What I Know

I haven’t talked about this part of the story because it’s fucking hard to write. Harder than screaming down the stairs and pulling my hair and drowning in my cousin’s coat and all of it because that was about me. This is about Philip and what I know and what I imagine and I’m skittish as a cat about what it sounds like. This part’s focal point involves heroin, which is so Requiem For A Dream-ish that maybe it leaves nothing but Jennifer Connelly on her hands and knees and Jared Leto’s gruesome, festering, amputated arm as your tableau vivant.

This is what I know:  The night of February 21st, 2012, in celebration of the unfortunately-named Fat Tuesday, Philip went to a party. Last thing Natalia said to him was, “Don’t do anything stupid.” He did. Last thing he said back was, “I’ll call you in the morning.” He didn’t. At the party, he drank. Back home, he went into his room, locked the door, snorted some heroin. Wednesday he didn’t show up for lunch with Natalie. Thursday night, Max,* a housemate and Philip’s friend since elementary school, asked another housemate if he’d seen Philip, that Philip’s car was in the yard and hadn’t been moved in a while. The two of them went to his room, found it locked, broke into it, and saw him lying on the floor. Max started yelling, one of them called 911. The operator asked them to touch him, check his pulse, but Max was yelling and saying he couldn’t; he told me he tried to touch Philip with his foot, that he was freaked out.

‘’He was my friend since I was a kid,” he told me; “He was my best friend, and I found  him. How am I supposed to live with that?” So at the wake, when Max cried and said to me, “It’s my fault, I’m the one who brought it into the house, I’m the one who gave it to him,” I answered, “Look, you didn’t shove it up his nose. You can’t spend the rest of your life feeling guilty about it.”

A week later, raw as if my skin’d been peeled off with a razor, maybe I was thinking Max should feel guilty. I called him up to ask him why he didn’t tell the cops where he got the heroin. I’d get in trouble, he answered.  Well maybe if you told them, I answered, some next kid wouldn’t have to find his best friend dead and some next kid’s mother, father and sister wouldn’t have to spend the rest of their lives suffering about it. And if you don’t, I added, you get to spend the rest of your living with it.

I didn’t consider what I was really asking, that ratting on a heroin dealer isn’t like turning in the creep on the corner selling $2 joints, that we’re talking some serious Sopranos-type shit here. I saw Max, a couple months later, working behind the counter of a convenience store with narrow aisles lined with canned Vienna Sausage and 3.5 ounce containers of Bumblebee Chunk Tuna,  the counter crammed with Tic-Tacs and Tastykake Honey Buns and where there was always at least one customer doing some serious Lottery Ticket Buying. How are you, he asked. How do you think I am, I answered. And in case you’re wondering, when I got to back my car and sat gripping the steering wheel like a Mac truck was coming at me, thinking how Max had started the whole heroin thing and wondering if Philip’d be alive if he hadn’t, I did not wish that it had been Max instead. I thought about it, wondered why I didn’t wish it. I didn’t wish it because that’s a fantasy, and fantasies are dangerous. If I fantasize I’m living in a world that doesn’t exist, trying to solve a problem where it can’t be solved. I didn’t wish it because Philip is my child, dead or alive, and dead or alive I have a relationship with him. His death turned our relationship into sacred space, and thoughts of vengeance don’t belong there. I can’t get lost in whys and wishes. What would wishing Max dead mean? Only that I was furious and not doing the work that is required a parent do when she loses her child.

My son is dead and that’s forced me into a reality I do not want, but is what’s been given me. I can want it to be different, but it’s delusional to think that I can orchestrate one part of Life and not all of it. I don’t want the responsibility of all of it, and besides, it’s not an option. The only sane option is the one that feels like it’s driving me crazy: Philip has died, and how the bloody hell am I to live with it?

*NB: Natalia notwithstanding, I do not use real names when it comes to Philip’s friends.

© 2013 Denise Smyth


28 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Unconfirmed Bachelorette
    May 27, 2013 @ 06:08:53

    I did some really stupid things in my younger days. Snorted some really stupid things. Along with many of my friends. Any one of us could have died. Why Philip? It’s all so fucking random, it’s infuriating.


  2. Denise
    May 27, 2013 @ 07:24:41

    Me, too – and when I was around his age, I tried to kill myself. Yet here I am, and there he is. What am I supposed to learn from this? I’m the only one who can figure that out.


    • SusanB
      Feb 25, 2014 @ 13:23:52

      Oh, the torturous searching, being torn apart, straining to find what I’m to learn from my son’s death and at the same time fully knowing my earthbound soul would NEVER make any sense of any reason given me. Let the truth be known I also search to save my own life because I think I might actually die from a broken heart. Denise, how very well you write what is deep inside of your heart.


      • Denise
        Feb 25, 2014 @ 17:19:10

        Oh, I know what you mean about dying of a broken heart. I don’t think we’ll ever find a reason. We have to find a way to live and we have to do it every day. We’re not the same, never will be. What I know is that I don’t ask “why?” I just try to figure out how to go on. I’m feeling kind of sick to my stomach as I’m writing this; Philip is dead and it’s still shocking. We’re in this together, you know…

  3. behindthemaskofabuse
    May 27, 2013 @ 12:53:24

    It’s so hard when there are no answers. Sending support to you xo


  4. kmlagatree
    May 28, 2013 @ 06:52:02

    I am stunned by your wisdom and courage.


  5. Denise
    May 28, 2013 @ 21:28:10

    I only wish I felt wise and courageous. I feel small and broken. In other words, today hurts.


  6. kastreet
    May 29, 2013 @ 14:52:09


  7. Denise
    May 29, 2013 @ 15:43:49

    Thank you for your kindness, and for your courage.


  8. Geves Lafosse
    May 31, 2013 @ 04:29:30

    I think your perspective is very wise. It’s very tempting to imagine alternate realities – I’ve done a lot of that since losing my daughter – but you’re right, no problems can be solved there.


    • Denise
      May 31, 2013 @ 15:19:02

      And if we’re not devastated enough already, we stoke our emotions even more with our “what-ifs.” And I’ve been feeling worse enough lately…


  9. Geves Lafosse
    May 31, 2013 @ 16:22:34

    It’s a cruel part of the process, isn’t it? We all do it. I’m so, so sorry for the loss of your son.


  10. Denise
    May 31, 2013 @ 19:17:39

    You, too; your daughter is precious and adorable and I am so, so sorry for your loss, for your family’s loss. There is a heaviness now, and it’s not going to go away. I’m scared; my life without Philip? It feels endless.


  11. Gloria Faye Brown Bates/Granny Gee/Granny's Colorful
    Jun 01, 2013 @ 06:53:40

    I don’t know ‘why’ I began reading your post this morning… and kept on reading it, ‘knowing inside’ it was going to affect me.

    I tried to quit reading because, I felt your pain. I recognize your pain, I cared for your pain. I felt for you, the grief you experience. I’m so sorry… I know grief only too well.

    I just wanted to just reach out from my world for a brief moment to say… I care, I ‘know this pain’.

    My primary blog: happycolorsandgrannygee.blogspot.com

    My wordpress blog: https://grannyscolorful.wordpress.com

    May 29, 2013 made 3 years my only child, my son… Tommy died. He collapsed, died on the beach playing with his little son. No one knew he had two blockages in his heart.

    My world changed; I lived in darkness for almost two years. The past year I have been accepting his death because for me to live the rest of my life… I had to. My husband, Skip …and our two Pups need me. They are all I have in this world.

    I wanted to tell you this so, you could see I’m not some ‘crazy’ person pretending to know how it feels; or someone who is trying to say they understand when they’ve never suffered the loss of a loved one… much less… their own child. They don’t understand.

    I ‘recognized’ your love, anger, grief… all those ‘bittersweet emotions’. I write about such all the time. That’s why when I began reading your words… I wanted to stop… I knew I was going to find out your child had died… I was going to feel your words, your emotions… I did, with my very heart. I’m on the same journey in life… I almost wasn’t.

    I wanted to tell you that you write well… while feeling the emotions I felt inside, I noticed that. I know your pain is here to stay… it’s pain a mother will live with until her last breath… it’s your child that’s gone, a part of you.

    I can say with myself personally…. I don’t know how it works with other grieving mothers… I have had to learn on my own… that the pain never lessens but, I’ve reached a point in time, now… that no matter how much I cry, weep, feel all the bittersweet emotions… I know ‘everything is going to be alright’. It’s strange, I know. I have tried so hard to find positive, good…

    I pray that you can do the same one day. I’d also, be honored to have you as friend.

    Gloria Faye Brown Bates/aka Granny Gee


    • Denise
      Jun 01, 2013 @ 07:43:58

      Thank you for your heartfelt reply; it’s the first thing I’ve read this morning…sometimes I think, sure, I’ll “survive” the pain, but for what? To keep feeling it? I’ve just been feeling pretty awful lately. I appreciate that you care, and I am so sorry for your loss, too.


  12. Lucia Maya
    Jun 08, 2013 @ 00:26:38

    Thank you for your courage, your wisdom, and for sharing it with us. I am so sorry for the loss of your son, and know that although the cause of death can make it more or less painful. As you suggest, it’s the story that causes us suffering, and creates all the varieties of “If only”, and “What if”…And truly, it doesn’t matter, because it’s done, and now we have the chance to figure out how we live in this world without them.

    As you so beautifully write: “His death turned our relationship into sacred space”. I love this, feel so similarly, and am grateful for your eloquence. Thank you.
    blessings, Lucia


    • Denise
      Jun 08, 2013 @ 06:19:03

      I’m not sure if you read what I wrote in response to your kind and lovely comment, so I wanted to send it to you:

      Lucia, as I wrote elsewhere, you and your daughter…there’s a light between the two of you. It’s so evident. When I saw the picture of you two on the Grief and Loss sight, it took my breath away. Strange as it sounds, even I can’t believe she’s gone. It’s because in her photographs, in her writing, she’s so present. And so wise. I look at her and my heart hurts. You must miss her so more than terribly, and I am so sorry; our grief is as wide and deep as our love. Sometimes I find that terrifying.


      • Lucia Maya
        Jun 13, 2013 @ 13:08:59

        Thank you. I’m curious which site you saw our photo, but I agree that its still shocking sometimes that shes really gone. And, my daughter feels more present in many ways now that she’s in spirit. At times that’s comforting, and at times I just miss her so much I feel like my heart will break open..and it does, and we emerge from that newly broken open place again, and again…

        I’m with you in your/our grief. Grateful to have found your blog.

        (I can’t tell if I replied or not, so forgive me if I’m repeating this.)

      • Denise
        Jun 13, 2013 @ 13:55:52

        “Graham Forever in my Heart” put our blogs on her Scoop-It page, grief-and-loss. When she told me, I checked it out and you Elizabeth were right next to us. That picture just caught me because whoever took it caught the two of you. Such love in that picture.

        Yes, again and again; and I am crying, crying for missing him, for the unending shock of it. Glad to have found you, too.

      • Lucia Maya
        Jun 15, 2013 @ 12:49:28

        Ahh, thanks for explaining that small mystery!

        I can relate, as I just had a couple weeks of crying all the time, deeper in grief than before. It’s now over 8 months and somehow I expected the intensity to lessen rather than increase…but again it shifts, this entity called grief, and I’m having some days of peace now. Sending blessings to you.

      • Denise
        Jun 15, 2013 @ 16:12:10

        Grief is its own life-force, is how it feels. I will say I’m glad it’s not last year because I do not know how I survived. But now – now I know I carry this, I will always carry this, and sometimes I feel like I just can’t. Life feel mostly like loss and so, what for? But I am too sad right now, and I don’t want to make sense. I just want my son. Blessings back to you, so very many blessings.

      • Lucia Maya
        Jun 15, 2013 @ 16:37:20

        Yes, we are bearing the unbearable…one day at a time.

  13. Denise
    Jun 08, 2013 @ 00:56:12

    Lucia, as I wrote elsewhere, you and your daughter…there’s a light between the two of you. It’s so evident. When I saw the picture of you two on the Grief and Loss sight, it took my breath away. Strange as it sounds, even I can’t believe she’s gone. It’s because in her photographs, in her writing, she’s so present. And so wise. I look at her and my heart hurts. You must miss her so more than terribly, and I am so sorry; our grief is as wide and deep as our love. Sometimes I find that terrifying.


  14. anna whiston-donaldson
    Jun 11, 2013 @ 17:38:59

    I needed to read this today.


  15. Becki Duckworth
    Dec 17, 2013 @ 16:50:24

    I am extremely angry with Max. I am only at this point in reading your blog, so I am not sure if Max did the “right thing” and contacted the police. It would not bring Phillip back to you in his human form , but its the right thing to do. My ex husband was a drug dealer in fact he has never obtained a legitimate job. He was arrested with 2 pounds of cocaine and 3 pounds of pot in 1983. I found out and turned him in. I also then testified against his supplier in court, and walked out of the court room by myself without witness protection. He is not the person that stabbed me just as an fyi. Max potentially could of saved a life by turning this scum bag in to the police. You lost a son and all he is concerned about is retaliation from a “killer” because that is what drug dealers are, they are killers! Like I said I am angry.


  16. Denise
    Dec 17, 2013 @ 19:07:41

    Oh, Becki – what timing you have! Max is part of the post I’m working on for your blog. You’ll see what I mean when you read it.


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