the chief is standing in the center


I went to rehab for the first time in the summer of 1999. I had been failing drug tests in state-subsidized counseling for almost a year, but when the cops brought me home from "the bowling alley" at 2am, my parents finally took a stand.

So I did 50 days at a 28 day program in Yakima, Washington. The only other intake on the day I arrived was a burly Indian named Nick, from the Lummi Nation. I was a little brat who pushed my family too far. Nick was state-mandated for boosting cars that his brother chopped on the rez and sold to a fence in Seattle. We were sixteen.

The rehab circuit has a certain etiquette. Somehow, always, you stick close to the kids who have your intake date. Nick and I couldn't have come from more different places, but we were like the Brothers Dot & Feather. It makes no sense, but that shared homonym cemented our friendship. My parents grew up in farm villages in the south of India. Nick was descended from a Paloos Indian, Chief Wolf Necklace. He even wore a cheap stainless-steel wolf strung with blue and green plastic beads around his neck. We shared a dorm room with four white guys from Olympia. Nick and I ended up in Group III, which meant six hours a day of heavy duty counseling together. I learned things about Nick that I know have never left that room.

But we had plenty of fun too, taking the gallon challenge with a tray full of milk bottles in the cafeteria, getting the girls to flash us from their dorm across the compound, and playing every jail cell card game we could think of (or invent). And the music, man. Each room had a shitty analog clock/radio that caught one Top 40 station, and then only when the skies were clear.

93.5 KOZI played "Genie in a Bottle" almost as much as they played "I Want it That Way." For the first few days we played it cool. This was bad kids in Washington state in the 90s; everybody had a babysitter who knew a girl who used to play spin-the-baby-bottle with Kurt Cobain. But a teenage boy needs tunes, and Christina sounds a lot better when you're only allowed to talk to real girls (in pairs, with a supervisor, get those hands where I can see them) for an hour a day.

In our few moments of free time, we 2nd floor boys would shove Big Books in the doorjambs, flood the hall with pop radio, and ride the airwaves. One of the only times I saw Nick drop his Sitting Bull stoicism (outside of Group III) was on a blue sunny day. LaRon and I were in the hallway, working a mean harmony at the top of our lungs, when Nick popped into the doorway from nowhere. Shaking his shit like an injun Elvis, in perfect time for the chorus, he mimed "rubbing himself the right way" for the security cameras at the end of the row. We were dying. I still love that song.

Nick and I graduated our 28 day program on the same day, but stayed an extra three weeks on the strong suggestion of the management. Being done with the regular program gave us special privileges. We earned pocket change doing extra chores, and along with a few other post-grad kids, got to go on weekend day trips with the staff. My last Sunday trip, I bought a $15 frisbee that we tossed in the park until the sun was almost down.

I left the next morning. All the guys signed my frisbee and Big Book and ping-pong paddle, and I got to hug the girls goodbye. Nick just stood by the door, doing his silent native bit. I was walking out when he stopped me.

"Hey. I'll trade you my necklace for your frisbee."
I wish I could take back the look I gave him.

"Are you kidding, man? I
bought this frisbee so I could have this frisbee. Get your own."
"No," he said. "I'll trade you my necklace for your frisbee."

He looked right at me and his face didn't move. And then I understood.


I wore Nick's wolf necklace every day for the next eight months. I stayed sober for five of those, then got kicked out of two houses and ran away from the third for a week to sniff crank on my girlfriend's couch. I got to boarding school on February 17th, 2000. They took the necklace away because it was a gift from an old friend, and old friends equal old habits. I made them promise to return it when I left, but faithful reader, you would see it hanging on my heart today if they ever did.







Skywave - Sixteen
Christina Aguilera - Genie in a Bottle

(right-click the link and press "Save Target As" to download)
Buy Echodrone from Paul Baker or John Fedowitz
Buy Xtina from Walmart, whatever.
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3:50 PM

excellent ryan, i love this story.

-katie    



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