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January 3, 2011
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When I first heard about Adam’s death, I thought he deserved it. He was a drug addict. He did Xanax, marijuana, ecstasy, and heroin. He pretty much killed himself. And I thought he deserved it, but that was before I was assigned to write a story on his death, along with a partner.

My partner and I started collaborating—we needed experts, friends, family, information on the drugs. I never dared to make my true feelings known, my prejudice known. I decided to go about as if I felt nothing. I was a reporter, an objective observer. We wrote the first draft of our story. It was supposed to be emotional, stirring—meant to pluck at the strings of the heart, but it did no such thing. Not ever. It read like a research paper, filled with statistics and medical information.

Maybe I did not want to find any emotion in it. Maybe I just thought that his death meant nothing. Meant to be just another statistic. Five hundred and ninety-one undetermined drug deaths in Oakland County occurred within the past three years and Adam made 592.

We were told to rewrite the story.

We did.

Then, we were told to rewrite it again. It had emotion now, but very little of it—just a few quotes from friends proclaiming he was a good kid and did not deserve it. Gayle Martin, our teacher, wanted us to talk to his family. So, we did.

A “For Sale” sign decorated the lawn. The trees were stripped of their leaves. The sky had its pale, gray hue of winter. I started to feel anxious. What was I really supposed to say to Adam’s father and sister? Oh, how did it feel when your son died? I would sound like an idiot, even worse, like some obnoxious reporter trying to dig up feelings that they wanted dead.

My partner, the charmer, was by my side, his normally effervescent personality subdued, which only added more stress.

Adam’s father and sister greeted us at the door. They greeted us warmly, but the frost of the house bit my skin. It was barren, cold. There was no art, no personality, no heart. They showed us to the kitchen table, where we were to conduct our interview. I did not ask a question and they were already crying and talking about him.

I quickly dove into my purse, pulling out the recorder that I always have with me. They continued talking, crying and my heart felt like it was drowning. Anxiety and depression continued to flow in. I placed sandbag after sandbag in my heart, trying to stop the water. Should I cry? Is that disrespectful? Would they snap back at me? Why should I have the right to cry? I did not know him. I did not care. I cared about them, but not him.

They told me about his death, about his drug use—they even showed me where they found his dead body. And then Adam’s father's teary faced changed. “But he was a good kid,” he smiled at his daughter. He was not talking to me. They were not talking to us. I felt like I was observing something private. It was so beautiful, so emotional, so, to be perfectly honest, I do not really know.

They then told me about his life. His hopes, his dreams, his aspirations. They told me about how he hung out with people who were less fortunate, the people who got him into drugs, and how he always lent his heart and his ears to their problems. They told me he was an artist. He sketched often. He wanted to use his talent to teach special needs children how to draw.

And as I sat there, I felt my heart sink. I had thought he deserved to die. I thought—I thought horrible things and I knew I had no right to sit there, to tear up. Who was he to me? In the beginning, just another drug death—in the end, a new perspective on life. I wrote most of the story, pouring in my heart and my soul.

The story was published. My advisor loved it. My partner loved it. Adam’s friends loved it.
“I LOVED the story you did on Adam. It was really touching how you did it, even with the drugs and all,” Katie, a friend of Adam, texted me.
I wrote it as if I knew him and in some weird way I feel I do. He is a friend now, a spirit I carry with me to deter me from prejudice. He was not a ‘druggie.’ He was just a kid that got mixed up in a lot of things, “but he was a good kid.”
I did not cry when Adam died. I cried when I truly understood his life.

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