Finding a source of character inspiration can be as easy as looking around at your own family & friends. Behind the scenes real life stories are standard stories. Life will always outdo fiction.
The drama is when you’re dealing with topics like drug abuse. Those stealth stints of getting high on stuff you can’t even pronounce, someone who has it “in the bag,” you ask yourself, “what the hell am I missing here?”
The answer: Your behind the scenes take can’t even begin to scratch the surface.
The Call That Hinted At Real Life Drama
I got a call at about three in the morning from a great friend of mine. Her son, “Dan,” crashed his brand new sports car. We’re talking something meant to evoke jealousy and mockery among those who can’t keep up with the Joneses.
It was the kind of cliché that became this surreal moment that I never forgot. Yeah, stunned me looked at bleary-eyed, jovial Dan while my friend seethed at her son. I’d never seen her like that before.
She shoved him as her mouth moved rapidly. I couldn’t make out what she was saying but I remembered thinking, “I thought he was smarter than this.”
I looked at the car, the red sports car, and it was a goner. Looking at the wrecker load it on the bed, I thought about how I had to work, scrimp, save for my first car, which was the definition of a lemon.
I’d missed out on the opportunity to attend my preferred school because the money wasn’t there. At my local university, I held two jobs one semester just to make ends meet. I would’ve loved for my parents to pay for my classes or my car but it wasn’t to be. Dan wasn’t even out of school yet and had that already.
I fell for his act. The one where he said all the right things, in the right way, nodding his head at the right times. I didn’t think he was the kind to do that. But that morning started me on the journey of understanding just how messed up things were.
Dan was a real slick one that pissed his opportunities away with a smirk and plenty of excuses, fooling many right until the end.
He Scared Straight
I’ve never been into drugs. Honestly, I can barely even handle pain killers, so this whole “getting high” thing via feeling loopy and disoriented passed me by. No complaints here because I find I prefer food, laughter, a good book with some blond coffee, you know, all those other boring things that bring a smile to my face.
I never understood his issues. His mother paid for whatever, he had freedom to hang out with friends whenever.
They say every heart knows it’s own sorrow but I never got his or how taking a drug meant for horses solved anything. Maybe he was bored? Had too much freedom? He went to a high class private school where the connections to make the kind of money I couldn’t touch were plenty.
After that night, there were a few others but something scared him. In his playing bad, he met real bad players. It got bad. Dangerous bad. Like police-on-one-side-dealers-wanting-you-dead-on-the-other bad.
Eventually rehab entered the picture. Dan did his stint and came out of it appearing more spiritual. He seemed to understand about something bigger than himself. Maybe he was sincere and was touched by that belief in a way he hadn’t been before. Looking back now, I can’t question that, no matter how much I want to.
He’d finally turned a corner. I saw a difference in him when he made a sweet gesture to me and my family during a painful time. That cemented his status as family.
Dan got his chance to start over. You know how many people with a record, court cases, rehab under their belt get that golden ticket of a second chance? Get the chance to breathe fresh air and see the sun cast its golden morning glow on a tree every day? He got that and opportunities to boot, including a chance at love.
New Book, Same Chapter
I wasn’t keeping tabs on his life but I got updates that made me proud that Dan wasn’t one of those tragic statistics. It seemed smoother but something went wrong somewhere.
I’m not sure when the taste came back or when he got the craving for something far more powerful. I was blinded to it because I had heard good things. Dan was doing well. He was changing careers.
But behind that, and I didn’t see it at the time, the stories of how little he was “valued” by his employers. How little he was respected at his job. It was a pattern that repeated itself as I bobbed my head and told him to go where he would be valued and respected.
The industry he worked in, I wasn’t familiar with it. In the back of my mind I had questions about his job changes but I shrugged it off. Maybe that industry was more temperamental and dramatic than many.
The more I thought about it, the more I doubted. I’ve worked as a professional in the corporate world. It’s not my bosses job to just respect my “value” at least not to the point where I would stalk off the job if I wasn’t feeling like I was being taken seriously.
Nope. I had to earn my seat at the table. So I thought, maybe, Dan’s ego was getting in the way of stability.
Still, not a crime to be arrogant but it does warrant a bit of a learning curve.
The day I got the notification was another one I’ll never forget. My friend sounded…broken. She wouldn’t tell me what was wrong and my mind immediately went to a million worst-case possibilities.
When I was told, I broke down.
Dan had succumbed to an infection. It had been a while since I’d lost someone that close to me and it knocked me over. He was young and strapping. Losing someone like that made you ask WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED?!?
There had to be a reason, a cause. The reason for his death had to feel tangible, it had to make sense because it was the only way I’d accept it.
It wasn’t until a few days later that I would find out the real story.
Dan graduated in so many ways in his world. The details I learned helped me glue the pieces together. His death, his actions, it all made sense.
All of it.
There was some other scary shit happening that made me vacillate between gratitude and anger.
Dan had so much. There was potential there. A real chance to do something amazing in the long run.
But, I guess the need to float and fly was dearer to him than this boring life of common sense and work. He took it to a whole new level in that one moment of arrogant need, his “just a little taste” became his last.
The Portrait of Gray Connection
The questions he left behind complicated everything. It took me a year to just admit to myself that I was mad at him. I was mad at a dead man! How stupid was that?
That’s when I stopped.
It made no sense to be mad at someone who wasn’t going to bear the brunt of what I felt or come to terms with what he left behind.
He was gone. It was over for him and as in life, he wouldn’t care about how it affected others.
Less than a year later my mourning was over. I didn’t tell my friend. She was his mother and she’ll never get over her son preceding her to the grave. Me? I’ve given up the sympathy, the reminiscing, the melancholy.
Sometime later, as I was writing another story, I realized that the second book in my Baxter Family Saga series, Portrait of Gray, predicted Dan’s end in the oddest way.
The character’s death actually saved Grayson’s life and became a major catalyst for his change. That book was published the year before his death Grayson beat his addiction to build a helluva life.
I believe in rehabilitation and getting out from under. You have to want it, though, or it’s no better than trying to save yourself from drowning by grabbing a greasy pole.
I thought he wanted it and, maybe, he did for a time. Wanting it is a daily thing, like bathing. Motivate yourself every day or you risk the funk finding its way back. In a way, Portrait of Gray was my hope for him to become more than a cautionary tale told by statistics.
I thought Dan would’ve come out of the other end and would be that story everyone tells with pride because he won against a devil that killed so many.
Turns out he became the devil.
I’m not sorry he’s dead. I’m sorry a mother is in pain over the loss of her child. But with the path he walked, he had to die. There was no other lesson that he could’ve learned because he ran out of chances.
Dan’s pissed his potential away with the tap of a vein that made him think everything was under control.
One of those times when you learn that deceiving yourself is like playing with loaded dice: you only have so many hands until you get caught.