By the end of sophomore year, my parents knew they couldn’t help me. They had exhausted every resource available to them, and didn’t know what to do with me. So they enlisted the help of an educational consultant. Educational consultants are consultants who are self-employed rather than employed by a particular school. On top of college admissions, some specialize in helping place children with emotional and behavioral issues into the appropriate school. I hope I explained that right. Honestly, just look it up on Wikipedia, like I did.
I was very self-aware and knew I needed help that my parents couldn’t provide. I helped my mom and the educational consultant research programs. We found residential treatment centers, summer camps, and therapeutic wilderness programs. After much research, it was decided that I would go to Aspiro, a wilderness program. While I was upset I would be missing my summer to “regain sanity”, I knew I needed help.
A couple weeks after school ended, I was sent on a plane to Utah. Before I go into the details, I want to say that, all things considered, I was pretty lucky. I agreed to go to Utah. Kids whose parents thought would not go willingly were “escorted” (or “gooned” as we in the industry affectionately call it) by large men in the middle of the night. Many kids thought they were being kidnapped until seeing their parents standing in a corner, watching, at which point, I don’t know what they thought was happening. I don’t know how long it took them to understand what was going on. They were taken to the airport with these men and a single suitcase. The men went with them all the way to their destination, until in the hands of the program.
I flew to Utah by myself; I was trusted enough to complete the trip without any drastic runaway attempts. Upon arrival, I was greeted by an overly enthusiastic group of kids and adults waving around a sign with my name on it. If I were an outsider, I would’ve thought this teenager had just won a week-long cruise to the Caribbean for her and all her friends.
The whole group, which I soon realized consisted of other troubled teens and a couple staff members, jammed into a van and travelled to our base camp. I distinctly remember the driver stopping at In-N-Out on the way, advising us to get our “last meal” in before venturing into the woods.
We finally arrived at the staff building around 10 pm. Here, we were lightly strip-searched (nothing too intense) and then given about 5 outfits that we were to wear for the next several weeks. By midnight I was dropped off at my group’s site. Everyone was asleep under some sort of shelter. I was ushered underneath, where I slipped into my new sleeping bag, and then was wrapped in a tarp. My first thought was, “Wow. They must not want the bugs to get me, you know, because tarps definitely scare off ants.” I got very little sleep that night, as every time I moved an inch, the tarp would make a huge crackling noise, which I later learned was the point.
You see, your first few nights (or whenever you’re considered a flight risk) you’re “tarped” so that if you try to run away, you’ll make a loud noise and wake up the staff. They also wrapped our shoes up in a tarp every night, making running away even harder. But if you’re desperate enough to run away, is a lack of shoes going to dissuade you?
I was pretty resistant to getting help the first week or two. I didn’t get along with any of the girls in my group. They were downright mean to me. In case you don’t know, I have type I diabetes, which can make long hikes turn longer with frequent stops. The girls rolled their eyes every time I needed to stop for food or insulin. The nicest thing someone said to me was, “Actually, it’s good to stop when your blood sugar is low. If you had keep walking, you could pass out. Then our hike would be even longer”. I blushed because that was just too kind. I ended up getting switched to the program’s version of special education, where I was much happier.
Compared to a lot of programs, we didn’t hike that much. Maybe 6-8 miles a day (mostly in the deserts throughout Utah). Some programs utilized days-long solos, where you were put in a spot in the woods by yourself. You weren’t supposed to talk to anyone. The only human contact you had was when the staff brought you supplies. We only did that for maybe an hour or so.
I slowly started to love it. Sure, I was sore and tired and thirsty most of the time, but have you ever appreciated water so much that you nearly cried at the thought of it?
We were in the Escalante Desert. Most of us had no water or very little water left. The martyrs of the group let their friends sip from their bottles. The guides weren’t entirely sure where the closest source of water was supposed to be. For about an hour, I thought I was going to die with a group of other troubled teens because our guides couldn’t read a map. And then, I saw it: Mud. In case you didn’t know, mud is dirt mixed with water. WATER! I wanted to lick the mud, but knew I would probably get sick.
A few minutes later I heard the sound of a water stream. Excitement spread throughout the group. We finally saw it. We ran up to the stream and immediately dunked our water bottles/containers into the stream. But we still had to filter our water, which, in total, took about an hour and a half. My mouth was a desert, and water was sitting in front of me, but I wasn’t allowed to drink it because “you might die” or whatever.
I have so many fond memories of Aspiro and the weird things we had to do. If someone didn’t dig a hole for their poop, and a guide found it, the whole group had to go stare at it until someone confessed (or something like that. It’s been a long time).
I also got MRSA there, which was a great experience. I had to go about a week and half before seeing a doctor, at which point the infection took up half of my thigh and went into my muscle. Plus all the infections in my butt crack ;). Hiking is hard. Hiking is harder with MRSA.
I eventually went to the doctor. I’ll spare you the details, but I had to go back a total of 8 times. On the bright side, doctor’s orders were to shower once a day and hike no more than a mile each day. So I was practically the group hero.
I loved my wilderness program so much, that I cried when I found out I was “graduating”. Maybe some of that was because I was in love with one of my guides. Sometimes I would wake up in the middle of the night because of the rain, and see that he had draped a tarp over me to prevent me from getting wet. But besides being in love, I think a lot of it had to do with how much I had grown. I was this confident teenager who appreciated nature and sometimes even told her parents that she loved them…sometimes.
A lot of it was hard. I had to read a letter my parents sent me about all the reasons they sent me away. Then I had to share it with the group. It’s hard to admit all of your faults to your peers; not only things you think are your faults, but things that your parents have confirmed.
After 7 weeks, on top of being told I would be leaving, I was told I wouldn’t be going home. I’d be going to this magical place in Montana called Monarch. It was supposed to be beautiful and loving and amazing, which was mostly untrue. I didn’t have much of a reaction to finding out I wasn’t going home, because I didn’t think I could live with my parents and remain sane. So off I went to Montana!
(END OF ACT I OF MY INDIE MOVIE).