Playing with my son and our young neighbor recently, the inevitable question that all inquisitive children seem to ask came up.
“How old are you?” the duo both asks, eyeing me.
I turn a doddery 28 this fall, which was met with a gasp from my very young playmates.
“You’re so old!”
“How is that even possible?”
“Does it hurt to be that old?”
They don’t believe me when I explain that no, I’m really not that old, they are just extremely young in the grand scheme of things.
But the reality is, I feel quite old these days.
The joke I’ve always been told is that you are not quite an adult when your friends start having children, but when they start having them on purpose. This hasn’t quite been my experience; I didn’t start noticing my age until my old friends started dying.
To the despondency of perhaps quite literally every Southern Indiana-ian who has asked me, I am not from these parts. I grew up in a very small town in Ohio in between Dayton and Columbus. My high school, the cleverly-named Northeastern High School (northeast of what I’m not sure, as it was square in the middle of four corn fields and not much else), had a graduating class of around 100 students in 2010. Of those 100, in less than 10 years, I know of at least three who have died of causes tied to illicit drug use. I don’t have to name the drug, as every reader knows the one that has so tightly gripped the U.S., and even more so the Midwest, in recent years.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent numbers, Ohio is the second-highest state in the U.S. for overdoses with 5,111 opioid overdose-attributed deaths in 2017, second only to Pennsylvania. Indiana is high on the list, too, with 1,852 deaths in the same year. Much lower than its neighboring states, but still a far-cry from the lowest ranking state of North Dakota, which “only” had 68 opioid-related deaths in 2017 — though that’s still 68 too many.
The most recent loss from my own history was just September 3rd. At only 26 years, a father, husband and small business owner lost his life.
Nine years of distance does a lot to friendship. The trips to the drive-in movie theater, hours in the summer swimming, riding on the back of his motorcycle and shooting off fireworks, stealing kisses and holding hands in the dugouts, all those adolescent memories that seem so important at the time wane as new ones are made.
Then one day, a call comes that he has died. A quick glance at Facebook confirms it; his wife posted on his page that two days prior, he passed.
I have a hard time reconciling the boy I knew and the man who passed away.
For the third time since I graduated, I’m taken back to my younger days of high school, but thinking instead of a math lesson. Perpendicular lines: two paths cross on a plane and then go on forever, destined for different directions, never to cross again.
It’s a mathematical impossibility for these two lines to ever intersect again, but luckily people aren’t bound by the rules of math.
If there’s anything I’ve learned from the most recent passing of my former classmate and friend, it’s that it’s important now more than ever, and here more than anywhere else, to keep in touch with those who mean something to you. Even if it’s just to say hi, to check in, or to let them know that you are thinking of them. You really never know when it’s the last time, no matter what your age is.
— Erin Thompson is a mother to two boys, two cats, one dog and one fish and wife to a man who had no clue what he was getting himself into. When not spending time with that motley crew, she is writing, attempting house projects, and checking her email at ErinwithanER@gmail.com.