by Julianne McGee
No one ever imagines or thinks that they will lose their person, their best friend, at a young age. It just isn’t thought about in normal friendships. I never thought about it heavily, until it happened to me. I would like to take this piece to reminisce about the times I did have with my friend. The good days, the long days, and the ugly days. No matter what those days were like, I’ll always be grateful they were spent with her.
A Bright, Sunny Morning
I was sitting in a third-floor classroom of Carnegie Hall on McKendree University’s campus, tired and ready for coffee. It was a bright morning. A truly beautiful spring day, just two short days after my birthday. In the 60s, the sun was shining, and the birds were chirping fondly. I was in a good mood. I was planning on having a good day.
My best friend’s mom calls me. I ignored the call, thinking she just wanted to chat about my best friend’s kids. My friend had twin boys who were just over six months old at the time. She texted me right after. “[She] died!!!! You need to get here.” My heart hit the floor. The rest was a blur. I remember yelling, crying, and Dr. Trask helping me make my way down the stairs. The stairs felt like they took years to get down. My head was throbbing.
My mom picked me up from campus. By the time she arrived, the tears were slow, and I became silent. The numbness set in.
My best friend was struck by a vehicle as she walked down a dark highway on a cold night. She was pronounced dead at 3:30 a.m... The question that most ask is, “Why was she walking down the highway at that time of night?” I cannot answer this question without a long trip down memory lane. If the events in the past six months hadn’t happened, she would not have ended up on that lonely, dark highway in the early hours of the morning.
The Road to that Night on a Dark Highway
To put it simply, my best friend was an addict. She was chained by an almost unbeatable addiction to hard drugs. When she was sober, and when she wasn’t, she was consumed by a lifestyle that even her sober mind hated. She told me so many times, “Nobody wants to stay addicted, but no one knows how to stop.”
Through this memorial, I want to bear light on those who struggle. Addicts aren’t always what they are perceived to be by the media. In my own personal experience, I have seen addicts portrayed as dirty, uneducated, and living bad lifestyles altogether. My best friend was a hard worker, kept a clean house, had her bills paid on time… But she also just happened to be addicted to methamphetamine and fentanyl. Towards the end, heroin was her vice. Heroin was her killer.
She was a caring mother, who would have given the world to her sons. She was an incredible friend, who was there whenever I needed her, no matter what was going on in her own life. She was strong-minded; she beat addiction multiple times before her life was taken from her. She truly was a light in the world, who kept fighting for her sobriety until the day she died. Her life was taken too soon because she was at the wrong place at the wrong time.
In the Beginning
I met my girl at a new job I was working right out of high school. She was my boss. As two young girls who didn’t have many friends and were out in the world on their own for the first time, we decided within a week of meeting each other that we would be each other’s person. She openly told me she was an addict but was going on two years clean. She talked about her scary experiences in the dark of night going to buy drugs, and how she never wanted to live that lifestyle again. The first time she told me these stories, we were having a sleepover, making pizza, and watching our favorite television shows. We enjoyed each other’s company so much that we never lost contact after that first sleepover.
We worked long nights together and I crashed on her couch many times. Six months went by that were full of nights that ended too soon. She quit her job where we worked together. She began not returning my phone calls. Her actions were erratic, and although I refused to believe what was happening right in front of my eyes, she had lost her sobriety for the first time since becoming clean.
I did my best to stay in touch, to just know she was alive. I knew that she was ashamed of what she was doing. I always told her I’d be here when she was ready to come back, and I was. Six more months passed, and I received a Snapchat that changed my entire world.
The image my friend sent me had no context, just an image of a positive pregnancy test. I told her I was still here if she was ready to begin her journey to sobriety. We met up the next day for the first time in months. She was horribly skinny and looked so tired. My friend was not “fat” but she had never been this small. I asked her about her new boyfriend and what the plan was for the baby, and she decided to keep the baby and drop the drugs. I will always be proud of her for making that call.
She did not have a vehicle, so I drove her to most of her doctor’s appointments throughout the course of her pregnancy. These days were filled with lots of food from Bread Company because that is all the pregnant girl wanted. Oh, did I mention the biggest part of this whole ordeal? TWINS!
My best friend was pregnant with not just one, but two little bouncing boys. We knew we were going to have our hands VERY full.
I could go on for days and days about how the babies’ father was just a garbage boyfriend to my girl, but I want to focus on her. She blew up like a balloon within the first six months of her pregnancy. She was sober and absolutely glowing. She was a kind-hearted human.
At her very last doctor appointment, they took her in for an emergency C-section. Our boys came into this world three weeks earlier than planned, but as healthy as possible. She was a proud mother and I was honored to be her best friend and self-proclaimed “auntie” to the boys.
Two months go by and my girl is back to work. Just like the old times! She had started working with me again but this time around I was her boss. If she worked late, I would head to her house and put the boys to bed. Usually, this was a normal occurrence. Their dad was useless when it came to bedtime. I headed over to the house and started getting the boys changed and ready for a bottle when I noticed bruising. The bruising was abnormal, and I knew something was not right. Why would a two-month-old baby have bruises on his arm? The next morning, after a very long night, my girl and I loaded up the babies and filed a police report. Their dad went to jail. We went to the emergency room, where the boys had a full work-up. Broken bones, bruising, and drugs in their system...
That same night, custody was given to the state. They would now be cared for by their grandmother. This broke my best friend. She felt as though they were the only reason she was sober. When she lost them, she lost her sobriety. But this time, I would not let her lose me too. I spent long nights at her house where we would make plans and goals for her to get her babies back. When their dad was released from jail, he came back into her life. I am not the type to place blame, but if he had left her alone it is likely that my best friend would still be a living soul and not an angel in the sky.
I stuck around and we spent time with the boys when she hadn’t been using. I was approved through the state to care for the babies, therefore my friend could spend time with them when I watched them. She had a rocky relationship with her mother, so seeing the boys when they were with me was her best choice.
Eventually, she stopped coming around as much. Even after the boys’ dad had gone back to jail. He hit my best friend with a car, so that was his one-way ticket back to the slammer, at least for a little while. She was not doing well, weight was dropping off before my eyes and she was horribly depressed. She overdosed. She lived, but she wished she hadn’t. I remember picking her up from the hospital when she was cleared to leave. She said to me, “It was the worst feeling of my life. I was burning, like fire, from the inside out. I feel so bad that I threw up on the paramedic, but I wish he wouldn't have given me that second round of Narcan.”
Her Last Night
I apologize if this seems scattered, but it is a difficult testimony to tell. Let’s talk about her last night on this planet. She was in a small town about eight miles from her house. She was using heroin with her “friends”. One of these people overdosed. When the paramedics arrived, they recommended that she leave so she would not be in any trouble when the police arrived. She had a vehicle, but she handed off the keys to someone who was on parole because she felt it was more essential that they got out. She walked. And just kept walking. Trying to call people for a ride or for help. She was cold. Her legs were probably tired. She walked four miles, all while calling these “friends” and begging for help. The last message she sent was disorderly, we assume this is when she was struck by the silver truck that ended her life. The operator received the 911 call a short two minutes after my best friend sent her final message. By the next day, I was helping plan her funeral and kissing her earthly body goodbye.
What happens now?
Now my best friend is not a phone call away. She is worlds away, hopefully somewhere beautiful and painless. Her sons are almost eight months old and resemble her in so many ways. The army of people who loved my best friend will now carry her memory while helping to raise her two beautiful boys. It gets hard many days when I want to pick up the phone and call her. I have a lot of questions that she can never answer. The biggest one being why she didn’t call me for a ride on that cold spring night. I would have been there like I always was. But if there is one thing I have learned out of this awful experience, it’s that I am luckier than most. I will always have a piece of her smiling back at me when I care for her children. I will always have some of her personality laughing at me when I make funny faces at the boys. I do have pieces of her left. I feel her hand on my shoulder in the wind sometimes. And I feel comfort because wherever she may be, her addiction is gone.
Through this piece, I hope to possibly connect with a reader who knows the struggles of caring deeply for an addict. It takes a lot to love an addict. But it is well worth the time. Loving an addict taught me compassion, patience, understanding, and how to love deeper than I ever thought I was possible. No matter how many nights of lost sleep I had, or how many tears I’ve cried, I will look back fondly on the good times. And be thankful for what came from this terrible disease. There is light in every situation and sometimes you just have to find it. My light is the twins, where will you find your light?
In loving memory of my best friend, 1998-2021.