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Excerpt: 'What it Takes to Pull Me Through'

Excerpt:  From David L. Marcus. Why teenagers get in trouble and how four of them got out.

Summer Vacation

The midnight curfew came and went. No car pulled up, no doors creaked open. Burns Chambliss called his daughter Mary Alice’s cell phone. Still no answer. He left his wife, Lillian, asleep in the master bedroom of their vacation condominium in the mountains and paced the halls. For the second time in three days, he drank coffee, peering out the window for headlights.

Burns worked long hours at his Dallas business but made time for his four children. Lillian had quit her job as a dermatologist in order to spend more time at home. They’d given the kids the best of everything: private schools, riding lessons, family trips to Hawaii. Mary Alice was a natural athlete and Burns loved coaching her basketball team, taking her waterskiing, cheering her at gymnastics competitions.

As she finished middle school, though, Mary Alice became a foreigner in her own home. She treated her parents like an ATM; she’d tear in for a cash withdrawal, then vanish. When she didn’t get her way, she’d pout and scream. Strange new friends called the house at strange hours, leaving strange messages.

Just after two in the morning, Burns walked downstairs, past a row of framed photos: Mary Alice snowboarding, Mary Alice soaring over a mogul, Mary Alice beaming from a pool like a little blond angel. Precious Angel—that was her nickname when she was younger. Burns surveyed the chaos in her room. Mascara and lip gloss covered a bureau. Bathing suits, shorts, and tank tops spilled out of drawers. Burns sat amid the heaps of sheets and pillows on the unmade bed. He figured he’d close his eyes until Mary Alice arrived and he could inform her of the latest development: She was grounded for the rest of the summer.

On the night table, he noticed a spiral notebook with a grinning Garfield on the cover. He picked it up. The rings were bent, the pages worn at the edges. The word “Confidential” was scribbled in marker on the cover. At sixteen, Mary Alice indiscriminately mixed capital and lowercase as she had since elementary school. She had kept diaries back then, too. Burns and Lillian occasionally sneaked a look, chuckling at the giddy tone she used in charting her crushes.

Burns flipped open the diary and read the first paragraph: “SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO. The ride here was 19 hours. I bought an ounce of weed and was high beyond my mind the whole time.” Mary Alice had written this during a church trip early in the summer. She’d told her parents that the trip—a busload of teenagers touring the West and studying the Bible —had changed her life.