By Kimberly Edwards/Photo Credit: Lee Chapman
We’ve all seen it: it comes unexpectedly, sometimes from one or two people, or sometimes in a flood of your timeline. I’m talking about posts in memory of a friend, relative, or loved one. It happens all too often and, in the era of desensitization to traumatic events, it’s easy to forget that sometimes those one or two posts, or floods of posts, are real-life expressions of others going through something extremely painful.
A couple of weeks ago, an acquaintance died of an overdose of sorts. Out of respect for the dead, I’m not going to analyze this person’s death or look into how or why it got to that point, or whether or not this person was seeking or sought out help. Out of equal respect for those who were affected by this loss, I’m not going to write a tribute to grief or loss of a loved one to drugs. I’m just going to look at the greater issue here, with occasional anecdotes based on personal experiences.
I grew up in suburban New Jersey – North Jersey, to be a little bit more specific. My hometown was quite diverse, relatively speaking. Geographically, if I traveled east toward Newark, Jersey City (where I live now), and New York City, the socioeconomic divide and ethnic diversity grows substantially. Traveling west put me in a strange land of blue-collar, trade school educated white people with undertones of, and sometimes unfiltered racism that made the fresh forest air stale.
That being said, as I went through high school, I often found myself going to towns further west than east. Honestly, it was really because of the broad network of friends and acquaintances that I knew from the same general area. Our schools played each other in sports, we ran into each other at concerts and music festivals (I’ve been to an unhealthy amount of Warped Tours), we lived in the same county technically, and there were few other things to do than to go to bonfires in the middle of the woods or go to the mall (unless you were rich and your parents didn’t care if you went into the city all the time).
Boredom for me at the time was characterized by just that: cheap concerts, bonfires, driving around aimlessly looking for a kickback or party, all with frequent stops at one of the several New Jersey malls. It was a routine that my parents were okay with, but all because of one thing:
They knew I wasn’t going to get myself into some shit that I couldn’t get myself out of.
Excuse the language again, but it was the truth. I had my head on a swivel, especially traveling out west. I had some cousins who were known as “the Black family” in one of the western New Jersey towns, and my dad’s had a couple of close calls in bars in that area back in the eighties. I wasn’t the drug awareness police, but I knew the situations and the demographics of people surrounding me and I would either leave or choose not to attend or be around people who were into hard drugs like dope.
Dope. Who even says that anymore? What was considered dope? Dope was something that they always mentioned in health class that you’d never think you’d get yourself into, or ever see in real life – just in sad documentaries or docu-reality TV. They talked about the crack epidemic/crisis of the eighties, but in suburban New Jersey, it seemed like something only society’s underbelly of people would do, and never anyone who you’d ever come across in real life.
High school graduation came and went, and I knew I’d be traveling relatively far away for school. I wanted the college experience away from home, and wanted the pleasure of coming back to see my friends, always reminding myself of great times that shaped my teenage years.
But coming back quickly left a strange taste in my mouth – a taste reminiscent of the stale air I described earlier. Things had changed, but I couldn’t put a finger on it and certainly couldn’t make any judgments because my visits home dwindled down to four to six weeks in the year. Luckily, none of my close friends were affected, but some people started to change.
I remember vividly seeing a friend of a friend after a year of being away. I mentioned to another, closer friend, “Oh, ____ looks great! They’ve lost a lot of weight.”
I got a hushed reply – it was short and cutting, “____’s on dope.”
Quickly and naively, I asked, “Dope, like cocaine?” with an even more hurried reply, “No. Heroin.”
My only thoughts were, “Yo you can’t be serious,” and “How does someone this young and from this area even access the stuff?”
In those 30 seconds, my perception of accessibility to drugs and the strange prevalence of drugs in suburban New Jersey changed forever. Dope manifested itself both in personal conversations as opposed to television, and started to eat away at people with whom I shared, and still share memories.