Standing in front of her picture, my heart hurt. She was no longer wearing a hood-or a mask-which allowed the smile looking back at me from the flat, lifeless surface attack my emotions without restraint.
“She hated her teeth,” said Lauryn quietly from beside me.
“How could she have hated her teeth?” I wondered to myself as I continued to take in the moment. Our school was holding a memorial for the student taken from us, a student some of us barely new, yet a student we all now realized we loved….Candace was gone.
A month has passed since the day of the tragedy. The investigation into the incident has left Lauryn shattered more than anyone else. As the story goes, Candace and Lauryn got together that Sunday afternoon and smoked some weed. This legal substance was available to many at dispensaries in our State, but most people still bought theirs in other ways. Which is what Lauryn originally told the police she had done. Come to find out it was actually her mother’s stash she had stolen from a drawer in her bedroom.
Unknown to Lauryn, her mother was still struggling with Fentanyl use (a very strong opiate that is one of the newer drugs terrorizing addicts). Her mother, knowingly, had laced her stash of marijuana with this Fentanyl. The combination stopped the hearts of Lauryn and Candace that afternoon.
Both of them were found by Lauryn’s mother, unconscious. Luckily, she was able give the young girls a shot of Narcan and call the paramedics. At the hospital they both fought to live. But, as we now had all come to accept, Candace did not survive this mistake.
The pain every person involved has been dealing with is unbearable to think about.
My mind swelled with all that I now reflected on. Looking at all the students, staff, and family now gathered around me at the memorial, it all felt unreal…
Nel, Pras, and Lauryn had all driven together. Standing outside their car with Lauryn I saw Nel sitting behind the wheel, looking strong, while Pras wilted in the back seat. Prior to this day, I had not seen Lauryn cry, but now, in front of me, she melted away. Unable to control myself, I hugged her; at the same time, Nel and I locked eyes. In solidarity for the girl we both loved, we fought our own tears so that we could be her strength.
Lauryn is a bigger girl, so she filled my embrace completely. Holding her against me brought a calm that I was unsure how to perceive. “It was her f***ing birthday,” she cried, shaking against my body. A fact I had known, yet one that provided a fresh circumcision of pain.
Walking to my own car (purposely parked in the far end of the lot), I felt like an exhausted jogger approaching the finish line of a marathon. Opening my door, I collapsed into the seat. The weight in the front of my skull increased and I looked around the lot to make sure I was alone. Turning on my car I put the music on loud so that I would not have to hear my own thoughts anymore. I then looked at my own eyes in the mirror. Others may have seen a strong adult, but I knew whose eyes those were looking back at me. Unable to hold it together any longer I placed my head in my hands and let it happen…
Week 14- (12.11.20) – “P.A.I.N. through Hate”
“Jose, my N****, where you at cracker-jack?”
Three days prior to hearing this being yelled from the hallway, Billy and I entered the detox facility just a few hours apart. I was unpacking when he walked by my room. We had caught each other’s eye, but neither of us acknowledged recognizing one another at the time.
Back in high school, Billy was the highly respected basketball player with street credit, and I was the pretty boy with a bright future. We may have been long removed from those days; and a few years separated us in age, but we damn well knew each other on that first day–even though both of us were too ashamed to say hello at first because of where we were.
I was barely awake when I heard my name being called from the hall. There was no question in my mind who was calling though…it was my new partner in crime: Billy Preston.
What I’m about to tell you about Billy definitely is not going to be politically correct. But it will save us a lot of time so I’m just gonna say it: Billy was white, but if there is such a thing as someone that struggles with ‘race identification’ it was him. He never came right out and said it…but, I really think he believed he was a black person in a white person’s body. So…. when he yelled for me from the hall, what he said did not register as offensive to him.
To me, however, the word he shouted made my skin crawl. Not because I found it offensive (I’m not trying to go there right now), but because I was embarrassed by all the people that could hear him yelling for me like that. Sitting up, with a reddened face, I called back, “Billy, SHUT UP! I’m in here!”
Seeing him standing in the doorway, I was reminded of how grateful I was for his friendship in that place. Little did I know when entering the facility a few days earlier I would meet someone who would forever change my outlook on life.
As he and I walked down the hallway to attend our check-in that morning, I started the conversation that would keep us both entertained throughout the day, “I have decided that I really don’t like people Billy. Actually, no…I HATE PEOPLE.”
With a smile I remember him saying, “Don’t feed that hate Cuz…you gotta keep that four-hundred-pound gorilla in that head of yours fed…”
He was referring to a lesson we had been forced to attend the day before.
We were told that negative thoughts can consume an addict, and that it was the number one cause of relapse. The councilor had told us to visualize a four-hundred-pound gorilla in our head fighting away the demons that wanted us to fail. I thought it was a bunch of B.S. when I first heard it…and nothing had changed my mind overnight.
During our cigarette breaks throughout the rest of that day I listed all the reasons why people sucked….Why I hated the world….Why things were so bad….Why we were all destine to suffer forever.
That night, at dinner, it was Billy’s turn to speak his mind, “Jose, I have listened to you all day and I appreciate where you’re at. I know better than to try and make you feel better about things. Your journey is yours alone…I will however tell you what I’ve learned throughout mine so far….”
This was my first trip to a detox. Billy on the other hand had some previous experience. His battles had lasted longer than mine had at the time. Curiously, I never asked him how he could be so positive despite all his past failures.
I still remember exactly what he said next, “In my travels I have come to the conclusion that people are good. How they act however, is different. When you get to know people in places like these-when people are at their lowest-you often see them as they want to be…as they were as children. They are delicate. They are sensitive. They are open-minded and full of questions. Most of the time they are optimistic…unlike you at this moment,” he smirked.
He was right, I was the ultimate pessimist at the time. I was later told that I had not yet learned to accept life on life’s terms. (“Optimism was for A-holes,” was my mantra in those days.)
His education continued, “If you let yourself be a child again inside these places you will find things to like in most people that you encounter. Now, go out and follow those same people on Facebook and you will see how they ‘act’ in front of the world. I promise you, there is a difference.”
I remember agreeing with him in my mind. The people I had gotten to know in that place were good people. But he made me wonder what I would think of them on the ‘outside.’ I decided that if he was right then I probably would not like them very much, and it would make me just as negative as before. So, I asked, “If people act so bad despite being good at heart, how do I stop feeling so f’n angry?”
He used this question as an opportunity to put in a good word for his pastor, “CUZ!- I know it’s not your thing, but you really gotta come to Excel and listen to Emy preach when we get out of this place…he’ll blow your mind! ‘You are in a crisis…you must train your mind to see that crisis creates opportunity…’”
Recognizing that I was not in the mood to hear about this guy…again…Billy gave me his own advice rather than quoting someone else’s, “Everyone is recovering from something. Remind yourself of this every-single-day. Use it as fuel to hate no one in life. That’s the secret: Hate nothing. Don’t even use the word. Love as much as you can.”
This sounded great in principle, but I had to ask, “What is love to you?”
Grabbing a tattered book that he kept within reach at all times, he proceeded to open it to a page that had been bookmarked. After taking a moment to find it, he read the words I share with you now; “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it keeps no record of wrongs.”
As we conclude a difficult week for all of us…I want you to remember these words that were once shared with me. Billy referred to his book as the “Mother of All Books,” and though I am personally unable to understand or believe all that it contains, I could not agree with these words more.
I love you all- Sincerely, Mr. J
Week 14- Question for Reflection:
“…I have come to the conclusion that people are good. How they act however, is different.” What do you think about this statement made by Billy?