A Decade Out

The line sounds like the cliche opening in a movie trailer, but it’s plucked straight from reality: ten years ago, my life changed forever. I was a 17-year-old dreamer who believed in everything, feared nothing, and dove right in. But on April 20, 2005, I became a 17-year-old adult who didn’t believe in anything, feared EVERYTHING, and second-guessed facets of life I’d never even fathomed. I was thrust face-first into a harrowing situation, and the result was a broken human with a temporary case of PTSD and a life-long case of GAD and depression. 4/20/05 literally changed the fibers of my being, down to the very synapses in my brain.

I’ve talked (briefly) about losing my first love before, but sometimes I feel like I could write forever and still not manage to describe the events, the emotions, the people, the smells and sounds. I could never do the day justice through words in a million years. Whether I go a day or a year without thinking about it, when I let the moment completely take me over, I still feel the same dense sadness in my sweaty panic as I remember.

A struggle as a writer–especially one on the Internet, where things are public as public can be–is how much to reveal. Sure, it’s my life and I can tell my stories, but I very much take into account the privacy of others when I tell a story that doesn’t involve me and me alone. A decade out, though, I feel like it’s a disservice to J’s memory to leave out the details of how he died. Point blank, addiction killed him. I didn’t know it then, but god, I see it now.

The thing is, we see addiction as this gross, shadowy thing in our society. Only horrible, gaunt, rotting people who sell their children’s belongings to get a fix are the ones who get hooked and die, right?

Wrong. So wrong.

J was so different from our societal image of addiction that no one saw it, not even I. He was warm and disarmingly handsome. He could make me laugh with such ease, and even in our hardest times, it never felt uncomfortable. He was caring, intelligent as hell, family-oriented, and loved his friends. J attended church, even though I didn’t, because it mattered to him. He, on paper, was perfect. But the boredom of living in a town that didn’t provide enough stimulation for him–for most of us–pushed him on this precarious path of substance abuse we ALL walked down in that time. The thing is, he walked further than the rest of us… and it ended in the worst way, the way it never should have.

But that addiction doesn’t take away what he gave me, his family, and all of his friends while he was still here. The only thing it actually does is make it a horrible accident, and anyone who says otherwise doesn’t deserve to hear the memories the rest of us get to share with each other about a magical human who touched us on an intimate level.

I used to think “Hey, maybe I shouldn’t share this because it’s not just my story,” but the thing is, it is a story that saved me from dying, too. Sure, I immediately went cold turkey the day he died, but it was because I didn’t trust drugs anymore, not because I saw an issue. But when I realized how close or knee-deep-IN he and I and so many others were to addiction, I couldn’t believe no one had stopped us. I couldn’t believe no one had noticed. And then I realized, it’s because we didn’t fit the mold. We made straight A’s, looked attractive and healthy, and we could act our naive faces off. We tricked everyone, and probably the best of us paid for it. A lot more did before him and unfortunately, a lot more have since, too.

Ten years later, I am still broken, but I am alive; I thank J for that gift often. But I think I can thank him more by being more open about him and his struggle, about the different faces of addiction and the different ways we can be addicted. I can thank him by continuing to ruthlessly take care of my health, mental and physical. I can thank him by raising awareness of the INSANE amount of teen drug use, especially in tiny towns. I can thank him by living my life for me and ONLY me, just like he wanted me to.

And in a way, I feel like that means he’s not gone because addiction doesn’t change someone’s core. J’s core was kind, and we’ll spend our time left here making sure that core kindness keeps rippling through the world. He left a legacy that will last forever: through us, through the lives we build, and through the people we help. How many people can say that?

Not many, and we’re all better for knowing someone who could.



Situational Forevers


I used to hang out with this group of people.*

*I guess we all used to hang out with “this group of people.” We’ve all hung out with multiple groups of people at multiple stages of our lives. But this group is THE group in this story. Blogception.

As I was saying, I hung out with this group of people in college who I thought I would be with for the rest of my life. I don’t mean to imply copious orgies or polygamy plans; it’s just that we were so close-knit, and I loved every one of them to bits. Naturally, I thought that bond would be forever ’cause I wanted it forever. I always want things forever, even though I know human forevers are only like 90 years or some unremarkable bullshit like that.

I mean, I should have known it wouldn’t have lasted. I only knew them because I was dating “one of them,” and he didn’t seem that into me after a still-undefinable point in our relationship. That didn’t stop me from loving him and them and everything we did together.

We formed a little family for a short time (and I do mean short — less than a year), then in an instant, we were strangers. We burned out, I suppose, which isn’t surprising; we were drunk over half the time. Once, I got so dehydrated after drinking approximately an 18-pack of Bud Light, they had to take me to the hospital the next day. Bonding ‘n shit.

And yeah, I’m sure the substances at play didn’t help. Neither did the volatile relationship in the middle of it all. But years later, looking through photos that bring up as many bad memories as good, I realize it’s because we were all just situational buds. You know… people who wanted things, but we needed each other to get ’em. Maybe it didn’t start out that way; I know I started out with the best of intentions. But midway through our fucked up family formation, it became that toxic kind of parasite-host bond until we all dried each other up because we’d each made it to our selfish, secret little finish lines.

I wanted to love someone, so I did.

He wanted to want to love someone, so he tried.

I wanted him to reconsider, so I played cool to his friends.

They wanted new blood, so they let me in.

I wanted to be heard, so I opened up.

We wanted each other, so we had each other.

We wanted to be best friends, so we were.

He wanted to be alone, so he left.

I wanted to keep the others, so I held tight.

They wanted to keep him, so they let go.

I wanted them back, so I tried.

She wanted him instead, so she wouldn’t let them.

I needed to heal my broken heart, so I left. I left all of them.

They never wanted me the way I wanted them, so they never said “come back, come back.”


I wish the inspiration for this post came from a life-altering revolution or a positive change in legislation, but sadly it comes from tragedy. Unspeakable, heartbreaking, can’t-wrap-our-heads-around-it tragedy.

I guess hope means something unique to me, but hope is the one word in this project that has a truly defining element of community. We all have our own hopes, but we all together hope for safety, for a happy ending, for a light in the middle of a ghastly dark night.

Hope means coming together when people need us. Hope means helping even when there’s nothing in it for us. Hope means believing doing these things and loving each other, and changing the laws, and taking care of those who have lost the most precious of things, can make a difference. Can make it okay again. Can make it better.

Hope means finding the light left on in the darkness by our neighbors, our loved ones, a total stranger. It means being there for the loved ones of the victims in today’s shootings, because god knows we’re going to need them to be there for us one day. And that’s okay. That’s how it’s supposed to be. Hope is a universal community of people who set aside their vast differences to hold someone’s hand.

Hope is hard to find, hard to give, but even harder to forget. Be someone’s hope, and don’t give up on your own. It’s out there, even in the blackest abyss.

If you’re struggling with how to be someone’s hope or how to find your own, here’s a simple list of how you can start. My friend Allison compiled it today, and I think it’s beautiful. It’s full of all the best kind of hope:

  • Hug your family and your friends
  • Offer words of love and support
  • Call your parents 
  • Donate blood  
  • Open up conversation about mental illness  
  • Donate to facilities or charities that care for the mentally ill
  • Pray, send good vibes, healing light, think good thoughts, say kind words
  • Do nice things for people going through hard times; bring them dinner, cut their grass, take their dog for a walk.
  • Be a beacon of love
I love all of you, today and always. Please remember that.

Angels Should Fly

Somewhere around 10 p.m. last night, the reminder of an early morning wake-up call and the sweat-inducing physical labor of moving in a roommate finally pulled my body into some kind of pseudo sleep. That didn’t stop me from waking up every hour, either ripping myself from a horrible dream or waking up crying. I didn’t understand. I don’t understand.

Yesterday, in the middle of a beautiful late July day, I was lounging and surfing the Internet, as I’m sure most of us were. I never expected it to turn into a day of so much sadness and loss for the people I know, and a lot of whom I love, from my little home town. They were gone and they were never coming back, not for any of us.

Unfortunately, none of us are strangers to loss. It’s something we’ve grown up with. I think some of my pals lost more friends in high school than they have since walking across the tiny little stage in that horrifically decorated auditorium of ours. I’ve heard it’s finally got new curtains.

But what hasn’t changed is the pain we feel when these untimely, senseless deaths rock our network, no matter how strained and spread out that network has become. We still feel like we’ve lost a vital chain in our link, no matter how much time has passed.

No one really needs to know the what of the situation. Most of us ask out of our own selfish curiosity, but when it comes down to it, the only thing that matters is them; the girls we lost, their memory, and the people who loved them so much better than the rest of us.

The memory I have is limited. I didn’t know my friend’s sister, but I did know my friend. Friend. Not acquaintance. Someone I genuinely spent time with, someone who, unlike that “acquaintance” term, never brought anger or annoyance to me when I saw her.

We weren’t best friends. We didn’t need to be; she had hers and I had mine, but that didn’t mean we weren’t kind to each other. I can say I always had a genuine smile on my face when I saw her. I really hope she thought the same about me. Not that it matters, because it will never change the fact that I thought she was a delightful person, and no one who is delightful in this crazy world we live in deserves to be ripped out of it. Not like this.

It’s hard to find hope in a time of utter sadness. The tragic loss of two unforgettable girls follows so shortly behind nation-wide tragedy. It’s hard to wonder if there is a point continuing to try, continuing to care about other people for fear of what happens if you do. It’s hard to lose someone you love, and I swear, the pang only increases as your age does.

But we have to go on. We have to keep caring. In fact, we have to care more. If we don’t, we won’t honor their memory. We won’t change the things we can to prevent these tragedies from happening yet again. And changing those things is what we have to do to survive. It won’t be easy, but we’ve got each other.

We have to remember that no matter how far we live from each other or how pissed we have once gotten at each other, or whatever other petty walls we’ve set up to divide us, that we are all from the same place. Love it or hate it, we’re tied together in a way no one else we’ve met since will understand. That connection can be a pain in the ass, but it’s also pretty beautiful. We need it.

We need each other to lean on, to cry into each others shoulders, to hold each others hands, to catch someone in embrace when they feel too weak to stand. We have to have each other’s backs because no one else will, not in the same way. Not in the way we need.

We have to remember to love each other in the same way we love those girls. And damn if we don’t love them so much it hurts.

Rest easy, you sweet ladies.

Gonnas: Life Map & Life Loss

And boom goes the dynamite.
(enlarge for details)
Today is always a rough day, so I’m just gonna enjoy the forecasted early day weather and reflect upon the loss of two of the most important men in my life. I’m not going to dress in total black and read poems about death, but I am going to remember them.
At the end of the day, that’s what’s important. You’ll always be remembered, JTW & JLG, as long as I’m still breathing.