Written for an English assignment in high school, what follows is a guest post from my cousin's son Zachary. He was asked to write about something that changed his life, and he chose to write about my brother.
Picture a small, cozy clearing ringed with towering, ancient pine and maple trees. In the center naturally fallen logs sit around a tall, blazing bonfire. A gentle breeze slinks into the clearing bringing with it the heady scent of moist wood and whisking the fire’s smoke into the wide blue sky. This same breeze also makes the trees rustle in a strange, almost other-worldly music. Listen closely, and you may hear the forest’s heartbeat. It is made up of the voices of birds twining together with the trees and squirrels in an orchestral imitation of glorious sound around you. They sing of the simple joys of life. This is where I believe my second cousin Gregory would visit often.
Gregory was a very likable guy with a great personality. He lived for the outdoors spending every available second there. Because of this he worked as a construction worker which provided opportunity to stay outdoors and work hard. Even as a kid, I am told, he was very adventurous and would often be out skiing, hiking or kayaking (among many others) with his parents (my Great Aunt and Uncle) and his sister Amy. He enjoyed fishing trips, and as a teen, joined not one, but two Outward Bound programs. Anyone can see why I liked spending time with him.
Unfortunately, Gregory was also addicted to drugs. He had started with marijuana and by the time of his death, he was using heroin. My Grandmother (his Aunt), speculates that Gregory’s adventurous spirit may have been what caused him to start in the first place. He died at the age of 22, only 7 years older than I am now. Right before he died he had been in the process of planning a hiking trip in the famous Appalachian Trail with his girlfriend Aggie. At the time of his death in 2006, I was 10, soon to be 11 years old. At this point I was still very much a kid, but I remember being told he had died, and feeling shocked. He had actually gone to a rehab facility in Oklahoma from July, 2005 to January, 2006. Unfortunately, when he came back his friends started him with drugs all over again.
Now that I am older I can feel the full effects of this grief and it still hurts to think about him. Whenever my Grandparents held a party, Gregory would always set aside some time to go out in the yard to play with me. Before any of this happened I never had a reason to think about drugs. I knew what they were and what they do but, it was never really a concern of mine. You never expect anyone you know to die from it. Almost every night you hear a story about a drug addict dying on the street. You automatically assume that they were a bad person, and you don’t give it another thought. Until it happens to someone you love you don’t know what it is truly like. Gregory wasn’t a bad or stupid person. He was smart and got help but it didn’t stick. Now when I hear about a dead drug addict I think about what their family must be feeling. It is truly a horrible thing and no one should have to go through it.
Looking back at what happened to Gregory has reinforced my resolution to never use drugs. What happened to Gregory scares me. I don’t ever want my life to end in such a way. As a memorial of Gregory’s death his parents decided to set up a fund in his honor. The fund benefits such organizations like the AMC (Appalachian Mountain Club) and Outward Bound. These organizations help young people gain a stronger understanding and appreciation of the outdoors which Gregory loved so much.
This essay is published exactly as Zachary wrote it, without edits from me. A few facts in his writing are not exactly accurate as I know them and some points, of which I have a much different perspective, I would have addressed quite differently. Having said that, the piece is honest, true and accurate to Zachary's knowledge and I think it captures a very special point of view. Zachary, I thank you for the honor of allowing me to share this piece here.
Information on the memorial fund to which Zachary refers can be found here.