On the night before my 18th birthday, in 1999 my cousin Lee, who was my best friend at the time, died of a Heroin overdose. It’s been 20 years but my grief lives on.
Months before, I walked in on his dealer standing over his body pouring water onto his face to get him to wake from a similar event.
I remember the dude running away when I picked up the phone to dial 9-1-1 and the ambulance showing up. I recall his two kids being there wondering why they couldn’t wake him up. I remember the look on his face when he was being taken down the stairs as the Narcan fought with the heroin to take over the system.
His eyes, which were hugely dilated, constricted and his head comes up to stare at me.
I was staring into the face of death itself and it looked back at me.
It was the scariest thing I’ve experienced up until that point. Those men saved his life – for a time.
When he finally passed away at the age of 33, he died so suddenly that he didn’t have time to brace himself from the fall.
Naturally, I was devastated.
It’s been 20 years since he left us.
I can’t help but think of all the heavy shit we carry with us. All the weight that time adds to our shoulders, the things that put lines on our faces, and shadows under our eyes. I spoke with a good friend at length last night over some issues he was having at work and the grief that washed over him when he described what had happened broke my heart.
Now, I’m an emotional basket case under the best of circumstances. I have no poker face what so ever and say immidately what I’m feeling. But it’s not always been that way. I used to bottle that shit up. And when I bottled it up, it took its toll on me.
My friend is the opposite. He’s so smooth. So calm. So grounded that it was a shock what I witnessed. And yet, there it was.
We think what we bury will stay buried. That is NEVER the case.
It always rises to the surface in moments that catch us off guard. It’s always lurking there in the shadows, under the stairs, in the basements of our minds ready for our minds to recognize a familiar pattern – and then – maybe out of some internal drive to preserve the person – it strikes. You get triggered. Something, someone, be they a hurt child, a scared adolescent, someone who’d been physically, mentally, or emotionally abused, comes roaring forward out from underneath those stairs and into the light of day.
I’ve seen things in my life, been a party to things, that I will not ever forget for the rest of my life. It’s there. It informs me now. It makes me laugh, it makes me angry, it makes me cry when my defenses aren’t what they normally are.
I think about those eight kids who got shot today in Colorado, and of course, thank God they’re alive – but then I think, once those wounds close the hidden shit will linger as a millstone around their necks for the rest of their lives. They almost met death today.
Life can get to the point where it is NOT sacred. It’s a bitch. It’s a burden. And then I wonder why people crawl under the bottle, why they take a needle in the vein, overeat, undereat, have sex addictions, gambling addictions and I get it. I totally get it.
I’ve been there. It’s grief.
So what’s the answer? I’m not sure.
I loved Lee. I loved him. I miss him 20 years later. I love my friend and hurt when he hurt because that’s what friendship is for. I’m lucky. I have good healthcare. I’ve got a therapist, I have medication, I’ve got stability in my life. I’ve got a job I love that lets me say what needs sayin’ etc.
I am lucky. That’s it. I’m not better than anyone. I’m not smarter, or more emotionally aware,
I. GOT. LUCKY.
It’s hard to face those demons, don’t get me wrong. It’s terrifying. But once you start to, you realize those scary things are only parts of yourself that for whatever reason, wasn’t allowed to grow naturally – so they became distorted. And over time, I realized the things that I hated, the past and the things I experienced I wished I could run away from, were ways to connect to people in ways I could never have imagined. So, in a weird way, I guess I’m thankful.
Finding a way of channeling that grief, makes the hell I went through, so much easier.