My Kind-Of Stint at Rehab

I love these unusual hibiscus flowers my mom got from a friend.

Miles run yesterday: 4.5

Words written in novel so far: 32,655

Years I have been a freelancer: almost 12

As I prepare to head back to “traditional” work this fall, I thought I’d do a series of blog posts about my illustrative early work. Hope you enjoy it!

I spent some time at drug and alcohol rehab.

Not in an Amy Winehouse kind of way, but as a “staff” member.

Back in the ’80s, I was a goody-goody. I guess I’m still kind of a goody-goody, and I’ve made my peace with that.

The summer I was 16, I needed work. Word got out, and my parents asked around, and before you could say, “Paycheck,” I/they had something all lined up.

What I pictured for my 16th summer: me, as a lifeguard at a water park, wearing a bathing suit and flirting with new and exciting teenage boys from exotic high schools across town.

What I got: a stint at drug and alcohol rehab.

The woman across the street was a secretary for a local drug and alcohol rehab clinic, and she discovered that they needed someone to cull the files so the center’s building was not overrun with papers.

Why not get a goody-goody to do it? Yep. You guessed it. I was that goody-goody.

Guess what that teenage goody-goody got paid? Hold onto your seats, now… Six dollars an hour! I know. It was like winning the lottery. I was destined to be rich forever with such an auspicious beginning.

I did half-days, so about 10 a.m., I would drive over to the seamier side of town with the windows down. I would not be exaggerating if I told you that Mariah Carey’s “Vision of Love” played on every single trip to work. I came to think of it as my theme song. Would you like for me to sing it for you?

When I arrived at the nondescript rehab center, I couldn’t decide if it was a good thing or a bad thing, but no one questioned my badge or my reason for being there. I flashed my badge authoritatively and strode to my office like a champ.

The front part of the rehab center looked like an office complex. The back? Who knows? I never got to see it.

I walked in, down a narrow hall to the right and into a file room with no windows. I spent my hours at rehab in a gigantic, vanilla box. The file cabinets were beige, the walls were beige, and the files themselves were beige.

I started to think that rehab might not be that interesting.

And then, when I started reading the files, I reconsidered. These 16-year-old kids who played basketball and ate lunch and went to group therapy just on the other side of my vanilla wall had, in fact, had very interesting lives.

People even took the time to write long tomes about their experiences. Longhand. Like, not using Microsoft Word.

The administration must have known that goody-goodies read things. Unlike renegades, who might merely trash random papers and hope no one finds out, I felt compelled to read the provided materials. In great detail. What I learned: Parents had not been parenting, kids had devised creative plots to obtain illegal substances, and rock bottom meant much more than it had in Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” drug education program.

My job was to get rid of documents B, F, and M (or whatever) and clip the bare bones, most dire documents back into place.

My job was fraught with injury. Can you say “paper cuts”? I learned to employ Band-Aids as a sort of thimble.

My job didn’t require me to be there full-time. I learned why: it wasn’t because they didn’t have the money to pay me.; it was because they were afraid I would die of boredom. And they didn’t want any blood on their hands.

The lessons I took away from that job were:

1. I needed a job that included other people. I would have settled for one other person. Who breathed.

2. I needed to learn how to type. I did not want 50 pages longhand to be part of my future career.

3. I needed to find a job that people cared about. The kind of job that made people say, “Now, that was helpful.”

4. I needed to learn to take a better photo for my badge. My badge photo rivaled my driver’s license picture for awkward supremacy.

5. I needed to remember to “Just Say No.” Rehab sounded all fancy when celebrities did it. But a vanilla building in the suburbs wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. And I didn’t want some 16-year-old goody-goody reading about my exploits.