By Garrison Pennington
My first time ever out on the ocean was on my uncle’s speedboat when I was 5 years old. We spent the day fishing and driving the boat as fast as possible with me and my older brother standing at the front feeling the boat glide over the water. I remember being ecstatic when my uncle let me drive. It’s these days with my uncle that I miss the most about him. I have only seen him once in the past four years, partly because of the distance between us, and partly because my parents don’t want me to see him.
I never knew when my uncle first started using heroin, but I could tell he was different afterwards. Simple two or three message conversations over text never ended with “I love you” or “see you next summer”, instead I always came away feeling as if I had done something to upset him. Eventually the occasional texts stopped and the only information I could gather about him were from bits of phone calls my mom would have with our family about him. I never knew where he was, one month I might hear that he was in our hometown of Portland, OR., the next he was in rehab again, and the following he would be in a halfway house in San Diego. These little bits of information are the only things I’ve know about my uncle since I the last time I saw him.
He had faded out of my life almost completely until on my birthday I got a text from a number I didn’t recognize other than the Portland area code. It read “happy birthday” with a little bit of profanity, which in my family we read as “I love you”, I came to the conclusion it was my other uncle who I see pretty regularly.
After a short exchange of some more heartfelt swearing, I showed my dad the conversation, convinced it was his brother. As he read the conversation he laughed, but when he looked at the number, all he had to say was “if you get anymore texts from this number, don’t reply”. I realized pretty quickly after that who it was, and I understood why they didn’t want me talking to him. It was partly to protect me, so I wouldn’t have to have those unpleasant conversations; but mostly it was for him, to give him a reason to get clean.
I’ve been thinking a lot more about my uncle since my birthday, I think about where he is now, how he’s doing, and when I will see him again. But I mostly think back to that day on his speedboat, where he wondered the same things about me and my brother, and hope he still does. Now I wish we could go back to those days, and I wish we had made more of those memories, but I want even more to make them now. There were 23.5 million people over the age of twelve in the United States who were treated for drug abuse in 2009, and there are even more families and friends who are affected by it, many of whom are like me, just wishing for things to be better.
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