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Proving Myself to be a Shitty Human Being

You’re going to judge me when you read this story; I know that. But I am choosing to set aside my instinct for self-preservation and post it anyway because the header on this blog says some shit about me being my authentic self and that means all of me, even the egregiously self-absorbed parts, and this is what my authentic self is dealing with at the moment, so here goes.

In the midst of the coronavirus quarantine madness, we got a devastating wakeup call reminding us that life – and death – go on just like before.

On March 19, my daughter, Alijah, lost one of her very best friends to what appears to be an accidental morphine overdose. Trista (not her real name) was a wild, free-spirited fairy, a tiny hippie child with a mischievous grin, a quick, biting wit, playfully gleaming eyes and an untamed passion for every facet of life, including the dangerous ones.

Alijah and Trista loved each other dearly; they supported each other through the ups and downs of their respective boyfriends and breakups and high school dramas. They had adventures together, laughed together, cried together and dreamed together.

But the Hubby and I had a difficult relationship with this complicated little Trista bean. We recognized the fate that her unpredictable behavior made predictable. We always knew she was going to break Alijah’s heart this way, we just didn’t know when. Or how to prevent it.

When Alijah called to deliver the news of Trista’s death, barely able to breathe through choking sobs, I couldn’t make out who had died -– I only heard a two-syllable name that I thought was “Maya.” Maya is the friend who lived with us off and on throughout middle school and high school. The one we nicknamed “Other Daughter.”

My heart dropped out of my chest, “Who? I’m sorry, Honey, say it again.”

“Trista! She’s gone, Mom.”

Oh, thank God. She said Trista, not Maya.

That’s right, my first reaction was relief. It doesn’t get better from there. Relief was immediately followed by furious anger at being proven right that she would break Alijah’s heart. And then back to relief because she hadn’t taken Alijah with her.

Maybe you’ll try to defend me as you read this, because after all, a mother bear’s first concern is always for the wellbeing of her own cub. But this self-centered reaction is part of an ugly pattern. Several years ago, while she was still in high school, Alijah came home for lunch with a group of her friends one day. She quickly made a round of introductions for the kids we’d never seen before, including Joey (also not his real name), a despondent, unshowered boy dressed in a ratty bathrobe and combat boots. He reminded the Hubby and me of a broken version of Hawkeye Pierce from MASH.

When he was introduced he mumbled a ‘hey,’ but didn’t make eye contact. As they all headed off to the basement, we pulled Alijah aside and pointing to Joey, we advised, “Stay away from that one. Things are not right there.” Five days later, Joey took his own life.

Obviously, the Hubby and I couldn’t know he was going to commit suicide from a 15-second encounter. But we knew something was off with him. Terribly, unsettlingly off. And instead of reaching out to him in some way, or encouraging Alijah and her friends to offer help, we told her to stay away from him. Don’t get sucked into Joey’s vortex of despair, we counseled.

Don’t get sucked into Trista’s oncoming train wreck.

It wasn’t that I didn’t like Trista, I was never allowed the opportunity to like or dislike her. She kept up a wall with me and the Hubby that none of Alijah’s other friends ever did. No matter how hard we tried to break through, she never revealed anything more than the most superficial tidbits about herself or her life. A typical conversation went like this:

Me: How’s your new baby goat?

Trista: Adorable! She’s so funny!

Me: I’d love to see her some time. How’s your mom?

Trista (turning her back on me and speaking to Alijah): We should get some burritos and go up to the mountains.

Therefore, we only knew what Alijah told us, Trista never gave up any personal information, she never let us see any vulnerability or let her guard down. At least not if she was conscious.

One night, as we stood chatting in our kitchen with Trista and Alijah, Trista blacked out mid-sentence. One second, she was upright and talking, the next she was face-down on our kitchen floor. When she came to a few seconds later, both girls vehemently denied any drug use, with Trista claiming, “I’m just really tired and I haven’t eaten anything all day.” No. We’re middle-aged adults who lived through the Eighties. We know a blackout when we see one. We know a junkie when we see one.

I don’t have any judgements about Trista’s addictions; I loved my Hubby back when he was an addict and teenaged drug dealer — I know for certain that you can be a kind, decent person and an addict simultaneously. But I was incredibly judgmental of the flippant way she wore her dependencies: sometimes they were a badge of honor and other times, they were just another mundane tattoo on her profoundly painted body. Maybe you’re thinking that level of hubris is an obvious cry for help, but like countless others in her life, we offered help.

We understood her not wanting to talk to a couple of lame parents so we offered to pay for real, professional counseling with the same brilliant and beloved doctor that Alijah had relied on in her own time of need. Not interested. Rehab? Been there, told them what they wanted to hear and bailed as quickly as possible. Let’s at least deal with the anorexia and bulimia so those don’t exacerbate the impact of the drugs and alcohol? No thanks, all good.

And sadly, Alijah seemed to be reconciled to this. When we would say, “This is killing Trista. She cannot keep surviving like this,” Alijah was disturbingly resigned: “I know.”

Alijah tried more than anyone to help Trista get clean, stop drinking, to eat well, to protect her at nightclubs where she would consistently flirt with the wrong guy or accept the free drink with no concern about being roofied. Trista was often blatantly, flagrantly willing to be her own worst enemy.

When Alijah would be out of town, working on a jobsite in California or Florida, and her phone would ring, her stomach would clench up because she thought it was “the Trista call.” She was constantly worried that the call telling her that Trista was gone would come while she was a thousand miles away pulling wire in some random high rise.

When the call finally did come, Alijah was at home in her own apartment, with her cat and her boyfriend. It was the best way that particular scenario could have played out but it still destroyed her, of course. Trista shattered my daughter’s heart into a billion tiny pieces, exactly as expected.

And I hate her for it.


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