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COLUMBIA'S SILENT, SECRET, DEADLY SNOW: Thoughts on a beloved teen's drug overdose

A boy my daughter loved

COLUMBIA, Mo 3/15/16 (Op Ed) -- Among the young people I have known here, the snow has claimed its third victim.
 
He was one of my daughter's best friends.   He visited our home many times.  They met in Kindergarten at Grant Elementary.   Graduated from Hickman High last year. 

She loved him, and has cried as hard I've seen her cry in the days and nights since he died.  

My phone was charging when she first called, but I overheard her, through the broken sobs of the utterly bereft, telling my wife on her phone.     
 
The snow came for him in a small house on a tightly-knit street in middle Columbia.

"Snow" is an apt nickname for it.   Heroin.   Cocaine.   The crystalline cold of methamphetamine.   Powerful opiates prescribed in little white pills.  
 
In a tragic American classic, "Silent Snow, Secret Snow," an unrelenting storm of the mind overtakes a boy, Paul Hasleman, who reminds me now of the boy my daughter loved. 
 
"Just why it should have happened, or why it should have happened just when it did, he could not, of course, possibly have said," the story begins.  "The thing was above all a secret, something to be preciously concealed from Mother and Father."
 
And that is just how the drug storm begins, how it must begin to gather strength:   as a thing to be concealed, especially from parents.    "It must be kept secret," Paul Hasleman insists.  "At whatever cost to himself.   At whatever pain to others."

The secret can start as early as middle school or junior high, with mixed messages about so-called "gateway drugs" that, in a kid's mind, swirl with the snow. 
 
For the boy my daughter loved, the gateway drug was alcohol.   Alcohol is legal.  Readily available.  Cool, rebellious, and easy to abuse, especially for a child.  

For many other kids, the gateway is pot that's not your grandma's pot or even your pot, but a stronger strain cultivated to keep up with legal market demand in places like Colorado.    It, too, comes with a mixed message:   It should be legal; it's legal in Colorado.  

But it isn't legal in Missouri, and if you get busted with it, you're in trouble, and trouble these days, especially if you're a kid, is big trouble.   Trouble that can ruin your chances of college, of a good job. 

Trouble that can ruin your life.   

"Marijuana isn't a gateway drug," some argue.   Maybe not.   But because it's illegal, its dealers may be gatekeepers.   Many people who sell weed also sell snow.  

Speaking of gates, you may have some in your own home:  the medicine chest.  Mom's purse.  Or a drawer with amber plastic bottles labeled oxycontin, oxycodone, Valium, Xanax.    The boy my daughter loved was reportedly getting scrip opioids from a woman with cancer selling them to make ends meet. 

Adolescent drug use is itself a gateway, into a secretive society that uses lies, deceit, hushed voices, and furtive glances to get and keep the budding addict hooked.   It communicates through the soundless language of social media and texting and fingers tapping glass screens or silent keys in the dark. 

It is a culture of enablers propped up by institutions like schools and the legal system that do nothing to curtail it.    Parents are loathe to talk about it.    The only place you get any honesty is from the rehabbers, ex-addicts who work at places like CrossRoads.

"His secret gave Paul Hasleman a fortress, a wall behind which he could retreat."  

Try to penetrate this fortress to rescue your kids;  try to stop the dealer who delivers your child's drug of choice like a pizza, or picks your child up in the dark of night and takes him or her to the shooter with the needles;  and the enablers will convince your kids to despise you.
 
"The new experience increasingly had brought Paul Hasleman into a kind of mute misunderstanding, even conflict, with his father and mother.   He had to explore the new world open to him.   It was irresistible.  It was miraculous."

As the enablers insist your child break family ties, this "mute misunderstanding" can degenerate into war, especially when you intervene, to shake your child out of the trance.     
 
"But then a gash of horrible light fell brutally across the room from the opening door—the snow drew back hissing.   Something alien had come into the room.  Something hostile.  

"This thing rushed at Paul, clutched at him, shook him—and he was not merely horrified, he was filled with such a loathing as he had never known...But he still remembered...the exorcising words.  

"Mother!  Go away!  I hate you!" 

How can total strangers convince children to throw away everything – and everyone -- they've ever known, ever loved?    The same way the snow seduces Paul Hasleman:  gradually, with false security and illusions of tranquility.   

"Wait till we are alone together!"  it whispers.   "Then I will begin to tell you something new!   Something white!   Something cold!   Something of cease, and peace, and the long bright curve of space!    Tell them to go away.   Banish them.  Refuse to speak.  Leave them." 

The snow piles high in the mind, "so that none will ever again be able to enter."   By then, it's too late.   After heroin, or meth, rehab can prove impossible, with chances for relapse equal to or outweighing chances for cure.
 
The boy my daughter loved had been in rehab.   His friends and family thought him "cured".   I think of him dying, in the little house on the tightly-knit street, the way Paul Hasleman dies.  
 
"A beautiful varying dance of snow began at the front of the room, came forward and then retreated, flattened out toward the floor, then rose fountain-like to the ceiling, swayed...hissed...lifted long white arms..."
 
“'Listen' it said.  'We’ll tell you the last, the most beautiful and secret story.' 
 
"The hiss was now becoming a roar.   The whole world was a vast moving screen of snow—but even now it said peace, it said remoteness, it said cold, it said sleep." 
 
 -- Mike Martin


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