June 15, 1987 - November 5, 2009
The first time I met Jake he was six years old, blond and blue eyed with a smile that stole my heart away. I loved him immediately. My son, Zach, and Jake met in first grade becoming fast friends. From that point on, for the next twelve years, he was practically a member of our family. I would sit at little league games with Jake’s mom cheering on the boys while his father coached the team. The boys grew older and their fathers would take them golfing. The two of them spent many hours together, fishing and swimming at the lake in our subdivision. I have photos of them in their white shirts and ties making their First Communions, and then their Confirmations. More pictures of them at grade school dances and graduation fill my photo albums. They grew older still, attending Homecoming dances and football games. Jake took up wrestling and won several state titles. My husband and I divorced Zach’s senior year of high school. His father moved to Singapore and I moved into the city. Zach changed schools and he saw less and less of Jake. Zach went off to college, but Jake would still drop by my house and see how we were doing. I saw a change in Jake that made me uncomfortable. I would call Zach and ask him what was going on, but I never quite got a straight answer. It was all speculation. Thursday night, at 10:30 PM, Zach’s quivering voice informed me, “Mom, Jake’s dead.”
My heart sank. Surely, he’s joking. It can’t be. I was in disbelief. Not the little boy who sneezed on your birthday cake? Not the little boy whose smile could warm any heart? Twenty-two years old? No! How did he die? I should have known better than to ask. My first thoughts were of his parents and the hell they must be in, the hell they must have been in for the last several years. These things don’t just happen over night. Yes, the boys drank in high school. Yes, I believe Zach smoked pot when he went away to college, but so did I. I did not want to believe that the little boy who came to visit me, making sure I was doing fine, had died of a heroin overdose.
Zach rode the Amtrak home from school Sunday morning. We arrived at the mortuary that afternoon, seeing the line of people come to pay their respects curving out into the parking lot. Forty-five minutes later I heard, “Oh, Zach!” and I watched Jake’s mom’s arms fly around my son’s neck. They stood there sobbing, unable to release each other for several minutes. I have never witnessed such a heart-wrenching scene. I knew she was thinking what I was thinking. How did things get so far off track? The sight of Zach reminded her of better days. Happier times. Wasn’t it just yesterday they were golfing?
Jake’s death was the third drug related death in the last several months from our former little haven. Heroin has moved into the suburbs, your suburbs. It is cheap and easily obtainable and it isn’t ghetto any longer. I beg you, hold on to your children. Educate yourselves and be involved. If you know of any child that has taken the road that Jake took, do not do what I did, which was nothing. Speak up! Say something. Show them you care about them and love them. Perhaps you will save a life. It is too late for me to go back, now. My heart may never heal and I know for sure, Zach’s won’t. Jake’s dead.