I know what you’re thinking; “Great. Another sarcastic narrative. Another dejected life story about a teenager who had it rough.” And maybe you’re absolutely right. Maybe not. Maybe you’ve already seen that dejected life. That teenage struggle that so many grow up enduring. And that many don’t finish growing up because of. I never said he was unique. That the boy was anything special. Quite the opposite in fact. He was run of the mill. He was ordinary. He had the same story that his friends had. The story that thousands of teens each year tell to their therapists, to their friends and family, and many of them to their personal journals and diaries.
The point isn’t that his circumstances placed him on a platform. The point is that he stands amongst a crowd and that his story resonates with that crowd. That it helps the collective to grow and helps the disconnected to feel a part of life again. You’ve seen his story. You’ve felt his story. You may even have lived his story. But as you may have guessed, his story didn’t end in that hospital. There was so much left for him to do. So many steps to the top of the staircase. And that’s exactly where we’ll find him.
The boy had been in the hospital before. This time though, it was different. He knew that somewhere in the building the man who played such a massive role in landing him in here was also sitting, staring at the wall just like he was, and waiting for his next group session, AA meeting or therapist appointment. It was somehow both comforting and enraging that he had to share this space with him. This space that stifled his cutting, gave him an exhaustingly long list of coping mechanisms, forced him onto medications, insisted that he forgive, analyzed him, trivialized him and so many other things felt as cold and awful as before but also felt personal. No one had corrupted this place. The mother he hated, the absent father he hated more, the drunk that replaced him in his mother’s life and rendered him no more than a burden to carry until finally he turns 18 and she can be rid of him, none of them had entered these walls for anything more than visiting hours before retreating and leaving him unto himself once more. It was his fortress of solitude. It was his home away from home, sad as it may have been. It was his and only his, but no longer. Now the stink of cheap beer was here somewhere. He could almost smell it. The adolescent ward was kept very much away from the adults, so in reality they’d never passed by each other. And they never would. Still he felt invaded, felt that he was too close for comfort. Like there was an enemy lurking in the shadows.
It was on a cold, rainy Florida morning, 4 days into his stay that the mother finally came to visit. The doctors told the boy that visiting hours were open at noon now instead of 1 like the last time and that his mother would be able to come by around then and so naturally he expected her to be right on time. After all it had been 4 full days since he was put back into the hospital. 4 full rotations of the earth since she’d seen her only son.
Noon came and went. So did 1 and 2. When she finally showed up in the adolescent ward at 2:17pm he was in no mood. She held her arms out to embrace him as he was escorted to her from his room but the embrace was not mutual. She held him tight, yet he merely stood there and dealt with it. She had so many questions to ask. So many things to say. He had only 1.
“How is he?” the boy asked? The mother was shocked that he cared about the man and his recovery. She cautiously began to answer. “He is doing good actually. Obviously it’s been 4 days he’s been here so he’s 4 days sober, which is great. They have him on a couple medications so that he can better deal with the dr….”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” the boy interrupted. “I guess you misunderstood me. It was a rhetorical question. I don’t really give a shit about him or his well-being. In fact, I’d rather take a shit than hear about it from anyone, least of all from you. I asked how he was since its obvious that you visited him first. You told the staff you’d be here at noon and since I’m not allowed a watch because I could break the face and use it to hurt myself, I can only assume that the clock on the wall is correct and that it actually is 2:17pm. Visiting hours start at noon and since you don’t have anything going on in your life other than your apathy for me and your codependence to him, and since he and I are both trapped in here, there’s surely nothing that would have stopped you from visiting your only son, whom you’ve not seen in 4 days, right at noon. So I asked how he was as an opportunity for you to apologize for whatever bs you wanted to use as an excuse for being late, but I suppose that was never really going to happen. At least now I’m sure of where I stand.”
The mother was again shocked. More so than she already was. This was the first time the boy had felt powerful in a while. His smirk resembled the one the man displayed when they locked him up here just days ago. In the over all scope of things, the feeling he had just then of crushing his mother’s spirits was almost as satisfying as cutting himself, even more satisfying than any drug he’d ever taken and at least equal to a long and dramatic gulp of the vodka he loved so much on a few short years before. He turned to walk away as the tears welled up in the mothers eyes. He only made it 5 or six paces before the therapist walked over and stopped his victory walk. “Let’s step into a private room,” she said, “and the three of us can talk.”
Just the thought of talking out his feelings right now felt so right. Though it did take away from his victory walk away from his heartbroken mother. He couldn’t wait for the session to start so he could drill into her even further. Leave her a broken shell of a person. A shell of a human with only an empty cavity where a heart once beat. And just as soon as they’d begun to walk towards a therapy room the therapist turned and said to the boy, “How about you sit out here a moment while I speak with your mom, ok?”
Deflated. That was exactly how he felt. The equal footing he was about to have with the mother during the session had not been swept out from under him. She could now share her side of it. Poison the well of the neutral party the therapists was meant to be. And when he finally could speak his piece, the bias would already be in place.
It seemed like an eternity that he sat in that hallway. He tried to listen through the door but the walls and doors were made to retain privacy and so his attempt to eavesdrop was quickly abandoned. He couldn’t stop his blood from boiling and now it was all he could do not to scream. In fact, by the time the door finally opened, that was exactly what he intended to do.
“What in the hell took you so long? I thought you were an advocate for my health, not for her bull shit narrative on her struggle to parent a difficult teen.”
“I’m here for both sides actually. I want you both to find common ground and begin to foster a new and healthier relationship.”
“Lovely.” He replied. “And how exactly are we planning to do that? Did you suggest that the alcoholic stain on our planet that she holds on a pedestal above me be removed? Did you talk to her about her pure and utter lake of interest in my school work, extra curricular activities, hobbies, likes, dislikes, favorite foods, favorite colors, favorite anything. She doesn’t know what I do for fun. She doesn’t know who my friends are. She doesn’t know if I’ve lost my virginity, if I have a girlfriend, If I believe in God, if I’m failing school or passing or anything.”
“That’s not exactly tr…” The mother began but he quickly cut her off.
“Not ‘exactly true’? Enlighten us then, because the doctor I’m sure would like to be able to write down that I’m delusional in my thinking that we are actually that disjointed at home. Especially since she spoke to you first.”
“I do know about a lot of that, actually” his mother said, looking up at the clock. “Wait, virginity?”
“Yep. Also I skip school almost every day, my favorite color is black, my hobbies include self mutilation, sarcasm and listening to heavy metal.”
She gathered her thoughts and again addressed her son. “I work extremely hard to keep our family together. The fact that you don’t like him doesn’t mean I have to get rid of him. We all have our shortcomings, as you have clearly pointed out. I can’t just toss you out because you have problems, why do you think I can just toss him out?”
“Well,” he said in a calm but nonetheless sarcastic tone. “I think that your comparison, while cute, is a bit off base. You see, while you cannot toss me out for having, how did you put it? ‘problems’, you somehow managed to toss me into this lovely hospital on more than one occasion.”
The therapist interrupted, “She has you in this hospital to help you. This isn’t her discarding you.”
“I know what it is, and I understand that this is meant to be therapeutic and help me to grow. What I’m getting at is that if she’s comparing us both as having a similar situation that needs addressing, than he should have been in here as many times as I have. And more to the point mother, you cant toss me out because I’m your flesh and blood. I came out of you and like it or not, which I don’t, we are forever connected. He, on the other hand, is a drunken asshole that laughs at the medications I take, bashes me for my choices in music, friends and anything else he feels like and all the while absorbs every ounce of your attention. It’s actually quite helpful to me that he absorbs your attention because if not, you’d have first noticed that I’ve been cutting myself a long time ago. I guess he’s doing me a favor keeping you off my back. Never mind, you can go ahead and do whatever you want. Obviously he’s a bigger deal to you than I am.”
Once again the therapist interjected. “Now that we’ve heard how you feel, is it fair to now ask your mom how she feels?”
“Is that an actual question, or rhetorical?”
The therapist seemed amused at his response as she turned and motioned the mother to share her side.
“You are my son. My only son and I will do anything I can to help you grow up into the best man possible. But I don’t think that it’s fair of you to expect me to have zero life at all in that process. I still deserve to be happy right?”
“Rhetorical question again?”
“No, that wasn’t actually” she fired back. You could tell by this point that he was definitely getting under her skin. She looked up at the clock again and then continued. “I think you should answer. I think that as a smart kid, you should be able to see that what you’re asking is unfair. You want me to have no life so that you get all the attention. You want me to…”
“Since it wasn’t rhetorical,” he interrupted, “I think I will answer. I don’t expect you to have no life. I expect you to be reasonable about the choices you make. I expect you to not date an alcoholic, or anyone really who wants to drink in front of me since, as you’re well aware by now, I struggle with an addiction to, shoot what was it again? Gambling? no that’s not it. Pornography? Nope that isn’t it either. Oh I remember, FUCKING ALCOHOL!! And since that fact is escaping you right now, I think it’s time we all took notice of the fact that you’re staring at the clock instead of really listening. And since that’s your main focus, I suppose you’ll be happy to know that its been long enough, our session is over and you can go. Right Doc?”
“Um, yes that is true” The therapist said reluctantly, looking at the emotionally defeated mother. “Our scheduled time together is finished but if you’d like to continue, “She looked down at her watch, then directly at the boy, fixing her gaze right at his, “Then I’m sure your mother would enjoy the extra time together.” She stopped, seemingly quite please at the way she’d defused the situation and expecting the boys response to go how she wanted it to.
“That was rhetorical right?”