Hazelden Center For Youth and Families is a single-story facility located on fifteen acres of forest along the north shore of Medicine Lake in Minnesota. It caters to addicted youth, ages 14-25, and in December of 1992 it caters to me, sixteen years old.
It’s still unclear if I need treatment at this point. My only other option is to show up for class Monday morning after a Friday night of drunken behavior that included, among other things, having sex with my boyfriend in front of a larger portion of the student body from the crusty Blake Upper School, a school I’ve been attending for only a few months after two brief stints at other Twin Cities’ private institutions that ended in kind “suggestions” of withdrawal.
“You let your vagina cast your ballot.”
So I stumble out of bed and downstairs into my mother’s office and tell her, Melody, a recovering alcoholic herself and–ironically–the author of a book called Codependent No More (along with a others about detaching from an alcoholic loved one), that I’m an alcoholic and need help and that I need it now. Like, before class starts. She’s sympathetic to my case, and believes I may have a problem, one part owing to genetics–my father is also an alcoholic–the other that two years earlier my twelve-year-old brother, Shane, died in front of me in a skiing accident at Afton Alps. I pack my suitcase and a few hours later I’m in the admissions office of Hazelden Center For Youth and Families. I spend a mandatory and unnecessary three days in detox and when they finally let me out into normal rehab population it takes me all of three minutes to hone in on my future boyfriend, Anthony.
Anthony is 21 years old and a crackhead. He hails from a wealthy family in Boston, stands six-foot-two with blue eyes, black hair and a lengthy criminal history. I find him sitting at a table playing cards–Spades–and I march over to him, sit down, and ask him to teach me how to play.
“…I don’t want to know the answers.”
We spend the next thirty-four days attempting to evade the prying eyes of the techs and counselors as we exchange long stares, pass notes (the subject of most: Anthony’s 10-inch penis which he promises to show me as soon as we’re on the outside), and make sure we are standing next to each other every time we have to pray (a lot) so that he can wrap his arms around my waist and grab my ass. But the staff is hip to us and we’re punished with a mutual “focus”–a disciplinary action that forbids either party to speak to the other.
Anthony gets out first, I leave shortly after, and a month later he and his 10-inch penis move to Minnesota to be near me. He gets arrested after three months. Possession of crack. I bail him out. It takes my dad three months and two days to put him on a plane (one way) back to where he came from.
11 years later, I visit Anthony in a prison in Concord, Massachusetts where he’s serving an eight-year sentence for second-degree murder. He met a girl, another crackhead, and when they ran out of money Anthony came up with the genius idea to pimp her out to the male guests of a local motel. The idea that was clearly only plausible in theory, because as Anthony waited in the car while his girl was inside turning her first trick, an unforeseen rage set in and he went looking for her to put a stop to the whole thing. A few minutes later he caught a glimpse of her through the window, on her knees, mid-blow-job. He barreled into the motel room and beat the man to death.
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“I’ll always be grateful for her, she was the first girl that let me do things to her that I’d only ever seen in x-rated movies. Things I’d fantasized about since I was a little girl stealing my dad’s Playboys.”
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It’s five years after I got out of rehab, 1997, and I’m 21 years old and living in New York City. I’m more committed to booze and cocaine than ever before and things are darker, stakes are higher, and I don’t remember the last day I didn’t spend high or drunk. I fly to Los Angeles for the weekend where my mother now lives and agree to attend a black-tie Christmas party with a girl named Capri who had huge tits, a huge ass, and liked to have sex with me whenever I’d let her.
We take a limousine to the party and I finish off as much of the stocked liquor as I can. But before we arrive at the party I’m on the side of the road throwing up into a plastic bag that our driver, Tony, graciously holds open for me. “I can’t do this anymore,” I say over and over again to this kind man. He tells me I don’t have to. I come to five hours later and realize I hadn’t ever actually been asleep but in a black out. My crotch hurts and my tights are off so I exit at my mother’s house without asking any questions because, really, I don’t want to know the answers.
“Six years later, 2003, my dad is found beat to death in the basement of his house in South Minneapolis.”
I wake up the next morning and, much like five years earlier, I stumble downstairs into mother’s office and tell her I need treatment. She puts me on a plane to Minnesota and I check in to HCYF for the second time in my short drinking career. I’m sicker than before, in need of the treatment, and grateful for a vacation. I meet Christie my first night in detox. She and I are the only patients from New York City. Christie seventeen, four years younger, not quite legal, with smaller tits than Capri but she’s tall like me and as wild as any girl I’d ever met. We dance around our mutual attraction, both of us too shy to come right out and admit it,– though we’re not fooling anyone, as the techs and counselors deem us “an exclusive relationship” and–once again, I’m on a “focus,” only this time it’s a “Christie Focus” for me and a “Nichole Focus,” for her. Each night we are required to announce our punishment to the entire unit, a punishment that only serves to bind us tighter.
Christie gets out first but before she leaves she signs my book, “Nichole, We’ll always have New York. Soon. I know you are going to do fine here. I’m going to miss you. I’ll write you from my aftercare.” And she does write me from aftercare, a halfway house in Southern Minnesota that she hates so much she boards a bus to New York a week after checking in. I return to New York and it takes us three weeks of beating around the bush before we are both naked on my couch.
We’d continue to get naked on my couch, in her bed in her father’s 86th Street apartment, in her mother’s bed on 1st Avenue, on and off, for the next ten years. She’ll never agree to be my girlfriend, though she did let me hold her hand a few times when we walked around her neighborhood in Williamsburg seven or eight years later. I also held her hand the day we buried her older sister, Heather, a mother of two who died of a drug overdose in her New Jersey bed next to her infant son. Christie and I were sober. I’ll always be grateful for her, she was the first girl that let me do things to her that I’d only ever seen in x-rated movies. Things I’d fantasized about since I was a little girl stealing my dad’s Playboys. The one that made my dreams come true.
Six years later, 2003, my dad is found beat to death in the basement of his house in South Minneapolis. I’m living in Los Angeles, the mother of two young sons, ages one and three, and nearly divorced from my husband. I pop pills with reckless abandon and my mothering leaves much to be desired. His death leads me to a bottom that lands me at a rehab center called Promises in Malibu, California.
“I think I’m going to die. ‘You’re not that lucky,’ he tells me as he rubs my head. And I can feel the love in his hand.”
From their website: “Nestled in the picturesque Santa Monica Mountains with a gorgeous panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean, Promises Malibu… is the rehab facility of choice for anyone wanting the finest quality surroundings while experiencing the highest quality addiction treatment program.” I’m there less than twenty-four hours when Lee stumbles out of a chauffeured SUV, drunk, onto the front lawn. He’s beaten up and his pink, oversized button-down shirt is hanging by a thread. Only one of his braided leather sandals remains on his feet. “I could buy this whole place! In cash!” he yells as the techs struggle to get him to his feet. I hate him.
The next day Lee’s still full of scratches but he’s cleaned up, showered, and wearing a lime-green oversized button-down shirt open to the naval, flip flops, and a lot of gold jewelry. He’s tan–bronzed–with blonde, well-coifed hair. He’s disgusting. He sits down next to me, crosses his legs, leans back and says, “One, you’re an obnoxious liberal feminist. Two, you think Letterman is funnier than Leno. And three, you voted for Bill Clinton. If you even voted at all.” He was right on all three accounts. “So what?” I ask him. I can’t lie; this idiot intrigues me. “So you’re the reason why women shouldn’t be allowed to vote. You make decisions based on your feelings. You let your vagina cast your ballot. It’s why Bill Clinton wound up president.” I want to smack him. “Bill Clinton was a great president,” I tell him. “Oh yeah? Tell me one great thing he did while he was in office. ” He waits for me to answer him but the truth is I have no idea what he accomplished as president except that he looked great in a suit and stuck a cigar inside Monica Lewinsky. “Button up your shirt, Crockett,” I answer. He laughs. He likes me, too.
We spend the next thirty days lodging insults back and forth and in the subtext of our banter Lee and I both recognize so clearly, so deeply, in one another the same disease that had been slowly killing us both since long before we picked up our first drink. A connection so profound it transcends politics, sexism, and late-night comedians. A connection so intense that on the nineteenth day of my detox, when they wean me completely off the last of the benzodiazepines I’d ever take, my bones ache and I’d like to take a scalpel to my skin, I find Lee and break down in tears in his arms and tell him I think I’m going to die. “You’re not that lucky,” he tells me as he rubs my head. And I can feel the love in his hand.
A few months later I repay his kindness. We’re both out of rehab and driving home from a Promises Alumni meeting when I tell him to pull over. He does. I lean over the console in his hundred thousand dollar Mercedes and give him one of the best blowjobs of my life. He tells me he loves me. It makes me sick. I never speak to him again. The one that voted for George Bush. Twice.