A Story of Second Chances, Inner Demons & Battling Drug Addiction

When you grow up in the country, your friends are pretty much predetermined.

You’re going to be friends with the kids in your grade. You’re going to be best friends with the kids that live closest to you. I was no different.

I grew up in a rural area in Northern Indiana. From my front porch, I could see two other houses, one straight East up a dirt road about a quarter mile away. The other was down a different dirt road, leading right into a long driveway past a sign that said Terry Walls Farms.

My best friend, David, lived there, on his dad’s hog farm. He was only a couple minutes away by bicycle, which meant that we were the only males of our age group within a 25-minute radius of our houses. I’d moved to Indiana from North Carolina, so having a friend close by to help ease the transition proved to be invaluable.

The Story of me & my Best Friend David

Growing up With David

Once we inevitably became friends, we were inseparable.

We played together, we studied together, we did chores & went to church together. We used to stay up playing Tony Hawk Pro Skater on his Nintendo 64 until 6 in the morning, then go out to the barn & feed piglets before coming back in & crashing. We worked the fields with our dads in the summer & played on the school basketball team in the winter.

We broke laws, we TP'd houses, we smashed mailboxes, we shot things with BB guns. The first time I smoked marijuana was with him, sitting on the roof of my house, nervous but excited, the smell of the drug mingling with the sweet scent of the mint fields across the road. We had fun, too much at times, but through it all we had one another’s backs.

Supporting David Through Tough Times

David’ family life, unfortunately, was in decline.

Around our 8th grade year, his very conservative father & his newly liberal-minded mother had come to the conclusion that they weren’t going to work.

Believe me when I say that I am painting that picture in the most positive of colors.

Their divorce was anything but amicable. There were all kinds of ugly allegations being thrown around from both sides. Alcohol & physical abuse, infidelity, the whole nine yards. I couldn’t believe the things I was hearing.

I tried to ask David about it, but he never really wanted to get into it. I’d ask how his parents were doing, how he was doing, & he’d just shrug & change the subject. His mom moved to Ft. Wayne, about an hour & a half away, taking David’s younger brother & sisters with her. David was given the choice, to stay with his friends & father, in the town he’d grown up in, or move with his sisters & brother & start over. I couldn’t imagine making that kind of decision, & he couldn’t fully commit to either.

He tried a hybrid living situation our freshman year, going to school as normal with me, & living with his dad throughout the school year. But when summer rolled around, he moved with his mother in Ft. Wayne.

I obviously didn’t want him to go. We’d spent every summer as long as I could remember playing football in his yard, listening to Cubs games on the radio. But he wanted to be with his sisters & brother, & I won’t ever blame him for that. But coming from a town of 600 people & moving to a city of a quarter of a million people is quite an adjustment, & David didn’t handle the adjustment well.

Drifting Apart

We didn’t communicate all that much, despite my best efforts.

This all happened in 2004. Texting & cell phones had just started to become popular, & since the town I lived in stayed approximately 40 years behind the trends, it wasn’t easy for us to get ahold of one another.

David stayed in Ft. Wayne that following year. Being with his mom & siblings was too difficult to leave, & since the strict rules & parenting style of his father were no longer applicable at his mother’s house, David had more freedom than he’d ever had.

Gone Astray

The way he used that freedom was not productive.

When he would come home on holidays, or to pick me up to go to a Notre Dame basketball game, the things he admitted to me were not things I wanted to hear, or could even really comprehend. He told me he was skipping school a lot, failing some classes. I couldn’t make sense of this. He was a good student, a smart kid. I hadn’t missed a day of school since 2nd grade, in fact it wasn’t even an option to miss school, & so the concept of skipping school was completely foreign to me.

“You shouldn’t do that, man”, was about the best advice I could ever muster. I didn’t know what else to say.

David was living in a different world than me. I didn’t understand what he was going through, what he was exposed to on a daily basis. How could I? I still felt guilty, nonetheless. I tried to convince him to move back to his hometown. I was sure that once he was out of the big city, he’d turn back into the same kid I grew up with.

I got my wish, in my junior year. David had missed enough classes & failed enough courses in the city that his dad had successfully petitioned a judge to have David forcibly removed into his mother's custody.

I went down to his house the day that David moved back, & I remember I was shocked at what I found. David was so angry with his dad. Over the next six months, I witnessed at least a dozen full on shouting matches between David & his father. David was deliberately sabotaging his schoolwork in order to fail out of school & be able to move back to Ft. Wayne.

It killed me to watch this bright young man throwing away his future. But I didn’t know how to help him. I spent hours, days, pleading with him to change his mind, begging him to do his schoolwork. But my pleas fell on deaf ears.

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From Bad to Worse

His drug use increased all the while. He smoked weed constantly, & I heard rumours from a few of my other friends that he was trying pills & cocaine. When I’d ask him about these rumours, he’d just laugh & joke it away, like it was a one-time deal or that he’d just been handed some at a party. I didn’t believe most of these stories, but I had no proof, & I wasn’t willing to risk our friendship on an accusation I couldn’t back up.

I look back now & I get so angry with myself for these moments, the moments I could have pushed harder. I could have pushed him, & maybe I would have gotten through to him. Maybe I would have pushed him away. But at least I wouldn’t be sitting here 13-14 years later beating myself up over my inaction. I could have altered this young man’s life for the better. I think I could have done that. Maybe that’s just wishful thinking. But I digress.

David moved back to Ft. Wayne for good after successfully failing out of school.

I graduated & went to college. He went a slightly different route. He got his education on the streets, trying to make money, trying to build his name. He got into heroin, both using & selling it. I would hear rumours from his sisters & from his mom.

I tried to call him around once a week, just to see how he was doing, checking up on him, trying to make sure he wasn’t in too much trouble.  He always sounded like his old self when he answered, quick with a joke or a story. He sounded happy. It wasn’t until later I learned that he was always high during these calls. I’d never been exposed to heroin. I didn’t know the signs & symptoms; I was just a country kid who smoked a little weed in high school.

I didn’t know.

From Worse to Even Worse

All at once, he stopped answering my calls. I’d redial & redial, a feeling of dread gnawing at the back of my mind. Something bad had happened. I just knew it.

His mom called me, out of the blue. "David is in prison", I remember her saying. The conversation was a blur. Possession, distribution, weapons charges. 10 years. Don’t write. Don’t visit. He doesn’t want you to see him like this. I hung up the phone & just collapsed into a chair. I sat their for hours, just thinking about how I could have prevented this, about why he’d done this to himself, why no one had stopped him, why this, what if that.

But it was done. There was nothing I, or anyone else could do about it.

I wrote letters. They always went unanswered. I didn’t stop. They were the only way I could show him I still had his back after all these years, after everything.

I graduated college & moved back to my hometown. I got an apartment, took a job at a newspaper, like I’d always dreamed about doing. I moved forward with my life.

Then one day, three & a half years after I’d gotten that call from his mother, I got another call.

“Hey man. I’m out. You wanna get something to eat?”

I almost dropped the phone. I couldn’t believe my ears. He’d been paroled, & was moving back to town to work on his dad’s farm. He was clean & sober, clear eyed & with a level of wisdom that only three & a half years of sitting in a cell alone can give you.

Second Chances & Turning Over a New Leaf

I was single, working at the newspaper still, & he needed a place to stay & a positive influence to keep an eye on him, so we rented a house together in town. It was like he’d never changed, he was the same kid I’d grown up with. He worked & went to his Narcotics Anonymous meetings; he was doing things the right way for once. His dad was subjecting him to drug tests at work, he was clean & in control of his life.

He met a girl in his NA classes, a girl we’d gone to school together with, a girl who’d struggled with her own demons & was getting her own life on track, someone who wouldn’t judge him for his past. We double dated, we bowled & went to movies, & I felt a sense of closure. He was going to be all right.

He was alright, for about a year. He’d been getting serious with his girlfriend, & had become a positive role model for her daughter. He was working hard, saving money & keeping clean.

If you’ve ever read anything about drug abuse, the literature all says that once you’re an addict, you’ll always be an addict. It doesn’t matter how long it’s been since your last drink or fix, you’re always at risk, & one relapse can destroy years of sobriety.

I knew this, & I kept a sharp watch on him. I was so afraid of letting him relapse under my watch. I still felt guilty for not being there for him when he got arrested that I felt I owed it to him to make sure he stayed clean this time around.

More Tumult & Trouble Ahead

He’d been acting a little weird for about a week, & I’ll admit I just chalked it up to his work schedule. He was a farmer, after all. He worked 6-5 six or seven days a week; it wasn’t a stretch to imagine he just needed a break.

I can pinpoint exactly when I knew he was in trouble.

We were watching an Indiana Pacers game at home. He was sitting in a chair; I was lying on the couch. We were having a normal conversation, but one out of every three times I spoke, he wouldn’t respond. After about ten minutes of this, I looked over & it looked like he was in some sort of trance. His face was slack; his mouth was hanging open, his eyes half open but not seeing anything.

I knew what heroin use looked like at this point, & I knew he’d relapsed.

I knew there wasn’t anything to be accomplished until he came down off of his high.  I wasn’t going to live with the regret I’d lived through all those years ago, so I knew as much as he wasn’t going to like it, I only had one choice. I called his dad.

I monitored his airway & breathing until he woke up, & then his father & I waited until he was in a state to talk. David was extremely upset to see his father, but more upset with himself. We sat & made a decision to send him to a rehabilitation center, immediately. So he packed a few things & I drove him to a clinic approximately three hours away, where he checked himself in & remained there for the next three weeks.

He came home contrite, clean, & with a renewed sense of purpose.

Starting Over Again

Life returned to normal after that, or as normal as it could be. David continued to work on himself, & his relationship. He got married to his girlfriend. I stood in his wedding, & as a testament to the person he is, after his wife walked down the aisle, David walked over to her daughter, got down on one knee, pulled out a ring & promised her to be the best dad he could be & the father she deserved. There wasn’t a dry eye in the building, myself included.

That all happened two years ago. David & I have spent a great deal of time together in that span. He’s as happy & healthy as I’ve ever seen him.

But this is real life, & many stories don’t have a happy ending. Three weeks ago, I got a text message from his wife.

It said simply “It’s Michelle. Call me. It’s about David”.

In the three years they’ve been together, she has never once texted me. I didn’t even know she had my number. I knew what she was going to say before she even said it.

“David got arrested”.

Stumbling, Falling Down & Unhappy Endings

He’d relapsed, once more.

He'd dad a weak moment, bought some dope, & passed out in his car after using it. He wasn’t driving, thankfully. He’d pulled over on a back road to shoot up, went unconscious, & was discovered by a county police officer, who promptly arrested him for possession of narcotics, paraphernalia & several lesser, related charges.

He has yet to be sentenced. Right now, he’s in a rehab facility, on a minimum twelve-week stay. He’s probably going away for a time. The courts in the United States do not look favourably on multiple offenders of drug abuse. I look at his future & it’s not a bright one.

His wife & children are more than likely going to be alone. The first memories his daughter makes will be without him. When his wife is struggling with raising two children on her own, his shoulder won’t be the one she leans on. I’ve spoken to him since he’s been in rehab. He’s a slave to his addiction. He knows it. He accepts what he’s done, as he always has.

It’s heartbreaking to see. He’s my best friend, has been since I can remember. I’ve made my peace with my guilt. He alone is responsible for his choices. But anyone who’s been an addict or has been affected by addiction knows that even the best of us can’t do it alone.

This story isn’t over, just to be continued.

I can’t say what will happen to David, or his family. I’ll continue to be there for him, through thick or thin. Doing bad things doesn’t make someone a bad person. He’s not, anymore than I am. His story is my story, is all of our story. How he’ll write the remainder of it is up to him.

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About The Author - Glen McLaughlin

Glen has asked that the story of his friend David be used to help other in need. Please donate to The Herren Project.