Every time 

Every time I say your name, write your name, think your name I fall apart. I see a picture of you and I fall apart. I think of you and I fall apart. I fall deeper and deeper into this abyss of you. All things you and I fall apart. 

It’s like the Universe pulled the rug out from under me and instead of falling on my ass I am falling down this dark hole that is never ending. Every now and again I get a rest and then the ground beneath me gives way and I start to fall again. 

I don’t know how different it would be if we had been on good terms when you died. I’ll never know. I do know that because we weren’t this is unbearable. There’s never a chance for reconciliation. I have gone over our last conversation a million times and each time it’s always the same ending. It’s like I try to imagine a way to reconcile it. A way to correct it knowing that no matter which way I play it in my head it happened the way it did. I can’t go back and change it.

I continued living my life but thought of you often. You never left my heart, mind, or soul. You were always there. I worried about. Like you, I was too stubborn and hard-headed to reach out. I tried to call a couple of times and your number wasn’t the same. I never tried to reach out again after that. I allowed my pride to get in the way. You allowed your pride to get in the way, too. That was always our problem. When we thought we were right there was no telling us different. It didn’t matter what the truth was. This time I was right and I wasn’t going to say otherwise. 

We had a battle of epic proportions and there was no winner. We both lost. I think I lost the most. You’re gone after all. My regret and guilt run deep. It’s too soon to wade through all of it. Too soon to forgive myself; so I sit in my shit and allow myself to spiral a little. I allow myself to be angry with you and with me. I allow myself to wallow in self-pity. Because why not?

There’s been a hollowness in my life where you once were. I always kept a spot for you. Now it’s permanent. It’s a hollowness that has taken over every part of my being where you once lived. I don’t know how to fill it with fond memories of you. I don’t really even know how to see past your death right now. I dont know how to think about the good times and all the love you brought into my life. Right now I can’t see past the black home I am in. I don’t know when I’ll see the light, the end of the dark hole. One day, I hope.

I hope one day a peace fills my being where you once were. A peace that only you can fill. Your beautiful soul floods my being. Until then, I will find a way to make it. I will find a way to get up each day and deal with the hand I was dealt. You promised me one time you’d never leave me, but you have. I know you’ll be back one day, but that day is not today…

Forever and always I’ve got your six…

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Until I Did

I’m not much of a crier. I’ve always been pretty successful at holding back the tears. The last four days they have fallen freely. It’s like the floodgates have opened. When I think there’s not another tear to shed there they come. 

Every time I think of Kheli those pesky things fill my eyes. I think of her pretty much all day everyday. As I sit here with music on the t.v., my pup in my lap, my phone in my hand I think of her and my eyes fill with tears. Who ever imagined someone could fulfill so much of your heart and soul and you would never understand just how much of them filled you until they were gone. I always knew she was special to me but I guess I never realized just HOW special.

I miss her something fierce. I missed her before but I always had that hope that we would reconnect. Now that that hope is gone the missing has magnified by infinity. I try to conjure up memories of all of the amazing times we had but all I can see is her face and know I will never really see it again. It is soul shattering. Spirit crushing. I never in a million years thought she would die. I know I said it, but I never thought there was truth in it. I used it as a scare tactic. There was never meant to be any truth in it.

I don’t know how to tuck away into my comfortable life anymore. I can’t hide any longer. I can’t pretend she’s on some adventure somewhere. I can’t pretend that life is just busy. None of those things exist anymore. I have to face the reality that she is gone. That no matter how hard I deny it in my heart my brain knows the truth. The person I trusted more than anyone in life is gone. One of the few that loved me for me is gone. That’s truth.

I don’t live with too many regrets. I have made mistakes and bad decisions and I have tried to learn from them; whatever they may be. Today my biggest regret is turning my back on her when she needed me the most. When I should have stepped up, regardless of how it would have affected me, and done more to help her. I was terrified to watch her slowly kill herself. I was terrified I would lose her. I lost her anyway. The person I knew no longer existed and now she’s dead. In the end the results were the same; however, I now live knowing one of the persons she trusted and depended on the most let her walk in her darkness alone.

I’ve been told not to blame myself. I don’t. Kheli made her decisions. This was her path, but the guilt is maddening. What if I had tried harder? What if I let her come here? What if I would have reached out? What if I had talked to her? What if I told her how amazing, valuable, worthy, and important she is? Would any of that made a difference? Would it have saved her? I don’t know. What I know is I will never know.

I didn’t see the signs before Matt killed himself until I did. He was an alcoholic. He struggled with alcoholism at the age of 28. I didn’t see how it controlled him until it was too late to help. I didn’t see the signs with Kheli until it was too late. I didn’t realize how severe her addiction was until I did. I didn’t realize how much it really controlled her until it was too late to help. I put my rose colored glasses on and believed they would beat their addictions. Even knowing, through my education, that’s not how it works. It’s not that easy. I still allowed myself to fall into a systematic faith that they would snap out of it. Having faith in someone doesn’t mean they can do it alone. I understand that but allowed myself to believe something other than the truth. And now part of my truth is I failed them miserably.

I wish you could have seen you through my eyes; maybe then you would have understood your importance and your value and worth. I wish just once you would have truly understood how loved you were. How life changing you were. You just couldn’t. Maybe I should have tried harder, Khel. 

Forever and always I’ve got your 6.

Longing for the Days of Old

I long for the days of old. You know those days. The days where you had no care in the world. Pain and sorrow were little. Laughs and jokes were abundant. All you had to do was get out of bed, smile, experience the joys of your day.

As a teenager I used to spend the majority of my summers in Louisiana. It was a trip I looked forward to every year. Looking back, I think I just looked forward to seeing my best friend. We would write letters and call each other (cell phones and email barely existed in those days) throughout the year, maybe see each other during the holidays, but those summer months were ours. They belonged to us and we belonged to them. Oh the fun we had. Mischief was never-ending. We tortured Nathan and Khodi as much as we could. Just to the point that we wouldn’t get into too much trouble for doing it. We went to the creek, shopping, running around base, the woods behind the house. I spent many hot, humid days at the basketball courts that were just down from the house. Kheli, who was less than skilled, would come sit and watch or goof off while I tried to “improve” my game. She would never let me get too serious about it. How could I when I had a shadow that wouldn’t allow me to?!

Kheli told me a few years ago that she used to copy me. When I asked what she meant she said that when I started my basketball shorts wearing phase (which hasn’t ended by the way) she started wearing basketball shorts. When I started wearing bandanas she started wearing bandanas. And so on. I never realized it. I suspect the reason for it is because all I saw was my best friend. I didn’t care what she wore or that she was a hot mess most days. I was spending time with some of the people I loved the most.

Tracie took over as a surrogate sister after my sister died in 1995. They were best friends and I had already spent much of my time with her and the kids before they moved. Kheli and I were a year and half apart and Nathan and Khodi a few years younger. I remember my sister used to take me over to Tracie’s and we’d order pizza and watch movies. At the time I only like the sauce and the crust of pizza and Nathan only like the toppings. I would take the toppings off of mine and give them to him and vice versa. Kheli would make so much fun of us. When I would visit Louisiana Khodi would follow Kheli and me wherever we went. She was still pretty young and we would get annoyed that she was tagging along because she was pretty sensitive and Kheli could not keep herself from annoying Khodi. Many times Kheli would do something and I would take the blame just so she would not get into trouble. What are friends for. But trust, Tracie had no problems laying down the law. Of course, two teenage girls only pretended to listen. We would giggle about it later on. There was no doubt we were two peas in a pod.

At the age of 16 I got my first tattoo courtesy of us lying and saying Tracie was my legal guardian. It was easy to do. The next summer I got my second one. Once again, an easy feat for us. Tracie always promised me she would be the first to get me a tattoo and she did. Of course, the hearts I got, that were to look like the ones her and my sister got togther, turned out to look more like cherries. Now they look like cherries that just continue to grow. Kheli was so pissed I was getting a tattoo and she wasn’t. I think she pouted for a good two or three days. Then got pissed because I could not get in the pool.

One summer we all went to New Orleans. We had a blast. It’s the only time I’ve been. We were cramped in a small hotel room, but it just meant we were united closer together. Kheli and I talked about returning to New Orleans as adults – reliving the joys of days past. We never made it. We never relived those days.

I vividly remember my time in Louisiana. More so than many other things in my life. It was hard to leave each time, but I knew I would be back. I knew no matter where in this world I was Kheli would be there. When I turned 18 and prepared for college, life got busy and I lost touch with her. A few years later we were back in touch and it was like no time passed at all. Kheli and I travelled down two very different paths at that time in our lives. I continued with my education and she started having children. We were not far in distance at that time but life got in the way. We still talked multiple times a day but something always thwarted our plans to see each other. Once again life got busy, and our paths went in very different directions. We lost touch for several years and then one day there she was again. I still remember the first thing she said. “Hey Holls, missed you. Whatcha been up to?” Like no time passed at all. It was then we reconnected and our bond and our connection was deeper than it had ever been. We talked about life and all the great and horrible things that happened over the years. We reminisced about all of the fun we had. She was back. We were back. We stayed in constant contact. We talked about trying to plan time to see each other. It would take a few more years for that to happen. We lost contact briefly do to some things she had to take care of.

It had been more than 10 years, maybe closer to 15, by the time we saw each other again. July 2015 I finally saw my best friend again. I got to hug her, hold her, lean on her. We talked for hours. I scolded her, lectured her, praised her. She promised to enroll in school, stay clean, make something of her life. No more drugs. No more association with certain groups of people. Not long after she told me she was enrolling in school. I don’t know if she ever did or not. She told me she wanted to be a LCDC. I was proud of her and made sure she knew it. A few months after that, we had a huge blow up. An argument of epic proportions. The one thing I never did was lie to her. I told her like it was whether she wanted to hear it or not. It was that truth and honesty that led to her dramatic response and actions. I kept my promises to her. She may not have seen that herself but I did and do.

I long for the days when Kheli and I were naive to the harsh realities of life. Where the only care in the world was how much trouble we could cause Tracie. I long for the days when I looked forward to seeing her. I long for the days when we would giggle about all the mischief we got into. I long for my best friend. It doesn’t matter that I didn’t speak to her for a year and a half. I thought about her all the time. I wished for peace in her life. We were still connected. Our lives on different paths but our hearts still linked together by our bond.

I miss her now more than I ever have. I guess it’s because I know I will never hear her voice again. I will never see her face again. We will never get the opportunity to reconcile. She is on my mind every second of every day. I wake up thinking about her and fall asleep thinking about her. 25 years…my longest real friendship. No matter where we were in life or how different our paths we always found our way back to each other, but once. This time we never found our way back. We were never given the opportunity. The only hope I have is that she knew how immensely I loved and cared about her. There are many things I would do over if I could but I can’t. I hope she knew her friendship and love were enough. I never wanted perfection from her just her own happiness.

I miss you, Khel. I’ve got your 6. Forever and always.

The Struggle is Real

Struggle is real. We all struggle with something in life. The struggles make us stronger, right?! I’m currently facing some of those struggles. The one thing I thought I knew how to do was grief. Hell, I’ve done it so many times before. I’m pretty logical and rational when it comes to death. I view it with logic and reason. It’s a coping mechanism I have developed, I suppose. This time is so different.

When my brother completed suicide last July I was able to reason through it. I was able to look at it logically. I understood. Life was painful and despair and darkness took over. I have never been mad at him for that. I have never questioned why. I have accepted his decision. I am sad that’s the decision he made. I miss him. I accepted his death quickly. I grieve and mourn for him. I am learning to live life without him.

My friend…her death…it is breaking me. I have known and loved her for 25 years. She was the ying to my yang. She got me. She accepted me, no matter what. She did not judge me. She has been my best friend since the day I met her. Even over the years when we ventured apart we always found each other. Our link and bond never broken. This last time…our bond did not break but our links separated. I have always supported her and loved her. No matter what. That never stopped. This time…I could not support her. I could not support her addiction and that is what separated our links.

The last time I spoke to her she told me she hated me. She was done. I was just like her mother. I know that was not her talking but the drugs. It was not her sassy soul telling me all of this. It was her addiction. Either way, it broke my heart. I had to let her go and hope that she would come back to me ready to get clean. I had to have enough faith in her that she would find her way back. That she would find her way. That never happened. Her addiction won.

She struggled so much in life. I don’t think she ever knew peace. She had many demons. She was a follower. She wanted to be loved and accepted. That was her downfall. Her desire to be loved and accepted led her to a group of people that made her believe they loved and accepted her when in reality they used her. They helped her dive further into her addiction. They accepted her as long as she could give them something. And she did. She has struggled with addiction before but has been able to clean herself up. This time was different. She went further into her addiction than any of us have ever seen. She went to the depths of hell for her addiction. She never returned from there.

Khel was an amazing being. She had so much love in her heart. She had so much potential. She was just unable to get past her demons. The hardest part…the way our last conversation ended a year and a half ago. I never got the chance to tell her how proud I was of her in life. I never got to tell her how much I loved her. I never got to tell her that the storm would end eventually. All I could tell her was when she was ready to get clean to let me know. I had to protect myself and my life. I couldn’t let her leave my life in her destruction. I didn’t know how bad it got until last night. People talked about the lengths she went to to support her addiction. Things that happened due to her addiction. Where was I? I was tucked away in my comfortable life. I wasn’t there to try to direct her down a different path. I wasn’t there to remind her how amazing she was. I was nowhere to be found. I left her to walk down her dark path alone. For that, I will never forgive myself.

Her death is a reminder that I have failed two people in my life. My brother and now her. I failed my best friend. I failed one of the few people in my life that loved me for who I am. I could not save her. I could not protect her from this cruel world. I threw her a life preserver but it wasn’t thrown far enough. She could never reach it. My Khel was NOT supposed to lose her battle with addiction. They were NOT supposed to win. She was supposed to fight harder. She was supposed to come back to me. She was not supposed to leave me. She did.

I have lost many people in my life. I know grief. This is so much different. This is breaking me. This has broken my heart and shattered my soul. I did not think it would be this hard. I thought basically having lost her a year and a half ago it would be easier. I was “prepared” for this. I “prepared” myself for this day. I just didn’t think it would be so soon. I struggle when I think of the details of the day she died. It happened so quickly. It wasn’t supposed to happen, not to her. It was supposed to happen to all those bad souls out there. Not to one of the good ones. She was no angel but her soul was good. I don’t know how to say goodbye. I don’t know how to process that I will never get another phone call. I will never get the phone call with her saying, “Hey biff, I’m ready. Can you help me?” I will never hear her country-ass voice again. Drugs took ALL of that from me. The fucking doctor prescribing medication to addicts took that from me. More than anything they took all of it from her. They took her life. I don’t even know how to start the healing process this time. I am lost. I don’t think I’ve been this lost in a long time…

Open Letter

An open letter to my best friend.

You have been my best friend for 25 years. We’ve been through a great deal together. You’ve always had my back. Never faltering. Always there…until you weren’t. One day the person I loved and connected with and bonded with from childhood to adulthood suddenly disappeared. The loving, loyal, kind-hearted, sassy, smart ass I once knew was no longer. You turned into someone I no longer knew. Someone I didn’t want to know. You allowed drugs to rule your life and that changed you forever.

I don’t know where life went wrong. I don’t know when you thought it was okay to use drugs to escape whatever you were trying to run from. I don’t know when you determined drugs were more important than those that love you. You can call it addiction, but at some point you made a decision to begin using. You are responsible for all the destruction you left in your path. You denied your addiction. You lied even when you knew we all knew. You were not ready to face your reality. And it killed you.

Over the years, when we didn’t talk, I never failed to think of you. You were always on my mind and we were always able to reconnect. To come back together. The last time…we weren’t. We never got the opportunity to reconnect because you never got clean. You didn’t want to. You were so consumed by your addiction that nothing else mattered. I have always supported you through good and bad, but this time I couldn’t. I could not support you in your addiction. I could not enable you. I was willing to support you in your sobriety and in your recovery, but you never got there. I was more than willing to enable you when you chose to live a healthy lifestyle, but you never made that decision. You chose drugs…

You were only 33. I don’t know why this time was the last time. I don’t know what happened. I’ve only heard speculations. It wasn’t natural causes, it was DRUGS. The same addiction that took you from your family and friends also took your life. You chose to use that night and it killed you. I used to tell you if you didn’t stay clean you would die…I never thought the words I spoke would become truth. I was only trying to scare you. To make you think. It didn’t work. In the end I was right. You died. You left two precious children, a mother, sister, and brother who loved you dearly, regardless of how strained the relationships. You left a best friend without the opportunity to say goodbye. You may have said you hated me, but I know you didn’t. You loved me. Your drugs hated me. I was proud of you at one time. You took that and abused it. You ruined it.

I am so fucking mad at you. You were supposed to finally recognize the severity of your addiction and decide to get clean. You were supposed to get well for yourself and your children. You never made that decision. You continued to make the decision to use and to place yourself around those who use. You made no attempt to surround yourself with positive people. That was your downfall. You were superman and the drugs were your kryptonite. They won. They destroyed you. They killed you. I am so fucking mad that the person I knew as STRONG-WILLED allowed something to pull her so far down she saw nothing else but that. You died…alone. By yourself. None of those “friends” were there. I’ve seen people using your death as a means for attention. You can tell by looking at them they were the people you spent your time with. Is that judgmental? Sure the fuck is. A drug user is a drug user no matter what face they put on. They were not your friends. They were your addict buddies. I was your friend. Your mother, your brother, your sister – they were your family. You chose everyone else and the drugs over all of us.

I am still trying to process your death. It doesn’t seem real. My brain knows it is, but I can’t process it. I knew I would get this call one day, but I don’t guess I figured it would be this soon. I suppose I thought there would be more time. One last ditch effort to save you from yourself. That never came. Although we had not talked in a year and a half I still hoped one day you would return telling me you were ready to get clean. I…don’t know how to say goodbye to you. My anger is overwhelming. The shock is undenying. Regardless, I love you. I always will. It will never matter how disappointed I am in you – I will always have your six. Wherever you are, biff, know I will carry you in my heart. I will use your story to help others. I will make your life matter. Your memory will carry on – in all of us.

Until next time, Khel…

This is the song you chose for us many moons ago…

One Year

One year.  That’s how long it’s been since I learned of your death.  It’s been one year that I’ve sat here waiting to hear whether you had been found.  One year since I received that phone call telling me you were dead – by your own hand.  One year since I cried for you.  One year that you made that fateful decision to end your suffering instead of asking for help.

So much has happened in one year.  Many events have happened and you were supposed to be there for those. Instead? Your buried in a 6 foot deep hole.  Our nephew was born a month ago.  Something you were supposed to be around for. Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays, family vacation.  But you weren’t there – for any of them.  Always the empty chair.

Many times I have wanted to pick up the phone to call my brother or just text him. Something I did not do much of because there was rarely a response.  One or two words. Changing of a phone number without telling anyone.  I have thought about you many times over the last year. Wondering what things would be like now had you not taken your own life.  What you would be doing.  Who you would be.  I guess we will never know.

Denial of alcoholism.  Denial of sexual orientation. Concern about what others would think of you.  Bad decision after bad decision, yet you were always supported by those who love you.  You suffered in silence. You wanted us to know nothing of your suffering and we didn’t.  I am not mad at you, but I am disappointed.  You had so much going for you but you refused to see the truth within yourself.  You allowed the opinions of others to dictate your life.  You allowed what you thought people thought or would think about you to determine your life. I don’t know what was going on with you, but I’ve put my own pieces together to make sense of it all.  It may not be the right pieces but you didn’t leave me with any other option.  I had to find a way to make sense of your death and I have.

One year ago today.  

I thought about you as I got up this morning.  Then, I received a message that my best friend for over 25 years died of a drug overdose on Friday.  I haven’t spoken to her in almost 2 years because she refused my help.  She wanted to continue down the path she was on and I could not be a part of that.  I have a life, a career.  I offered her help.  I tried to convince her to get help.  She didn’t want it and she didn’t want me in her life if I wasn’t going to support her in her addiction.  My last conversation with her was how much she hated me and never wanted to see me again.  She told me to fuck off.  I respected her request in hopes one day she would return to me. Return to me by asking for help or in sobriety.  That day never came. A reminder that I have failed two people.  I couldn’t help you and I couldn’t help her. Neither of you reached out.  I guess I don’t understand.  I have always reached out when I was in need.  I put my pride away and asked for help.  Neither of you did. Maybe ya’ll were too proud, embarrassed, ashamed.  Whatever the reason, the refusal to ask for help resulted in two lives lost.  The lives of two people I cared for and loved very deeply.  I hope that wherever you guys are you are at peace. 

Kheli Nikol Bartlett 07/11/84 – 07/21/17

Matthew Steven Shackelford 10/06/1987 – 07/23/16

Runaway

Do you ever just want to run away? Leave it all behind? Disappear? Start over?

Not the kind of running away where you return to the life you know. The one, while comfortable, that is holding you back. The life that has the appearance of contentment and enjoyment, but when you really look at it you know it’s not your life. It’s not the life you’ve envisioned for yourself. It’s a life you intended on living for a short time yet you somehow got stuck. It shackled and chained you. It tethered you and every time you tried to pull away you were yanked back. Have you ever thought of running away from that life?

Have you ever thought of running toward the life you’ve only dreamt of? The life you thought you would be living by now? A life with purpose, happiness, serenity, and peace.

I want to runaway. Not from life but to life. I want to runaway from the life I have in order to seek the life I want. I had plans and dreams. Places I wanted to go and things I wanted to do. I never thought I’d get stuck. I never wanted to live here long term. It was only supposed to be a lay-over. Just a couple of years. It’s been almost 12. Somehow time slipped away. Life moved on and I woke up one day and wondered how I got to this point.

I was born and raised in the panhandle of Texas (and still live here). My soul was born elsewhere. It was born in the mountains. It was born in some other time and place. It was born in a place of serenity and peace, but my body was born here. I’ve known my whole life that while I was born in Texas I am not a Texas girl. Who I am is so much larger than that of others born here. I’m not saying Texans are bad, I’m just different. I believe I was meant to be born somewhere else. Like the universe made the ultimate mistake. Trickery. It shouldn’t have been here.

I’m not a hippie, yuppie, mountain man, beach girl, ski bunny. I am a combination of many things. I am a wanderer. Rather I believe I was meant to be one…and somehow fell short of that purpose. I don’t like roots. I have them. I have never liked staying in one place too long, but I have. Something is missing. Part of me is missing.

I want to runaway. I want to quit my job, sell my house, and just runaway. No destination. Find a place and be at peace. I want to go to a place where I know no one and no one knows me. Start over. Start fresh. It’s not so easy. Nothing ever is. So what do you do when you just want to runaway?