I wrote this on January 12, 2020 on the day I took Colt, my oldest son who has high functioning Autism, to his Wilderness program in North Carolina. This was the first of many subsequent interventions for Colt, who is today doing well in his second Therapeutic Boarding School, also in N.C. For those who don’t know, Wilderness Therapy, also known as outdoor behavioral healthcare, is a treatment option for behavioral, substance, and mental health issues in adolescents. Patients spend time living outdoors with peers. Most participants attend involuntarily, are transported by a third party ‘goon squad’ and most are high school aged.
Colt was 12.
We found one of the only programs geared for boys his age dealing with his issues and within a week and after a breakneck visit with Nikki to vet the program, Colt and I boarded a plane. Thankfully, he did go willingly, and he chose me to bring him.
Hello from the Charlotte Airport. It’s been the freaking longest day ever. But I delivered my package safely and intact.
We started at 5am and the first part was easy. Even ran into an NFL player at our gate. Of course, I only noticed because of his rings. Colt marched right up and asked him if they were Superbowl Rings. They were. Roland Williams.
Colt was calm and enjoyed free access to his phone (a real treat). I let the Big Dog do his thing. We got to Charlotte and headed for the connection. That was my first breakdown. Luckily, I thought ahead and brought a box of nice tissues, the premium kind, Puffs Plus with lotion. That was a game changer today. Colt stayed strong. Every now and again he would break from his techno bubble and say wistfully “I’m really going to miss you mom.” I would cry again.
The second flight was also easy but turbulent. We held hands the whole way. Landed to a rainy tarmac and I cried as I looked out the window so he wouldn’t see me lose it again.
I got the car, got McDonalds, and headed to campus. Colt read the letter Matt had given me to give him. He asked me if I could help set up his bunk like I did at Camp Dudley this summer. I said “Let’s see what they say bud, I’m not sure what the process is like.” I knew they wouldn’t. I sobbed this time, ugly crying with abandon. I said “Colt, it’s going to get tough. There will be fun moments and you will learn a lot but at some point things will be hard. I don’t know when you’ll hit that wall, it might be tonight or two days from now or next week. You’ll hate it and just want to come home. That’s when I want you to think of me and know that you need to push through. It’s those last hard reps that make change,” I said, “It’s the moment you think you might lose the match when you tighten it up and muscle through.” He said he would. I cried like hell but I wanted him armed. This isn’t summer camp. This is some hard shit. And the best things are almost always hard in their delivery. It’s only later when you look back that you realize those were the most formative moments.
We pulled up and Dottie was waiting there. It was raining. I was ¼ of the way through the Puffs Plus. She said hello to Colt and I ran to the bathroom. Came out and she said here come the staff to help Colt get settled. Two scruffy mountain types in their 20s arrived and greeted Colt. They were cool dudes; the kind Colt likes. I felt heartened. They all kind of stood back and said this was the time to say your goodbyes. I hugged him hard and long. He whispered in my ear “Be strong Mom, I’m ok. I’m going to miss you so much but I’ll be ok.” I thought of the story my mom used to tell about my oldest brother Fran when he was going into a surgery (he endured many as a growing child due to a genetic orthopedic mutation). She used to say he had his teddy bear under one arm and the Merck Manual under the other and would tell her everything they were going to do so she wasn’t scared. He took care of his mom. Just like Colt did for me today.
And then he was gone.
I turned back and drove to the airport, trying to focus on the positive that I would make the earlier flight home and be able to tuck the little boys in tonight. I made great time, crying most of the way but got it done. I boarded and felt lightened. Got a call from Julia at Wilderness to say Colt was doing well. No tears, got fully outfitted and was on his way to meet his group. She said she would send a photo. She did. It wasn’t the one I was hoping for but it was proof of life.
Then things took a hard left. We sat on the tarmac for an eternity for a mere 25 min flight. Landed and sat on the tarmac here for yet another eternity. Arrived gate E38 at 5:29 for a flight leaving from gate C18 at 5:45. It was the moment I have been training a lifetime for. I hauled ass like never before. My water bottle exploded in my purse and I kept sprinting. Juking and cutting through droves of people like Lucca on the flag football field. 5:39 I made it to the gate. Plane was still there but the doors had closed. No dice. I started crying again.
Next flight was 8:19. Then that one was delayed to 9:45. I booked a new one on a different carrier. Now that one is delayed. I’ll make it home. The hard part went smoothly, as smoothly as leaving your baby in the woods with strangers can go. I can’t think of anything more unnatural. I feel itchy, exhausted, so so sad, and just want to be home to my two remaining boys. They will be asleep in my bed waiting for me as I instructed them to do. I’ll grab Lil Weezy and the sleepover will be complete.
I’m fucking tired.