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At a Loss

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Two years ago today, I lost someone very important to me to drug abuse. His name is Matthew, and he was not only family, but one of my best friends. I cannot begin to express the sadness that I am overcome by every time I think of him, essentially every day of my life. He is not the first person in my life to lose this battle, and unfortunately, it is unlikely he’ll be the last. However, he is the only one that evokes an intense guilt within me.

I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to forgive myself for the way his life played out. Yes … I realize he made his own decisions. I know I never encouraged any of his behavior. I’m fully aware I could not control his actions. I have heard it all before. But not one of those sentiments answers the following question: If I were never part of Matthew’s life, would he be alive today?

Matthew was about younger years younger than me. He is one of my cousins on my mother’s side. He was the middle child of three, having an older sister and younger brother. And for whatever reason, he always looked up to me. When he was really young, his family lived in Florida, and mine in Pennsylvania. Although we didn’t see each other all that often, we bonded.

Not long into his life, his family moved to Pennsylvania, back to where his mother was born and raised. I would guess Matthew was about eight at that point. I was a young teen, just starting highschool, and just starting to really figure out who I was. And I was not like everyone else. I was a bit of a loner. By that time, I had multiple piercings, was on the verge of my first tattoo, and was heavily involved in the punk and hardcore scene. Music and friends were my life, and Matthew was intrigued.

I used to make him mixtapes of my favorite bands. He couldn’t get enough. He absolutely idolized me. He would ask me anything, and I would always give him an honest answer. I don’t think honesty was something he was getting a lot of at home. He was different. I thought that was okay. And in return, he looked up to me.

As he got older, he never really fit in. He was extremely quiet, painfully shy, and terribly insecure. I think a lot of that led to his drug use and experimentation. He started out small, smoking weed here and there. I thought that was pretty normal behavior at his age. I wasn’t really concerned. He was in highschool. I did the same things at that point in my life. He advanced to popping pills, painkillers, xanax, muscle relaxants, things like that. Again, I said nothing. I did nothing. I didn’t want to be a hypocrite. How could I tell on him for doing the same things he knew I had done?

Unfortunately, he then began experimenting with heroin. It wasn’t long before I was convinced he was shooting it up. This is where the honesty in our always open relationship dissolved … completely. I had no idea how bad it was. He seemed alright. He wasn’t using all that often, so he said. And again, I didn’t want to be a hypocrite. How could I look him in the eye and tell him to stay clean when I wasn’t. I didn’t want to turn around and mess up his life if it really wasn’t that out of control.

I would go over it in my head a million times. I couldn’t decide whether or not to go to my aunt with what I knew. I didn’t want to cause problems in their family. I didn’t want him to hate me. I didn’t want him to turn around and rat me out about things I had told him in confidence. And he really did seem okay.

By the time I spoke up, his parents already knew. He was enrolled in an inpatient rehab shortly after. That didn’t last long. When he left, he attended outpatient therapy. He got kicked out for smoking weed. We all thought, hey it’s just pot. Better he smoke pot than shoot heroin, right? He was still drinking too, but again, that was typical behavior at his age. He was adamant that he wasn’t doing anything else. I asked him point blank, on several occasions, if he was using, and he said no.

On June 24, 2007 Matthew was found in his bedroom, dead from an apparent drug overdose. He was twenty years old. He was discovered by his brother and sister. To be honest with you, I never asked the details of what killed him. I don’t need to know the specifics.

My heart was shattered.

I’m a rational person. I can look at everything I’ve written on this page and tell myself he did this to himself. I can tell myself I tried to tell him not to do it. I can tell myself I did eventually do the right thing by speaking up about what I knew was going on. I tried to be there to support him when he was trying to clean himself up. He knew he could tell me anything.

But the bottom line is this: He looked up to me, and I was a terrible example to follow. I will never be able to forgive myself for what happened to him. I am so sorry.

Matthew, I love you and I miss you everyday.

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