JUST THINKING: Losing to the ugly monkey

Just Thinking | Julie Stafford

Who are those people in your life you think about often? Who you think about reconnecting with? Think about calling just to find out how they’re doing? Think about the fact they probably need to hear you tell them you love them?

Don’t think about it anymore. Do it.

I reconnected — really, it was more like connected for the first time – with my cousin Zachary several years ago when I lived just outside Boulder, Colo. He arrived in town as a freshman from San Francisco at the University of Colorado. He was more than 20 years younger than I, a little on the wild side, self-focused as so many teenagers his age are — myself included when I was young.

We didn’t really spend a lot of time together for a number of reasons including the fact I had three little kids and his life was headed in a different — not necessarily healthy — direction. He was, however, the younger of my Aunt Kitty’s two boys. And I absolutely adored and admired her. I loved it when she came to visit Zach because, selfishly, sometimes she’d stay with me and I’d get one-on-one time with her.

Zach’s life spiraled into an awful place and he ended up in an outdoor wilderness therapy program that taught kids with addictions how to survive under difficult circumstances. He excelled and graduated and actually focused his education from that point forward on becoming an outdoor rehab therapist. He knew he had a daily monkey on his back and that forever and ever there were certain givens: Treat your body like a temple and no more drugs.

He did great. And he came into the lives of my kids and me during our final months in Boulder, enjoying family dinners and outings and movie nights. We laughed a lot and talked about our family — cousins, aunts and uncles, many whom he never met but wanted to one day. We talked about him coming to Michigan during the summer.

This past summer didn’t work out because he had a new job. He was happy and in a meaningful relationship and working. So it seemed OK. I’ve been meaning to call him, Facebook him, let him know that I love him, I’m proud of him, I miss him. But I didn’t.

And now he’s gone. Zach just couldn’t shake the monkey. And in the end, it killed him. A week ago,Thursday. He was 25.

We don’t really know many details about how long Zach had been using again. Some suspect this may have been a first or that he was just dabbling, trying to satisfy an urge that wouldn’t go away. It doesn’t really matter, though. What matters is that he’s gone. And that his life not be forgotten or a waste.

Zach didn’t have enough time on this planet to make the kind of positive impact he wanted to. But in a tragically sad kind of way, maybe he’ll have that impact on someone, somewhere through the story of his death. Drugs may seem innocent and fun and easy to overcome in the moment. But they’ll haunt you always. I lost my youngest cousin to the ugly monkey so many carry around on their backs. He was a good kid. With high hopes. And dreams. And he died because of an overdose of the monkey that just wouldn’t leave him alone.

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