took me to court and sat with me. He stood by my side. Not angry. Not judgmentally.
The Old Man told me that he wasn’t mad anymore, which was something I never thought I would hear. I never thought it was possible to make him proud. And admit it. Although I wasn’t sure about walking the line or staying clean, there was something rewarding about hearing my Father say, “I’m not mad at you anymore.”
Perhaps this meant it was possible to have a relationship with my Father.
I thought about this. I imagined The Old Man and myself close, like Father and son. I thought about us working together. We could be friends too and not just family. This was something that had always been a challenge to me. I say this because I never thought I was enough. I never thought I could be good at anything – or, at least good enough for my Father.
There were challenges between us. If I passed and got a C, then The Old Man was like, “What’s that gonna do for you?”
“Life’s a competition.”
According to my Father, there are people fighting for their jobs and if all I did was try to get by, then I would never get anywhere. The Old Man would tell me how I’d never shine or ever be chosen.
I had to step up, which I wanted to. Believe me. I just didn’t know how. I never believed in myself. I never thought anything about me was worthwhile.
Put simply, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t understand life. I couldn’t understand school or the different versions of personalities. I never understood why life came easily for some people and it was difficult for others.
I was an “Other” in this case. Nothing was easy for me. Nothing seemed to fit. Nothing seemed to work. To me, it seemed the only things I was ever good at were illegal. And where would that get me?
(Aside from jail.)
Something happened to me though. The Old Man went down. He had the first of several heart attacks. He was weak and old and the ideas of him and I being close were all at risk.
I remember when they called down for me. Deep down; I knew what they were going to tell me. I knew they were going to tell me he was getting worse. Deep down, I knew what they were about to say. In fairness, I would have taken anything else. I would have taken it if the judge called and said they made a mistake. I would have taken 10 years in prison. Hell, I would have taken 20. Just . . . please, God!
Don’t take my Father from me.
The owners of the farm bought me a bus ticket. I was about to go and see The Old Man for the last and final time.
I wasn’t ready. Then again, is anybody ever ready?
“Let’s go,” said John.
“Get your things.”
“We have to get you to the bus in time.”
The bus . . . .
Man, what a ride that was.