Joel stood in the doorway staring. This wasn’t what he had expected when the judge had told him he had to go to rehab to avoid either Juvie or jail.
He’d been caught trying to break into a warehouse. Again. Only this time he’d had some Special K and Scooby Snacks in his pockets. This time, he’d really been in trouble.
The prosecutor had asked for jail time. Not even Juvie. But the judge had looked Joel in the eye and said, “Son, you do understand that you’re out of time.” It wasn’t a question, and he hadn’t waited for an answer. “You’ll be eighteen in a few months. After that, it’s real jail time. This is your chance to turn it around.”
He’d given Joel the chance to attend what he called a novel rehab program. Joel would have to stay at a center for six months. If he did the program and kept his nose clean, the judge would vacate his conviction and he could avoid a criminal record.
“But if I ever see your name on the docket again, I’ll throw the book at you.”
Joel had taken the deal. He’d arrived this morning and settled into a cubbyhole of a room. At least he didn’t have roommates. He’d been told to show up here at eleven. It had to be the right room. There were eight other guys hanging out in there. Seven were huddled together, laughing and talking. The eighth stood off by himself watching them. Kind of like Joel.
The center of the room was occupied by a bunch of cushions set in a circle. There was no other furniture and nothing else of any description in the room. It looked sketch as hell.
“Excuse me,” a man’s voice said from behind him.
Joel jumped at the sound, then quickly shifted out of the doorway to let the man pass. He was almost pathologically skinny with dark, shoulder length hair. His blue jeans were tattered, and his t-shirt made no attempt to cover over the dozens of old train tracks scarring up his arms.
Shit. Was this supposed to be some kind of scared straight thing? Was this druggie supposed to tell them his life story and they’d all swear off drugs forever?
Joel’s eyes followed him as he made his way over to one of the cushions and sat down, cross-legged, and closed his eyes. The seven guys who had been talking each followed suit, leaving Joel and the eighth guy staring at each other.
Joel shrugged his shoulders and joined the group, sitting on a cushion with his legs splayed out in front of him. The other guy shook his head and did the same. They just sat there, doing nothing, for a full five minutes. Joel timed it.
Then train tracks opened his eyes and looked straight at Joel as he said, “There’s no time like the present.”
Joel braced for a lecture, but none was forthcoming. The man simply looked at the other new guy and repeated the same thing. He closed his eyes again and sat for another twenty minutes, then stood and left the room.
The others all got up off their own cushions and went back to talking. A moment later, a woman appeared in the doorway and called out, “Walt.” One of the boys, presumably Walt, followed her out the door. Twenty minutes later, Walt returned and nodded to another kid, who, giving him a high five, disappeared through the door.
This continued until the seventh guy, on returning to the room, approached Joel. “It’s your turn. Come on, I’ll show you where the office is.”
Sketch as hell. But Joel knew the rules. He had to play the game, or he was going to jail. He followed the kid to the office. A desk sat in one corner of the room, but train tracks had taken one of two chairs in the opposite corner.
“Come in, Joel.”
Train tracks gestured to the seat opposite him. Joel reluctantly lowered himself onto it.
“I’m Dylan. I’ll be your counselor during your stay here.”
Joel gave Dylan a side eye. “You’re a counselor?”
Dylan just smiled.
“That was some weird bullshit back there,” Joel said. “What the hell was it about?”
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“Do you really want to know, or are you just trying to piss me off?” Dylan asked in a maddeningly calm tone.
Joel opened his mouth for a smart comeback, then shut it. He had been trying to get a rise out of the counselor. Instead, he said, “I don’t know. It’s just that you look more like you’re one of us than one of them.”
Dylan’s smile broadened. “I am one of you. Or I was. Think about whether or not you want an answer to your question. You might find it at the group meeting this afternoon. If not, I’ll answer it for you tomorrow or whenever you decide to ask it for real.”
Joel didn’t wait for the meeting. At lunch, he approached Evan, the guy who had directed him to Dylan’s office. “Hey. Can I ask you something?”
“Sure,” Evan answered. “Pull up a chair.”
“Is this some kind of cult?”
“What?” Evan laughed. “No.”
“Then what’s this weird sitting around? And what the hell did train tracks mean when he said, “There’s no time like the present?”
Evan spit out his milk. “Train tracks?” When he’d finished laughing, he said, “This rehab center focuses on mindfulness and meditation practices to help us get over our addictions. Didn’t you read the pamphlet they gave you?”
Joel looked guiltily at the floor. “No.”
“Look,” Evan said, “It’s just something Dylan says before we meditate. What he means is that there’s no point in focusing on our past mistakes, and we shouldn’t get too fixated on the future. It’s kind of his way of telling us to try to keep our attention on where we are right now. It’s calming and helps us sort through our shit, you know?”
Joel shook his head. “No, I don’t know. But you think this bullshit is worth it?”
“I do, Evan answered. “I was just like you when I got here. I didn’t see any way out. I figured I’d do my time and then go back out and score.”
“And now, I’m not sure. I’m going to take things one day at a time and see where I end up. I want to try staying sober and see if life gets better.”
“Okay. So, you’re not brainwashed?”
“Not brainwashed. No cult. Dylan’s been in our shoes. He doesn’t pretend it’s easy. But he’s the real deal, Joel. Give him a chance.”
Joel found himself nodding. The idea of never doing drugs again scared the shit out of him. But he could stay sober today. He could see what tomorrow brought when it got here. Just focus on right now. And then he got it, just a little. “There’s no time like the present,” he said.
Evan just smiled.
This story crept up on me out of nowhere. I’d spent a few days simultaneously dealing with a Long COVID mini relapse and my dog having a rough recovery after dental surgery. Jace was sleeping, for once not wanting my lap and I had been trying to get some writing done.
In between stories, I decided to take a shower. And this story just started to play in my head, fully formed. I created the image for it after I’d already written it.
I don’t know if anything like this program actually exists. Joel’s introduction was pretty odd, with no one attempting to explain what was going on. But maybe that was the point. Create curiosity. Any thoughts on this concept for rehab for teenagers? Is it even remotely realistic? Would teens buy into it? I have no idea, but I’m interested in your opinions.
I think there are millions of kids out there, getting lost. I think there are so many ways to help them as long as they find an approach that speaks to them. I do know for sure, having been a teenager many decades ago, that threats and promises do nothing. I hope that finding a program that works for other kids, where kids can see that other kids are working it out, is a positive environment for change. A long way of saying yes, I think it could work. Leading not pushing. Being not demanding. Yes, I think it's a great idea!
I love this idea and story. I think it could work, given the right teacher/counselor... and no TV 😉