I paced slowly behind my students, all focused on the computer screens in front of them, intent on the legal research problems I had assigned. One of my students -- I wasn't sure of her name -- was unusually quiet. "Are you okay?" I asked.
"I'm just not feeling well," she said quietly. I told her to take care of herself and I think I touched her shoulder before I moved on to the next student.
That night, Melissa -- it turns out her name was Melissa -- committed suicide. I went to the funeral, partly out of duty and partly out of grief because I should have at least known her name. As I settled into the pew, I heard the first notes of the song her family had chosen -- "Angel," by Sarah McLachlan -- and I lost it.
Several family members and close friends spoke; every word was steeped in grief and anger and frustration. It was clear that Melissa was surrounded by good people who loved her, and that she had reached out many times before. This time around, though, she had reached out to no one, to ensure her success. I cried through the entire service, so sorry that I hadn't known her better and so moved by her community. Yet in the following days, I discovered that I wanted to join Melissa, and that feeling lasted for months.
Sometime after that -- I really don't know how long -- I left my partner, and we moved into a place of our own. My sponsor, a brilliant physician, soon joined me in the condo; he had very little money after suffering through some tough medical issues. He was great with my kid and my dog, and it felt good to have recovery in the house. I was glad he was there, because at the time I was crippled by depression and dark thoughts.
One night I heard a crash in the living room. I found my dear sponsor naked, on the floor and unable to speak or walk. It looked like a stroke and I called 911.
Only, it wasn't a stroke. It was a hydrocodone overdose.
Of course, I had to ask him to leave. For months afterwards, just like with Melissa, I wanted to climb into the abyss with him, to follow him to this liberating place of no accountability. And I was angry. Why the hell should he get to take this irresponsible, selfish path while I was stuck, sober, with the misery of the present?
A few weeks later, he texted me a suicide note. I did what I could, which wasn't much, and fortunately he didn't act on it. As far as I know, he's still out there somewhere, using, and there's nothing I can do now except await the final phone call.
I do miss my sponsor something fierce. I still rely heavily on the last suggestion he gave me when he saw how I interacted with my partner: He said, "Lynne, save yourself."
In the years since then, I've seen other deaths and other relapses. They've brought me sadness and gratitude and a myriad of other emotions, but none has affected me viscerally like Melissa's death, or my sponsor's relapse.
None, that is, until yesterday when I heard about Gary. Gary chose Melissa's path. It's the fourth pointless death in as many weeks in my little recovery community. I knew Gary, although we weren't close. I had watched him grow in sobriety over the years. I was angry and sad and confused, and again, part of me wanted to join him. Not like before, thank goodness. But it was there.
Ironic, isn't it? Just yesterday I blogged about the jagged beauty of watching someone move through hard times in sobriety, and how I add their experience to my store of faith for when I'm in trouble. But I was in trouble now, and I never gave that store of faith a single thought. To tell you the truth, not much crossed my mind at all. I was just pissed off, and terribly sad.
But I took action by rote. I went to a meeting and shared. I answered my phone when it rang. And I made a phone call of my own. although it probably wasn't the one I really needed to make.
I did the next right thing, and now I have another day.
Gary, you had a smile that could light up Yankee Stadium. I love you, my friend, and I'm going to miss you.
I know only one way to do your life justice. So in your memory, and Melissa's and Kevin's and Tom's and Dowman's, I'm going to save myself.