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In hopes of opening the “black box” of the teenage psyche, I decided to write about kids who’d gotten in trouble and who, along with their parents, were getting help. I wanted to look mostly at children of the middle-class, but I hoped for a broad sample, from urban working-class kids to teens from bustling suburbs where families appear to have it all.
Following students at a school that offers intensive counseling seemed the best way to explore the welter of challenges facing today’s teenagers — from ADHD, to videogame addiction, to depression, to drug abuse. Many psychologists recommended the Academy at Swift River in western Massachusetts.
I Hate You, Dad
Bianca bittman’s father knocked gently and opened her bedroom door. “Bianca, you need to get up.”
Bianca awoke with a start, trying to remember what day it was. Sunday, the second day of summer vacation. “I don’t want to go to church today,” she mumbled. She squinted at the light coming from the hall. Her father was framed in the doorway. Behind him stood two husky strangers, a man and a woman. She glanced at the digital clock: four in the morning. It was still dark outside.
“Who the hell are these people?” she said.
“Listen, Bianca,” her father said. “You have to go to . . .” His voice drifted off.
The woman spoke. “It’s okay.We’re gonna help you.”
Bianca lived with her dad and twin brother in a stucco ranch house in West Palm Beach, Florida. She was sixteen and had just finished tenth grade. She rolled out of bed, ran across the hall, and grabbed a phone. She punched in her boyfriend’s number. “There are two people in my house. I don’t know where—”
The man jabbed a finger at the phone, disconnecting the call. “Okay, that’s enough.” The woman hovered by Bianca’s room, ordering her to get dressed. Bianca’s father retreated to the kitchen table.
Bianca asked for a minute to change. She knew she needed half that time to slide out of the window, squeeze through a gap in the hedge outside, and disappear. She’d done it many times while her father slept.
“Don’t close the door all the way,” the woman said.
“I want privacy!” Bianca yelled, trying to slam the door. The woman wedged her foot in.
Shelves filled the wall over Bianca’s bed. The top one was packed with the dolls she had slept with as a child. The next-highest brimmed with soccer and debate trophies. On the bottom shelf, amid shiny metallic balloons from her boyfriend, was a boom box. She’d come home the previous night from her summer job as a waitress and fallen asleep to Tupac’s “Until the End of Time.” Tupac—the late, great Tupac Shakur—managed to say it all in a few words: “Somewhere inside my childhood witnessed my heart die.”
The woman called out that Bianca needed a hairbrush, a toothbrush, and a portable CD player. Nothing more.
“Where am I going?”
“You’ll find out when you get there.”
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