By Jackie Dusza
My drawing was looking pretty spectacular thus far. I had just finished up shading in the giant sea of blood that consumed the bottom half of my sketch paper and was now proceeding to draw in the outlines of intestines encroaching downward upon the ocean from above. Everyone else in my outpatient rehab group was participating in this ‘therapeutic’ drawing exercise, only they were trying to keep their drawings slightly less alarming considering it was parent’s night. For me, hiding the macabre side of my imagination from my parents would have been futile. They were already aware of my interest in gore, violence, and surrealism; my father especially despised it. I continued on with my sketching and was pretty proud of my apocalyptic slaughter scene. It was then that I noticed my parents and my counselor were peering over at me in between the sentences of their apparently pertinent conversation in the corner. Within a few moments, my counselor approached me and said, “Jacqueline, your mother, father, and I have some things we need to discuss with you regarding your treatment plan.” I heard my father let out a snide huff from the corner.“We think it might be time to take a further step with you,” she said. There was likely no look of shock on my face considering the vast amounts of drugs, trouble and school suspensions I had gotten myself wrapped up in since the beginning of my freshman year in high school. There was not much left in the way of surprise when it came to telling me I was in trouble, or that my addiction to drugs has “shown no signs of improvement”. I looked up at the vast landscape that was the body of Carolina Riverdancer; my non-Native American, vision quest ridden, alcoholic drug counselor. I pushed out my chair and walked silently alongside my parents to her private office.
Her room was warm and inviting, with subtle earth tones and lovely green plants cascading from her bookshelves ridden with AA and self help books. Images of Native Americans in sublime landscapes walking alongside their spirit animals adorned her walls. At first, it almost seemed a lovely place in which to be told you would not be going home for six to nine months, when at 15, I had never left home before. I had heard of the residential treatment facilities but to me they seemed like something out of a novel about utopian societies- far-fetched and way too futuristic for me to care to understand. It was like they were shipping me off to some sort of drug detox factory. I didn’t know how to feel about it except fucking betrayed and enraged. Flames boiled in my face as I sat silently because I knew there was nothing I could do. I was on legal probation due to my school truancy and drug use, so whatever they said went.
It was then that our family began to show its outward signs of dysfunction. My parental units sat next to each other, but their eyes were worlds apart. They had the most volatile and confusing arguments concerning the rearing of my brother Joe and myself. I started picking nervously at my nails because the anxiety was ballooning into a fear I could not control. My father furrowed his thick brow while repetitively clearing his throat as was typical for him in uncomfortable situations and conversations. His face read frustration and it actively enhanced his large Polish features. My mother, as usual, spoke first and said, “Jackie, with all the failing of the drug tests and all the suspensions from school, Carolina has talked to Sue about finding you a bed in a live-in treatment center.” Sue was my probation officer. It was not always easy to get a bed in a place like that, but there was one opening up shortly at a facility called Parkridge Residential, so she had grabbed it. My father looked blankly up at me and said, “It’s not cheap, either, Jackie. Thanks a lot.” Before I could even react to him my mother blurted, “Jim, that’s not what’s important. Jackie needs treatment, she has a problem, and this is just what we have to do as her parents.” I could see her fingers, adorned with heavy rings, trembling slightly. Careless in my youth and inexperience I was sure that what they meant was an in-patient treatment: approximately two weeks in length and then before you knew it- bam- I’d be back home. Caroline said, “The program is a residential program which means of course that you will be living there full time. Your parents will be able to visit you once a week for three hours on Sundays, and then for an hour and a half for family groups every other Wednesday.” I began peeling deeper into my nails. Every week? I was guessing that meant the length of my stay would encompass more than just two. I wondered exactly how much time we were talking about here. “The average stay is about six to nine months but there have been kids that have gotten out in as little as four… its co-ed ranging in ages from twelve to eighteen,” she explained. Instantly I felt my naivety turn inside out until I wanted to wretch. I was actually going to be taken away from my home, and what was worse- my parents seemed to feel indifferent or rather emotionless about it, especially my father.
Because last minute openings like that were rare, Sue had taken the available spot immediately and I got screwed into leaving five days before Christmas. The morning I left, I didn’t smoke any weed or blow any lines. I didn’t even take a Xanax (for which I was actually prescribed) but rather, remained sober as to be acutely aware of my new and foreign surroundings from which I was utterly frightened. The car ride there was entirely silent, and the intake process was quiet as well. My counselors were warm and welcoming, but I soon found myself wishing I had at least smoked a joint before I left. I traipsed out of the main office and down the hallway that led towards my new bedroom. Setting down my black duffel bags on the bare mattress in that white and musty room, my parents each hugged me. My mother intensely embraced me, while my father’s embrace was sparing and without eye contact for he was repulsed at the idea of leaving his daughter in this sort of facility… or rather that his daughter was this kind of person.
I spent the first few days in a state of minor mourning. None of the other kids there seemed to like me very much. I felt their eyes upon me everywhere I went, and worst of all I felt exiled from my own home and family. I was nervous and unsure of my future, but I began to acclimate to this new place and this new routine as my first few weeks of group counseling sessions and alternative high school passed rather smoothly. All the kids, both male and female, would form big circles with various counselors and talk about countless amounts of things related to our drug addictions. There were times however, in which we held smaller, more personal group sessions, sometimes involving other residents, and sometimes our immediate families.
Not long after my arrival there (perhaps two months or so) it had come time for my family and I to participate in an intimate and private ‘therapy’ session of our own. The assignment was for me to transcribe one letter to my mother and one letter to my father explaining how I felt about our current situation with rehab, my lifestyle, and our relationship as a family. They were to do the same in return to me, in which case the upmost honesty was requested of them. So one Tuesday night after dinner chores I headed down to one of the empty meeting rooms next to the girls sleeping quarters. I approached the closed door. My hands were literally dripping with anxious sweat as I reached out and slipped to grip the door handle. Immediately I felt everyone’s eyes cling to me like hot, black tar as I entered, and so I quickly melted into the cold, blue chair set out for me. My parents greeted me and I looked up to engage in eye contact with my mother first; she looked sullen and tired. She had shifted her chair away from my father and the mascara running across her face indicated to me that she had just been crying. I then slowly looked over at my father and picked up on what looked like some demented kind of satisfaction in his eyes. My counselor, Dar, picked up on the silence and tension, and interjected, “Alright guys, lets calmly begin reading our letters. Jackie, why don’t you and your mother go first.” My mother and I wrote mainly about how much we loved each other, were sorry for various things, and how much we wanted our lives and relationships to improve. My father looked ravenous and it was as if Dar was giving him a moment to calm down by letting my mother and I read first, but he only gripped more tightly to his letters. For my father, our relationship had always been strained, and I had a lot more written in my letter that reflected our relationship needing adjustment. I fought tears, but read honestly, and I felt my voice wavering intensely until I finally approached the end. He glared at me maliciously and it was then that I realized his letter was going to be a lot more vicious than I expected. When his turn came, I saw that his letter was long, about 8-10 pages in length, single spaced, and about eight point font. He then proceeded to read aloud the many ways in which I had failed him as his child. My mother began bawling again and cursing him under her breath. He read on in an increasingly loud tone describing all about how I was “an embarrassment to the family” and that he was even more embarrassed to introduce me to anyone as his daughter because I was “rude, sloppy, drug addicted, ungrateful, unintelligent, inconsiderate, trashy, vulgar, and giant waste of time, energy, and resources as a father thus far.” Although she had tried a couple of times to cut my father off from his grandiose speech, it was only now that she finally succeeded in doing so. “Thank you Jim, I think that’s enough. This has been a very intense session and now there is a lot to process…do you not feel that perhaps that letter was a little extensive for what was asked of you in the assignment?” she questioned. “Not at all,” my father growled instantly. “You told us to be as honest as possible and that’s exactly what I did!” he exclaimed. My mother only continued crying and I sat feeling about as blue as the cold and uncomfortable chair in which I sat. Parkridge counselors had a way of wrapping things up quickly when the emotional state of the patient was in question, so it wasn’t long after that I was back in the entryway by the broad milieu saying goodbye to my parents. I couldn’t do much besides look at the ground, but I did glance up to see my father making a valiant effort to avoid my gaze. I was devastated.
I remained in a state of seclusion and with a constant feeling of abandonment from my father. I would lie on my bed at night after my roommate fell asleep and stare at the white chipped ceilings, wondering if this institution was really my new home and if I had lost my real one. Things continued on like that between my parents and me for much of my stay there. The visitations were always a paradoxical meeting of happiness and anxiety and I felt myself growing further and further from my father. One afternoon in the early spring, my mother couldn’t attend one of my Sunday visitations so I was to expect only my father. I waited on the back porch while the other kids careened around their families as I began to dig away at my nails. The warm afternoon sun rose and the back lawn was filled with children playing and visiting with their parents on the soft grass. I, however, sat alone at the red picnic table for quite some time before I realized my father wasn’t coming. With the strain on our relationship and the tension our reciprocating behaviors caused between us, I wasn’t so much worried or sad as I was just plain lonely. But when five o’ clock came around and it was time for all the other parents to make their departure, the office phone rang.
It was my father, calling to talk to me. Calling this a rarity would be an understatement. At that point in my stay there I could probably have counted on one hand the amount of times my father had made an effort to call me, and it usually wasn’t for anything too heartwarming. I walked into the office in a curious state of mind. I didn’t know for what reason he might call, but when I picked up the phone, I knew right away that something was terribly wrong. The noise I heard on the other end of the line sounded more like the call of a dying animal than the voice of a man. My father was bawling his eyes out and speaking in such a muffled manner that I literally could not understand anything he was saying. “Dad, calm down, and PLEASE tell me what’s wrong, is Mom okay? Is Joe okay?” I asked. I could practically hear the heat of his breath on the phone as he attempted to steady his voice and went on to explain to me that he hated his life and he felt it desperately needed to end. I was absolutely dumbfounded; my father, who had always presented such a tough and unloving exterior, was now crumbling and crying out to his own daughter for help. Immediately I wanted him to come see me but the counselors were insisting that visitation was over. I calmly relayed my story to one of my favorite counselors, James, whose temperament was what made me adore him, so. He peacefully listened and then afterwards proceeded to pull some strings and get me about an hour of allotted, private visitation with my father for that evening only.
I sat on the back porch while everyone else ate dinner and stared anxiously at the road for the arrival of my Father in our dark green Pontiac mini-van. He pulled up directly to me and staggered, whimpering, out of the car towards me. “Dad, what on earth is wrong, what brought this all on?” I asked. He didn’t know what to say. I could see by the empty chambers that sat where his dark brown eyes once were, that he was literally losing all hope inside of him. We slowly wandered on the grassy hill behind my new home, and sat for a few moments in silence. The exact conversation is hard for me to recall as it was almost a mystifying event like that of some sort of natural disaster- silent at first, but with an intense and effective aftermath. I can say though, that I learned more about my father, and how he developed some of his temperament, than I had ever known in my life. We sat out on the dark grassy knoll behind the kitchen for about an hour before James sauntered over to us. “Well you guys, I hope everything’s alright now because we have to pull it back inside… Jackie you should have a lot of stuff to talk about in your private session with Dar tomorrow.” James had this beautiful and sensitive way of saying things without actually saying them. I knew that what had occurred between us all would remain private until it was time for me to unload on my counselor the next day. We all agreed and parted ways so that I could privately say farewell to my father, and for the first time in many years, I felt myself already missing him. When I approached the van again, he immediately turned around and embraced me in a warm and comforting way that I hadn’t felt since I was very small child, and uninfluenced by the terrors in this world.