The Uphill Slide

There is always something.

If The Dead Could Talk


All it takes to prove my online humanity is simple arithmetic or knowing the alphabet.

Before the holidays I stood in front of rows of crosses draped with purple ribbons. Each representing a person in Butler County who died from a drug overdose. I was moved by its simplicity of death in rows. Local business owners, while claiming to understand such loss, called it an eyesore in a bad location to WTAE. The news station titled their piece State of Addiction:  Heroin memorial gets attention in downtown Butler.

I read about this memorial on Facebook in a post shared from the Butler Citizen whose subheader is Butler News, Real News, With No Filter. 

That article’s title “Butler is having a overdose memorial to “honor” the “heroes” that overdose- DISGUSTING a slap in the face to real “heroes” told you in 21 words the opinion of the author. I’m uncertain if the words in quotes are from an uncredited source or the writer’s own. Agreed that these dead did not become heroes for having a fatal overdose nor is it an honor to die from an overdose.

A venomous piece directed at this memorial and its creator and the dead overdoses. As if to prove that all these individuals deserved to die, the writer offers sad and ugly details of certain lives. Keeping score of the misdeeds in life. Are those few ‘facts’ the story of their lives? Do those things prove something? Or are those ‘facts’ trying to tell you more about drug addiction or life? There is much more to all the stories of the dead. This article is flat without meaning beyond hate. It was ugly and cruel the first time I read it. It’s still ugly and cruel.

There is no dishonor in remembering those who died in what President Trump labeled a “health emergency”. And now Governor Wolfe is prepared to label this an emergency for Pennsylvania. County Coroner William Young III’s office reported the death total Wednesday afternoon. The trend follows a marked increase in drug-related deaths in the county in recent years — 13 confirmed in 2013, 33 in 2014, 47 in 2015 and 74 last year.

I was affected by these deaths and knew not one of them. I was a victim of stolen goods and a disrupted life though not by any of these dead. The writer thinks a victim would be irritated by a memorial to someone who stole from her. Perhaps some would. Not all. What the writer does not understand is that a victim’s anger and disgust at a crime can be tempered with forgiveness and love for a human being. Even as we wish to get our stuff back, we never wish that person sentenced to death or to be forgotten or believe our stuff was worth that human life. But that’s me. I’ve read the comments.

Reactions and comments are as important to understanding a community as the article. They didn’t disappoint. Race lines were drawn—Negro dealer vs. dope sick white girl. Suggestion:  put a dumpster on the lot to trash bodies of dead overdoses. Or this story from the self-proclaimed war veteran who shot video of himself pissing on the cross of a stranger. But it is not the dead who are touched by the words and comments and actions in this posting. It is not the dead who feel the humiliation of a golden shower. The dead are beyond caring.

This memorial was not a “huge pile of hot garbage”.

This was freedom of speech with a mix of purported facts thrown in. Or maybe it was the work of trolls meant to incite. Strangely, the post reinforced things I already believed. Hate is pervasive and contagious. We like to hate groups of people. In this case, fatal overdoses. And we like to compare one person to another to measure worth, maybe even against ourselves so we can say, “At least I’m not a drug addict responsible for my own demise.” But these hate posts teach. It doesn’t matter what you say or do or who you are. Someone will hate you for something. So quit trying to please. Stop biting your tongue. Don’t let hate become you.

This post isn’t news. It’s opinion like my post, divergent opinion. And this outlet that published the post seems like that mix of news and social media. On the fringes. A dangerous combination where a reader can never know fact from half-truth or fiction. Yet still be quoted as a reliable source.

What brought me back to thoughts of this Butler memorial was a podcast, of course. The House from March 2016 on Embedded. The subjects were Opana and HIV in small-town Indiana. Opana-a drug of choice. A painkiller. Think about it. Pain-killer. Hallucinogen. Uppers. Downers. Altering the world we live in. I’ve wanted to alter the world I lived in from time to time. And the answer was in a little pill all the time, however impermanent it might be. Just for a moment, I could forget….

Kelly McEvers took listeners to a bedroom in a house in Austin, Indiana to watch a nurse alter Opana to injectable form. The pill laid melting from a flame beneath a scrap of aluminum can. Three addicts watched waiting to share the dose. They sucked their share into syringes mixed with water. Her description of one man trying unsuccessfully to inject in his diseased arm was in mental vision ugly and desperate. But he didn’t give up searching for a vein. And this altered state of Opana has led to sharing needles and the HIV outbreak. And the small town in Indiana and Butler County are connected by this epidemic. I wonder now if the war veteran or the nurse or the parents who lost custody of three children are clean or still using. Or would they have a cross in some vacant lot as a memorial to a lost life?

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