June 24th of 2016 I was sitting on the balcony of my love’s parent’s beach house and I got the call. The call that every person who has ever loved an addict dreads getting. It was my mom and she asked me if I was sitting. I know what that question means. I expected to hear that maybe an aunt I didn’t really know or someone I went to school with had died. That is not what came out of her mouth. When she told me it was you I just sat there for a minute. I asked her if she meant YOU you, praying that she was talking about some other Joey, any other Joey besides my little brother. Anyone but the man who had a one year old at home, who had gotten clean before and was happy, who just one year prior had talked me off a ledge when I was freaking out. But she was talking about you.
You were found dead on your best friend’s couch, overdosed on heroin. My heart broke for him having to find you like that because I know that nothing in the world will ever scrub that image from his mind. My heart broke for your mother who just lost her youngest child, her baby boy. My heart broke for your brother who you idolized, followed, modeled yourself after, because I know that on some level he will always blame himself. My heart broke for your son. Your beautiful one year old son who’d just been so prematurely robbed of all the amazing qualities you had to teach and pass on to him. Now he will only hear the stories…of how his father was as loyal as they make them and would go to war for any of the people he loved, how you were sometimes impulsive and reckless and would go to jail if it meant defending one of your own. He’ll only get to hear about your laugh that could light up an entire room, your smile that could drag anyone out of a dark place, your wild nature but soft heart. There are so many things that made you who you were, some good, some bad, some in between; but they were you. And I know you would’ve been an amazing force in that little boy’s life.. had you not died. THAT breaks my fucking heart. I’ve cycled between being in denial, devastated, depressed, angry, enraged, accepting, and then devastated all over again.
This month is dedicated to devastation. December 23rd marked the 6 month anniversary of your death and I’m stuck in the dreaded place of “what if?”. I sit in these meetings, the same meetings we went to together, and I feel like someone’s gutted me every time I hear the chairperson ask “Is this anyone’s first time at a meeting?”, “Is this anyone’s first time at this meeting?” I can’t wrap my head around why you can’t magically pop up in the back and say, “My name is Joey and I’m an addict.” I would kill to hear those words coming out of your mouth again. But you just had to have “one more”. And now you’re just fucking gone. No magic, no wishing, and no amount of praying in this world will ever bring you back. Your absence has just left this giant fucking hole in the lives of those who loved you. Your death had me staring at that last sentence trying to figure out if “love” or “loved” was the proper way to write it. “Loved” because you’re gone, “love” because the care people have for you didn’t die with you. I just left it the way it is because I couldn’t decide.
I’ve told myself that you’re not in pain or struggling anymore, I’ve tried to reason with the grief that everything happens for a reason, I’ve written about you, talked to you as I was falling asleep, replayed so many memories through my head in an attempt to celebrate your life instead of mourn your death. But you know what? It doesn’t fucking work. Grief doesn’t give a fuck that you’re not suffering anymore. Talking to you at night doesn’t magically give you the ability to talk back. Looking at your prayer card on my mirror every morning is not the fucking same as you being here. Death is unforgiving. I had only known I was pregnant for a month when you died and I was still in that place of not telling anyone because I was so afraid of losing her and god knows you weren’t always easy to track down. My brother died without ever knowing that I was blessed with the one thing I always wanted. You’ll never meet my baby or get to hold her. You’ll never sit back with me and watch our kids play together. You’ll never hear her laugh or get to make fun of me trying to make costumes for some school play some day. I’ll never get to punch you for busting my balls about being a stay at home mom or a housewife. There’s so much that you’re not going to see, that we’ll never get to share now, and I’m angry. I’m fucking angry because you got so close. You got that time clean two summers ago and you were happy. You had learned enough that you were actually able to help me instead of me helping you. I remember how amazed I was at how much you had grown in the months you’d been clean. You were living your life far away from the world of active addiction and you had this light in you that could actually match all the darkness you always seemed to carry with you. But that darkness won in the end, I guess. We all have it, that darkness; but you were always so sensitive to it. It just dug its way into you on so many different occasions, pushing you over the edge at the worst possible time. You would do good for a short while, but you always were your own worst enemy. You’d get so close to your life getting better and you’d hit the self destruct button because you didn’t know any other way. It was brutal to watch, enraging to try to talk you out of, and heartbreaking to see how badly it hurt you even though you always did it to yourself. You were never perfect but you never pretended to be. You owned your flaws, even if sometimes a little too much.
I never thought you would die.
You were my invincible little brother.
And you fucking died. And I can’t do anything to change it.
I handle hard things well but I can’t seem to find a way to swallow this one.
You’re supposed to fucking be here! To raise your son, to talk shit with me, to meet my beautiful daughter, to go fishing and rafting and swimming. You always had this light inside you and the world just isn’t quite as bright without you in it. I know that’s cliché and you’d kick me in the face if you were here to hear it, but it’s actually true with you. You’re supposed to be here, laughing and learning, loving and living. When people say that life isn’t fair they always forget to mention that sometimes it’s just outright fucking cruel.
by Ashley Hebner
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