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It wasn’t supposed to get this bad. I used to be just some kid, whose dead dad was famous and whose only friend was her headphones. We’re a dime a dozen, right? But then my mother marries a molester, and the seesaw tilts down, hard.

So I’ve been trying to find something good. A grownup with some love to spare, or a safe place to hide. What I’m getting instead is hard, black, and red, but I love it anyway. Who wouldn’t love Marlboros and the Stones? Most of all I love Bridgeport, this city that’s always dark, even at noon on Sundays. I love it so much I run away to it, to its basements and pot smoke and man-boys.

Right after I run, though, some relative sees Princess Di on the local news. They’re covering her visit to this place that’s a fix for teen fuckups—Straight Inc, it’s called. The relative calls my mother; my mother signs me in. I tell them I’ve only smoked pot twice. They don’t listen.

To Straight, every teen is an addict—at least, every teen who has a desperate parent with a checkbook. On November 20, 1985, my mother says goodbye to my beachball of a face, puffy with screaming and tears. I won’t talk to her, or to anyone else I know, for the next ten months.

Ten months. That’s how long it takes me to believe the words, “My name is Cyndy, and I’m an addict and alcoholic.” For sixteen months I’m in The Building for twelve, sometimes sixteen hours a day. With some girl’s hand clutching the waistband of my pants—to keep me from running; to keep me humble—I fill those hours with weirdness: thrashing around to get called on, standing to tell the Group why I’m a scumbag. I sing preschool songs, get Toilet Paper Therapy, and stand still as kids spit in my face. After sixteen months in there, I’m such a Straightling, I’d rather die than leave.

Once I do get out, my old druggie high school doesn't do much to make me want to live. But the grownups at AA meetings do. I’m fifteen years old, with a year and a half of sobriety. To AA, I’m a beacon of hope. So they’re kind to me. And they save me. They save me so much that eventually, I’m able to go out in the world. I go to college and work with street kids and start teaching. I get happy. I save other unsaveable teens.

In the end, Karma wins. Straight Inc—which was called “a concentration camp for throwaway kids” by the ACLU—is crippled by investigations, slaughtered by lawsuits. Oh, and me? I’m over here with my dream guy and my dream dogs, grinning my way through life.

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