Surviving Jonas

Remember Jonas? The wintry storm that buried vehicles and tiny innocent dogs alike? Well, I lived Jonas. I survived Jonas; somehow, I made it out of Jonas alive. Heading into my ninth work shift, I knew there’d be some inclement weather that week. But I had no idea this weather would include a winter storm with its very own (made up) name. At the time, I also had no idea it would be my final week with this job — though I kinda had a feeling. […]

The Life I Could Have Lived

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 HAPPY NEW YEAR! Cheers fill the brisk 39-degree square, a woman with a microphone starts singing “Auld Lang Syne,” dancing ensues, and fireworks shoot over the historic Gettysburg Hotel. 2015 has fallen into oblivion, and I’m wondering how my life got here. ~ ~ ~ Before setting out on this #wintrywanderland road trip to the North, I debated returning to Gettysburg — the city that was far and away my biggest […]

Nothing Can Get Me Here

Walking into base Friday morning, I was confused where I’d be spending this short half-shift. One board had me listed with the same group as last time, another board had me back with Matt and the recovering addicts, and yet another board had me with an entirely new group of teens altogether. Turns out I’d be spending my five days with a couple of those groups. I’d start with the same group from last shift, but within the same afternoon half the kids […]

I Just Want My Dad to Want Me

I walk into work on Tuesday morning and look up at the group assignment board, and my heart drops. For the first time in two months, my name is not listed beneath the addicts’ group. I’ll be returning to the first group of boys I ever worked with here, but now that all these months have gone by, only one original kid remains. Will he even remember me? What will the seven others be like? And what about all those other teens I’ve […]

I Want to be a Drug Addict, Too

I’m with the teen addicts for the third straight week, and they do not frighten me anymore. Their gruff voices and patchy ‘staches no longer leave my masculinity-challenged soul reeling. These 17- and 18-year-old guys aren’t big and scary; they are still kids, small and wounded. Their hearts, gentle and genuine. I am enjoying this group more with every passing day in these increasingly orangeifying Blue Ridge woods. That we get to watch an entire episode of Star Wars on Therapist Donna’s DVD player each week around a […]

My Brother Said He Loves Me

I’ve returned to the addicts group. It’s the first time in five shifts that I’ve reunited with a group, and it’s already made for a smoother integration. For this familiarity to occur with the oldest, previously most intimidating group full of mustaches and patchy beards is a welcome surprise. I’ve teamed back up with 18-year-old Matt, the “bad twin” who also has a set of younger twin siblings. I’m learning more about his journey beyond cocaine and his supportive family, including his latest batch of letters and […]

I’m a Drug Addict

“Hi, I’m Matt and I’m a drug addict.” “Hi Matt,” the others respond. I sit with them as the 12-step meeting unfolds around a campfire, and I can’t pretend this is just another day with another group of kids in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The air feels prickly, the people and struggles and emotions so very more real than anything else I’ve experienced in these woods. I’m surrounded by 17- and 18-year-old guys — kids? — their mustaches and beards shadowed and patchy with […]

My Parents Don’t Want Me Anymore

“It’s Jack!” they scream, peering into the pickup. “He came back!” I climb out of the truck. “Actually, my name is Tom. Jack was the other guy.” I reintroduce myself to the seven middle school boys I’d met during my training week with Jack and four fellow trainees. I’ve only just started this job in the Blue Ridge, but because I’ve been hopping around to different groups every other week, it’s already been a long month and a half since […]