By Alex Downing
I met him on my first day of high school. He sat in the back of his classes and feigned disinterest. Teachers didn’t like him at first because they thought he was dull and indifferent. But they quickly discovered that he was smart, smarter than a lot of people. His intelligence was quiet and unassuming. It relied on an inherent understanding of the world, rather than solely researched knowledge. Some may call this wisdom, but that would be too presumptuous a word. He was modest.
I became his friend because I wanted to acquaint myself with an exceptional person. He was an artist, a musician, a straight-A student. He read dense historical novels at the skatepark. He wrote poems while smoking menthol cigarettes. If intellect and rebellion were two perpendicular roads, he was their intersection.
Now, no one’s life is remarkably simple. Everybody faces obstacles; everybody must overcome adversity at one point or another. That being said, there are certain individuals who are dealt overwhelmingly bad hands in life. He was an example of the latter. His childhood was marred by tragedy and abandonment. His adolescence was wrought with poverty and abuse. The abundance and severity of his misfortunes made my troubles appear insignificant by comparison. Before knowing him, I was blind to much of human experience.
If steel is exposed to cold enough temperatures, it can shatter. If a phenomenal person is knocked down enough times, they can shatter.
He stopped going to school around the same time he discovered being numb was easier than being in pain. I remember when he told me about the pills. It made me sad in a very profound way. I tried to help him many times but it was like attempting to rewrite a story that was already carved in stone. Over the next few years, I was forced to sit back and watch my friend hurt himself. I watched until I couldn’t watch anymore.
The last time I saw him, he was loitering in the parking lot of a strip mall. He appeared gaunt and battered. His neck and arms bore red marks for which no explanation was needed. They looked sinister.
We are in the midst of a drug epidemic. It seems as though every week news breaks of a celebrity overdose. These highly publicized battles with drug addiction open up a much broader dialogue about substance abuse as a whole. Recently, I’ve been seeing many negative and misinformed opinions added to this conversation. The word “loser” gets thrown around a lot. Not only is this thinking toxic and naive, but it is also very hurtful.
My friend is still alive despite six overdoses. Society told him that his addiction was something to be ashamed of, so he ran away from everyone who cares about him. He is not a “loser.” He is a better person than most people could ever hope to be. His path in life has simply been fraught with extraordinary heartache. He is a good kid who wasn’t given a fair shot. Before you make assumptions about a person based off of ignorant, preconceived notions, consider the circumstances that led them to that point. Sometimes great things aren’t allowed to be great for a little bit. That is a candid yet bitter fact. My friend is still a great thing. Substance abuse doesn’t subtract from somebody’s greatness.