Dealing with Death
by Charles Aguilar
I was never good at dealing with emotions. I did not have to be because I had always had a distraction available. I have always found comfort in ways not exactly the best for my well- being, but I loved anything that would dull the senses and make me forget what was going on around me. Death is something no one can escape, and I have had most of my family and good friends pass away in my short lifetime. In the past, I found negative ways to cope, but I now use more positive methods.
To begin with, my family was never close. Alcohol was their daily medicine for dealing with each other. One night, my parents got drunk and things escalated until my father shot and killed my mother in front of me. After he was sent to prison, I was sent to live with relatives for the rest of my childhood. I forgot most of this until I was a teenager, but once I remembered, I started seeking solace in drugs. I did not have anyone to talk to about my feelings, so I wanted to get high every chance I could. Before long, the small stuff was not good enough anymore, and I started experimenting with anything I could find. As a teen, I could not shake the feeling that no one, especially no adult, could possibly understand what was going through my head, but I could confide in some friends. My friends, at that time, were other teens doing the same drugs I was, and they seemed to be the only people who could relate.
One of my friends was the most beautiful girl I had ever met. She was always fun to be around, but also had drug problems similar to mine. One day we talked and decided that we had to stop before something bad happened, so we did. We stopped just a little too late. We had been clean for about a year, and at twenty-one, she had a heart attack in the shower. Too much damage had been done to her system from years of heroin abuse. I reacted poorly and started drinking. In my head I figured I wasn’t going to let the drugs get me too, so I turned to alcohol instead. For the next several years, I drank almost every day. I could not sleep without a shot of vodka or whiskey. If anyone came to my house, they knew to bring beer; therefore, we never had a shortage of alcohol. One day, my step-brother came over to my house with some friends and asked me to stop. I had been doing this for six years straight, and they were concerned that I might hurt myself if I did not quit. At that time, I thought we had all the time in the world and had no reason to stop the party.
The thing about time is that it seems it will never run out, but when it did, I realized how much time I had wasted. I got a phone call in the middle of the night just a few months after my brother’s little intervention. He had just been in a motorcycle accident and died instantly. I immediately went to Atlanta, where he had had his accident, and identified his body. The next few weeks went largely the same as they always did. I started drinking more than I did before, but something was different this time. A beautiful woman had moved into my apartment building, and we started dating. One time, I showed up drunk at her place in the middle of the night and scared her. She waited for me to sober up, and we sat down to have a talk. I was told that it was all right to miss my brother and to grieve, but there was no way was she going to stay around and watch me self‑destruct. I did something that day that I had not done since I was a kid: I cried. We talked for hours about what had happened, not just about my brother, but about everyone I had lost. In the following months, she had time for me every time I wanted to reminisce, and we made a plan to help me stop drinking. I did not have to quit, but I needed to stop when she thought I had had enough. I quit drinking altogether shortly after we made this plan.
I also had another plan. I was going to remember my friends and family in another way. So, I decided to get tattoos to never forget them. Getting the tattoos helped me get over the feeling of loss I had, and the pain on the outside helped the pain on the inside. Every one I got permanently reminds me of who they were and to move on with what time I have left. Before too long, that girlfriend became my wife, and her family accepted me as part of their own. I had found people to talk to, and they did not judge the things in my past. I never realized that everyone around me cared so much. If I had known this when I was younger, maybe my life would have gone differently.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman once wrote, ”Death? Why this fuss about death. Use your imagination, try to visualize a world without death! … Death is the essential condition of life, not an evil” (1). I realize that everyone will die one day, and I should not be afraid. I need to live my life to the fullest. That is why I have started college and my own family. I know that when I die, I will be remembered fondly the way I remember my friends and family who have passed away. Everyone deals with death and grief differently, but drugs and alcohol did not help me. They just suppressed all the emotions and pain that needed to get out. If I had kept on that path, I would have eventually ended up in an early grave myself, and that would have just caused more pain for others.
- Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. The Living of Charlotte Perkins Gilman: An Autobiography. New York: Stanford University Press, 1935.