Stories from Before Tranquility Bay – © C.Kapela
It seems to be such a common theme among parents who sent their kids to programs to state, “But there was no other option!” Looking back at my life, I am in no way guilt-free. I made poor decisions and experimented with things at an earlier age than many. But the important thing to remember is that, no matter the crime, we were all children. Whether we were 12, 15, or 17 – our parent’s job was to care for us, protect us, and teach us how to survive in the world. I wanted to share some excerpts from my memoir that took place before Tranquility Bay. Many of these stories are deeply personal and affected me tremendously. I don’t share them lightly. Rather, I hope to bring awareness to the fact that, for most of us, the problems we encountered before being sent away were often just as difficult as what we experienced in the programs. Kids don’t become “bad” out of nowhere. Most children do their best to be good, to succeed, and to make do with whatever tools their families have provided them. The issue isn’t solely abusive programs, but rather it is all too often a combination of troubled experiences during childhood as well as the poor decision of parent’s to relinquish their child to a system widely known to cause further harm and abuse.
These stories are not complete and do not flow as well as I would like them to, but I wanted to share them with my fellow survivor friends in an effort to help us all come to terms with not only our own choices but the experiences we endured that led to our abandonment in an abusive facility.
I remember standing on the edge of the property, staring out at the huge expanse of field and trees. My parents were going to build a barn for me on the back of the lot so I could finally have my own horse. I had loved horses since I was small, riding and taking lessons at every opportunity. I was going to get a Palomino – they had been my favorite since I was five. My brother and I had already drawn up maps of the land. We were going to build a tree house in the far left corner. We had planned for everything – stakes to tie the horses up, trails for racing, multiple rooms and a flag post on top where we would create our own banner. It was going to be “our world.” We couldn’t wait.
Most of the spring had been spent helping with the design of the house, reviewing floor plans and meeting with architects. It was so much fun playing with the software and adding walls and windows wherever we wanted. Although my parents had already selected the final plan, it didn’t stop us from coming up with new dream homes to present them with.
One afternoon, just after summer break had finally started, I snuck into my older sister’s room while she was out with her friends. Originally, I was just looking for a shirt to borrow but then my curiosity got the best of me. I opened a drawer and it was filled with letters from her school. I pulled them out and started reading them. I found notices that she had skipped class, that her grades were slipping, even an edited report card. For a girl who was constantly trying to one-up her sister, it was a jackpot.
I grabbed them all and ran upstairs. I handed them to my father. I felt so proud, like I had discovered something really wrong and was doing the right thing by letting them know. I was obsessed with being the “good kid.” I always got straight A’s, always made honor roll, and never let my siblings get away with anything. My parents praised me up and down for my diligence and I reveled in the feeling of being such a perfect child.
In contrast, my sister was constantly in trouble. My parents berated her for lying, for not doing chores, for choosing the wrong classes in school. My brother and I were encouraged to participate in giving consequences to her and joining in the lectures. They explained that her actions affected us too and we had a right to be upset. Many evenings were spent gathered around the dining room table while my parents lectured her, my brother and I interjecting here and there about how it was wrong to lie or how we never skipped our chores or how it wasn’t fair to hog the Nintendo. It had gotten so bad that my mother had started calling my brother and I “W” as an insult when we got into trouble, sometimes even when my sister could hear.
That night, when we assembled around the dining room table to discuss the letters I had found, I assumed it would be no different. I was feeling smug and proud. I looked at my sister and she looked back at me, her eyes burning with anger. I knew she would yell at me later for going into her room without permission, but right now my parents were sitting beside me and there was nothing she could do. I noticed something seemed different as my dad pulled the letters out and laid them on the table. His hand was shaking a little. He was more angry than usual. She had edited report cards before, this was nothing new. Something was wrong that I couldn’t quite place.
My sister had already started apologizing, explaining that she had been afraid to tell them about her grades and had just started taking anything the school sent home. She had gotten two C’s, which she had changed to B’s. She had also never switched the jewelry making class that she had signed up for to something more productive like they had requested. She was crying. She knew she would be grounded for a long time. My parents were silent for awhile. This was new. I was confused. Where was the lecture? Why weren’t they telling her she should have gotten all A’s? Why were they just sitting there?
Slowly, my dad pulled one letter out from the stack. He looked at my sister for a long time before he said anything. “W” He stated, calmly. “This one was never opened. Did you ever think to open them all before you hid them?” She just looked at him. None of us understood.
“I wanted to wait to tell you all this once we had more details,” he began “But now I feel as though I have to. Last week, I accepted a teaching position in Dexter and signed the contract. Your mom and I have put an offer in on a house there in a subdivision. It’s only a year old and is right near the high school. With your mom and I both working out there, it only makes sense to move closer to town. We’ve put this house and the new property both up for sale and the realtor expects them to move quickly.” My heart was racing. I wasn’t going to get a horse anymore. I’d be starting seventh grade in a new school. I looked at my brother. Fear was written all over his face. He was a shy kid and it always took him a long time to make friends. I didn’t even want to look at my sister. She was about to start her senior year.
Before any of us could even start to protest, my dad opened up the letter he had previously been holding. He looked at my sister as he started to read it. “Daniel Kapela,” he stated, calmly, “We would like to offer you a position at Farley Hill Elementary School…” I didn’t even listen to the rest. It was a job offer from Pinckney. Had he gotten it, none of us would be moving. That was his first choice – the position he had been depending on. That was the reason we hadn’t considered moving closer to Ann Arbor in the first place.
I felt so guilty for revealing her secret yet resentful that we were all suffering because of it. I never wanted her to get into this much trouble, just enough to keep my status as the “good kid.” The rest of the evening my parents fought back and forth with her. My brother and I left the conversation, not wanting to be a part of it anymore. I remember them yelling, her crying, finally storming downstairs into her room and slamming the door.
As we all prepared for the move, the relationship between my sister and my parents only deteriorated. By now, my brother and I had accepted that we were transferring, even started to look forward to it. My sister wanted nothing to do with it. She begged for them to let her stay at Pinckney. It was only 30 minutes from our new house. They refused.
As my sister became more angry, my mother started criticizing her constantly, always keeping me in the loop in secret so I wouldn’t act out like her. She hated the color she’d dyed her hair, didn’t like the clothes she wore, and thought her biggest passion – acting – was a complete waste of time. I remember us going to see my sister star in a play and my mom telling me how awful it was. We left before it ended. My mother considered me her ally, and it felt good.
Shortly before the move, my sister confessed, crying, that she had become bulimic and had been throwing up after every meal. My mother accused her of lying. Later that day, she sat me down and vented about how much she couldn’t handle the lying anymore. “W isn’t bulimic,” she stated. “She isn’t skinny enough to be bulimic.”
I remember feeling so grown up that my mother was talking to me about her stresses, even though I was only 11 years old.
We finally made the move to Dexter that summer. We didn’t know anyone yet so we just pretty much hung around the house. My brother and I would walk into town – go to Dairy Queen, or the gift shops. One day, I walked to the barber shop by myself and had all my hair cut off into a short blonde bob. It was a little shorter than I liked, but far better than the horrible perm my mother let me get the year before. My nickname, though affectionate, was “The Fro.” I didn’t want to start at a new school with my hair like that.
It was fun being at the new house. My parents had a pool put in that was bigger than the one at the old house. We spent a lot of time out there, swimming and playing. In August we would be heading on vacation to Traverse City like we did every year. My brother and I were counting off the days, immersed in trying to remember every water park, every miniature golf place and arcade we had visited the year before.
My sister was starting to get her college acceptance letters. It had become a major point of conflict between her and my parents. She had been accepted to Evansville University in Indiana, a private school, and wanted to pursue theater. My parents wanted nothing to do with out-of-state private schools, theater, or anything other than exactly what they wanted her to do. “Two years at community college,” They offered. “Then we’ll pay for two at university. But you have to get all A’s.”
Money had nothing to do with it, they constantly reminded us. They felt that her B/C average in high school wasn’t a strong enough track record to support. If she could do better in Community College then they would reconsider. This was the conversation she was having with my dad as Alex and I came in from the pool. My dad was lecturing and I could tell from the look on her face that she had been there awhile. The tear stains were almost dry.
My brother was going to go play Final Fantasy in his room and I was going to get dressed and call my friend. I walked into W’s room to see if I could find a cute tank-top to steal while she wasn’t paying attention. As I was pulling the shirt out of the drawer, she exploded in the room behind me, seething. She hadn’t forgotten what had happened the last time she had caught me in her room and she wasn’t going to let me get away with it again. She started screaming at me to get out of her room. She told me she hated me, that I was a spoiled brat who did whatever I wanted and never got in trouble for it. I yelled back, arguing furiously that I was really only borrowing a shirt this time, and she shouldn’t say things like “hate” to her sister. My father heard us and stormed in, immediately on my side.
She couldn’t take it. Moments before, she had been told again that they would not support her at U of E and if she went there, she was on her own. Now my dad was taking my side in an argument where I was obviously at fault. She blew up. “You don’t let me do anything!” She screamed, “I hate it here! I am moving back to mom’s.”
I expected my father to freak out, to try to stop her, but his face just hardened and he returned her cry with muted emotion.“Fine. Go ahead.” He said, “Tell her to pick you up right now. Go live there. But you’re not going to come back.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I was even more stunned when my sister ran into the kitchen, grabbed the phone and really did it. She was sobbing into the phone, telling her mom to come and get her right now. She hung up and stormed past me, an angry glare catching me as she hurried by. She started throwing her clothes into bags, grabbing her make-up, CDs, books. I just stood there staring.
My brother came out of his room and started to cry. They had always been close. He was her Nintendo buddy, or at least that’s what they called each other. He was the youngest and didn’t have to rat anyone else out to maintain his status. He was every one’s favorite.
Within the hour, her mom was there to pick her up. I had aways envisioned her mother as evil and mean. That’s the way my parents had always made her seem. While they criticised W constantly, all faults were attributed to her mother. I couldn’t comprehend why she would even go back there, if it was so bad, if it made her into such a bad person. But she did.
W walked out the door that day with everything she could carry. I wouldn’t see her again for several years and after that brief visit, several more. My parents would later refuse to attend her high school graduation. Had I known how long it would be before I heard her voice or saw her face, I probably would have tried harder to stop her. Instead, I stood stoically beside my father, gave her a quick hug and said a short good bye. Like my parents, I believed she deserted us and would do nothing to try and win her back.
I was so excited for seventh grade. I knew it would be fun and I would succeed. I envisioned all the classes I would finally get to take — robotics, creative writing, choir. I had never failed a class, never gotten below a B in my whole life. I prided myself on my academic success and always expected every door to be open for me.
Instead of choosing classes, however, they were already chosen for me before I even began. Dexter operated on a “team” system. All students took the same core classes – English, Science, Math, and Social Studies – and traveled in the same group to each class. There were few electives and no advanced classes available. Had I stayed at Pinckney my options would have been limitless. I had been on an advanced track there since elementary school and was about to start taking high school level courses.
My 6th grade math teacher wrote a petition to the school requesting that they let me take a higher level course based on the work I had done that year and on my aptitude for learning. She stated that it would be an insult to me if I was forced to retake coursework I had done years ago and was likely to cause more harm than good to my overall academic career. After receiving the letter, the school issued me a test on algebra, which was to be taught the year following. I remember being so determined as I took that test. I wanted to prove myself. Though I had only taken pre-algebra previously, I still scored an 87%. While it wasn’t the perfect score I had desired, I was proud of the results. Unfortunately, the school denied the petition as I would have to walk to another location for the upper-level classes and they did not have security procedures in place to accommodate. I felt like I had wasted hours of my time on a test that didn’t even matter.
I was offered the option to skip two grades but I was too afraid of being out of my peer group. I didn’t want to feel any more out of place than I already did. It was scary enough to be starting middle school in a brand new district, but to be moved to high school at twelve years old was an even scarier thought. I refused the offer, begging my parents to instead let me go back to Pinckney. They refused, stating that it would be illegal for them to let me use someone else’s address and that they couldn’t handle the transportation back and forth anyhow.
As compensation, they coordinated with my new teachers to come up with a plan to keep me from getting bored and losing focus. It was decided that on top of the regular coursework, I would be given additional assignments on a more advanced level. Though they wouldn’t count toward my overall grade, they were intended to ensure I was learning at the appropriate level. I certainly didn’t want more homework but I didn’t have a choice.
I was so nervous on the first day of school. I had grown up with the same kids since Kindergarten, had been student council president, had always felt popular and well-liked. I had never been the new kid before and had no idea what to expect. At least the middle school itself was also brand new. Like me, everyone was wandering around disoriented and asking for directions.
Standing in the line for lunch, I was terrified. I had no idea where to sit. It was obvious that there were groups and cliques. Some kids sat alone. Some sat outside. Others had groups so large they had to pull multiple tables together to sit. I felt so out of place. I could feel the knot growing in my stomach, the excitement I had built up over the summer starting to fade. I had imagined myself walking into school, immediately making friends, laughing and having a great time. Instead, I was clutching a lunch tray and speaking to no one.
Someone started tapping me on the shoulder. I turned around. It was Rachel, a girl I had met once through a friend in Pinckney. She too was starting at Dexter! I felt immediate relief. Even though I hardly even knew her, it was great to see a recognizable face. “C’mon,” she said, excitedly, “I already found us a table and I’m pretty sure it’s a good one.”
I wasn’t used to cliques. My school had always been large enough that everyone had their own group and even the kids who weren’t considered “popular” were able to find somewhere to fit in. Here, everyone looked the same. Even though Pinckney was an all-white country school too, the population was large enough that it supported differences. Dexter was just too small and secluded. I looked down at my outfit – shiny black pants, Converse sneakers, and a long-sleeve black tee with a spider on it. No one else was dressed like me.
We sat down at the table. All the girls were so pretty but I couldn’t help notice how they all dressed the same. Rachel looked at me and smiled. I could tell she was excited. Around me, I saw other kids staring. It felt like a spectacle. I realized immediately that this was the “popular” table. The girls started talking immediately, asking me questions about where I was from and did I like it here and what sorts of things I was into. They mostly played volleyball, had already started partying, and couldn’t wait to show me around. As long as I stuck with them, they stated, I was going to be just fine.
The knot in my stomach was growing bigger by the moment. I hated volleyball. My parents would never let me go to a party. I wasn’t even allowed to go to a friend’s house without their parents being home. I noticed they all had fake tans and were wearing short skirts with shaved legs. My mom despised tanning booths and I wasn’t allowed to shave my legs. She thought it was stupid and she didn’t shave hers so there was no reason for me to shave mine.
The questions stopped and I stayed quiet the rest of lunch, taking in what was happening around me. I wouldn’t have had a chance to speak even if I had wanted to. The girls were too busy talking about everyone else and sharing stories about their summer. As people walked by, their voices would drop and they’d tell Rachel and I who the person was and where they stood on the social ladder. The criticisms were endless. I felt completely out of place. Half of the comments they were making about outfits and activities could have been applied directly to me. Instead, they kept telling me how pretty I was and how they couldn’t wait to have me over and we would all do makeovers. It didn’t go unnoticed that they looked down at my clothes while they said it.
They asked Rachel and I if we wanted to walk home with them after school. They were going to a guys house, they said, and he had a built-in basketball court in his barn and a huge pool. His parents weren’t going to be home, so we would be able to do whatever we wanted. Someone had an extra bikini I could borrow for the pool. Rachel immediately accepted. I could tell she wanted desperately to fit in, to find the right group and be done with it. I accepted too but was a bit more hesitant. I would have to call my parents and get permission, which I knew they’d never give. I never lied to them and I knew they’d ask if his parents would be there. I was already dreading it.
After class, I dialed my mom from the payphone. No one else had to call their parents and they looked at me impatiently. My mom picked up and started asking me questions about my day. I was embarrassed, I didn’t want to stay on the phone for longer than necessary, not with so many eyes staring at me. I finally asked her. As expected, she started the usual questions. Where did he live? Were his parents going to be home? What would we be doing? I quickly answered – just swimming and playing basketball, his parents wouldn’t be home until later. Immediately she said no. I was too embarrassed to argue. I just told her I’d see her later and hung up the phone.
When I told the group that I couldn’t go, they just looked at me and shrugged. Rachel grabbed my arm and pulled me aside, whispering that I had to go, that this was important. She told me I should have never told my parents that his parents weren’t going to be there. She wanted me to call them back and tell them there had been a change in plans, but I refused. I had never lied to them before and I wasn’t going to start now. I wasn’t going to be like my sister. Finally, she gave up, joined the group, and they all left.
Sitting with the popular girls only lasted a few months. Rachel kept pushing me to go to parties, telling me stories of how they drank champagne and how all the boys wanted to go out with her. I wasn’t ready for this nor would I have ever gotten away with it so I kept refusing the invites. Slowly, they stopped asking me. The conversations at lunch stopped including me. It was like I wasn’t even there.
Then, one day, my usual seat was gone. They had actually removed the chair from the table. I didn’t even try to join them. The point was obvious. Instead I sat outside by myself, barely touching my lunch. I wanted to cry but I didn’t want to let on that I was hurt. I had never felt like such an outcast in my entire life.
That night, I begged my parents to let me go back to my old school. I told them how much I hated it here, how I wasn’t making friends, how no one really liked me. I despised all the extra homework, which consumed most of my free time. I will never forget my mom’s advice as she calmly explained that everyone goes through this in middle school. “Just smile more,” she said, “Say hi to everyone!” It seemed ridiculous to me. How was greeting the people that hated me on a daily basis going to help with anything?
The year dragged on so slowly. No one talked to me. I mostly sat by myself. I started to hate the way I looked and the way that others looked at me. I was getting teased relentlessly by the same people who had originally included me. They critiqued my clothes, my hair, my unshaven legs, my weight, everything. I had been given the nickname “Pimple Back Whale.”
Academically, I was excelling. The classes were the easiest I had ever taken so it wasn’t hard to stay on top of my work. I poured my whole self into studying and achieving. It was the only thing I had left. I started competing in essay and speaking competitions, entering art shows, and joined a writers club. My teachers all commended my efforts.
My peers, however, were not so accepting. I became the girl who everyone asked for test answers, sometimes getting threatened when I refused. I was the “goody-goody” who never did anything wrong. I was the “teacher’s pet.” When the awards ceremony came around at the end of the year, all I heard was the occasional snicker as I accepted the litany of awards I had received. Instead of feeling proud, I felt humiliated.
Every night, I cried and begged my parents to let me go back to my old school or to transfer me somewhere else. I couldn’t take it anymore. I would plead and plead but to no avail. Sometimes they would consider putting me into a private school but it always fell through. I had never been so unhappy in my whole life. I felt trapped in a world filled with people who hated me. My parent’s advice never wavered – just be friendly, smile, be yourself. I started to resent them for not understanding. I begged them to let me shave my legs or get different clothes but they refused. It was repeated constantly that everyone has a hard time in middle school, that it was no different. They had no idea how bad it had gotten – the taunting, the name calling. Nothing I could say or do would convince them I wasn’t just experiencing the normal roughness of burgeoning adolescence.
Shortly before my 12th birthday, I wrote a suicide note in my diary. I apologized to my family for what I was about to do. I laid down in my bed and started sobbing uncontrollably. I held a pillow over my face and tried to smother myself. Naturally, it didn’t work. I tied a piece of rope to the ceiling fan, but I couldn’t figure out how to tie a noose. Finally, I just gave up. Though unsuccessful the feeling of hopelessness stuck with me. I couldn’t shake the feeling of being a pariah, an outcast.
Just before the summer, my MEAP scores qualified me for entry into a statewide gifted & talented program. As part of the program, I took my ACT test. I was so confident as I took that test, grateful to be in a room filled with high schoolers who had no idea who I was, finally feeling as though something good was happening to me. When the scores came back, I had gotten a 23 – high enough for entry into most state schools.
I received a scholarship to attend Math, Science & Technology camp at Michigan State University over the summer. It was two week program. We studied DNA, learned about genetics, worked with computer software I had hardly even heard of. I got to live in the dorms and eat in the cafeteria. I had never felt so grown up. It was a completely new experience and for the first time in nearly a year, I was making friends. I loved it. The instructors were supportive and challenging and it revived my confidence.
Summer faded quickly though, and before I knew it I was back in school. 8th grade dragged by no different than 7th, slowly leading into high school. I maintained my grades, continued to excel in writing and math, but the rift between my parents and I was widening my the moment. The less understood I felt, the more angry I became.
I was fifteen years old the day that it happened. I remember standing in the living room, calm but furious. My mom was upset because of the tone of voice I had used with her earlier that evening. She had taken to calling me “witch” whenever I was angry, accusing me of being cruel and hateful. My father had just gotten home and although he hadn’t been a part of the night’s previous argument, he immediately sided with my mother and both began to lecture me on my behavior.
Something snapped inside of me. It was like a flash bulb went off in my brain. Every day, I was facing endless criticism from my peers for being such a “goody-goody” and then coming home to arguments with my parents over facial gestures, the tone of my voice, my suspected “crimes.” I remembered everything my sister had endured. Earlier that afternoon, I had heard my mom make a comment to my brother about how he didn’t want to be like “Chelsea.” It was as though I had suddenly filled the vacuum of the bad child that my sister had left behind. I had never smoked a cigarette, never kissed a boy, never tried any drugs, never skipped class, never gotten below a B on a single report card, and never lied about what I was doing, yet despite all of that – I was still not good enough.
In that moment, I made the choice to stop slaving towards perfection. I wasn’t going to be the goody-goody anymore, not if I was still going to be treated like the bad kid at home. It was enough to face the torture of my peers, but to also face it at home was unbearable. From that moment on, I was going to do what I wanted to do.
I started hanging out with a new group of kids at school, most of which were labeled as the “sluts” and the “stoners.” I didn’t care. I was happy to have friends, happy to feel like a part of a group again. I tried my first cigarette a week later and within a few months was smoking fairly regularly. My parents were both smokers so it wasn’t hard to get cigarettes. At night, after they would go to bed, I would sneak into the kitchen and steal as many as I wanted. I didn’t even care if I got caught.
I started my first “real” job at McDonald’s, working part-time as the drive-through cashier. I loved it. I was able to get out of the house, make my own money, and hang out with a new crowd who didn’t go to my school at all. I had a huge crush on the kid who worked in the grill. He had orange-ish hair, faded from a previous dye job, played hockey, went to a different school, and was a champion flirt. I would work extra hours just on the off chance that we would be scheduled together. I still hadn’t had a real boyfriend, or really even kissed anyone, but I was hopeful that this would be the one.
In a moment of insecurity before going to work, I remember asking my mother if she thought I looked fat. I wasn’t playing basketball anymore and was clearly about to grow at least a foot. I knew I had gained some weight, but I was hopeful that it was just “baby fat” that would go away as I got taller. I will never forget the way my mother looked me over when I asked her that, casually replying that, “If you want me to be honest, you should probably cut back on the fries.” She asked me how much I weighed and then gave me a shocked glance. I weighed 145lbs. She had never – in her life – weighed above 130 and was 5’8″. I remember her attempting to console me with the fact that I didn’t look like I weighed that much, but that I definitely needed to do something about it.
After that conversation, I remember talking to my friend Sarah at school. She was much thinner than me, constantly obsessed with the latest diet or weight loss tip. Upon her urging, we stopped eating altogether. Within two weeks, I lost over fifteen pounds. I tried to keep it somewhat hidden, occasionally eating a bagel or drinking a diet coke in front of my friends and family. One day in the hallway at school, I passed out from being so light headed. She brought me some orange juice and I felt a bit better, but it didn’t stop me from continuing my plan to lose weight.
Eventually, I really did get to date my work crush. We started hanging out constantly. I enjoyed my first real make-out session. He called me every night. Though we didn’t stay together for long – only a brief two months – we stayed close after. The break-up was hard on me. I had never been through that before and desperately wanted someone to turn to outside of my friends. I tried to talk to my mother about it, but she wasn’t particularly supportive. She didn’t believe in getting “serious” before marriage. Not in the sexual sense, but in the emotional sense. I remember her always saying, “You’re single until the day you’re married.” I was more of the romantic type, inclined to dream of torrid love affairs and endless passion. I didn’t understand her point of view and so I stopped talking about it.
I became morosely depressed.
I don’t know what triggered it and I can’t remember exactly why, but one day while at lunch, I decided I couldn’t take my life anymore. I had a bottle of caffeine pills in my purse to help me lose weight. I took the two remaining pills. I then went around from person to person and asked if anyone had anything for a headache. I ended up with a bottle of Asprin from a friend. I sat down and took twelve pills. Looking back, it was hardly enough to be fatal, but it was certainly a cry for help.
By the end of the school day, my ears were ringing so bad I could hardly make out what the teachers were saying. I was tired and hopeless. I went home and immediately locked myself in my bedroom to go to sleep. I prayed that I wouldn’t wake up. I had only told one person of my plans, my best friend Emily, and I was awoken by her frantically calling me on my bedroom line. When I answered, she was crying. She had told her mother what I had done. I was gripped with fear. She told me that her mother was about to call my parents and that she was sorry. I knew she didn’t do it to cause me harm. I knew she did it because she cared. In a weird way, it felt good.
I heard the kitchen phone ring and pressed my ear to my bedroom door. I could hear my mother answer and I knew she was speaking to Emily’s mom. She sounded concerned. The phone clicked as she hung it up and I held my breath, waiting for my bedroom door to swing open. I expected my parents to come rushing in, afraid of what they might find. I crawled back into bed and prepared myself for a trip to the hospital. I laid there and waited….and waited….and waited. No one came.
I watched the alarm clock as the minutes passed and finally, after an agonizing twenty minutes of waiting, I stormed into the living room. My parents were both seated in their respective recliner chairs, watching a show on T.V. They looked up at me as I came out. I started crying immediately, demanding to know why they hadn’t come to check on me. My mother responded calmly, stating that she didn’t think it was “that serious” and that she wanted to wait until my brother had gone to bed so as not to embarrass me. I demanded that my father take me to the hospital, no longer wanting to die. I was so angry and hurt that no one had responded to my call for help.
When we made it to the hospital, the doctor’s informed me that although I hadn’t taken what seemed like a large dose, there was enough in my system that it could have led to death. Asprin overdoses come in two waves – the first causing ringing of the ears and sleepiness, the second wave causing death. I had to drink liquid charcoal to flush it from my system. I was admitted into the child psychiatry unit for a five day observation treatment. I spent those five days making friends with my fellow ward mates. One girl had carved her name into her arm. Another was seemingly fine unless you upset her, at which point she would explode into a tearful rage. A small kid, perhaps around eight or nine, decided I was his girlfriend. When I told him I was too old for him, he told me that he would stab me. He was quickly whisked back to his room.
For treatment, we watched Degrassi Junior High on a television in the back room. We then discussed in group how each episode related to our lives. We had regular class time and ate lunches in a large cafeteria that overlooked the helicopter landing pad. That was my favorite part. I had never been institutionalized before and it wasn’t that bad. I knew I would be released soon. The staff enjoyed my writing a great deal and supported me in taking extra time to work on essays and journal entries. They praised me on being intelligent and I remember one woman in particular asking if she could keep a copy of a story I was working on. I felt proud.
When I was released, my parents immediately started attending family counseling with me. We would try to work through our issues, each of us explaining how we felt wronged by the other. I didn’t trust them anymore and had built up so much hatred for them not having rescued me when I needed them. Our sessions quickly dissolved into fighting and eventually my parents gave up on family counseling. None of the tools we learned were ever put into place. Both my parents felt that the problem lay with me, and that I was the one who needed to change. I was then assigned the first psychiatrist of many that I would see throughout my adolescence.
Outside of the home, I had stopped caring about anything. I started hanging out with a new crowd. We attended all-night raves in Detroit, often taking copious amounts of Ecstacy. I tried acid, mushrooms, special K – anything I could sample that wasn’t as hard as “coke” or “heroin.” I had decided long ago that I would never touch those drugs, knowing how addictive they were and never wanting my life to become consumed. My weight loss continued. I now weighed 103 lbs and my friends and teachers were all concerned. I didn’t care. I no longer planned to graduate high school. I wouldn’t come home at night. When I did come home, my father and I would fight constantly. Sometimes, it would get so bad that he would call the police on me. No charges were ever filed and things never got physical enough to actually hurt anyone, but I resented him more and more for the way he handled my emotions. I felt misunderstood, unappreciated, and wholly unloved.
The string of psychiatrists continued. I was given so many different diagnosises I had lost track. I was given medication after medication, always on the very first visit. My parents believed it every time and I was forced to adhere to whatever treatment my current doctor prescribed until it didn’t “solve things” and I was brought to another. First, it was impulse control disorder. Then, oppositional defiance disorder. Briefly, I was diagnosed as rapid-cycling bi-polar. The final diagnosis before I was sent away was simple depression & anxiety.
Then it happened.
My father was driving me to work, we were arguing the whole way. I had refused to complete the required hours of driver’s ed training with my parents, so I didn’t have my license. I could see my job two blocks up the road. I demanded he let me out of the car but he refused. Without thinking, I declared I would jump out if he didn’t pull over. He never pulled over and I never jumped out. Within a few minutes, I was at work, throwing him the bird over my shoulder and storming inside.
Three hours later, two police officers arrived at the hostess stand specifically requesting to see me. I dropped off my tray in the kitchen, confused and unprepared. Why were they there? I stepped outside and they immediately had me in handcuffs, shoving me toward the car. I asked for my rights, asked what I was being arrested for. They didn’t say anything until I was in the car. My father had called in a suicide attempt. He had requested a police escort. I was livid.
I spent a week in the psychiatric hospital. When I returned to school the halls were buzzing with gossip and every teacher looked at me quietly with pity. My father taught in the district. He had spread his story to every teacher and PTA member, who spread it to their children, who spread it to through the halls of my high school. I felt like a pariah and I vowed I would never forgive him.
After that last trip to the hospital with my father, when I was put on another new medication and it started making me feel like a zombie, I stopped taking any of it and started selling it. If I was going to be forced to live with every diagnosis, I was going to benefit from it somehow. My downward spiral continued. I was sleeping around, taking more drugs, engaging in anything that would help me to forget the hell I was experiencing every single day.
I was stunned as one day my dad called me into the study, teary eyed, and told me he was going to get his own apartment. Things had become too hard at our home and he felt it was best for all of us if he moved out. It seemed surreal. My parents rarely argued. My mom pulled me aside, sobbing hysterically, grabbing me by the shoulders and shouting “This is your fault! You’ve been so nasty to us all, now he’s leaving!” I went outside and laid in the snow, eyes closed, letting the cold surround me until I stopped thinking about it. My dad never moved out. Instead, it was determined that I was the problem and the one who should leave.
My mom had recently left her job at Pfizer, claiming that I had caused her to be so depressed that she could no longer work. It was as if no one remembered she had been sick all along. I hadn’t forgotten. How could I? I remembered being a small child, running to the window with her to look at every plane passing overhead – they were always too low, always about to crash. I remembered her cowering under the table at my grandmother’s house, hyperventilating. I remembered every thunderstorm at the lake house, running outside towards the basement, my little brother screaming, leaves and rain swirling around me. We’d huddle there in the musty unfinished basement for hours until the storm passed. This was before the medication, before we had the stairs built inside, before we moved. But it hadn’t ever really gone away. She still woke up every night. She still took days off work, sleeping on the couch, too tired to do anything. Years ago she had stopped participating with us. No more trips to the movies, no more going out to eat. I wasn’t surprised when she quit her job, but I was surprised and angry my that family supported her blaming me for her condition.
Now that she was home permanently she stayed on the couch all day, watching talk shows and napping. Every time I was around her, she’d threaten to send me on Maury or Montel. When that stopped scaring me, she switched tactics. She had seen “dark spirits” in the house and wondered if I was possessed. She considered an exorcism. Thankfully, that never happened.
The question of removing me permanently to “help” me was left unsettled. One night, over family dinner, my parents told me they were looking at apartments for me. They figured it would be easier for me if I was on my own. I had already been kicked out for the summer previous and had lived with my friend and her drug-addict father. I was fairly confident I could survive a private apartment and secretly wished they’d do it. Unfortunately, this never panned out.
A few weeks later, over another family dinner, they told me that they were considering giving me up as a ward of the state. They told me, calmly, that I would be under the state’s care until I was 21. They said they had exhausted every option, that no rehabilitation center could take me because I was 17 and could just walk out. This was the only option. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be given up for adoption at 17, nor could I imagine a large supply of parents just waiting to adopt “troubled” teenagers who were about to be adults. I was terrified and furious.
After that, I stopped listening to anything they say. I rarely came home, preferring the comfort of a stranger’s couch over the chaos of my own home. They stopped trying to enforce the rules. I could smoke at home, in the house. I didn’t have a curfew. I could sleep over at my boyfriend’s house. Nothing mattered anymore. I hated them, they wanted me gone, and we all knew it.
Little did I know, the week leading up to my arrival in Tranquility Bay would be one of the worst weeks of my life.
It started as a typical Saturday. We were all crammed in N’s basement. It was the usual folks sitting around listening to Radiohead, lounging on over-stuffed sofas, smoking weed and burning incense. N’s father was a Vietnam Vet who never quite got past it. We were allowed to do whatever we wanted and he sold us weed for good prices that he grew in the backyard. It was fairly peaceful. This is where we all stayed – the runaways, the kids whose parents were never home, the ones who had already gotten into trouble and were no longer welcome. We traded commodities, couches, food, drugs, and affection. Essentially, we were a family.
I had Klonopin, my most recent prescription. This time, I had planned. I knew what to say, how to act. I was done with taking medications that made me feel awful. I wanted something easy to trade, fun to use, and quick to get rid of. I mimicked my mother who never went without it and just like that, it was mine. I worked at the pharmacy so refills were quick. Things were ideal as far as trading went.
That evening I had taken three pills and sold half a dozen. Someone had brought Jack Daniels and we had our usual supply of weed and hash. We rarely drank, always preferring things “natural” so it was a special occasion, though I don’t remember why. By midnight, I could barely stand. I remember trying to make it to the toilet to puke but missing and hitting the floor instead. It was stuck in my hair, on my clothes. It was everywhere.
M was my neighbor and a year up in school. Every morning, he picked me up for school even though we both could have walked there in half the time. We had made out once, but nothing serious. We never dated and it all eventually faded into the past as I moved on in life and fell in love elsewhere. We shared the same friends. At least once a week he would sneak through my backyard to bang on my bedroom window and we’d share a smoke, which I’d get caught for in the morning, and talk about our lives. I’d stayed at his house more times than I could count, often sharing a bed, feeling more like brother and sister than anything close to boyfriend and girlfriend.
He arrived at N’s as I was stumbling out of the bathroom. I was panicking about my parents, hating to come home in any state that could give them further reason to send me packing. I phoned my parents and told them I’d be at M’s and I would see them in the morning. We left immediately. They were probably relieved to know where I was. Twice on the drive he had to pull over so I could vomit out of the car. I vaguely remember him helping me down the stairs and into his bed. Within moments I was out, drifting off into total darkness.
I awoke briefly, still hardly able to focus. His hand was under my shirt, feeling my breasts. It moved down, unbuttoning my jeans. I hadn’t even changed out of the clothes I wore to N’s. I rolled away from him, on my side, and things were dark again. When I came to he was fucking me hard from behind. I was still on my side. My pants weren’t even off, just down around my ankles. I kept my eyes squeezed shut. I didn’t say anything. Within a few minutes, it was over.
He got up and dressed himself. I stayed still, eyes closed, not moving. I heard him light a cigarette. A few minutes later, he came back to the bed and pulled my pants back up. He didn’t say a word and neither did I. I never opened my eyes or twitched a muscle. It felt surreal. I had been in situations like this before but never so severe. I was lucky to have so many male friends. I remember them once chasing a guy out of a party with a baseball bat because he snuck into the room where I was sleeping. I had been lucky.
When I finally awoke in the morning he had already left for work and I was alone. My mind was racing, replaying the night’s events. I had no idea how to react, how I felt, what I had done specifically to cause this. I ran along the fence that divided our houses. I remember storming into the house, barely making eye contact with my father. He asked me what was wrong, I murmured nothing, stormed into my room and slammed the door.
I dialed N, told him to come and get me. We had to talk, I said, something had happened. I needed his help. I remember walking towards the front door, passing my dad like he wasn’t even there. He asked me where I was going. I didn’t say anything, just walked outside and got into the car. The next few hours were a blur. Everyone from the night before was still there. I told my story. Everyone was shocked. M hadn’t drank anything, he hadn’t smoked. There was no way he would have done that. I must have forgotten something.
N dialed his number. It was on speaker phone. I remember being angry that we were even calling, already wanting to forget it and write it off. Should this become an issue, it would affect us all. We were all friends. As he was making the call, a friend I slept with earlier that year asked me if I thought he had raped me too, because I wasn’t sober then. I wanted to punch him.
M answered. N took it off speaker phone, asked him what had happened. They laughed like usual. Inside, I wondered if I was truly crazy and had imagined it all. Suddenly, N handed me the phone. M wanted to talk to me, to make sure I was “okay.” I could barely hide my anger. He was so calm, telling me softly how nothing had happened and I had just been dreaming. He sounded so sure of himself that I almost bought it, but then I couldn’t keep quiet.
“I know what happened last night, M.” I snarled. “I remember. I don’t remember everything, but I know.”
He stopped for a moment. The line was silent. Then, like a switch, the story changed. This would become the defense I would battle for the next few years.“Chelsea, you were awake.” He said. “I thought you were awake, that you wanted it. Chelsea, you did want it.”
Gone were the “it never happened” or the “dreams.” It was all clear. I hung the phone up and it was over. No more doubts or guessing. I knew, he knew, we all knew, what had happened.
Someone suggested breaking his windshield. No one would call the cops. This was our home. To bring the police in would put an end to N’s. I had already spent two nights the year before sleeping in a truck stop Arby’s where my friend worked, showering in the pay showers, hanging out in his car for hours to avoid going home. We had all been there. None of us wanted to go back.
I called my parents from the front porch, mechanically telling them what had happened. I didn’t want them to know, but I didn’t know what else to do. They were the closest thing I had to a real support system. They took me to the hospital where they took specimens and ran for diseases. I was put on the morning after pill immediately. A team of students who worked for a rape intervention center came to talk to me. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I regretted calling them, I hated the further humiliation, I hated the staff. Through blood tests, the doctors confirmed there were narcotics in my system and notified my parents. I had to speak to the police about what happened. I tried to get out of pressing charges but was too young to make that decision.
That night, I left for my boyfriend’s house and told them I’d see them at counseling. I was seeing a social worker in Ann Arbor. They came in occasionally for progress updates. That Tuesday, we met with the social worker. L dropped me off and waited outside. The days before had been a mess. I hadn’t been to school. I hadn’t been home. I had taken more drugs than usual and was running solely off Ritalin. I couldn’t sleep.
When I arrived, instead of my typical private session, my parents were both there. The social worker shut the door. Everyone was crying. I knew what was happening, what was next. They wanted me to talk about my rape. I refused. The counselor pulled out a brochure, one that I had never noticed in her pamphlets before, and told my parents that I needed a change. I was using drugs, and skipping school, and out of control. I needed behavior modification before things got worse.
I stormed out of the office and sprinted towards L’s car. I was in a panic. My parents were chasing me and screaming at him to leave. They hated him. He drove off, yelling out the window that he would get me later. He didn’t know what was happening. I threw up in the grass by my parent’s minivan, both from stress and from the pills I was taking from my examination.
When we got home, I snuck the brochure from my parent’s room. I slipped into the office and dialed the 1-800 number printed on the front. I asked what it was like in Jamaica. I said I was a parent. They told me it would be tough but that I would get my child back without the attitude. I asked how long it would take and they said most likely around 10 months to a year, but some kids take longer. When I started crying, they started asking for my name. They knew then that I wasn’t a parent, but rather someone soon to be sent who now knew more than they were supposed to. I hung up immediately.
I told my parents I was going to L’s. I left that night. They said not to go far, that I couldn’t get away from this. We spent the night together holding each other, planning and plotting our escape. We could fix up the minibus his sister had left in the back yard. We could sell everything we own and run to Canada. Our brains were churning, desperately seeking a way to make everything okay.
We made a plan to buy a vial of LSD and sell it for quick money to get away. We had a contact from a long time ago. We were to meet him in the Olive Garden parking lot the next evening. In the meantime, we called everyone we knew who owed us anything. We collected $5 here, $10 there. We barely had enough to make out purchase but somehow we came up with it.
We met our contact in the parking lot as planned. It was dark and no one was around. He slipped into the backseat with bad news. He couldn’t get the vial. He couldn’t get us enough of anything to sell. He did, however, have a substantial amount of ecstacy he wanted to get rid of for cheap – enough to keep a few of us going for the rest of the week. We counted our losses and made our purchase. If these were going to be my last days home, I wanted to at least enjoy them.
The night started off fine and normal. We sat with our closest friends, laughing and enjoying our time together. I forgot about all the sadness, all the pain. For those few hours, everything was okay. We were going to be fine, I was going to be fine. If only we could have stayed like that forever.
On the way back to his house, L got pulled over. He was on probation, out past curfew and obviously on drugs. He was taken into custody immediately. I didn’t know how to drive a stick shift, so an officer had to give me a ride to the station. Thankfully, I wasn’t in any trouble and they didn’t even seem to notice that I too was on drugs. I didn’t know what was going to happen to L. They told me he would be released that evening but would have to go back to court – and possibly to jail – for violating his probation. I felt horribly guilty.
My friend J arrived shortly and we waited outside until L was released. I still had the remainder of our supply and we planned to take it once we made it back to L’s. I had stashed it safely in my purse, which the police never searched, and was looking forward to another escape from all of the bad feelings that were welling up inside of me.
When we made it to L’s, his mom was standing in the kitchen, already upset and angry over what had happened. L was acting so strange – nothing he said made any sense and he was starting to stumble around. We rushed him into his room and tried to figure out what was happening. I reached into my purse and realized he had taken every pill we had left – which was more than enough for the three of us – along with half my bottle of Klonopin. I started to panic.
When he grabbed his bottle of Ritalin and started taking them all, J and I wrestled it away from him. J got punched in the process, pills spilling everywhere. I remember crawling along the floor, grabbing them out of the carpet, L screaming at me to give them back. He was in his bed now, his lips were turning blue. He forgot about the pills and told us he was going to sleep. J stayed with him, desperately trying to keep him awake as I ran to his mom to tell her what was happening. By the time we started the drive, he had no idea where he was or where he was going. Even as we walked into the hospital, as the nurses took him to the back, he had no comprehension of what was happening.
It would be hours before I could visit him. I sat in the lobby for what seemed like forever, waiting for the chance to go and see him. I could still feel the drugs pumping through my system. Everything seemed like a dream. When they finally called my name, I was so tired that I hardly even knew what was happening.
We walked through the hallway towards his room, the fumes of bleach and chemical sanitizer hanging in the air. I knew what they were hiding. Behind the mask of cleanliness lingered the stench of sickness. The white soles of the woman’s “Keds” slapped against the tile floor. My eyes burned from the glowing neon lights above me. All sound seemed to be muted. Her mouth formed shapes, her lips slowly melting into thin lines and round “Os.” My eyes fluttered, rolling gently back into my skull. I knew she was talking but I heard nothing. I caught her last three words, “He’s in here.”Blue sheets fell thinly over his bony form. He was barely recognizable.
I took two steps towards the bed. I could see the outline of his face jutting out from the darkness, his features illuminated by the blue screen that sat beside him. His arms and legs jutted from the tight leather bands that held him in place. His chest rose and fell, an angry wheezing escaping his nostrils. My breath caught in my throat. His eyes were open, black pupils fixed on me with the intensity of a cat waiting to pounce.“This is all your fault!” He screamed, his voice hoarse and trembling with anger.“I’m sorry…” I uttered the words, my voice sounding more hollow and distant than his. My mind was replaying my own words over and over again. Just one more, it said, and then I’ll be higher than ever before.
I was sobbing as he kept screaming, his gaze still fixed on me. I felt violated by those eyes. I had never seen him so angry. His voice was strained and I could hear the pain behind his words. Suddenly, his body rise up in a convulsion. A thin line of black liquid trickled from the corner of his mouth. I stepped closer and a grin spread across his face. His arms and legs flung wildly against the wires and restraints that contained him. I was by the side of the bed now, looking down at him, closer than I had been since I deposited him in the hospital’s care.
“Please don’t leave me.” His voice was barely audible now.His pupils seemed to vibrate as they stared at me, growing larger and then shrinking down to tiny pinpoints. I ran out of the room and down the hallway, a part of me dying with every step.
The next day we all waited at N’s for word on his condition or release. He was finally lucid, we were told, and should be out by evening. I was desperate to see him, to make up for all of the pain I had brought upon him. I couldn’t imagine him hating me for the rest of my life, as he had sworn he would. I loved him so much. I wasn’t prepared to lose him, not yet, not now.
I had forgotten all about everything else, my mind was so focused on L and his condition. When my parents called to let me know they were coming to get me, I begged them to wait, to let me see him, but they refused. They told me not to run, that there was nowhere to go. Before I knew it, they were there and I was in the van, heading home for the first night in almost a week.
It would be my last night at home. The next morning we would be flying to Jamaica.