I wrote this awhile back but didn’t post it because, well, I didn’t know if I should. Today, I decided that I should.
There was a guy back in high school who used to follow my now-husband, then-boyfriend around like a puppy. It was vaguely annoying, a little humorous, but mainly just how it was. For the purposes of this post, let’s call him Mitchell.
Mitchell was socially inept in a lot of ways and didn’t know when to walk away and when to come around again. He was short and odd-looking and not exactly well-liked by almost anyone. He was on the fringes of groups, darting between nerd and rocker, and accepted by neither.
Eight years later he was in college and was a bit of a joke in the world of local bands. People talked about how Mitchell would borrow their guitar pedals and then never return them. It was a running joke because it was true and also because people wrote it off to Mitchell being a dumbass more than being a thief. People would joke about how Mitchell would never, ever, ever be cool despite his best efforts. People were assholes.
Let me repeat–people were assholes, okay?
I’d like to say that my then-boyfriend and I treated this guy wonderfully back in high school. I’d like to tell you that I never rolled my eyes when I saw him coming. I’d like to say that my boyfriend was never shorter than he needed to be to get the guy to go away. I’d like to say that in college we never laughed when someone said this guy had taken off with yet another guitar pedal or felt more empathetic when we heard that another of his bands had been ill-fated. I realize now that we added to the culture that surrounding Mitchell–the one telling him he’d always be a buffoon and a loser.
There are a lot of things I’d like to be able to say. I’d like to be able to tell you that despite all that he rose above and showed us all that we were wrong and we were assholes.
Instead, what I can tell you is that he began using heroin at some point and died from an overdose locked in a friend’s dirty bathroom. That’s what I can tell you. I can tell you my husband went to the funeral where the most recent picture his folks had of him was his high school graduation shot. I can tell you that people still talk about him to this day and shake their head with this sense that it was inevitable but also so stupid–and thus so like him. I can tell you that most everyone wishes they’d done something differently when it came to this guy. I can say that almost everyone who ever knew this fellow feels a little culpable in how his life ended.
I know I do.
When I heard that Cory Monteith had died, I immediately knew it would be heroin given his most recent history. I also assumed that the fact that he’d supposedly been sober since April would play a role in the OD. I don’t know if it did or not, but my lessons on A States and B States in college had taught me that the person most at risk of an OD is someone who’s been sober awhile because their tolerance has dropped. This means that the same amount (or even significantly less) of drug that they’d taken before getting sober, combined with an unfamiliar setting like a hotel room or a new house, can (and sadly often does) result in their body being unable to anticipate and defend itself against the onslaught of poison coming its way. It’s the perfect recipe for overdose. And it seems like Cory fits that bill.
I don’t intend that information to be a discouragement to sobriety. If anything, it should be another weapon to stay sober.
In my personal life, I’ve never had an issue with drugs, but depression? Oh, yes. Depression has been something I battled off and on since I was eight years old. I’ve been able to fight the bitch off for about 8 years now and I will continue to fight her. This article, though, about Cory Monteith’s death really hit home for me. This man talks about addiction the way I talk about depression. I’ve always believed they were similar diseases. The way they work is so similar, and so is the path away from them.
I’m only writing this because I sensed a fatalism in some of the replies I received from people, suggesting they believe that some folks are destined to OD and die. Fuck that. Fuck you if you think that. Addiction is a brutal, cunning, shapeshifting enemy, but I’ve seen people from every walk of life kick it in the fucking mouth. But if you want to beat it, you must ACKNOWLEDGE ITS STRENGTH and work out in your basement every day, including weekends and holidays, and then when you encounter it on a country road or a city street corner or a weekend barbecue or a subway platform, beat its fucking skull in before it gets the chance to do the same to you. Because it will, because that’s its job.
Yes, that is addiction’s job and depression’s job. They are killers and that is what they do. No doubt.
But it can’t be just the individual who fights. I think back to the callous young people, invincible and stupid, that we all used to be and how little we did for Mitchell. I think about all the things that contributed to the culture around him that helped turn him to drugs. Mitchell never wanted anything more than to be “cool” and I can imagine that if someone he admired offered him heroin, he’d do it just to impress them. Maybe if we’d given him the message he was cool all along he wouldn’t have needed that.
I’m not delusional and I realize I could never have had the power to fix the culture around him–it was so big, and so pervasive, and operated entirely outside of me–but there’s still the part of me that wants to know if there was something I could have done that would’ve prevented Mitchell’s choice to shoot up that night while locked in a friend’s dirty bathroom, if there was something that would’ve prevented him taking it the first time, the next, the rest. I don’t know. I doubt it. I honestly feel like he was so entrenched on this highway that the only one who could have saved him was himself. But, fuck, none of us helped. None of us. I know of no one who ever really helped him.
I’m honestly not sure where I’m going with this. Whenever I hear of someone ODing on heroin, I think of Mitchell, remember his funeral, and think of how we all still shake our heads and I wish I could go back to my 21 year old self and tell her to say something profound to him. I have no idea what that would have been, though. Even now I don’t know. In face of that kind of youth and vulnerability, while so young and vulnerable myself? I just don’t know.
Cory Monteith reminds me of Mitchell in other ways besides his death. Of all the Glee actors, I’d say that he was the most joked about, most lovingly-scorned of the bunch. At least from a fannish perspective. I’ve seen more people make him the butt of jokes than make him a idol. I’ve seen scorn about his (very real) inability to sing or dance (on a show about singing and dancing). I definitely agreed with those comments. But, all in all, there was just something about the actor–some sense of discomfort and vulnerability–that reminded me of the way Mitchell was when I knew him way back when.
I guess just…heroin sucks, and people sometimes suck, and there are these vulnerable people out there and we need to find a way to help them. And if we are those vulnerable people we need to fight our own demons. And we need to have a game plan to fight it–for ourselves, for others. I don’t know. I just want people to stop dying from this crap and for me to not feel like it was, in some ways, because of how the world related to them.
Rest in peace Mitchell, and rest in peace Cory Monteith. I wish you’d had more peace while you lived.