My parents often joke that I live my life through “rose-colored glasses,” and I suppose that’s at least partially true. I’m not entirely sure if I’d classify myself as an optimist, but if given the choice between half-empty or half-full, I’d likely choose the latter.
I guess it’s these “rose-colored glasses” that are making the recent death of a high school classmate a little difficult to grasp.
T* and I were not the best of friends, nor were we really friends at all, but we were without a doubt friendly acquaintances, to say the least. For four years, we shared a homeroom and had a few classes together throughout our high school careers. Actually, T was the very first person at my alma matar to extend a friendly gesture my direction when I was starting at a completely new school, filled with nearly 1,200 students, but only a half-dozen familiar faces. Her game of “tiddly winks” during freshman orientation made me feel more welcome than I thought I would.
And here I sit, almost 10 years later to the day, in shock that this former classmate’s life ended following a lethal dose of heroin**.
Today was T’s funeral, back in Scranton. Tears were shed and hearts broke as loved ones said their final goodbyes to a girl who spent less than a quarter-century on this earth. It’s an absolute shame that her life had to cease so soon because of something entirely reckless and rash.
Heroin is something most people never know outside of movies, TV and other fiction, and that is how it’s always been for me. I’ve never encountered or been near the substance, nor have I known anyone – to my knowledge – who even dabbled in this deadly drug. But T’s death brings its usage a little closer to home, even if the two of us never cultivated a close relationship.
This is a girl who I can vividly picture in my mind, who I can still hear laugh, whose sarcasm could easily fill a room. A person who was an honors student and a future social worker. Yet her life stopped at the age of 24 due to addiction. And while I wish I could say it was a complete and utter surprise, I can’t. Unfortunately, despite T’s ability to make anyone smile, her reputation also carried a history of drug use and at least one stint in rehab that the entire 2003 graduating class likely heard about. I just thought, or perhaps assumed, she had more sense than to push that substance problem too far, toward her own demise.
I don’t often think about issues like drug and alcohol abuse. They seem so foreign to me, so outside my own life, that they aren’t something I seriously consider on even an irregular basis. But it takes something tragic like this to bring a variety of questions – What’s the allure of drugs, even pot? Why make it a habit? Why do it if you know its potential consequences? Why, why, why? Etc. – to the forefront of my mind. And sadly, I know I’ll never find the answers I truly seek.
If anything at all comes from T’s death, I hope it’s a lesson for those of us who knew her – or who knew of her – to think a bit more, to appreciate life a bit more, to take this one existence we have as seriously as possible. My heart absolutely breaks when I imagine what her family is going through during this difficult time. To be honest, I’m not even sure I could adequately visualize the sorrow and pain they must feel. And to think that it was heroin, of all things, that caused it? It simply leaves me bewildered and baffled.
I hope T rests in peace and that some sort of lesson arises from her death. It’s incredibly unfortunate that it takes moments like these for people like myself to stop and consider drug use and its effects, but maybe this is the kind of wakeup call we need.
* For some reason, I hesitate to use her name. Sorry folks.
** Her obituary didn’t state a cause of death, nor was a news article written. However, all indications and word of mouth indicate a heroin overdose.
I was at work yesterday when the news came through. “No way,” was my first reaction, refusing to believe that it was possible, assuming it was nothing more than another ridiculous tale from the ever-churning rumor mill.
But it was true: Michael Jackson, at only 50 years old, was dead. The self-proclaimed King of Pop was gone, and I was in utter disbelief and shock.
To be honest, I’m not entirely sure why that was my gut reaction, and why part of me still can’t wrap my mind around this sad notion. I’ve never been a huge MJ fan, although I can easily sing along with every No. 1 hit he attained. And despite my brief attempts at the moonwalk in my youth, I have no memories hinged to the star. Yet something inside kept me glued to my television last night, rapidly flipping between CNN, MSNBC and MTV as this story unfolded. I simply could not walk away from the remote, nervous I’d miss something important or interesting. And it was on my couch that I fell asleep, MJ news still streaming from the set when I finally woke up around 4 a.m.
June 25 became a day when history happened. You hear people today talk about the day Elvis Presley died, or John Lennon, or Jim Morrison, or Kurt Cobain. Our parents or grandparents mention these musical figures and how the news of their deaths affected fans around the world. And as conflicting reports came in from CNN versus the Los Angeles Times yesterday, I was watching the same kind of moment in history; the day a bright star in the sky finally burned out.
Naturally it was sad when Ed McMahon passed away earlier this week, and Farrah Fawcett took her last breath yesterday morning. But – as horrible as this may sound – their deaths weren’t surprising. As an older man with a variety of health issues, McMahon’s death was sad, of course, but nothing shock-worthy. And articles were written nearly daily about Fawcett’s consistently declining health as she battled anal cancer for the last three years. For many, Fawcett’s death was merely a question of “when.”
But Jackson … very few individuals can truly say they saw this coming. Like the others, there were noted health concerns, and maybe a few mental health inquiries as well. But he was 50 years old and slated to embark upon a 50-concert tour in London within the next month – a tour that was said to mark yet another comeback for the star whose peak likely came in 1980s. I can’t imagine anyone seriously believed with more than a grain of salt that his death would be imminent.
So when it unexpectedly occurred, it was nothing short of a monumental moment in history. This phenomenal pop star, the man who paved the way for so many others, was dead and my eyes were transfixed to this news. Maybe it was the journalist in me, or maybe the girl who, one day, would like to tell her kids where she was when MJ died, but I couldn’t pull myself away and I’m glad I didn’t.
Listening to what this man meant to so many, ranging from the everyday person on the street to some of today’s best performers in the entertainment industry, clearly Michael Jackson touched their lives in some way. And to hear that, to see the musical legacy he will leave behind, was quite significant.
Yeah, sure, he also unfortunately departs this world as “Wacko Jacko,” a man who was accused of child molestation, who had a pet chimpanzee, who dangled his child over a balcony ledge, and whose appearance was regularly tabloid fodder. However, his talents could never be denied and his popularity still remained strong despite the crazy tales coming out of Neverland Ranch and beyond. And though some may want to focus on his weaknesses, the iconic symbol MJ has become will never tarnish for the majority of fans mourning his death today.
As corny as it is to say, Michael Jackson was more than a man – he transcended to both myth and legend. He may be gone, but his reputation – both the good and the bad – will live on, and I can nearly guarantee his death with hold the same semblance as that of Elvis. People will talk of this moment, of this single fatality, for years and decades to come, and I can say, with detail, where I was and what I watched unfold. And even though this particular entertainer held little astonishment for me, his death will remain more than historic. It’s pretty damn epic in my lifetime.
It was the fall of 1996 and I was 12 years old. My brother – 10 at the time – and I had begged my mom for YEARS to let us get a dog, but to no avail. And finally, only months before she would wed my step-father, she succumbed to our constant pleading.
My aunt was in the throws of a divorce and neither she or her soon-to-be ex-husband could keep their purebred standard black poodle, Licorice. She was about 2 years old – born Nov. 1, 1994 – and we were more than willing to take on the responsibility of our first dog.
And we did for the next 12-and-a-half years of her life. This past Saturday, after amazingly fighting death for nearly six months, my parents decided it was time to let Licorice go. Her health had been declining since Thanksgiving – although around Christmastime, it vastly, yet temporarily, improved – and despite my mom’s best efforts to help that dog in any way possible, she was convinced our 14-year-old pooch was starting to suffer.
As sad as it is, the decision to put our dog down was a long time coming. My parents never thought she’d make it to December, and yet she proved everyone wrong, acting like her normal self (minus the speed, of course, due to her age) through the winter. But her health rapidly diminished once Easter came near and by last week, Licorice was barely able to walk, refusing to eat and always appeared in a daze, likely deaf and almost blind.
I said my very sad goodbyes to her at Christmas. I tried to spend time with Licorice while I was back home, knowing it’d be unlikely that I ever saw her alive again, and I weeped as I gave her one last hug before hitting the road back to NC. If there’s anything for me to be grateful for right now, it’s that I at least had a chance to tell her how much I loved her and a final farewell.
Living so far away, it almost doesn’t seem real that she’s gone – though I’m tearing up as I say that. If I lived at home, constantly feeling the void left by her death, I’d be a crying mess. To be honest, I think stepping through that front door without her there to greet me would instantaneously break my heart.
She was probably the best dog anyone could ever have. She was a pro at sitting, shaking hands and even begging. Prior to welcoming her into our household, my aunt taught her to “dance.” Licorice would stand straight up, on her back legs, and hop in a circle. It was so cute! And I’m certain I’ll never get Sophie to master that skill as her “Aunt Licorice” – what my parents called her when referring to Sophie – did. Licorice loved everyone she encountered and was the friendliest pet someone could ask for. She was always well-behaved and happy. Looking back, I wish I spent more time with her, but I suppose that’s how it is when anyone or anything dies. You can’t help but crave even another moment together.
Above all, Licorice was my mom’s dog. Sure, my brother and I preferred to think she was ours, but in reality, she was a mama’s girl all along. It kills me knowing how badly this loss is hurting my mom. I’m even afraid to call and ask how she’s handling it for fear she’ll start crying as she did Friday when telling me the sorrowful news. I just hope she finds some relief soon. We all know it was time to say goodbye, but that, in no way, makes it any easier to do so.
When I adopted my Sophie, I bought her a purple collar, just like Licorice’s. And now that she’s gone, it’ll be a great way to remember my very first dog. To say she’ll be missed doesn’t feel like enough, it feels like the understatement of understatements, but what else can I say? She’ll be a tough act to follow, that’s for sure.
RIP Licorice. We hope you loved your life with us, because you truly brought something amazing to all of ours. We’ll always love and miss you. ❤