Treading water in a sea of bad choices

Real Life

March 05, 2006|By MICHAEL BARNETT | MICHAEL BARNETT,SUN REPORTER

Any time I think about how badly my day is going, I think about Adam. Everybody has a bad day, even a bad week. But for Adam, a run of bad luck lasting only a week would be a godsend.

I've known Adam for as long as I can remember, but we only became best friends in high school. He's one of those guys everybody loves; he's funny, witty, entertaining -- a great friend. He's also one hell of a musician and I've always admired that about him.

I remember sitting in my basement with my friends every weekend, and each time he set foot in the door, Adam would pick up the guitar in the corner, the one my mother bought at a garage sale. No matter what he played, Adam made that piece of junk sound heavenly.

But behind the six-string and the fun-loving, carefree guy in the leather jacket and jeans was someone far more troubled than any of us could understand; Adam had a serious drug problem.

Most people didn't see it; after all, we went to a suburban high school where marijuana was so common it wasn't considered a drug. Maybe we turned our heads because we didn't want to admit this could happen to one of us but, at some point, marijuana led to greater evils and Adam slipped far beyond our collective grasp.

When I found out Adam was leaving for rehab, I couldn't decide how I felt. Sympathetic? Betrayed? Instead of hugging my best friend goodbye and telling him everything was going to be fine, I yelled at him for letting me down. It was a horrible way to leave things.

We wrote back and forth, Adam telling me how bad things seemed but how he knew he was going to get through it and me just telling him anything positive to keep his spirits up. He was so good at making you believe every word he said that I was sure everything was going to work out. When he came home, he tried to keep away from things reminiscent of his addiction. But not everybody was helpful; he tricked some of us into believing "just a few hits, just once in a while" wouldn't be a problem. He was wrong.

Whatever happened to Adam after he left us for rehab again changed him forever. He became determined to make changes in his life and in the lives of others. He found an outlet for his pain, writing music and getting into shape. He did everything he could to make his rehabilitation constructive. When he came home again, we all hoped it would be for good, and it was.

Then one night my cell phone rang. In a frantic voice, my friend told me Adam had been in a horrible accident. I got in my car and drove as fast as I could. As soon as I pulled into the mall parking lot, I spotted two totaled cars and my best friend lying on the pavement, moving only in resistance when the paramedics tried to move him to a stretcher. Another driver had been doing "doughnuts" in reverse over a blind hill in the lot and smashed the passenger side of the car Adam was riding in.

Sitting in that hospital room that night was the most painful experience of my life. Seeing somebody so close to me in so much agony, lucky to come away with a broken femur, lucky to be alive, I realized how fortunate I am. The things I complain about each day seem so feeble now. It will always baffle me how someone who has gone through so much had to experience this -- the repercussions of an accident that was not his fault. Adam's outlook on the situation amazes me, even today: He knows what it's like to make bad choices and the driver made one, too. We all learn from our mistakes and we move on.

Today, Adam is doing well. He's taking classes, living on his own and playing with a band with tons of potential. It is an uphill battle for him every day to stay in control of his mind and body; not even Adam could fool me into thinking he wins every time.

What I took away from all this is that helping the ones you love often means confronting them, telling them when you know they are better than what they have become. Behind the eyes of a man struggling to stay on his feet, I will always see the days spent at the lake, playing guitar. I will always see someone intelligent and motivated waiting to break out. I will always see my best friend.

.....................

mike.barnett@baltsun.com

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