July 25th, 2002. Your 24th birthday party, two weeks before you passed. You loved your nieces and nephews more than anything and we loved you right back.
Dear Uncle Jeff,
I got high for the first time last night—in my oral surgeon’s office, no less. Novocaine numbed my gums, and laughing gas permeated my nose. I felt the euphoric rush of tranquility wash over me as the doctor yanked out that little monster of a wisdom tooth. It truly was an outer body experience and when it was over I looked wildly at the surgeon and through a gurgled sedated state said, “Holy shit, can we do that again?” I know what you’re thinking. Me, the ‘say no to drugs’ gal. I made a promise to you and myself from a young age to help people who were struggling with addiction and fight the mental health stigma.
You’d be surprised to know that well into 2017 people are still abusing narcotics (Think: Heroin and painkillers) more than ever. In a New York Times poll earlier this year, the study reveals drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death among Americans under 50 with 59,000 people dying in 2016 alone. (Holy smokes, I know). In a lot of other ways too it’s like we never really left the 90’s. I even went to go see one of our fave bands, RHCP, a few years back. Anthony Kiedis is still alive and well, can you believe it? His bestselling book about addiction, ‘Scar Tissue,’ is one of my all time faves.
But I digress.
Whether you know it or not you taught me a lot about perspective, how to view the world and the people who inhabit it. You’ve taught me not to judge people based on their internal fight an outsider like me might not know they’re fighting. Because I know now how hard you tried, how hard you fought to overcome it. That bad and good are blanket words and don’t factor into a person’s whole being. Because we’re all many different people. Sometimes I feel 8 people living inside me, sometimes 10. We’re multifaceted creatures, and that’s a beautiful thing. I try to look at people’s character separate from their actions. Because when I think of you I don’t think of you in your struggle and in your death, because I never knew what you were going through. I think of you in your life, the short time we spent together, through your letters, and see a pure sweet soul. I think of you standing on my doorstep in the pouring rain handing me my 6th birthday present. A light up lamp occupying one of the bedrooms in the doll house my parents got me. How fitting as you emitted so much light in the 24 years you spent on this earth. After you passed I carried it around school when I missed you, so that I could always have a part of you with me.
I never used to say the word drug without flinching but over the years, as I will soon be approaching the age of your death, I’ve realized everybody has a drug. Everybody has a remedy or a vice to take away their own personal struggle. From a young age, writing was my drug. It continues to be my drug and I don’t plan on stopping my addiction any time soon. As soon as pen hits paper I feel transfixed. I get so caught up in the English lexicon; it never ceases to fascinate me. Words are my cocaine. Syllables and adjectives and hyphen’s are my euphoria. Idioms and platitudinous proverbs are my high. I snort my words like they’re freshly lined up, waiting for me to breathe in. It gives me life.
Crafting a piece for me often times creates itself. I say creates itself, because sometimes the voice replicated onto paper flows so naturally it takes on a life of it’s own. One syllable after the next till there’s a string of words, sequenced together like they were fabricated solely to be adjacent to one another. I keep a journal near my bed side and in my backpack at all times in case I wake up in the middle of the night with an interesting thought or read a book on the subway with an interesting new word I want to explore. You see? There are so many more good drugs than there are bad. Creative addictions like writing, painting, building, that makes the world a better place. And music. You would know, because you were a total rockstar. Your feelings covered by lyrics and the strum of your guitar. Not all drugs take people away; artistic remedies enhance the world. I’d like to think my writing enhances the world for somebody the way your existence enhanced mine.
You were a writer too, Uncle Jeff. In the last few years I’ve discovered old letters you mailed us during your year in Israel. Scripted handwriting, like poetry sprawled onto crisp paper. I love crisp paper, its ability to recycle and turn into something new. Isn’t that what life's about? God gave us creation for us to recreate. Seeds to make trees to make paper, to make words, to make writing, to make life. Everything comes back to life in the end. You sparked so much in me that the least I can do is recreate the blueprints you left for us to finish for you. I hope my zest to reach people through words like you always strived for, makes you proud.
When I read those letters I see the depth you held, I see a lot of you in me. The vulnerability you encompassed, the caring persona you embodied, the passion, the free-spirit, and most of all the authenticity. I remember you most for being real. You wouldn’t like this generation very much, the age of social media. People lost their authenticity cards over the years and replaced them with fake captions and personas. Just recently I mailed my friends obsolete post cards during my study abroad. But that’s a rarity. Usually I’d send concise texts trying to convey a message far greater than 250 characters can ever truly say.
Your old friend and bandmate prefaced the song he played for you last year at the SBH event we organized in your memory by saying you had a “complicated but gentle, soft nature.” All your friends said you were the first one to call and check up on them or sit with them at a party when they looked alone. Always empathetic and transparent, so aware of your surroundings and other people’s pain even through your own. Your best friend finally (after much nagging over the years) gave me the Zines you both published in the 90’s. You were the raddest. How lucky am I?
Your Baby-Bop Bon
P.S: Hope you’re rocking out with Kurt Cobain in heaven. I won’t tell him you kissed Courtney Love, if you don’t. Deal?