I have never met anyone who loved to laugh more than you. It was infectious. No matter what my mood, you could pull a reluctant smile from my face, and I soon found my self erupting in laughter.
I want to say thank you. Thank you for the cozy, late-night chats, the two of us snuggled in our beds. The darkened room and hushed corridors brought something out of us; a pure honesty, shared unvarnished truths.
We'd laugh, you and me, about our twenty-three year age difference. How could someone so young be so wise, I'd ask. You would pull a face, stick out your tongue. See? You'd say. I'm just a kid.
But you weren't just a kid. You were a soul sister, one who had been through so much and still with that smile. OH, that smile.
Remember the two of us, duffel bags perched on our laps, heading to the next chapter of our journey with wide eyes? Wondering what would happen next? You grabbed my hand, as I recall, and said I'm glad I'm going with you.
One time, as I schlepped up all those stairs to our room, I heard beautiful music playing. I paused outside our door, listening. I thought you had speakers for your iPod, and was going to chide you for keeping them secret. But no, I saw as I opened the door, it was you playing your guitar and singing. Ethereal and melodious, your talent came from someplace deep inside you, someplace God-given. You sat up, startled, when I opened the door, and blushed. I'm no good, you said and abruptly threw your guitar to the side, nobody is supposed to hear me.
I stood speechless for a moment, awestruck. That was beautiful, I said. Please don't stop. True to form, you picked up your guitar and belted out some crazy made-up tune, twangy and funny, and I jiggled around the room in my own middle-aged funky way.
Every morning you got up early. Every morning. You weren't going to miss that morning meeting for anything. While I mumbled and grumbled from the comfort of my blankets, arguing in favor of an evening meeting, you be-bopped around, humming. Get up, girl, you'd say. I got us a ride.
You made fun of how all my shirts had stripes. Is that some middle-aged Mom thing? Or just an Ellie thing? you'd grin.
Interesting coming from you of the eleventy-seven-hundred LOVE PINK sweatshirts, I'd grin right back.
Of all the girls in the house, you worked hardest at getting to meetings, chasing your recovery. The minute you were eligible to get rides from other women in the program, you hit that pay phone and called and called and called until you got to a meeting. You wanted this, badly.
Keeping a clean room, however, not so much. You bounced into the kitchen one morning chirping about how you made your bed, how proud I should be. Later that day, I smiled to myself when I saw the comforter pulled up over a pile of clothes, lumped up like a tiger sleeping under the covers.
I could make you bust out laughing by trying to be all hip (nobody says hip anymore, Ellie, you'd say). I'd tell you I was feeling some kind of way, and you'd clutch your stomach laughing. Sorry, you'd say, it just doesn't work coming from you. I had to ask you want a 'snipe' was, which you found endlessly funny. For those of you wondering, it's also called a 'put-out'. Yeah, I had to ask, too.
A favorite memory is the day we were told to put on a skit about the counselors. You picked one of the more colorful counselors, and groaned. I can't act, you mumbled. I'm not funny. But then, your big entrance came, and you clacked in on borrowed high heels, reading glasses (mine, of course) perched halfway down your nose and gave everyone a stern look before breaking into a dance and belting out "Because I'm happppyyyyy!" - a dead-on imitation. I glanced over to the counselor you were portraying and she was wiping tears from her eyes she was laughing so hard.
And a proud moment: when we put on a recovery version of the Wizard of Oz, and you bravely played your guitar and sang to the acoustic version of "Somewhere Over The Rainbow", facing one of your biggest fears: putting your talent out there for all to see. You were, of course, amazing.
You made friends everywhere you went. People were drawn to you, to your light. Always quick with a hug and a smile, you had an eye for someone in pain. You made people feel special - you made me feel special, the way you'd light up when you saw me.
Even after we were no longer roommates, you encouraged and inspired me. We'd text inside jokes, check in on each other. Your bubbly sweetness flowed through your words:
But nothing - NOTHING - compares to the way you loved your child. Little Madisyn. The way she would squirm and wiggle and dance when she saw you, then collapse into your arms and stay there for hours, perched on your lap like a queen ruling her subjects. And just like her Mom, she would giggle and giggle and giggle, for hours. Her little face so like your own, big eyes staring up at you with unadorned love.
My sweet friend, you left a gaping hole, a dark space devoid of light, when you left. You are one of the great ones, those rare people I meet who slip into my life like a pair of comfortable slippers. I owe you a huge debt, sweet girl, for being there for me during such difficult times, for buoying me up when I was sinking, for making me laugh in spite of - and at - myself when I needed it most.
Mere words fall short of how much I love you. And I always will.
My incredible friend Rebekah died on January 26th of an overdose. I won't tell her story; it's not mine to tell. But I know she would want me to say this, because she said it to me over and over: if you are struggling, please reach out for help. She posted just those words on her Facebook page only three weeks ago.
It's hard not to stamp our feet and ask why. I get it, because I live in this world. Addiction is a confounding, baffling and insidious disease. It doesn't hold back, doesn't discriminate, and it pounces the minute we are weak and alone. I don't waste time wondering what happened, or why. I know there isn't any reasoning that will help, or explain.
We have an epidemic in our country. In my little part of the world - South Shore, Massachusetts - a person dies everyday from an overdose, and countless more are hospitalized, paralyzed, slip into comas. The more affluent areas are hit the hardest; it starts with pills stolen from medicine cabinets, usually, and it's so addictive it leads people straight to heroin. And it can be found everywhere.
No child is exempt from its reach: no amount of love, or money, or strict rules can spare a kid from its grip.
What we need is education; parents need to get educated on what is really happening in our middle schools and high schools. It's so easy to think: not my kid. But by the age of 14 or 15 every kid will know someone who has tried opiates or heroin. They will know where to get it. They think they are immune from danger, as all teenagers do, and they are vulnerable.
Rebekah's love and light will live on in me and everyone she knew forever. Her death is so tragic, and it saddens me beyond words, but it fuels my determination to keep on mission, get the word out there that addiction is all around us, and despite all the tragic tales there is so much hope. But we can't fight something we can't face.
Talk to your kids. If a friend seems off, ask if they are ok. If you think someone is struggling with drinking or drugs, they probably are. Reach out a hand. If you are struggling yourself, know you aren't alone.
Asking for help isn't weak; it's the strongest thing anyone can do.