On March 28th 2004, I awoke to a loud thud on the floor above me. I rolled over to see the green neon lights from the clock; I squinted and tried to focus on the time. Rubbing the crust from my eyes I saw the clock read exactly 4:20 a. m. ; something was wrong. I threw the blankets off and maneuvered through the darkness of my basement apartment. The lights were on at the top of the stairs and I could hear voices, voices in distress. Immediately, I rushed up the stairs and my heart felt like it was going to beat out of my chest.
I swung the basement door open, and as my eyes adjusted to the light I saw my father, standing there with my mother crying on the floor. Before I could get any words out, I saw the police officer at the door. Even now, I can still hear my mother’s voice as if it were yesterday, sobbing, “not my baby, oh God no, not my baby! ” This was the moment that changed my life forever, the night my brother died. I went into a downward spiral during the three years after Keith’s death. I surrounded myself with people who wanted to forget their own problems as much as I wanted to forget mine, even if for just a moment.
Although I was surrounded by people, I still felt completely alone. I would sleep in late, work, and then party all night. I would spend my money frivolously and call out of work, not caring if I ate ramen noodles and PB&J sandwiches for every meal. I was getting into relationships with people who were broken, unsure if I wanted to fix them or just needed someone who knew the feeling of being broken, like me. I didn’t realize what a self-destructive path I was on until I became pregnant with my daughter.
The pregnancy was my motivation; that swift kick in the ass to finally do something better with my life. I wasn’t living for me anymore because I was responsible for someone else, someone who didn’t know my past and all of the mistakes I made. Although I had little faith that I could even handle this on my own, I was out to prove to my family and friends that I could turn my life around. I turned 25 right before I had Valya, and even though I was old enough to have a child, it was still much harder than I ever could have anticipated.
Over the last 5 years, I found myself thinking, “What if I chose to not have her? ” Thinking about all of the nights my friends made plans to go out made me long to be with them. Instead, I was at home looking at the pictures on Facebook of how much fun everyone else was having, how people were graduating college, getting decent paying jobs, traveling around the world, and doing what they loved. But, last weekend, Labor Day 2012, I decided I didn’t have to miss out anymore. I joined my friends for a night of camping, drinking, playing games and having fun.
The next day, I awoke feeling like my body was slowly eating itself from the inside and I could barely remember anything that happened. Later that night, I received a text, “hope you’re feeling OK. I was pissed Chuck gave you those pills. ” My heart sank and I immediately messaged Chuck, “What did you give me last night? ” He responded, “A perk 30 and 3 Adderall’s, you were wrecked! ” Upset, I called a friend to vent, “Jesus Tara, I’ve known people who have died from mixing less than that; I am going to kill him! I thought about the “fun” I had, and how it could have cost me my life, just like Keith. I replayed that night over in my mind, “He died in a car accident… they were drinking” said my father. I look to the officer and then to my mother, as she rocked back and forth on the ground holding a picture of Keith, “Not my baby, not my little boy. ” When I think of this night, I think of Valya too, because it amazes me that something so horrible may eventually lead to something great. Shaken after learning about the pills, I snuggled up with Valya in her bed, and I started to think.
What if that night eight years ago had never happened, and what if I had died camping that night? My eyes welled up with tears and I asked myself, “What am I doing? ” I thought about how I had been so stupid, to do something that might leave Valya without a mother when she is the most important thing in my life. Valya is the reason I changed my life for the better after Keith died, and now I remind myself of that every day. Everything happens for a reason, and she is my reason.