If I can be honest it hurts more than I thought it would. It’s not that I miss him. I mean, I completely forgot he even existed until yesterday. It’s just that it feels way too close like it could have been me.
Hell, it was me. I think it’s the timing of it all that makes it sting so much more.
The saddest part is, I don’t even have a picture of him or us together. We were addicts after all, in and out of institutions trying to get clean. It looks like I won this round but I don’t feel like a winner. Right now, the only things I feel are grief, anger, and sadness.
And all that’s left are memories. Haunted delusions of what was that will never be. I see images I also forgot about until yesterday; scenes I shoved deep down. It hurts as they come back up. I see flashes. I feel his pain as I reminisce with my demons —demons that took his life, demonic creatures that are taking way too many.
As the thoughts come flooding back, I try to channel the rage inside.
What comes out, you ask? A eulogy, or at least my version of it; something I never thought I’d have to write.
But here I am and here it goes.
I see him running after me. I had been in detox for nearly 10 days and I was now about to leave. I guess even then we never had the best of luck with timing. If you remember from a previous post, Freaked Out, Fucked Up & Alone: My Experience in a Del Ray Beach Detox, towards the end of my stay, when everyone there was feeling better, we decide to play a game of truth or dare.
When Heath arrived earlier, for some reason, he caught my eye. Apparently, I caught his too. He was a skater boy who moved to Florida from Connecticut trying to get clean from heroin. I think he had recently gotten arrested for drug possession. As per court order, he had to check into some type of detox and treatment facility —if he wanted to avoid jail time, which he obviously did.
I remember wishing he got there earlier because like I said I was leaving in a few days. But at that very moment, I didn’t care.
And so, I pick dare.
What do you think I was dared to do? Make out with Heath. I remember being excited. I hadn’t had feelings of any kind for so long, let alone a crush. Needless to say, it was really nice and almost normal to have butterflies again. Guess what happened next? He kissed me back, hard —in front of everyone. After, we go into some closet to make out all night. I told you I was feeling better.
It’s hard to put the pieces back together though. Like I said before, I completely forgot about these details until yesterday. I say this because that time period was a rough one and I think as a defensive mechanism, my brain blocked most of it out. But if I hear something that reminds me of the person I was back then, it triggers a domino effect of memories that put me right back as if I’m still there.
It’s an eery feeling, to say the least.
Well, the next morning, we do what we always did but I had something to look forward too —him. I remember actually brushing my hair and trying to look semi-decent. Something I hadn’t done or felt well enough to do since arriving. I know you’re not supposed to date anyone while in early recovery —let alone another addict. But he was never my boyfriend or anything close to that so until I left, I figured flirting wouldn’t hurt either of us.
And it didn’t. In fact, I think it kept me going for the next 48 hours because our day-to-day was getting old fast. I remember gathering in the common room for a head count and meds. He saved me a seat next to him on the couch. It was cool because even though I tried my best to look pretty, it didn’t matter. None of us were our best selves so we enjoyed the company of one another without judgment.
Since he had just gotten here, he was feeling shittier than me but he said I was helping.
We did the same thing every day so the next two were no different. Nothing stands out during that time to me as of right now besides making out a few more times in that storage closest. Some of the others found their version of detox love and were doing the same things we were —all of which wasn’t permitted but we low key did it anyway.
It was harmless. I say that because it never escalated into something more. As the day draws to a close, we all say goodnight and get into our respective beds to fall asleep. The next morning was my last full day. I was excited AF to get out of this place. It resembled a prison more so than anything else.
Except, I almost wanted to stay a little longer to hang out with Heath.
But I knew better.
Instead, we exchange contact info. At that point, I had a cell phone, which my sister now owned so I wasn’t sure if I’d ever get it back or have the same number again. His situation and most of the others were just like mine. So I get a piece of scratch paper (that I just re-found yesterday) and have him write down whatever data he wanted to give me.
I’m left with his first and last name, his current cell phone number, his parent’s house line, their home address and his email. I was able to get most of everyone else’s digits too. I thought we’d keep in touch but that never happened. So after I put the paper in my book bag, we rejoin our group in the common area, pretending that I’m not about to leave.
The truth was, I wasn’t sure what would happen next.
I knew I was going into some type of treatment center but I didn’t know where or what it would be like. I was scared. I was also going to miss Heath even though I tried not too. Hell, I was going to miss all of my new friends. I mean, in some fashion this was all of our rock bottoms but we found a way to bond over it. We were cold sweating, irritable, and restless but we were together. Our insides matched our outsides and not in a good way. I remember crying thinking I’d feel this way forever. I remember Heath taking my hand, telling me, we’d make it to the other side.
I remember being in so much agony —physically and mentally that I would have rather died than carry on like I was for another second. Those were the moments these people showed me their true colors. Some of my new friends skipped their detox meds so I could get a double dose. The girls held my hair back when I threw up. They all made me laugh even when nothing was funny.
In short, we walked in as strangers but we left family.
There were about 40 guys and gals at detox back then. Out of that number, I had a squad of about seven —four boys (Heath included) and three girls. It was hardest saying bye to them, but I had too. I didn’t have another choice. My actual family arranged for that treatment center to pick me up directly from detox.
And today was that day.
I remember packing the small bag that sat underneath my bed the whole time. We weren’t allowed to unpack. You definitely didn’t want too anyway. I folded the clothes I did have and organized the toilet trees my sister put together for me after my intervention —the reason and event that brought me here, to begin with. I didn’t want to come and now I didn’t want to leave. But once again, I had too.
It was a sad day. I was the first out of my group to split and I was feeling some FOMO. Except, everyone was really excited for me. They knew how badly I wanted my life back and how awful I felt the past two weeks. They also knew how much better I was doing and thought I’d continue to thrive but only if I left.
So I have a moment with each of them, one by one as I make my way outside.
My ride, the rehab was here to pick me up. But where was Heath? I had been with him and the others all morning but he had some appointment with billing on the other side of the building. Would he make it back in time? I was so worried he wouldn’t when I hear one of my friends yell his name and to hurry.
I was trying to stall my driver for as long as possible. Somehow, it worked. I tell her that I had to use the bathroom and I wanted to check to ensure I didn’t leave anything behind. As I’m making my way back inside, I see him running through the front door I was about to walk into. He gives me the biggest hug and we just stand there like that for a few. Luckily my driver received a phone call so we were able to take our time.
I remember us letting go as he grabs my chin, tilts my head upward and kisses me.
This would be one of the last times that happened. Honestly, I was shocked he did it right out in the open since you weren’t supposed to fraternize with the opposite sex let alone exchange breaths. But I loved it. I too had given him my contact info as well as the address of my new rehab. He said his plans were the same as mine so we decided we’d keep in touch by writing letters (snail mail) until we both got out.
I remember arriving at rehab (directly from detox). I remember thinking about him, wondering if he was thinking about me. I remember listening to the clock radio (the only source of music we were allowed to use) I had in my room. I’d turn whatever song was on and just reflect on everything —Heath included. There, of course, was way more going on in my head beside him but I guess he was like the one who got away.
More like the boy who could have been but never was.
It still stung. I honestly didn’t think I’d hear or see him again. Then, we get our mail for the day and I had a letter from him. I couldn’t believe it. I open it and start crying. I must have read it 1,000 times. He said he was slowly adjusting to rehab life. He was feeling better now that he was officially detoxed. But he was still working through a bunch of shit just like I was.
Except, now I had his local address from the envelope the letter came in. I decide to write something in return. This back and forth went on for a few more weeks. By the time my stay at rehab was over, he had relapsed and found himself back in detox. I think this happened a few more times. In between that, he was arrested. Needless to say, he wasn’t doing too well but he was trying.
I had just moved into that halfway house in Del Ray right off Atlantic Ave upon graduating treatment. Then, I freaking run into him as I’m applying for a bunch of hostess positions. He looked the same but a little dirtier than I remember. Still cute AF, we pick a bench next to the beach on A1A and catch up.
I could sense he wasn’t on the straight and narrow anymore.
But we talk anyway. I tell him what I was up too and he tells me what he’s been doing. I find out that he was currently homeless. He had just gotten kicked out of his third rehab and was trying to find some sort of halfway house to get into. I had an interview in a few minutes right down the street from where we were so I tell him I have to go. A couple of his buddies were waiting on him anyway. So I give him my new number in hopes I see him again.
I do —same shit, different day. He ended up finding a halfway house but I guess he was still in relapse mode because he gets kicked out of that too —after failing a drug test. But then he finds another one and the story continues. I see him a few more times but none of these instances were on purpose.
I knew there was absolutely no future but I still liked running into him. I think he liked seeing me too.
So we make plans to go to the beach together one afternoon. I was still living in halfway, working as a hostess at this $18 gourmet burger joint called, The Office (safe to say, I aced that interview and ended up getting the job). I had my first Saturday off since I started. He was doing a little better than before —living in another halfway house, trying to work the program. We were supposed to meet at 2:00 p.m., but he never showed.
I waited until 5 and then I gave up. Turns out, he was arrested again. I heard someone set him up. This kid we both knew got busted and ratted Heath out to lessen his own sentence. I didn’t know that until recently. Back then, I was so mad because I thought he stood me up.
Eventually, I find myself in relapse mode just like him. I get kicked out of that halfway house and become homeless too. I end up having to leave the state because everything was a trigger. I understand the demons he was trying to fight because mine were the same. I venture to Savannah, Georgia where I’d spend the next year of my life trying to figure out this sober thing. It was way harder than I thought but just like he said, I made it to the other side.
And it hurts like hell knowing he didn’t.
Flashforward five years.
Here I am, today. Like I said in the beginning, I completely forgot about all of this. I’m not even kidding. As I’m typing this to you right now, more memories are coming back. Events I erased, uproars I’ve omitted. I understand why —at least now I do. I understand a lot these days having over four years sober.
I think Heath moved up north to try again at home. I bet his family was more than happy to have him back. I bet they are hurting like hell right now. I bet they never misremembered memories about their son. Except, now, that’s all they have left. We have that in common.
For me, I’m stuck with everything all over again. But there has to be a reason for this all. I’m waiting.
I don’t understand why I randomly decided to clean out that box filled with old letters and documents from my time in Florida at detox and rehab circa 2011. I don’t understand why I found that crumpled up piece of paper now —that same piece of paper I had him write his contact info on so we could keep in touch seven years ago.
I don’t understand why I couldn’t have found this shit two weeks ago. I say this because as soon as I found that paper, I texted the number he gave me, I emailed the address he wrote. No response back. Then, I decide to google his name now that I had his first and last.
What do I find? His fucking obituary.
Turns out, he did move back home. He had been living with his family for the past five years. He stayed clean for the most part but those damn demons he was trying to work through ended up working him. I read that on April 17, 2018, which happens to be my mother’s birthday —Heath relapsed for the last time. I say the last time because he overdosed and died a few minutes later.
So you’re telling me that after all these years, things were finally working out. We both had jobs. We both moved out of Florida. We both were trying. Two weeks ago, we were both winning. We both made it to the other side just like he said we would when we were sick and hurting (not so fast). 10 fucking days ago, he died. I think it would hurt less if his passing was a year ago but I missed him by a few thousand minutes.
Why couldn’t I have found this piece of paper 264 hours ago?
Could I have reconnected with him? Could I have convinced him not to pick up that day? Could I have reached out and saved his life? I don’t know. My mom says the universe didn’t intend for me too. She says that for whatever reason, it was supposed to happen this way. But it doesn’t make things hurt any less. All of this reminds me of a time at detox when the staff asked us to look to our left and to our right. Why?
Because one in three recovering addicts in treatment for their addiction don’t make it. Fuck. They were right. Unfortunately, at this very moment, I don’t have any parting words of wisdom I can offer you. I don’t have the motivation to tell you that we all are going to make it to the other side because that would be a lie. The truth is, most of us won’t. Most of us stay stuck and let the demons win.
So what are you going to do with all that dark? I’m going to find a way to glow in it.
I want you to do the same. I want you to make it to the other side. I want you to be the exception to that rule. I don’t want you to be another Heath. Because mostly it’s loss that teaches us the worth of things —and just like our eyes, our hearts have a way of adjusting to the dark.
I say this because sometimes a thunderbolt will shoot from a clear sky into the midst of a peaceful family, without warning from the gathering storm above, and from that moment on, everything is changed. That family or that life is no longer what it once was —it probably will never be again. The air is thick with clouds, and they cannot weep themselves clear. There may come a gorgeous sunset though. And that’s something worth remembering.
*names and some details have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals involved.