The Night My Parents Had Me Kidnapped
Two strangers dragged me from bed in the middle of the night and drove me into the woods. But this wasn’t a random abduction—just my ticket to a boot camp for troubled teens.
I've often referred to this Narratively Classic as my first raw, exculpatory piece about my life. More important was how it resonated with others who'd experienced or heard of similar “troubled teen” experiences. This confirmed for me a simple truth: Our lives are best understood when placed in the context of the world we share. By turning our internal lenses outward, we can more fully encompass the struggles and hardships of others, a primary tenant of the book from which this essay grew, “Troubled: The Failed Promise of America's Behavioral Treatment Programs.” As it has for hundreds of readers for almost a decade, I hope this story continues to place a spotlight on the children lost to a system which—rather unfortunately—persists today.
—Kenneth R. Rosen
They entered as I slept. They called me by name, asking me to get up, get dressed. They were on a schedule. I was still hungover and had hoped to sleep, something I rarely did. I tasted stale cigarettes and rolled over to check the time on my cellphone. Along with the wallet, cigarettes and lighter I kept on a Rubbermaid container by my bed, my phone was missing. Its charger hung from the outlet. I wearily asked if one of the two men now standing in my room knew where it was. They did. But they were on a schedule and we couldn't be late. This is it, I remember thinking. Time’s up.
It was about two a.m. and the men grew agitated when I turned away. Nuzzling my pillow, I remember thinking this couldn’t be happening, not to me. I fell asleep for a moment and awoke again when one of them pulled off my covers. Grabbing one of the corners, I pulled hard and tried to bring the covers over my head to keep the lights in my room, now turned on, from waking me.
A knee pressed into the small of my back and I briefly convulsed. It did not hurt, but the helplessness was suffocating. The man seemed like he was twice my height and ten times my weight. I could feel everything, all of him, as he restrained me. “I did not want to do this the hard way,” he said. I didn't really know what this was. When he let go of my arms and stood up, the meeker man stepped closer to the bed and placed next to me a pair of my oversized jeans and a tattered T-shirt. The men reminded me of Lenny and George from “Of Mice and Men,” both in appearance and demeanor. The boss and his stalwart companion.
I sat up, rubbed my eyes and looked around to see the endless disarray in my room. My mother called it a pigsty. Computer parts, soldering irons and solder, Plexiglass, nuts and bolts and screws, cardboard boxes, notebooks and notated looseleaf pages strewn about the floor. What color was the carpet? On the walls were medals, certificates, designs, diagrams, floor plans, autographed memorabilia. A diploma from Valley Forge Military Academy. Pink tardy slips, truancy reports. The windowsills were lined with beer cans and bottles. Inside were cigarette butts and ash. With the exception of the two men, everything seemed as it should. Until that night, I'd been comfortable in the chaos.
They couldn’t say where we were going or why. Given the chance I wanted to talk my way out of it, whatever it was.
“How long will we be traveling for?” I asked.
“Can’t tell you.”
“How long will I be gone for?”
“Is it out of state?”
“We're on a schedule.” You said that already.
My mother and father peeked through a crack between the two bedroom doors. I had not seen them together since the divorce.
“Go with the men, please. Don't fight.”
“Don't,” Lenny said, pointing out of the room to suggest they leave. And so they did.