The King George School is an emotional growth boarding school in Sutton, Vermont founded around 1997. (Emotional growth is a euphemism for therapeutic boarding school). I hope my experience there in 2000-2001 will help to explain what living at King George is like.

I will not begin at the beginning. I don't even remember it. Instead, I will tell one day of this strange life I lived.

I wake up at about 7:25. I am supposed to wake up at 6:45 every morning, do morning exercise, shower, brush my teeth, shave, clean the sinks and surrounding counter with simple green, clean the mirror with Windex, sweep the sink-and-mirror area floor, mop it well with simple green, and do countless other things that I don't remember. These are all rules we're expected to follow. Someone knows them all, but they're not compiled anywhere.

My routine is quite different. I am lucky to have a lax dorm head, Mike. Our dorm is dorm E, called Alvin Ailey, and nowadays it seems to be the only one where people get along. We hear all about everyone else's problems in communication classes, but that needn't concern Mike and me. We are good friends: we talk about any beautiful thing that comes to mind while our other dormee just listens. My sleep in this dorm has been unusually peaceful.

Last night the conversation melted from Bach's fugues to the Vermont Youth Symphony orchestra summer session (his band camp) to the Center for Talented Youth (my academic camp) to girls to "A Clockwork Orange" to public school life to Ishmael to the King George life to me leaving tomorrow and him staying for at least another year. We talked for a while, I showed him photographs, and this morning I have a short conversation about something from last night. I pack up my laptop, take a three-minute shower, brush my teeth for a minute, wipe the sinks and mirror, pacify the faculty member worried about the time, sweep the floor, make my bed, and go outside. It is good to be able to wake up late.

I wear jeans, sandals, a t-shirt of hemp fabric, and a collared linen shirt with slits so I can wear it untucked. I should wear a belt, but hey, it's my last day: what can they do? Mike and I go outside, find people from the other dorms waiting for us and complaining, and walk up towards Eddy, the Educational Building.

I drop off my laptop at the fence and suddenly go the wrong way, along with everyone else, downhill towards the girls' dorm. It's about a mile away and the girls walk to school every morning; recently, some of the girls complained enough to get us to walk the path too. We go down the road, complaining ourselves the whole time, meet up with the girls at the bottom of the hill, and turn around again! None of the guys like this state of affairs.

Eventually the ordinary day is starting. I put my computer in my computer cubby and grab a book from my academic cubby, making sure to keep the rest of the cubby straight in case the cubby room heads decide to confiscate its contents Then I skip down the eddy hall to the dining hall (for I mayn't run), grab an apple, and help the table heads set their tables. One morning I had gone to the theater, where pre-breakfast meeting is held, before I went to the dining hall and wasn't allowed to grab my morning apple. I've never made that mistake again.

Soon the pre-breakfast meeting starts. We sit down "theater style", facing the stage, where the student leader takes roll. Everyone who has anything to say makes a drawn-out announcement on what they want or what we should do ("find my jacket", "perform random acts of kindness", etc) while we wait and whisper and hope that the student leader's name-takers don't give us extra chores. We go to breakfast; I rush to the student fridge, grab a bag of bagels, push through the crowds of others who seek the same, place the bag on the counter, grab a plain bagel, and wait in line for the toaster. Soon it is my turn to put my bagel into the toaster, and I carefully regulate the speed, for others have different yet equally strong preferences on the doneness of bagels. It inevitably burns; I put peanut butter on it and lay it on a small plate.

Once I track down morning faculty and request permission to sit outside as politely as I can, I rush to the door and lean back. As it falls open, the sounds of breakfast melt away; slowly I make my way to the wooden bench at the empty picnic table where I get my bliss for the day, thinking on what has happened, what will happen, what is important, what is thinking, and slowly letting even thought melt away. Others join me, we talk, but peace is retained.

My solace is suddenly disturbed when the student leader comes out and calls me. "Neider! You need to do prewash!" Everyone here calls me Neider, and I have done prewash (spraying off and scrubbing dishes before they enter the rather weak washing machine) two or three times daily for several months now. It may seem dirty, stressful, tiring, and fairly unrewarding, but I love it. But anyway, I must go. There might be a backlog of dishes if I don't start now.

I stride to behind the garage-door window in front of the dish washer and put on an apron with one hand. I turn on and fill the dishwashing machine with the other, then start stacking dishes, clearing food off plates, sorting dishes into piles, and adding dish soap to the silverware within a couple of minutes. I grab a rack from under the washing machine, rack the plates in rows, and spray food and grease off of plates as them come. When there is no plate ready to rack I spray the silverware. Once the plates are spotless, I open the machine, push the track in, slam it closed, and start on another rack. This continues; I am constantly spraying, scrubbing, sorting, yelling, pushing racks, and keeping the drain of the prewash sink unclogged. I catch enough spare minutes while washing other dishes to soak and scrub pots and pans before they need to go in, so I achieve my goal of always having something washing in the machine. Exhausted, soaked, and covered with nastiness, I ask the student leader how I did, ask if he needs anything else, and leave content. My mind's peace during prewash is almost as strong as during breakfast outside.

Once I tried to make my entire life as satisfying as prewash, breakfast outside, and camping trips to Utah. I even asked my mentor (who reads my mail to make sure it's appropriate, supervises my phone calls, determines consequences for my actions, and generally supervises my emotional growth) for help, and I put my heart into the assignments I received (such as "Describe what home is to you"). Nothing came of it. To find home here was futile.

Ever since I've been here I have been seeking this same sense of contentment. When I first came (I remember it vividly), my parents drove up to a strange building, and I wasn't paying attention to anything because we had been driving around and looking at schools all day. I had asked the same question many times, many ways: "Why are you sending me away to boarding school?"

I had received the same answer, many times, many ways: "We can't explain how, but we're trying to help you. You wouldn't succeed in public school, the private schools around wouldn't accept you, and Dr. Anderseen recommended this." When I angrily found and began to read the report Mr. Anderseen had written on the subject, my parents had snatched it away just as angrily back. "We don't want you to misunderstand," they had said with intense false compassion. "We'll take you to see Dr. Anderson and he can explain," Mother said and Father agreed. Father occasionally leaked some small detail from it about how my brain worked, and I would wrack my mind for a reason that this necessitated boarding school. I still don't know. What does thinking analytically but thinking I think conceptually have to do with my needing to be sent away? What does "ADHD, combined type" mean, and where does it fit in? Why does an English score about 30% below my math matter when both are far above average?

Eventually I got to see Dr. Anderson again, and he talked to me as a 5-year-old. I could only pull two pieces of information out of him. One was that ADHD, combined type means I can hyperfocus in some circumstances but I am attention deficit hyperactive in others. If this is indeed the whole ADHD business then I don't see how the diagnosis should change anything; we already knew that I could focus on programming and chess to an extent that "Jonathan, it's time for bed!" wouldn't disturb but it could take me hours to start writing an essay without getting distracted. The other was that the only way that I could read the report about how my mind worked that had determined my life for the next year would be if my parents let me. They didn't until a couple of months ago.

So, as we walked out of the car to go the the Clark House (main office), my mother said something to the meaning of "if you don't cooperate and tell them you want to go here, you know what could happen." I did know: she could send me some place worse. I did cooperate, somewhat sincerely, because compared to the other options I had seen, this place seemed great. For months afterwards, I continued to cooperate out of fear, and soon I had convinced myself that I liked the school, but disliked certain rules. I continued to rationalize: the rules were always going to be there; this was good for me; I was learning to exist in a society that wasn't made for me and form my own semblance of society for myself. For some reason the people, both students and faculty, were amazing; through some of them I achieved great things, like learning to snowboard and mountain bike, and camping in the Adirondacks and Utah. I told myself that this was what King George should be and what I should make it, and that when I was frustrated I was doing my work in resolving my conflict with society.

This drove me forward, and it was a year packed with one-sided progress, but I never could get rid of that occasional feeling of oppression and needed for escape. I learned the joys of running, programming, swimming alone, and sticking my head in snow. Yet the need for escape only grew stronger. I became a hairpin trigger, ready to snap at any moment. I was assigned a self-study involving homework, manual labor, strange written assignments, solitude, and suspension of privileges, so I could snap and get it over with.

I tried very hard, and everyone could see how hard I was trying. When I wanted to go to a summer camp called C.T.Y., where I would be doing academics and being social in the hands of John Hopkins University (while at Loyola Marymount University), they were willing to oblige, as long as I kept up with the classes I was missing. I said my goodbyes, finished the sociology paper I had been working on, and an hour later, left for C.T.Y.

There I found home. I fell in love, did biology at an appropriate pace, got a nickname I liked (Cole, because I looked like a girl's cousin of that name), relaxed, and learned more about life in three weeks than I had learned in my year of emotional growth. It took no struggle to feel at home there, because my life was structured around me. Even when the R.A.s said that I couldn't travel off campus and I couldn't sit in trees, I actually could and actually did. I felt freer than I ever had before.

When I returned, I resigned on my quest to find a home at King George. I found a home at the picnic table outside, at the prewash station, with a group of people that by the rules were a clique who shouldn't hang out together so much. That last month was the most bearable month I had there; I let myself go, met people away from the context, broke rules, and talked about what I wanted without thinking about appropriateness.

I live my last day with one thought constantly in my head: just one more day. During what should be class periods, I program my lasting legacy on the school, a program to help Lauren (my mentor, and the assistant to the academic dean) with faculty schedules. During lunch, I eat with the clique and talk about how to write a proposal to stop walking with the girls in the morning. During the last class period I hang out in the cubby room, give things I don't want away, and sift my things into my backpack to make packing easier later. On the way up to our "afternoon Head of School focus", I talk with a friend about Be Here Now and L.S.D., and the advantages and disadvantages of the drug. After the focus I practice piano for my closing at tonight's meeting. As the day is ending, I say preliminary goodbyes, and soon the closing meeting begins.

There are two closings today. One is Shannon's: she recently returned from an internship where she helped take care of orphaned bears in a large forest. As she gives a slide show on the trip, I think about the weekend the entire school spent on her father's land after the older students had graduated or transferred to other schools, and about the slide show we who had gone to Utah gave upon returning. It really was something special, to see what people did in the outside world and how we welcomed them back inside.

Then there's my closing, and people fuss over putting the piano in the right spot while I run off to grab my music. I haven't performed here since the closing to my week of self-study away from the community, but I play anyway, ignoring the many mistakes I make and pouring out all the emotion I can muster. I play a Sonata in G by Beethoven, the one I play to impress people, then I play a Prelude and Fugue in C minor, then a short reflective piece, then a Prelude in E Minor, and the crowd still calls for encores. My skill at piano is not very great, but they love it here; they don't get exposed to any virtuosos or anything. I continue to play until my music disintegrates.

Then I sit on the stage while my ex-mentor and my ex-self-study-facilitator try to embarrass me with a final closing ceremony. Hidden at the fringes in others' comments are drug references. Mainly, they say "you're lucky - free at last!" rather than "farewell, you've learned what you needed". People line up and all come to hug me and they give me a card like a yearbook signing page with a quote I don't believe in in the center. It's all very touching, but I'm not embarrassed and I am glad to leave.

After the closing, I go to Lauren's office and install the finally completed scheduling program. This takes about a half an hour; now I can go down to the dorm, after drawing all my stuff into a bag. I finally am allowed to listen to the jazz CD that my father sent me months ago without getting it approved and donating it to the school, so I do. Mike complains about its simplicity. We hang out, talk openly, listen to Tory Amos, and kick out everyone I don't want in our room. Gradually, everyone else goes to sleep and I am left alone.

As night continues and I pack to leave tomorrow, I find myself growing sentimental. I find my self-study notebook, the list of hugging instructions Aska had given me as a joke, the sonnet crown starting with "I will do my homework every day" and ending with "Some day perhaps I'll find a better way" that I had never finished, the cards people wrote me from after the Truth and Trust workshop, the letter on why I was here that I had demanded of my father after an argument, the picture of my ex-dorm-head Jared I had put on my bulletin board to fill up space and comply with his rule, and the quarter I had kept from the first day though we weren't supposed to have money. Together, it reminds me how much K.G.S. has taken out of me. My thoughts refuse to organize themselves enough for me to sleep, so I stay up all night listening to Tory Amos and type a random freewrite and put it, white on black, on the background on my laptop.

The only way I could explain what I saw in myself that night was to compare it to a piece of terrible amateur piano composition I had written, a hideous repetition of B natural and C in various simple rhythms layered upon itself. The world around me was a poison, corrupting any simple, innocent thoughts and converting them to a blend of psychoanalysis, Eastern philosophy, logic, and metaphor. My view of the world had, in a year, become irreparably crazed; never again would I be able to hold a simple opinion without worrying cynically about all the evil there is in any implementation of an idea, in any action.

Maybe I just grew up a little. I know one thing: the King George School did not accomplish what it set out to accomplish. I, like most other students who went through a year at King George, still have the problems I came in with. I am still rebellious, and I still do not do all of my schoolwork. I fear that this means I am not exactly succeeding at the school I attend now.

The King George School has a website at <>. It has become part of the CEDU school system since I left there, for strange political reasons. But the school politics of King George are another story for another day.