My friend Dylan died today. It wasn’t a quick death; he’d been dying for years. Drugs had taken over his life, and no matter how many times he got clean, the demon always won him back.
His drug of choice was Heroin. It came in these tiny purple baggies, stamped with the words “Pretty Penny” on the front. “Look for the purple stuff,” he said to me once. “That’s the good shit.” He was always telling me about the good shit.
Dylan had big dreams of being a writer someday, and every time he got high he’d say, “Ellis, man, I’m gonna be like fucking William Burroughs. That mother fucker was a genius.” He felt a kinship to the author who also struggled with heroin and still managed to write Dylan’s favorite book, Naked Lunch.
In high school he carried it around until it was dog eared and the front cover went missing. He would sit at lunch and scrawl story ideas all over it. But Dylan couldn’t put together more than a few pages of his own writings before giving up; he was a chronic quitter — except when it came to heroin.
Looking back, I can’t say I understood what drove Dylan down this road. I don’t think he knew why. He never talked about it, and I never asked. I just knew there was a deep-seated pain that he always carried with him, even when we were kids. He was never able to shake it, and eventually it won.
Dylan and I were both lost, and looking for something neither one of us could identify. But we had each other, and for a time that was enough.
I met Dylan when we were eleven. I’d just moved to the neighborhood, and he thought it’d be funny to run over my feet with his bicycle. Then he sped off laughing. But Dylan didn’t expect that I’d get on my bike, chase him down and enact my revenge; we were inseparable after that day.
Dylan’s mother died when he was three, and he never had much of a relationship with his father. He wasn’t a rebellious son; he seemed to love his dad, but he just couldn’t find any words to say to him. There were the rumors around school that his dad was abusive, or an alcoholic, or a fucking CIA operative who had Dylan’s mother killed. These stories ran the gamut, and Dylan laughed at all of them, but he didn’t reveal then the real reasons behind their strained relationship.
We called his dad Dylan the Elder, and on those rare occasions when I saw him, he was nice, but suspicious of us both. He was usually on the phone, or on his way to the hospital — he was a surgeon. When he’d leave, Dylan and I would order pizza and watch movies until sunrise. I miss those days.
For as long as I could remember, Dylan dabbled in escapism of some kind. He started drinking when we were fourteen. That gave way to pot, which gave way to whatever substance would alter his mood or make him forget. Soon he was high or drunk more than he was sober. That’s when we started fighting; that’s when the cracks in our friendship started to show. Just before I left for college, Dylan started hanging around a really skeezy crowd; after that I only saw him occasionally. Maybe if I had been more present in his life, it might’ve ended differently for him … maybe.
Dylan turned to his muse heroin more and more, but the day before I was leaving for school he showed up out of the blue with a gift. It was the Stone Temple Pilots CD Purple. He handed it to me and said, “This is the kind of Purple shit I thought you’d enjoy.” That’s still one of my favorite albums.
I loved Dylan so much … still do.
I returned home from college a year ago, and when I saw Dylan, he didn’t even look like that cute boy with the reddish brown hair and adorable freckles anymore. He was emaciated, dirty, his eyes were deep in the sockets, and his teeth barely hung on for dear life. He found me, Dylan always had a way of finding me, at my apartment downtown. My mom told me that he had gone downhill, but I didn’t expect it would be that bad. He handed me a letter, said not to read it, to wait until he was better.
“Promise me, Ellis, that you won’t read it until I got my shit together.”
I made that promise and tucked the letter away in my closet. But Dylan never got better. In fact, he died that night. I will never forgive myself for not reading the letter sooner; maybe I could’ve helped him, maybe he’d still be alive. But the truth was, I couldn’t wait for him to leave. I couldn’t bear looking at him the way he was.
He was found in some rundown house, known as a place where junkies went and did their thing. Those little purple baggies were sprawled out all around him; in the end, they were the only friends he had left. I wasn’t able to read his letter until after the funeral. No one came except me and my parents. Even Dylan’s father didn’t show up.
The letter said:
Hey Ellis, my one and only friend. No one could help me, you know that don’t you? Just like no one could help her — my mom. That’s why dad hated me so much. I was just like her, and he couldn’t deal with it again. Don’t hate him, he loved me the only way he knew how. I always thought that you and I were friends because we were a lot alike, but you never let the darkness win. See you on the other side.
Was it inevitable that Dylan would end up like this? I don’t know, but nothing lessened the guilt I felt, and will probably always feel.
After reading the letter, I put on the Stone Temple Pilots CD he gave me and cried.