Megan Vandeberghe ‘16 – As high school students, we aimlessly roam these halls as ghosts, leaving our real selves at the door every day, and picking it back up when we leave.
The mentality of many teenagers these days follows a general unspoken rule:
Don’t tell anyone what’s happening, because no one cares.
We wander past hundreds of students every weekday and witness new couples showing affection in the hallways, students tuned out of the world with headphones, teachers waving to other teachers, and friends sharing inside jokes, but what’s really going on?
Drug usage consistently rises among teenagers, and the truth of the matter is that one hundred motivational speakers, church ministers, teachers, and parents could preach the dangers of gateway drugs, but it will never fail to have a handful of victims slip through the cracks.
According to futuresofpalmbeach.com, one in four deaths in the United States can be blamed on illicit drug, alcohol and tobacco use. On top of that, drug use remains one of the top 10 leading causes of death in The United States, killing around 570,000 people a year.
To take things a step further, 78.2% of heroin users specifically experience relapse.
Numbers are numbers.
I could write all day about this statistic published by site A, and that statistic published by site B, but it would still be nothing but an empty set of words, sentences, and numbers, until reality comes knocking on the door bearing an official badge, a look of regret, and a sealed envelope.
On February 13, 2016 between the hours of 10:00a.m. and 1:00p.m., my family became part of a gut-wrenching statistic.
My mom’s younger brother Tommy lived his life as any other high school student. He formed dreams and aspirations, he obtained an associates degree from Macomb Community College, and he held a promising career. But shortly after these events, things went downhill very quickly.
He stopped hanging around members of the family, kept speaking and eye-contact to a minimum, and rarely showed his face in public places. Sometimes, he’d go to Detroit for the day and disappear for three. No one really knew where he was, but most were too afraid to guess.
So, what changed?
Little evidence exists regarding when his drug addictions began, but most everyone noticed that something wasn’t quite right around the early 1990s. Roughly, his dependence on drugs lasted almost 25 years. No one quite knows which drugs he did specifically, but heroin was confirmed.
In 2010, the police caught and jailed him for possession, and he was forced to quit his addiction cold turkey. Little information exists regarding what exactly happened while he came down off of such hard drugs, but the repercussions destroyed his reality.
He didn’t live on earth anymore. He simply existed in conspiracies.
Tommy believed that Barack Obama himself took him onto Air Force One while he sat in prison, which soon allegedly landed him on a slave boat in a cell. He later believed that someone sold him into human trafficking, beat him, and tortured him. In addition to this, he convinced himself that scientists performed experiments on his brain, and other parts of his body leading to respiratory issues, and telepathic abilities.
After being released from Macomb County Jail, he seemed relatively normal.
I hadn’t known him my entire life; I hadn’t even been born yet by time his addiction began. My young mind couldn’t comprehend what drugs do to you, or why he isolated himself to such a great extent. Regardless, when he made an entrance back into our lives, I welcomed him with an open heart, now understanding everything he went through.
Time passed slowly as he worked his way back into our lives, but before long things started to get strange.
Tommy began to work on a court case against Macomb County Jail for all of his hallucinations including the alleged abuse, human trafficking, and overall violations of his Constitutional Rights. I began hearing of these conspiracies he’d formed in his mind while coming off of such hard drugs.
Of course they weren’t true, but he believed otherwise.
As if enduring these never ending stories didn’t tire us out enough, my parents became a piece of his conspiracy too: a big piece. He convinced himself that my parents formed an alliance with local government officials to “cover up the secrets.” According to his theories, they were breaking into the house, poisoning the air, and tampering with his personal belongings.
As knowledge of his theories spread through my family, we did our best to brush them off and ignore them. We knew he was not mentally stable. He couldn’t hold a job, or get an apartment for himself because of his background, so he received monthly disability benefits to purchase groceries and basic necessities.
Time passed, and he began spending some of his days in Detroit. My family didn’t worry, though, because he never failed to return home that night to sleep. He helped my grandmother, his mother, around the house with chores like taking out the trash, heavy lifting, or other things that were hard on her back. He borrowed money from time to time from my parents and my grandmother, always ensuring that every cent was repaid.
Regardless, for the most part, life seemed to work itself back into normality. A few short years passed where he generally made brief appearances at holiday parties and family gatherings, but still regularly spoke of his conspiracies and supposed revolutionary court case. Every time a lawyer reviewed his case and refused to take it on, he felt the lack of evidence held him back, when in reality it was due to his condition, and the realization that these accusations were impossible.
Fast-forward six years, from when he was originally locked up, to February 13th, the day before Valentine’s day. My dad decided to treat my mom, myself, and my boyfriend to a nice dinner at our favorite restaurant. After dinner as we got in the car to leave, my mom’s cell phone rang. She listened to the voice on the other side of the line, and the color drained from her face.
“Tommy’s dead,” she said.
My dad drove through yellow traffic lights and exceeded the speed limit to get to my grandma’s house where two homicide detectives greeted us in the living room, and asked us to have a seat.
It felt like a movie sitting in that room listening to empty words of regret and sympathy.
The detectives gave what little details they knew, and we returned the favor.
To this very day, we don’t know who killed him, and we don’t know why.
The shooter took his life at a house in the middle of nowhere in Detroit where drug users go to satisfy their habits. Other people in the house heard a single gunshot from the front yard where Tommy stood. They ran outside to find a bullet wound in his chest, piercing his heart, lung, and liver. They called 911.
Despite their efforts, he was dead by the time the paramedics arrived.
He had his wallet on him with everything in it except money, and drug paraphernalia cluttered his pockets.
The reality of the situation, however, is that the bullet didn’t take his life, but rather, the drugs.
My uncle was dead years before he was shot.
“There are plenty of things in life worse than death, and those damned drugs are far worse than death,” my grandmother, Mrs. Joyce Moore said, shortly after the detectives left her home bearing the troubling news about her son.
Present day, my family finds comfort in each other’s reminders that he dwells in the most beautiful parts of heaven. Regardless of his difficult life, and the struggle he endured for years upon years, he kept faith in his religion, and in God’s will.
In the real world, people get mixed up with the wrong groups of friends and begin making questionable decisions, not just on TV. You become who you hang out with.
This probably sounds like just another distant sob story someone might stumble across or click on out of curiosity, but it actually happened to one of our own fellow bulldogs. My uncle grew up roaming the halls of Romeo High School for four years, and graduated as a member of the class of 1989.
High school presents the perfect opportunity to change your mind as to who you want to be. Start today. Pick new friends who don’t get you into trouble, and take advantage of opportunities to spend time with your family and serving the community. Spread the message that anyone can conquer life, so long as you choose to take control.
Leaving behind an exemplary legacy that pushes others to follow seems like a lot, but anyone can do it. It takes one human being to start a chain reaction, especially in high school where everyone plays one big game of copy-cat.
I’m just one writer. I’m not world-famous, and I’m not expecting to be, but I still believe that one person can change the course of humanity, and one decision regarding drug usage can make or break an entire family’s lifestyle, not to mention their hearts
To read the first installment of “Just one time” click here: