No more letters to dead friends

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The day before Mother’s Day, just a few weeks ago, I got a phone call from an old friend.

Nearly 40 years separate our ages, but Colleen is a wise old soul. I learn more from her than I could ever hope to teach her.

We met 10 years ago at the Juvenile Justice Center. She had black half-moon circles under her eyes and every other word out of her mouth was an obscenity.

I remember thinking, “This girl has spirit.” And I remember hoping, without much to go on, that she would stop using methamphetamines so her fiery spirit could shine light on her world rather than darkness and misery.

“People said I’d never change,” she told me. “I wanted to prove them all wrong.”

And she did — she’s been clean and sober for almost 14 years.

Every month or so Colleen calls me with news of her family — she has two young children — or some Big Issue that concerns or excites her.

When Walla Walla Community College started a new support group called Recovery First, Colleen couldn’t get her words out fast enough. “You’ve got to meet Michelle Meyer, this is so cool, she is doing great things, I’m so excited ....”

Sometimes — too often — she calls with heartbreaking news. Her aunt died from alcoholism and opiate addiction. Her mother needs treatment for her addiction but has no money. A drug dealer with a shotgun started shooting up a trailer outside her home as she was walking to her car with her two children.

Here is the story she told me the day before Mother’s Day, words coming so fast and interspersed with hard crying that I kept asking her to repeat herself:

“A good friend died a few days ago. Another damn overdose in this town. I should have known, I tried to contact him a few months ago but he didn’t call back. I should have kept trying.

“I’m going to watch my mom die because she can’t stop using. Every one of her friends is dying or dead. They’re all in their 40s and 50s. That’s the normal dying age when people drink and use drugs every day. And nobody cares: ‘Oh you know, whatever, his heart went out, his kidneys failed, his liver stopped working, it’s normal,’ they say. Well, when my kids grow up, I sure hope they don’t see that as normal.

“This town is a trap,” she continued. “I feel like it’s never going to get better. I feel like everybody overlooks everything, the only thing we have is a prison, a jail, overcrowded hospitals and people who don’t want to do anything for our youths. We need to focus more on children and not so much on stupid things like taking down the Octopus sign. How stupid was that?

“How many wineries do we have in this town? 100? 200? Does this make sense to you? Why can’t the youths have a game place, a pool, a mall, things to do, why are all our legislators on their backs, who is running things at the courthouse, why are all these drugs and deaths covered up?

“It makes me scared. It makes me want to go down on Main Street with a microphone and boom box, walk around the courthouse and prosecuting attorneys’ offices. I am so done with people not listening, not hearing, not caring. They can’t just block it out forever.

“Because I know what’s next. I know I’m going to lose more friends. I’m going to lose my mother. There’s nothing I can do about it. Unless we have some type of help. All people need is people who care, who are genuine, and who are sober. We need to show people love and stop being so scared of them.

“We need an inpatient treatment center here — crime would go down and we’d have more clean people, more people with jobs, more people off assistance. We need more free public events where the community comes together, like a big potluck with water balloons and free stuff for kids to do.

“Can you imagine growing up with no good memories? If your friends are all filled with drugs and violence, what do you think will happen when they’re raising their children? It will keep on going, on and on and on down the line.”

Colleen sighed, gathering her thoughts.

“I’m just so frustrated,” she said. “Six months ago I wrote a letter to a friend who died of an overdose, telling him what a good person he was and how much I would miss him. I’ll write another letter today.

“But that’s enough. I don’t want to write any more letters to dead friends.”

Kathy Ketcham is the co-author of 14 books and executive director of Trilogy Recovery Community. For more information, go to www.trilogyrecovery.org.

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