Nearly two years ago, my oldest son’s best friend died of a gunshot wound on a country road near our small Idaho town. His death resulted from methamphetamine use, and powerfully impacted our community.
A.J. was a typical young man from this part of Idaho. His mother was a bartender, his father a wildland firefighter; they lived separately.
When the inevitable family conflicts of the teen years overwhelmed him, A.J. began drifting from one home to another, sometimes staying with his father, sometimes his mother, at other times with friends. There were many evenings when I heard my son’s car enter the driveway and stop, followed by two doors slamming shut. I knew that meant A.J. would be eating with us again, and would set another place and double the amount of food I was preparing, because A.J. was a prodigious eater.
Both boys were doofusses, or loveable but dumb fellows, and we called them The Doofii. We loved A.J. like a son, as I suspect many parents in our rural community did.
After graduation from high school, A.J. began to drift into the world of drugs and alcohol. A series of wrecked cars and a DUI ended his hope of a career in firefighting.
My son moved on to college, and the boys’ lives diverged, although they kept in touch. Then one night two years ago my son called and cried in anguish, “A.J.’s dead!” While high on methamphetamine, A.J. and the local drug dealer decided to test out a flack vest. A.J. put the vest on, and the dealer shot him point-blank with a pistol. A.J. died within minutes, as the vest was not intended to stop bullets.
His funeral filled our community’s largest church to overflowing, as those who loved him gathered to express their sense of loss and share the love they felt. The pastor noted A.J.’s mother said several times during funeral preparations that she hoped something good could come from his death.
Like many people, I keep A.J.’s photo where I see it every day. My son carries his copy in his wallet, and another friend keeps his taped inside his suitcase as he travels.
My son still speaks with powerful emotions when he talks about A.J. The sense of loss, of anger, of frustration that methamphetamine use continues unabated, often overwhelms him.
I believe A.J.’s death had a more lasting impact on our community than any anti-drug campaign. The dozens of teens who crowded the church saw first-hand the damage done by this drug, and I hope they have taken it to heart.
It frightens me to think of the hundreds, or possibly thousands, of lives lost to methamphetamine each year, of families destroyed, of hearts broken.
I think of A.J. every day, and always with tears in my eyes. I know I am not the only person in our town to feel this way. I believe the pain A.J.’s death, caused by drug use, will be with me forever.
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