I turned 35 not so long ago, and my birthday rolled around, as it usually does, on an Autumn morning, this one being a particularly warm, sunny, Indian summer type of day. I woke up, and I just KNEW something wasn’t right. My sixth sense was telling me so. My sister-in-law Beverly and I were talking over coffee. We had just reminisced about how our friend Jay (my sister’s former fiance) used to nod off when he was on seroquel.
A few minutes later, Beverly got a call. She said to me, “Jay died.” And I was in utter disbelief. I had to have her repeat it. Apparently he had overdosed, and a mutual friend saw the coroner remove his body from the apartment where he was staying. I asked Beverly if she thought my sister Jessica knew, and she suggested I call Jess, which I did. I was still in shock when I told her, and up until that point, I hadn’t cried, or even reacted, to the news I had just passed on to my younger sister. She immediately screamed, and started crying and wailing, at which point, I started crying loudly too…
Jason was like a brother to me. My family knew him for years – he was my brother Michael’s roommate back in the mid-2000’s, which is when I was introduced to him. His reputation was that of a good, but troubled guy. He was a very outgoing person, and was very non-judgmental. I remember that he was drinking a beer when I first met him, which I was told was pretty mild compared to the heroin/poly-substance addiction he grappled with. Apparently, he was on the run from New Hampshire, hiding out in the Bennington, VT area from the law.
We got really close around the time he started seeing my sister in 2010, which is no surprise, because my sister and I lived together at the time, and she and I are close. He moved in with us to our father’s house, which was in the process of being foreclosed on due to my father’s passing and our subsequent inability to pay his debts. I was going through a rough break-up, and ended up going to rehab, and then outpatient treatment for my painkiller dependence. When I returned, though he wasn’t 100% sober, he wasn’t 100% fucked up either. He was extremely supportive and shared his experiences both in and out of treatment; when he smoked pot, he respected my sobriety by doing it somewhere else; when I was feeling frustrated, complacent, or questioning things, he always tried to challenge my perspective, oftentimes saying something to reaffirm my decision to stay clean. When I was making stupid choices, like seeing my ex to teach him “how to have sex”, he called me out. In that particular instance telling me, “you’re kidding yourself if you think you can just be his fuck buddy. I see what you’re doing and I’ve been through this. You need to end it now, because when he decides he’s done with you, you’re going to feel heartbroken all over again.” He was so right.
When Jessica started working every day, Jay and I sat around, talked, watched movies, and smoked cigarettes. We bonded during this period of time, and I began to feel like Jay was a brother to me. My sister and I have always had our differences, which at times have been extreme, but during that period of time, we all lived together, fairly harmoniously. We all pitched in toward the food, chores, cooking, transportation, etc. We worked together to help one another out, and though Jay wasn’t sober, he attended meetings with Jess, my late Grandmother Margaret, and myself, several times a week, up until my Grandmother’s passing. There were a few times that he was stoned or on some other substance, and fell asleep at the meeting, which was embarrassing to Jessica. No doubt people judged him and figured out he was high. But there was a period of time that he was serious about being sober. He even worked with a sponsor, and he stopped drinking. One time he expressed his feeling of guilt for going to meetings when he wasn’t fully in recovery. But he still went with us.
My relationship with Jess and Jay fell apart in the spring of 2012, because I had a new boyfriend, who was controlling, and insisted that I cut them out of my life because we were aware that they were using hard drugs again. I didn’t talk to Jess for a period of six months, and it was not an easy time for me, for many reasons, not the least of which is that I was suffering silently in an abusive relationship. When Jess told me she and Jay were taking a break around Thanksgiving of last year, I wanted to support her. I helped her move her things out of their motel room. I let her stay with me. Then my abusive relationship ended, and she and I were both single, but better off, because we were focusing on ourselves.
Jason re-entered the picture earlier this year; Jess started seeing him again in April I think. He would spend a night or two at my apartment and she’d spent a night or two where he was living, which, from what I’ve heard and seen, was a home where addiction was out in the open. I was concerned that my sister was going to this environment but I heard that Jay was “doing better” so I trusted her judgment at the time. Jay was on the run from the law for some petty shit, and he spent his last night before ending up back in jail with my sister.
In a way, I was relieved to hear that he was back in jail. I knew he was coming off of methadone, as he had been on the maintenance program (aka the methadone clinic); this made me concerned about his well-being as I have heard that detoxing in jail is no joke. He kept in touch with Jessica while he was in jail, and to a lesser extent when he was released a few months later.
While he was in jail, my ex-boyfriend, the abuser, was also housed in the same facility. Jay told Jessica that (Nameless abuser) approached him in the jail gym, and extended his hand for Jay to shake. Apparently, Jason refused to shake (abuser)’s hand, instead telling him that he had no respect for men who put their hands on women. (Abuser) then said, “okay”, and walked straight out of there, never approaching Jay again. This is a testament to the integrity Jay possessed. This was just one of his many good qualities.
About a week prior to his passing, I saw Jay walking down the street, and I noted to myself that he looked healthy. A few days later, he was blowing up my sister-in-law’s phone, asking where he could get hard drugs. He was hell-bent on getting fucked up, as his probation officer was out of town for a few weeks, and he knew he could get away with it. My sister-in-law told him, “I’m not gonna help you hang yourself”. He went and saw Jessica, at her new boyfriend’s house, at which point, a verbal altercation ensued. She was with her new boyfriend, and Jay was heart-broken over this fact. He told Jess, “I can’t believe you left me for an older, fatter guy!”
The next day, my sister-in-law called to try and apologize to Jay for being so “rude” but he didn’t answer. The following day is when we heard the news. It was like this huge wake-up call to all of us. This isn’t something we were expecting to happen, though I often worried about he and Jessica last year when I heard he went off the road, more than once, and totaled one or two vehicles. I remember having to mentally prepare myself for the possibility of getting a phone call that somebody had passed. It is a really horrible thing to have to think about that, and it is painful when you feel powerless to help the other person.
Addiction kills, and it doesn’t discriminate. When I went to Jay’s funeral, I could see how this disease affects a family. It seemed as though his own family didn’t know who he truly was. His addiction put a good amount of distance between him and those he loved. and it was evident. I was so glad that my sister Jessica, myself, my sister-in-law Bev, and my friend Annie, all traveled three hours to pay our respects to him. I hope it showed his family that he wasn’t alone; that he had decent people who truly cared about and loved him. We all weeped aloud as the music played and they brought his casket to the front of the church.
On the ride home, my sister Jessica was reminiscing, and processing her feelings of grief. She said she knew she broke his heart more than once, but in the end, he really broke her heart. I have watched my sister as she works through these intense feelings. I am grieving as well, but Jessica was engaged to him, and “he was always going to be a part of (her) life.” They were on a break and if and when he got himself together, they would have reunited. Now that will never happen.
I am at a loss for words right now, so I’m going to end this. I wanted to honor my friend by sharing his story, because his life did mean something, and I truly hope that his passing is the wake-up call his close friends need to help them stay clean. I hope his death helps somebody else choose life…I know where I stand.