I was playing with Google Maps a few days ago. I was overwhelmed by curiosity of my early years as a teen. In fact, my mind turned to Ann Arbor, Michigan, between the ages of 14 to 16. My formative years as a teen were spent in a residential facility, together with 32 other boys, who ranged in age from 13 to 18. My heart began to pound incessantly, as I typed out “Ann Arbor, Michigan” in the search bar I had brought up. I was surprised by my reaction, when I looked at the location I searched for. Nothing remained of the place I had called, “home”.
When looking back at our lives, many of us can become susceptible to anxiety that played a hand in creating – ourselves. Some might revel in those memories. Others may try to forget those moments that shaped us. I worked hard to forget the moments of my past. Granted, my life was filled with good times as well as bad, although I remember my adolescent years often overcome with feelings of self-pity, worthlessness, or anger.
I began a Google search for “University Center” and found nothing…at first. Doggedly, I tried several combinations. I was rewarded by a Facebook page that depicted an old newspaper article that I had never seen before. My search revealed an article from 1974, from the Gannett News Service agency, entitled “Ann Arbor Center – therapy or horror chamber?”
What the hell? crossed my mind. I firmly believed I was saved by “The University Center”. Though it was also referred to by its address “1700 Broadway”, I began to dig. The more I dug, the more I found dirt on the facility that I felt had played a major role in freeing me of fear, self-loathing and hatred of the world to respect for myself and the people I encountered.
As a resident, I learned how to cope with my hormone-filled teenage years in the 70’s. I credit my personal growth to the line of professionals who worked with me as a teen. My life skills could have been quite different. If not for “The Center”, perhaps my choices would have led me on a different path. Perhaps I’d have become trapped in a continual loop of drug abuse or dependence on alcohol.
To the casual observer, drug addicts, certain homeless individuals or alcoholics comprise a revolving door of patients in rehabilitative hospitals. I feel that the numbers of people who suffer from emotional or psychological distress seem to increase every year. If the culture those people were raised in had been different, could they have healed from the inside out. What if their choices had been different? Given the opportunity, would some people who suffer from personal demons of addiction, alcoholism or emotional distress be successful as functional members of society?
I am not a psychologist, nor am I a psychiatrist. Like 98 percent of the population of our world, I do not follow mental health journals, studies or professional papers that deal with emotional behaviors or addictions. I am employed for an organization that has raised my curiosity about mental illness. Their deep commitment to help those immersed in the never-ending pain of emotional distress is infectious. As I look at problems some of our patients face, I cannot help but wonder if any of our patients could find solace and peace as I did, so long ago.
I conducted a Google search for The Center not long ago, wondering if I would once again, see the building that housed not only myself, but at least 30 other residents. I felt a shiver as an image came into focus. The flash of a bone-white slab of concrete peeked out of a sea of green underbrush. Its blanched color reminded me of a tombstone. I zoomed in to the swath of property, rife with weeds and undergrowth, flanked by glistening buildings and manicured lawns that obviously belonged to the University of Michigan. Closer examination of the property revealed various clumps of trash and dead trees strewn haphazardly within the undergrowth. Questions popped into my head. Why wasn’t the property being used or managed?
Images and memories assailed me as I concentrated on the image. I walked through that field and forest of my youth, as moments began to flash into my mind. I was a lost soul among a group of ghosts, ranging from 13 to 18 who made vain attempts to discover who we were and why we were here, in a “Garp’s” world according to Dr. Tom Harris and Dr. Eric Berne.
A large sign at the facility entrance, comprised of 2 x 4-inch boards glued on top of each other greeted the casual visitor with oversized letters. “The University Center, 1700 Broadway”; burned into the wood in big, bold letters. Like a rustic billboard. Well-manicured lawns of darkest green curled around to grace the entrance of The Center. Trees lined like soldiers, flanked the road that led to the building, while more trees served as a fence line for the property.
I stepped through cold, miserable winter days that blended into hot, sticky summer weeks. My memories fled back to winter boots or tennis shoes, trudging through an open field that comprised the back lot of The Center. In Google, I could still make out the vestiges of a well-worn path that had once taken me from the imposing fortress-like building of red brick and white siding that housed me to downtown Ann Arbor. The face of the city that I saw today in Google maps, did not resemble the Ann Arbor in my youth. Even Broadway Avenue, the hilly road that stretched across the entrance of The Center had changed. The road I remembered was a straight shot down to one of the finest restaurants in Ann Arbor, “The Gandy Dancer”. Homes that lined Broadway were missing, replaced by office buildings and reticulated parking lots. Even the gentle, sloped hill that had once graced a quiet neighborhood was now an office park, surrounded by wire fences.
Perhaps my mind needed to reach farther back…to the reason I ended up at The Center, in the first place.