Twelve Steps to Normal

By: Farrah Penn & James Patterson


I USED TO THINK THE worst moment of my life happened in eighth grade when I got caught stealing the latest issue of Cosmopolitan from 7-Eleven because I didn’t have four dollars to learn all the secrets of being a great kisser.

I was wrong.

From several thousand feet in the air, our plane shakes. I try not to take it as a universal sign of my slowly accumulating bad luck. It doesn’t help that Aunt June put me on a flight to Austin on what is probably the rainiest day in the history of Portland. This delayed my departure, which forced me to text my dad to inform him I’d be arriving later than expected.

I’ve been unraveling the tight knots in my earphones for the last half hour to take my mind off my impending doom. The woman beside me watches as I do this. I’ve noticed she’s already read through her paperback romance and since there aren’t any movies playing on this flight, I must be the next best form of entertainment.

My fingers work through the last knot and break it free.

“Wow,” she comments. “Must have been really tangled in your pocket.”

I don’t respond. Instead, I take the white cord and begin looping it back into tiny knots, making sure I pull hard. She gives me a puzzled look before glancing away.

Our plane hits another spot of turbulence. I tell myself to concentrate on undoing the knots. I hate planes. I don’t particularly trust anything designed to defy the laws of gravity, nor do I enjoy being trapped in such a close vicinity to strangers who are all breathing the same recycled air. We have another hour before we’re scheduled to land, and then I’ll be home.

As much as I wish this were a celebratory occasion, coming home was not my decision. I thought I was accepting my permanent fate when I was sent to live with Aunt June in Portland. I’d learned to put up with the noisy city voices and the uncomfortable fold-out bed and walking a block and a half to do laundry. All of this was better than living with my dad.

But last week Aunt June broke the news that he was officially released from Sober Living Alcohol and Drug Rehabilitation Center. She even brought home lasagna to celebrate—the slightly pricier frozen kind from Trader Joe’s.

“Of course I love having you here, doll,” she told me, squeezing me tight in the middle of her tiny kitchen. “I’m going to miss you something fierce.”

“But you want me to go back?” I mumbled into her crocheted top.

She pulled away, but I noticed a weight of emotion fall over her features. “I really think it’ll do you good to be home. I’ve talked with your daddy over the phone, and Margaret’s had a few meetings with him. I wouldn’t be telling you this if we didn’t think it was a good environment.”

Margaret is my social worker who always wears big Audrey Hepburn sunglasses to our meetings. She was a big believer in this rehabilitation center, but I was skeptical. Alcoholics Anonymous meetings hadn’t been enough to help my dad, so I doubted this would, either.

“He’ll be home Sunday morning,” Aunt June continued, handing me a plate before sitting down next to me. She took the broken chair—the one that rocked slightly if you leaned the wrong way. “I’ve already submitted your transcripts back to Cedarville. That way you can be back with all your friends in time to start junior year together.”

I could tell she expected me to be more excited. Going home meant that I could go back to my old life. The life that contained my best friends and boyfriend (well, ex-boyfriend now). I’d been on the dance team and participated in National Honor Society and Earth Club. I grew up going to school with everyone in my class, which was comfortable more than it was congested. Cedarville was a small town, but it was my small town.

Aunt June would have lost her job if she’d come to live with me in Texas, which is how I ended up in Portland. It wasn’t that I was unhappy with the situation, but I wasn’t exactly happy having to start over, either. My grades made it clear I wasn’t trying very hard in school. In the entire eleven months, I’d only made one friend—Katie Jones, who was obsessed with the movie Borat and had memorized all the national capitals of the world.

It wasn’t my best friends or ex-boyfriend that was making me hesitant to return. It was my father.