We all have one. That one friend from our childhood years who’s family was our 2nd family. You used to spend the nights at each other’s houses every weekend and all the time in the summer. Their parents had just as much control over you as your own parents. Their siblings were like your own siblings, and they treated you like one of their own. You knew all of their grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and have been to all of their houses many times. You went to church with them, went on family trips with them, ate dinner with them more times than you can count. I met that friend of mine at the beginning of my 8th grade year. We bonded over a project and became best friends almost over-night. Before long we were constantly at each other’s houses and quickly got to know each other’s families. She has 3 siblings. Her older brother was a year older than us in school. Like most older brothers, he found us to be very annoying. We liked all of his friends, tried to follow (or spy) on them constantly. The only sentence he generally uttered to me was, “Why are you here?” Typical big brother stuff. My friend often referred to him as “The Perfect Child” due to the fact that he could do no wrong in his parents eyes. Then there was the baby of the family, the only other girl. She was a lot younger than us, and other than occasionally having to babysit her, she wasn’t around too much. Her last sibling was the 3rd in line, about 4 years younger than us. I know you are never supposed to have favorites, especially when you are dealing with children, but this sibling was my favorite. Good thing – because he was ALWAYS around. He followed us everywhere and we didn’t even care. He was so sweet, and so funny. I wasn’t allowed to walk past him without a hug. He would block doorways to get one, even if you had already hugged him 5 times that day. He was goofy and happy and had a giant heart. You couldn’t help but be happy with him around. Back in the day, when you had to call a person’s house to talk to them (instead of a cell phone) and he answered the phone it was always the same – He wouldn’t give my friend the phone until I talked to him for a while first. He completely drove us crazy, but we loved him anyways. He was my “little brother.” They were my 2nd family.
As things often happen after high school, my friend and I went off to our separate schools and started separate lives. Several times over the years, we came back into each other’s lives again. She was at my wedding. So were her parents. At one point we lived close to each other again and visited often. I had a child at that point, and she would come and hang out. I few times when I traveled back “home”, I visited her parents with my daughter. I went on a weekend trip with her to visit her older brother in another state (he no longer hated me – lol). We ended up living about 12 hours apart, but thanks to social media, she has watched my child grow up, and I have watched her family grow with the birth of each of her beautiful children. And of course, I’ve also watched that “little sister” become the wife and mother of a beautiful family and that favorite “little brother” become a VERY TALL grown man with the same little boy in his eyes. He had a giant dog that was his very best friend until the dog sadly passed a few months ago. How funny to see the 2 gentle giants in picture after picture. I watch all of her cousins go through life with their families as well, often sharing congratulations and memories. My friend and I have always chatted through the years, sharing memories, venting to one another when major family events happen. She’s that friend that no matter how much time goes by, you pick up where you left off, simply because you are just like family to each other. You have a friend like that too, I’m sure.
About 2 weeks ago, I got a phone call. That “little brother” of mine was dead. His dad found him on the living room floor. He had a syringe in his pocket. No one knew.
I am having a hard time accepting this. To say the sentence, “He died of a heroin overdose,” is the most foreign thing that I have ever uttered. I have talked to my friend at length. I drove home to go to the showing. I went to the funeral. I know the story. But I still can’t accept it. This happens to other people’s families, right? I will be the first to admit to you, prior to 2 Fridays ago, I was completely ignorant to this. People who overdose on heroin look like those people on the mugshots on TV – not my little brother. They don’t come from families like my 2nd family – right? WRONG. So, so wrong. It’s everywhere. It can affect ANYONE. If can happen to people who are happy and LOVED. It can happen to people who have families who would do ANYTHING to help them – if only they knew.
We have a problem in our country. It is killing our children, aunts, uncles, moms, dads, friends, sisters, and even our little brothers. If you look up the statistics of heroin use and overdoses in this country in the last 10 years, you would be appalled. It touches every gender, race, and socio-economic group. The person next to you on the subway could be doing it, people on your Facebook page could be doing it, one of your co-workers could be addicted. The scariest thing of all is that you would most likely never be able to guess who. I wish I could give you a magic sign to know how to spot it. As my friend said as she spoke at her brother’s funeral, he wasn’t perfect. He had some struggles in life. ALL of us do. None of us are perfect. But no one could have ever imagined this. At his showing, his mom told me that he was “the little brother I never had.” My “little brother” would never do heroin.
What is the lesson in all of this? All I can offer at this time is just to be aware that it is out there and that it can get anyone. I have my own theories on why he left us so soon. I have shared these thoughts with my friend on why some people can live in this world for so long, using these drugs and allowing it to take over their lives completely, and do bad things to others and live to see each day. I’m not saying that others deserve to die from this, but this doesn’t make sense to me. This was a guy that was full of love and joy. He lit up a room. He loved his family and was a great uncle, son, and brother. He didn’t look like heroin.
RIP “Little Brother”. I’m glad to know you are now free from every struggle you had. I hope someone else will hear your story and be brought back to their families before it’s too late.