Remember the Kim Carnes song Bette Davis Eyes from 1981? Lots of artists have covered it since then, including Taylor Swift.
I had it pop up on a Spotify 80s play list recently and now it’s an earworm. It’s in part an earworm because it reminds me of someone I knew and lost track of a long time ago.
Long ago and far away I knew a woman who had a bright future. A rising star in pharmaceutical sales she reminded you of Bette Davis when you looked at her. (My age is showing indeed because half of the people who read this will be in the camp of “Who was Betty Davis?”)
This girl also reminded me of the William Blake poem with the line “tyger, tyger burning bright.”
She was a lot of fun, often exhausting and she loved to dress up, dance, and party. It was the 1980s, so a lot of us did. Girls just wanted to have fun…quite literally.
Then one night she showed up someplace after another party. She was just too, too. I think you get the drift, right? We had her keys taken away at a place and someone was either supposed to drive her home or pour her into a cab. I left that place early, and for days I did not know what had happened. It was the days of BEFORE as in way before social media and really even cell phones (there were pagers entering our world somewhere around that time but I do NOT remember when. I never had a pager.).
I realized after a few days I had not heard from her. And she wasn’t picking up answering machine messages. I remember calling around and finding out she had wrapped herself around a tree and was in the hospital. In ICU. Her accident occurred on a twisty road where within a short amount of time someone else I knew had a late night after-partying accident and for a while was even in the same hospital as this woman I knew. The sad difference was the second person was given the gift of a real second chance at life and recovered, got married, and had a family.
This woman I knew? She ceased to exist as any of us knew her that one fateful night. I don’t know if she became a quadriplegic or a paraplegic, but she was in a wheelchair and she also had brain damage. A lot of it as I remember.
And what was the most awful thing about the brain damage? Her memory seemed to stop at a certain point. I remember trying to visit her after it happened, and even up to a couple of years after it happened. She had absolutely no clue who I was because those memories were instantly erased on impact the night of the accident. That was crushingly hard. You remembered her, had some really great memories of going to the beach and to black tie parties and so on, but she had absolutely no clue who most of us were. It did make you cry.
Eventually a lot of us stopped trying to visit her. I was one of them. She was in a wheelchair and she lived with her parents. And her parents were obviously very protective of her and well if you didn’t grow up with her, go to church with any of them…. you just felt uncomfortable. So I let her go. I still have a photo of her somewhere sitting on a fireplace bench at my parents’ house. Bright red lipstick and a smile that not only lit up her face but every room she was in.
Soon as time fades and life goes on, you meet other people. But every once in a while, like when I hear a certain song, there she is all shiny and bright and we are in our early 20s.
Suffice it to say, I learned at an early age why you didn’t drink and drive. So I had not thought of her in years at this point until I heard that Kim Carnes song.
But I think why I am writing this is it’s time, and also because we also have this total addiction crisis in this country. Addicts and alcoholics…who doesn’t know people with these issues…. and for all of the rehabs and programs the numbers keep growing. And growing.
I have one friend who was made a widow by heroin a few years ago now. Her husband decided to be a teenager, and one dose, one fatal dose was all it took to overdose. I have another friend who more recently lost her son to an overdose in another state. These life circumstances have had a profound effect on their lives. One friend has persevered and become stronger and the other worries me because emotionally she is a fragile shell.
I had another childhood friend whom a lot of us lost to an overdose in 1998. It was long before people were talking about it as much. He had struggled with addiction and alcoholism from the time he was a teenager. He was often so bad he was terrifying. I remember about a year or so before he died ending up in a car with him on the Schuylkill Expressway and literally being afraid I would not get home alive he was driving so fast. He was back from a stint in rehab and I thought he was sober – we were just going to dinner in Philadelphia. He loved speed. And the speed at which he fell off the wagon and died of an overdose at 35 in 1998 was another terrifying flash. And a wasted life. I still remember where I was when I was told he had died.
The faces of addiction have changed. Or maybe they haven’t but we are talking about them more? I don’t know. But addictions are a disease. Some people are strong enough to get clean and get sober. Others aren’t. I know someone from my high school era I have completely shut the door on. I know when I can’t handle things, and their life will just drag down whomever is left and they have sadly, completely tanked their life. Right or wrong, I choose not to be around them.
I had a maternal uncle and a paternal grandfather who were drinkers. I knew it from a very early age. I did not love them any less, but it made me sad. And I have to be honest as a child it often made me uncomfortable. Adults didn’t think you knew…but you knew.
One of my earliest memories of my paternal grandfather was the shortwave radio on the enclosed front porch and the smell of Schlitz beer. He was never outright blotto but you could always sense the hum of alcohol.
As a result of these relatives and friends’ issues, maybe I notice things too much or worry about them too much. All I know is there are way too many people with substance abuse issues from every walk of life. I feel incredibly lucky that I have not had to struggle with these demons personally. But for the grace of God go any of us, right?
This Friday, August 31st is International Overdose Awareness Day.
As per the Daily Local, Chester County is participating.
None of us today are immune to these sad events. We have to commit to being part of positive change. I don’t have the answers. But I have watched too many experience the loss. I have experienced loss on a certain level because of the alcoholism and addiction of others.
If you think you have a problem with drugs or alcohol, reach out to friends and family and ask for help. That is the first step. I know from people I have known in various programs over the years that sobriety and staying clean is a process and often a tough road. But living is such a gift.
Also educate yourselves (and your children and loved ones) on the dangers of herbal opiods like Kratom and vaping. Sorry not sorry no good comes out of being addicted to nicotine without the cigarette, either.
Here is another article on the events for Overdose Awareness Day this coming Friday:
The county’s Department of Drug & Alcohol Services has announced the county’s participation in International Overdose Awareness Day on Aug. 31.
To mark the occasion, 144 pinwheels will be displayed in front of the Chester County Justice Center on Market Street in West Chester and the Chester County Government Services Center on Westtown Road, representing the 144 lives lost to accidental overdose in Chester County in 2017. Citizens are invited to participate in a moment of silence on Aug. 31 at 9:30 a.m. to remember those lost to overdose and the loved ones left behind.
“Sadly, Chester County lost more loved ones to accidental drug overdose last year than in previous years,” said Vince Brown, executive director of the Chester County Department of Drug and Alcohol Services. “Our community, as well as our country, continues to face an opioid and heroin epidemic and the disease of addiction knows no bounds. Addiction does not discriminate against age, race, socioeconomic status or education level.”
Several organizations will be holding events on Aug. 31, including:
- A candlelight vigil hosted by Kacie’s Cause at First Baptist Church (415 W. State St., Kennett Square) from 7 to 8 p.m. This event will include featured speakers, a lighting of candles and an open mic sharing for the attendees.
- A candlelight vigil hosted by Kacie’s Cause at The Green of Oxford Presbyterian Church (3rd Street, Oxford) from 7 to 9 p.m. This event will include featured speakers, a lighting of candles, ABE the pony, the Kacie’s Cause Mascot, and an open mic sharing for the attendees.
- “Building Community, Sharing Hope,” hosted by Pennsylvania Recovery Organization-Achieving Community Together (PRO-ACT), at Charles A. Melton Center (501 E. Miner St., West Chester) from 6 to 8 p.m. This event will include a free buffet dinner, free Narcan, several keynote speakers, recovery resources, and a moment of silence with a luminary ceremony to remember the victims of the disease of addiction.