Please, Wake Up

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My mind is decayed. There are pits where my thoughts are supposed to meet. Everything is still. Gone. Trying to remember the last time we spoke. Probably the Super Bowl party. Maybe that night we went to the bar when it was too cold? I don’t see the guys enough these days. Everyone lives too far. Everyone is just trying to make it through. Working too much. Too broke. I’m struggling, so are they.

My friend died this week. I found out on my birthday from a notification on Facebook while I was waiting at the bar for a drink. I stared into the distance for a bit and resolved to hold it together. The bartender handed me my beer, and I took a long sip. This always seems to always happen when you least expect it.

He was also drinking when his friend offered him a pill he’d picked up. Getting lit down the shore in the winter like Jersey kids do when they’ve got some time off from their shitty jobs. They passed out and one never woke up. Dirty pills we guess. The second friend of mine to die this way in the last 2 years. Sometimes it’s better to pretend they’ve moved. All my friends live so far away.

I got to go away to college when I was 18, and escape NJ for a bit. On a campus you could drink pretty openly; get weed if you needed. My friends that stayed behind in the North Jersey suburbs started playing with pills. Victims of their time and place. Jersey is the pharma capital of the United States, just check Cory Booker’s donor list, and pills were easier to get than weed or beer. They were cheaper at the time and easy to hide in a state where the smell of weed in your car can somehow still ruin your life. I always had a fear of pharmaceuticals, so I never touched opioids outside of a wisdom tooth surgery, but most people weren’t so scared off.

I was gone for school, but back summers and holidays to work minimum wage jobs and hang with the dudes I’d known since I was a kid, so I got a peek at what was going on. Pills were around, and then suddenly they weren’t so easy to get, and things began to go downhill. Most people could leave em behind and go back to beer and blunts, but some weren’t so lucky; either because they’d taken them too often, genetics, or just willingness to take the risk to escape for a bit.

At a summer job a co-worker admitted to me that he was hopelessly addicted and begged me never to loan him any money. I once witnessed him break a paper towel rack off a wall to get a piece of a blue pill stuck from behind it. He went to rehab. He survived. I saw him on the train and he seems much better. Another of my addicted co-workers I saw at the train station a few years later. He was living there. I hope he’s okay. Legions of friends, former classmates, and acquaintances cycling in and out of rehab.

And that was just the start; people were dying. Plucked out of thin air. Gone. Overdosing on heroin trying to avoid opioid withdrawal, or like my friends, buying pills from sketchier sources: a friend at a party or that guy from work. This isn’t a unique story. I would bet someone reading this right now has had the exact same experience, probably much worse. It’s happening across the country; an epidemic of parents and friends and children dying.

I feel a pain in my chest; more likely a suppressed panic than a heart attack. Another friend gone forever, leaving the remainder of us shattered and reeling. I’m not sure I can handle a funeral. The next one is gonna kill me. I wasn’t ready for this. None of us were.

I don’t know why I felt I had to write this, maybe just to get it out of my head. But if I can hold this raw nerve up to the light, maybe it will influence some people to stay away from pills, maybe it’ll even motivate someone to stand up to the pharmaceutical companies and politicians that are fueling this plague. I know I won’t be going down without a fight. I don’t know what to do about all this, but we need to do something.  No one fucks with Jersey and gets away with it.


Henderson Cole // @HendoSlice