Snow Still Falls

I was 16 years old and a junior at Bonneville High School in Ogden. I was at the peak of my teenage rebellion. It’d been so long since I’d been to class that most of the teachers had permanently erased me from their rolls. I was doing more drugs than I could keep track of. I had plenty of delinquent friends to hang out with. It felt like nothing in this world could bring us down, not our parents, not the law, nothing. We were unstoppable.

There was a whole group of us by then. Most of us had known each other since Junior High and spent the last four years or so getting fucked up together. It had started small, making pipes out of tin foil, apples, plastic bottles, anything so we could smoke the little bit of weed that Troy had stolen from his dad’s stash. It escalated much too quickly. Before long we were smoking marijuana every day, selling it to feed our habit, then other drugs came into play. Magic mushrooms made their debut. We figured they couldn’t be too bad, they were just another plant after all. Ecstasy showed up and that one was too much fun to ignore, it became my personal favorite. In due time, the list expanded to include prescription drugs, LSD, cocaine… Meth and heroin.

By the time meth and heroin began to invade my group, I was on the downslope of my rebellion and my druggie years. Halfway into Junior year, I was arrested for skipping class and underage drinking. I’d been on probation once before for drug possession so I planned to get through this exactly how I had gotten through it the last time, lying my ass off and playing by the rules just long enough to be freed, then go back to my bullshit again. When someone in our group got put on probation, they were almost exiled, seeing as they couldn’t do drugs anymore, they were no longer fun. I couldn’t skip school anymore because I had a probation officer keeping track of grades and attendance. Plus, those random drug tests that occurred almost twice a week made it really hard to get high on anything.

I still hung out with my friends after school while they did drugs and found out how to cheat the system so that I could get high with them. Fake urine was sold at every smoke shop and niacin, a dietary supplement, flushed your system in a day or two. At the time, I hated being on probation. I hated being controlled and forced to comply with society’s standards. Looking back, I couldn’t be more grateful for it. Drew and Brian introduced meth into the group first. They were about 22 when the rest of us were still in high school and provided us with most of our connections for booze and drugs. They had dabbled into meth before and were relapsing, taking most of us down with them. I made a promise to myself a long time ago that meth and heroine were off limits. Being on probation made this promise easier to keep.

I remember all of my friends falling out of my life after that. They were ashamed of what they were doing. They knew meth was a dirty drug and on a different level than the drugs we had previously experimented with. Meth was serious business. People died over it. People died for it. It was no longer a fun night. It was an overwhelming addiction that constantly needed fed. With time and dedication I made my way back into their lives. I assured them that the meth didn’t bother me and that I would always be there for them. Part of me didn’t want to lose my friends and be alone. Another part of me anticipated this was just a phase, hopefully one I could help them get out of it. I did ecstasy and adheral in an attempt to keep up with them and that made them more accepting of my presence.

Every night I would watch them roll that little glass pipe back and forth, then pass it on to the next. A typical meth pipe is a straight tube with what looks like a blown up bubble attached to the end. Through a hole on the top of the bubble is where the crystals of meth go. Then you would put your mouth on the end of the straight piece, hold the tube gently, index and middle finger on top, thumb on the bottom. You would light the bulb under the crystals with a lighter and when they started to smoke you would inhale while carefully rolling the pipe back and forth. This insured that the meth didn’t get burnt and the pipe didn’t get too hot and shatter in your face. The choking yellow-gray smoke would stain the once clear pipe as it escaped into the willing inhale of my friends. I’m not sure what the official name for those pipes are, but we called them glass roses. They were marketed as decorative pieces and could be bought at most downtown gas stations for a few bucks. When you got them there was a fabric rose you had to pull out before it could be used. The same thing that once held beauty, now held death.

I always hugged the wall closest to the window in Drew’s tiny basement room. The window was ground level and about the size of a notebook. I would stand under the window smoking cigarette after cigarette like a freight train, trying to keep the meth stench from reaching me. No matter how hard I tried, the overwhelming odor of cat piss would reach my nostrils and I would have to run outside to throw up. In their defense, they never offered it to me. I had told them my decision and they were honoring it. The image of them back then is a scar branded in my mind that I will never forget or forgive myself for.

The meth phase lasted for a while, and there was no hiding it, though my friends did the best they could. All of them had lost so much weight. They were pale and new sores from picking at themselves sprouted every day. It was disgusting, but deep down I was sure the people I loved were still in there. I desperately needed them to be in there somewhere. I spent the majority of my free time with them until I just couldn’t take it anymore. One morning, after having spent the night with half a dozen of them, I broke loose on Drew.

We stood behind his car arguing. I kept telling him over and over again about the pain he was causing. He was smoking his life away and I was putting my foot down. I would no longer be a part of this. He needed to stop. They all needed to stop. It didn’t matter what I said though, he had an excuse for everything. The reason he had lost weight was because he wasn’t going to the gym anymore. The reason his face was scarred was because his acne was coming back. It was as if he had forgotten that I had been present the last three months and witnessed their self-destruction. He kept saying it wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t that much different than all the drugs we had played with before. He liked this one the best, just like ecstasy was my favorite, but it didn’t control his life. He could stop, he just didn’t want to. That was it, I couldn’t handle anymore. I turned to go, the waterworks full force. Tally shot of the house tears in her eyes as well. She knew what I was saying was true, but she wasn’t going to stop either. She hugged me and went back inside with Drew.

I rarely spoke to any of them after that. I heard stories and would see some of them at school from time to time, but I was no longer accepting of their behavior, therefore, they were no longer accepting of me. I used this alone time to get my grades back up. Maybe I could graduate next year. I found new friends to hang out with, ones who cared about themselves and their futures. We had parties on weekends, sure, but it was playing Mario Kart with a couple of beers, mellow in comparison to the past four years of my life. By the end of junior year, everyone in my old group of friends had stopped coming to school. Some had officially dropped out, while others simply fell off the map. I heard rumors that they had all found heroin now and that was the new favorite.

Heroin was not a chance I was willing to take. From the rumors, it hadn’t gotten bad yet, so I thought I might have a chance to turn things around for them. I wanted so badly to pull them out of the hole they were digging. At least with meth, the overdose rate is incredibly low. Your physical health and mental state suffers, but most meth addicts get to grow old, not be happy or healthy, but at least they would be alive. Heroin was a death sentence. I knew my friends and how drugs affected us. We always took more than we needed. We always tried to push that envelope, just to see how far it could go. I had to get back in. I had to stop this.

I got off probation at the end of junior year and spent that whole summer trying to weasel my way back into their lives again. I would show up at party houses we use to go to. I would call them, text them, trying to meet up, even if it was just to smoke a cigarette. Sometimes it worked, but usually it didn’t. They had exiled themselves from the rest of the world. They were neck deep in their addiction and there was no coming back for them. They didn’t want help. They wanted their drugs and their lifestyle. Nothing else mattered. Occasionally one would get a wild hair and want to get clean. I would accept them with open arms, buy them food, help them get work, give them everything they needed, but within a month’s time they would relapse again and stop answering my calls. It began to take a toll on me. By the time senior year started I had given up. They could not be helped until they decided to help themselves. Telling myself this made me feel better, but I’m not sure I believed this fact until years later.

I spent senior year taking concurrent enrollment classes and getting straight A’s. I had always been a smart kid, good at school, picked things up quickly and excelled with minimal effort. My grades had fluctuated depending on how bad into drugs I was or if probation was keeping me in line. I had motivation now to be a better person, to rebel against my rebellious lifestyle. I was going to be someone and do something with myself. I had to make up for all the wrong I had done. It would balance out, right?

I hung out with the same group I had been with at the end of junior year and my old friends faded into the background. There were stories, rumors, but I stopped paying attention. I had wasted enough energy and enough time. I was angry with them, so incredibly angry. When one of them got a new charge or went to jail, I was happy for them. I thought that maybe that would snap them out of it, make them want to change, make them who they were again. It never did happen that way, but some moved out of state to get clean usually returning and relapsing, but at least they were trying. A few were on their way to prison by the time I was graduating high school, but I knew they would be safe and that’s what mattered. Tally managed to graduate with us that May, she wasn’t sober, not even close, but she had scraped it together and got to walk. Seeing her with those pinhole pupils and sunken face was difficult, but I was happy to see her accomplish something.

Days after graduation I turned 18 and moved out with my then boyfriend to be an “adult”. I started going to Weber State University that fall and life was on a good track. I rarely thought of my old drug addict friends anymore. They were a painful reminder of my inadequacies and time had not given me anymore wisdom on how to fix them.  I had learned to accept that they were strangers now. People I didn’t know anymore and I had to love them from a distance. I threw myself into work, school and bettering myself. Then came November 23rd.

According to statistics from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 594 Utahns died of heroin overdoses in 2013. Danny was just one of them, but he was the only one that mattered to me. He was also the one I least expected. He had gotten into heroin later than the rest of them. He was the last one to drop of school and he dropped out a 4.0 student. He was by far one of the most intelligent and driven people I had ever met. He had such a pure heart and was one hell of a friend to have by your side. Such a true, good person.

I remember meeting Danny for the first time in eighth grade, shortly after I met Jake. A cute kid, a chubbier kid, but the adorable kind of chubby that made you want to hug him every time you saw him. He had pitch black hair and deep, kind, brown eyes. He had the best sense of humor, making you laugh until you cried, making jabs at himself for the pleasure of those around him. His laugh could fill a room. You couldn’t be sad around him if you tried. He wouldn’t allow for it. He hung out with a group of preppy jocks back then so I didn’t get close to him until sophomore year when he decided that marijuana was worth trying out.

We hung out almost every day the summer after sophomore year. Smoking weed all day, the occasional mushroom trip and damn, could that boy drink. I called him whenever I was having boyfriend issues or problems at home. He was there, no questions asked, ready and willing to drive me as far as it took for me to feel better. He would go snowboarding as soon as the season started, always willing to teach a newbie like me a few tricks. I never did get good at boarding, but with him and Jake by my side, I always had a blast. Danny was there when meth started invading the group. I cried to him about the destruction it caused and how helpless I felt. He listened to it all. Promised me that it wasn’t my fault. That there was nothing in the world I could do to stop them. It all made sense when he started skipping school and lost a dramatic amount of weight. It got to him too.

I called him out on it once, after the incident with Drew, and Danny swore it was just a phase. He didn’t like it that much anyway. He was more of a “downer” guy, weed, alcohol, barbiturates, painkillers, opioids, heroin… When the rest of the group was into heroin hardcore, I wasn’t sure Danny was part of it, or maybe I didn’t want to believe he was. I knew he hung out with them all the time, but maybe he was doing the same thing I had with meth, hung out in the shadows trying to help them get out. I was naïve and hopeful. He was in it and it was obvious. His weight showed it, there wasn’t much left. His beautiful olive skin had become a ghostly white. Danny was in, but I was sure he could pull out of it, if nobody else, he had the potential to turn this around. I was wrong.

I was at my dad’s house, trying to dodge a magic mushroom party my boyfriend was throwing at my house that night when I found out. I was scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed, repeated over and over again on peoples’ walls, “RIP Danny”. I froze. I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t know what to feel. My dad saw the look on my face and asked what was wrong. I stuttered, not sure I was ready for the words about to fall out of my mouth.

“I think one of my friends died. Danny. I think Danny died.”

My dad’s face was concerned as well as confused. He got up to give me a hug, but I deflected.

“I need to call Jake. I don’t know if he knows. He’s going to need someone.”

I ran outside and lit a cigarette, frantically dialing Jake’s number to make sure he was okay. Danny and Jake had been best friends since elementary school, growing apart when Danny decided that meth and heroin were his new best friends. This was going to be hard on Jake and I knew he would never reach out for help by himself. I needed to be there for him. I needed to be strong while he fell apart.

I was grateful when he picked up the phone. I could tell he had been crying. He did his best to hide it, pretending to be stoic and apathetic. I told him to come get me so we could go for a drive. I was nervous about seeing him. Jake and I had a falling out at the beginning of senior year when I began dating a jealous boyfriend, the same one I had moved out with and was planning a life with. My boyfriend was possessive and anything with a penis could not be my friend, at least not without a fight and a threat to leave. Tonight, I didn’t care. I would take all the accusations. I would take being single and alone over deserting Jake. He needed me and nothing else mattered. I sent my boyfriend a short text, along the lines of, “One of my friends died. Jake needs me. I’ll be home in a while.” He immediately started calling my phone off the hook, but I kept hitting ignore until the inevitable nasty text came through, threatening to break up with me and accusing me of not caring about his feelings. I ignored this too, as I watched Jake’s car come around the corner.

I hopped in the familiar blue Honda, turning to look at Jake. His eyes were still swollen from crying, but he wouldn’t look at me. He put the car in first and off we went. Neither of us knew exactly what had happened, but he knew more than I did at the time. Danny had gone to a party the night before with another “friend” of ours. In the morning, Danny’s younger brother almost run Danny over backing out of the driveway to go to work. He died on the concrete, in the cold, alone. There was no doubt that Danny had overdosed. The friend that Danny went to the party with, Jose, was nowhere to be found.

Jake explained this all to me, then went quiet. He stared straight forward, taking us through familiar turns until we ended up at The View. The View was, and still is a place on the east side of South Ogden that you can park and see the entire Wasatch Valley, well pretty close. We sat up there in silence, watching the snow melt as it hit the windshield. Each snowflake disappearing as quickly as it came. Danny would have loved that it was snowing before Thanksgiving. We always joked that he was a polar bear in a past life.

Words danced on the tips of our tongues while we held back the tears welling in our eyes. There was nothing to say. Crying wouldn’t fix anything. There was nothing either of us could do. We both knew that. We didn’t have any answers. We didn’t know who we were supposed to be angry with. We didn’t know who was to blame. Was it Danny for making these choices? Was it Jose for abandoning him? Was it the drug dealers? The friends who enabled the drug use? Was it us for not doing more to stop them? We were numb. Lost. Sad. Scared.

I looked at Jake knowing he needed more than I had to give him. I put my hand on his shoulder as the first visible tear of our six year friendship rolled down his cheek. He faked a smile, released the parking brake and shifted into reverse. We made one more lap through the same neighborhood him, Danny and I had back in the day. The snow was beginning to stick now, settling into the cracks of the sidewalks, lying weightless on pine branches. The night became an eerie quiet. A numb silence. The soft sound of the heater played in the background while Jake and I looked forward, heads held high, both trying to be strong for the other. We weren’t in this alone and that counted for something. It had to. Before I knew it, we had pulled into the parking area behind my house.

We both got out of the car, meeting behind it, trying to figure out the proper way to say thank you and good bye. We stood there for a moment until I gave Jake a hug and that broke us. We cried there together. The tears fell with no sign of stopping. His breath was quick and shallow. His body warm as he collapsed against me. This only lasted a few moments, then he pulled away, straightened up and wiped his face. He thanked me for calling him and apologized for the shit storm he knew lay beyond my front door. I thanked him, but told him not to worry about me. I needed to know that he was okay and that was my only concern. Nothing else mattered.

Without thinking I looked at Jake and said, “I love you.”

He smiled back, “I love you too, Catie. Thanks again.”

He got back in his car and drove off, giving me one last wave as he did. I lit a cigarette, preparing myself for what the rest of my evening would be like. As I watched the snow falling down around me, I realized that Jake and I had never said “I love you” to each other before. At least not that I could recall. It fell out naturally. A vulnerable statement confirming how much one person means to another. I didn’t think before that night that it was important to say those three little words to more than just family and significant others. Friends can go just as quickly. I don’t think I ever told Danny I loved him, but I did. I still do.

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