Left on the floor
Leaving your body
When highs are the lows,
And lows are the way
So hard to stay.
Guess now you know, I love you so.

Sarah Royce
James Dickson

– The Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Tearjerker”

His faded-out screen name still appears on my instant messenger buddy list. I know the name will never go bold again, but I still can’t delete it. I know I’ll never again bump into him in Angell Hall or cut class to see him, and I still can’t believe it. That would make what’s already final become absolutely certain, and I’m not quite ready to take that step.

When I first heard the news, I went numb; I can’t say I was surprised to hear that he was gone. When friends develop addictions, you always know what could happen. You always overestimate the size of the gulf between what’s possible and what your friend’s real-life condition is. Addictions rarely work themselves into our schedule, but the end result, death, is dreadfully predictable.

On some level, it would be soothing to make this column about what should have been done or said to keep my friend’s demons at bay, but that wouldn’t help. This isn’t about me or about any of his other friends. To look at his death as a failure of friends would quite selfishly and unfairly place us in the center of an addiction that we had no control over – an addiction even my friend couldn’t control. While I can’t speak for anyone else, I don’t really care to feel good right now. I have no interest in being soothed.

We are always in utter shock when tragedy strikes. We should be. Of all the places on Earth, the University isn’t the one that young adults should return home from in body bags, rather than with degrees. This kind of thing just doesn’t happen: Not here, not in Ann Arbor and certainly not to a student at one of the top 25 schools in the world.

At least, that’s what we think. The University is equipped to handle almost any problem of the mind or the body. Between the world-class hospital system and free psychological services, we have the expertise to solve the problems of the mind and the body. But the problems of the soul are much harder to get a grasp on.

These were supposed to be the years of immortality, a concept that’s painfully ironic as I write my final respects. In the ignorance of our youth, we always think it can’t happen to us. We think that because of our affluence or because we go to a top school, we’re somehow different from the people who have “real problems” and who lack the resources to address them. “I’m too smart to let that happen. I know how to stop and where to find help. I’m in control,” we think.

The myth of control is powerful for addicts, allowing them to distance themselves from the anecdotes of those unfortunate others who have fallen too far. My friend, for his part, previously had friends die from the same addiction that killed him, but he never believed that he was heading down that same tragic road.

Never have I so regretted taking someone at his word. No one wants to be that bossy friend, and I certainly didn’t. Right now it’s tough to shake the feeling that, had I been more willing to tell my friend how to live his life, perhaps he would be reading my column now, rather than being its subject.

I wonder how many who read this will continue down their own destructive paths and keep telling their friends and themselves that it can’t happen to them. My friend’s death is a tragedy. If no one learns anything from his passing, it would be senseless.

My friend is gone and won’t come back. No more New England Patriots games at his place or Madden tournaments at mine. No more semi-abusive text messages between one another because it’s been a few days since we’ve spoken. No more anything – only a big void where life once was.

Just like that.

James Dickson can be reached at davidjam@umich.edu.

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