So this is how it rolls. I actually have a very good sense of humor but at the moment so many people are not finding a lot of things to feel humorous about. Myself included. My reasons for that might be a little different than Covid 19. Beware, I feel like I am already getting long-winded.
I live in one of the most affluent areas of the country – Marin County, California. I’m not saying that for any reason other than that I landed here when I was 25 – just because I did. And then I created and built my life here. Beautiful hills, stunning landscape, ridiculous housing prices and too much money for anyone’s good. I do, however, believe that Lake Forest, IL beats it in the financial aspect. Do I sound rambling? Good. I should. I am holding my child in a box next to me.
I wrote a heartfelt tribute for my dead child this month. One I felt fitting for him and, oh, it was going to cost $7000 in our local paper, The Marin Independent Journal, because it “was kind of long”. Seriously. Oops. Sorry for that length. Another polite editor told me that a 700-word Op-Ed piece option was still available if I liked. Seemed like it was a busy news time in the incredibly news driven Marin County. Yet another bright, vibrant boy died of a drug overdose from drugs available at their fingertips - but it isn’t worth telling the community.
Ok – you, as the good reader, thinking, well what is the point of this woman’s rant? How would this affect me? We’ve heard about the dangers of these drugs. It might not at all. But it also might. After all, we have Covid 19 consuming our world – a true and real virus that we need to take very seriously. But has everything else in the world vanished? Has the fear and the hysteria (and I say this as in incredibly direct and politically incorrect nurse) made us forget or forego other plagues that are just as real?
As a parent, when I am sending my child off to high school or college do I really know if they are hurting or scared or what they might be doing? Three weeks ago, my just 19-year-old son died of a Fentanyl overdose alone in his bedroom. He didn’t inject it – he snorted it. He had a lot around him. A shocking amount. He didn’t go to a party and make a mistake. He knew exactly how to get it and was either by himself or a “friend” who might have been there with him bolted as he was dying. As the beautiful hills of Marin County were outside his window.
I grew up in Michigan (the most amazing people), our closest friends live in Chicago, and my family is in New York and Florida. You and I are everywhere. We are parents. We hear on the news of this drug plague. We talk about the fears of these drugs for our kids. But they are other kids, not ours. Hmmm. How about that?
In Ohio, Maine, Oregon, anywhere, everywhere… We are losing our children, our babies (because, at least in my experience, at 18, you are not a grown up). I ask, “Where is the outrage?" Where are we as parents? We are in support groups, we are quietly sharing with others who are also struggling but we are quiet. There can be no quiet.
Why do I live in the community I do where there is not outrage? There are means, financial and otherwise. There are parents connected to sources of help. Why are we not crazy with wanting to help our children find the right way for them? It’s not just drugs. It’s the stress of picking the right high school, college, it’s the SAT score, it’s the social media – for God’s sake it’s the right nursery school you sign up for when you are pregnant.
I am a completely crazy woman now. I can’t sleep, eat and by normal standards, am functioning poorly. I have a great profession, am known in my profession and say out loud, right now, that I have lived a year of hell (that I have kept quiet) living through and watching my vibrant, bright, funny, sweet boy dissolve into a broken, despaired, shell of himself. The complete access to drugs, most of us have never heard of, are 5 minutes away from our homes. And any young person who is hurting knows right where to get them.
I keep asking the question. Where is the outrage? Is the outrage only if these take your child? We send them to rehab or wilderness? Ok -- but why? Because we are scared. Likely some don’t need it. Maybe they are working through some sort of teenage rebellion. And then there are the others. This fight is taken on by parents who have lost their children and a small group of community activists. Michelle is working on grief groups for parents. Amanda is fighting to get free Narcan into anyone’s hand that needs it. In Napa Valley one dose of Narcan costs $100. Why is there not community outrage? Why is there stigma? Really, really good kids are being taken. And I do not say that because kids are any different here. I say that because they are in every community. They can get lost. Why are our communities not paying attention? Or worse yet, not taking fierce action? Or enough action.
There are really good people fighting this fight but the bigger picture is that we should be ashamed of ourselves as a community for not being outraged. I only know boys. And many, many get lost. Our children need us. So much. No one will ever-likely doubt that I fought for Xander. I’ve even heard that he said that himself. About his mom. Me. Go figure. He was really good at saying “I love you” but not so much on “hey you’re doing a great job as a mother”. He was a teenager.
I want to say what happened to him. I want to say it out loud. Because he not an isolated young man. He was incredibly smart and resourceful. He could get himself across the country without money or a vehicle and he could buy drugs the same way. He eventually found kids wanting to do drugs, going nowhere, who never had his back. Young themselves. I hope they find their way. Then he found really great guys, also struggling and wanting to find their way. Guys who have called me, texted me, brought me flowers – saying, “ Xan was such a great guy and such a deep thinker.” And then he got lost again.
So, it was a slow news day in Marin – but my wanting to honor my Xander was going to cost $7000 or otherwise not be news worthy. I have been to 4 funerals in Marin and San Francisco of boys under 20 since November. Seriously? My entire teenage years I knew one classmate that died in a car accident and heard of another who committed suicide. I am sending this wherever I can because my hope is that it finds a voice. Xander is a solid, wonderful boy/man who grew up having a secure (not perfect and not entitled) life --- that is not dissimilar to many boys who get lost. Many boys. I can’t talk about his street cred because he didn’t have any. He grew up going to camp, with wonderful friends, with solid people who loved him. He felt ashamed that anyone knew he had been in rehab. He didn’t want to be “that kid”. He wanted college and sports and a girlfriend. He didn’t even resemble who he was once he found drugs. He would be mortified to know I am saying any of this. But there can be no more quiet.
I will ask every day of my life why/how he got lost and how could I have helped him more. I know I will never know. He found weed. He said it made his “feeling lost” better. A gateway drug? No—not if you are 30. 16? Yep – I absolutely believe with how their brains are functioning that they can’t process it. He would tell anyone a thousand times that harder drugs were horrific. And once he found opioids his brain stopped. My lacrosse playing, goofy, hockey expert died of a Fentanyl overdose with a lighter and a straw in his hand. I can never unsee that. And he isn’t honored unless I say that out loud.
I wrote his tribute and that needs to be told for him. I ask you to read it. But I also want to speak for our children –boys/girls, young adults. I don’t believe it’s just about easy access to drugs but also because many get lost. They might have depression, anxiety or commit suicide. Each one of ours has a story to tell, feelings in their hearts, a depth we may not know. As parents and communities it is our responsibility to not let them go. I will spend the rest of my life seeking, pleading, working for an all out war, not just against drugs, but for helping these young, vibrant souls navigate this world. We need to hear them. We need to not lose them. I have no idea what I will do next but I know I will not be quiet.