In life, there is always at least one (sometimes more) experience we have that defines everything about us. An event or period of time that wouldn’t have happened at all if we weren’t the person we are. I would like to share such a story.
I’m not writing this for sympathy. This happened 5 years ago and I’ve stopped feeling sad about it (plus, I’m not the pity-seeking type anyway). In fact, to be completely blunt, I’m writing this because it’s going to be part of a short autobiography I’m writing and this story is an important part of the book. I think this is perhaps the most important part of the book. Why? Because, as I stated, I think this story defines literally everything about me as a person. The good and arguably the bad.
Another reason I’m writing this is because certain people I’ve known throughout my life, including and especially certain siblings of mine, have accused me of being things that I am not. Things that I am ABSOLUTELY not, such as selfish and arrogant. I am not those things – not by a long shot. Also, I’m married now, and my wife’s family still doesn’t know me that well. She knows this story, but not the rest of them.
So, what better way to preview my upcoming book, prove certain people dead-wrong, and FULLY display the exact kind of person I am to my wife’s family?
(that was a little humor before it gets serious and dark)
This is what I call: The Story of Justin
In November 2010, when I was 19, my first girlfriend, who I had been with off-and-on for 6 years, broke up with me. (More details about that will be explained in the book.) And for the next year, I lived alone in my apartment, rarely spending time with friends or family. I was depressed, admittedly. She had cheated on me with 2 guys, one of whom she ended up leaving me for. It was hard for me to find the strength to love someone so much again, especially after they betrayed my trust like that. It was so devastating, I wouldn’t wish it even on my worst enemies. That kind of pain never completely goes away; it becomes a scar.
Nearly 2 years before this happened, I had become an atheist, after being raised Christian my entire life. I used to take my faith very seriously; more seriously than any other kid my age. In fact, I used to be the one who criticized my fellow Christians for not taking their faith seriously enough. I studied the Bible daily, and I looked into all the historical and scientific evidence that supported Christianity, to strengthen my faith. Long story short, which will also be explained in the book, it wasn’t enough to stop me from walking away from the whole thing.
So, come November 2010, I was heartbroken that God wasn’t real, and I was heartbroken that my first love cheated on me and then left my life forever. Point is: I didn’t know what to do with myself. Yes, by this time, I had attempted suicide, and I was thinking of trying it again, because life felt so empty and pointless. God wasn’t real, and people were horrible. Of course, I could elaborate even more on both of those things, but I’ll save that for the book as well.
Fast-forward to a year later, in November 2011, my best friend Mitch came over to my apartment and encouraged me to find purpose with my life. I told him, “What’s the point? Someone can say they love you and appreciate how loyal you have been to them for so many years, and still stab you in the back. I’m waiting for when your turn comes, Mitch.”
Mitch said, “I know you don’t believe me, but I would never betray your trust like that. Besides, you never know when someone could come into your life and give you purpose.”
“Someone worth living for? Like a girlfriend?”
“Or a child…” he said. “You shouldn’t give up so soon. All you’ve done for the past year is just work and sit in your apartment. That’s not living.”
I asked him, “So, what do you suggest?”
“Come to church with me tonight. I know you don’t like Christians, but you should still give it a try.”
I thought: Why the hell not? I have nothing better to do.
It was Friday, November 4th. The church we went to had a special service for young adults. A kind of service that was supposed to be hip and with the times, like how Christians like to do sometimes.
I didn’t like the service at all, but afterward, everybody gathered in the hall for things like coffee and meeting other people. That’s exactly what I did. I met a guy named Justin, who Mitch already knew, apparently. With Justin were his girlfriend Amanda, and Amanda’s sister Christine.
Mitch filled me in on Justin’s story. Justin had been a heroin addict, a drinker, and a smoker. Recently, he gave all that up, for his faith. Then Justin started telling me about how he used to be a really repulsive guy, throwing temper tantrums, getting drunk all the time, wasting money, etc. It was shocking to hear this from Justin, because my first impression of the guy was very good. He was calm, and quiet, and in his eyes you could just see that he had a lot of love in his heart. I had only known the guy for a few minutes, but in that short time, I was touched by him.
Then, Justin told me about the sisters. They too had been heroin addicts, drinkers, and smokers. Amanda had been a prostitute for a time, as well. All three of them – Justin, Amanda, Christine – were there at the church to get saved and turn their lives around. Justin said this was the first time they had gone to church, and there’s still some work to be done to get them saved. After talking with Justin, I started talking to Christine one-on-one, and she told me a little more about her backstory. She has a daughter who she struggles to take care of on her own, she’s been in abusive relationships, etc.
When the night ended, I was truly touched, and optimistic. I thought, Perhaps I shouldn’t have felt so hopeless.
The next Friday, the 11th, I went back to that church with excitement. I talked to Justin again, and then this time, talked to Amanda. I didn’t like Amanda at all, at first. She seemed fake to me. She wore a ton of makeup, she wore revealing clothing (especially for being at church), and whenever I gave input about my views/feelings about things, she agreed with literally everything I said like she wasn’t even paying attention. But even though I didn’t like talking to Amanda, and I much preferred to talk to Christine again, I kept talking to her anyway. See, in my mind, every week that these three people weren’t doing drugs, or getting drunk, or hanging around the wrong people, was a success. I absolutely did not care that they were improving themselves through religion. Just as long as improvement was being made, was all I cared about.
And then, on November 28th, less than a month after meeting Justin, he died in a car crash.
I was at work when I heard. I checked my Facebook that day, seeing if Justin replied when I wrote on his wall: “How’s your walk?” In Christian circles, that question means: “How have you grown and improved through God lately?” But Justin never responded. I was the last person to write on his wall before he died. When I looked at his wall, there was message after message of people saying, “Rest in peace,” and “You left us too soon.” And right there, in the middle of work, I started bawling my eyes out.
Not long after, there was a memorial for Justin. I attended it, and so did Mitch, Amanda, and Christine, and their mother. After the memorial, we went to the sisters’ home. I don’t remember what we did at their home that day, except that I met Christine’s daughter Bella for the first time. But that was also when I learned that Amanda was ‘using’ again, meaning she relapsed back to her heroin addiction, and so did Christine. Before Mitch and I left later that night (he was my ride back to my apartment since I didn’t drive at the time), I made the sisters a promise: that I would be there for them, no matter what.
I kept that promise in the coming months. I feared they would be so devastated by losing Justin that they would be consumed, to the point of death, by heroin. I promised Justin, as if I was praying to his spirit, that would take care of them with all my strength.
I visited the sisters at their home once a week. Every single time I was there, they had (at minimum) 3 of their ‘friends’ over. There was a ton of smoking and drinking, but I never saw any drug use. Their friends hung around the house so much, spending all day there sometimes, that their mother started to lose her mind. Things were going missing, the house kept getting broken into whenever their mother wasn’t home, etc. Eventually, there was so much turmoil that Amanda and Christine’s mother just screamed one day, “Get the hell out of my house!” I was right there when it happened.
She gave them a week to pack their things, not caring at all where they went next. I talked to their mother, named Jules, saying that I was worried they were going to be homeless now. “They always find somewhere,” she said.
The sisters moved in to Christine’s baby daddy’s apartment. It wasn’t his apartment, it was actually his … aunt’s, I believe… Well anyway, even while the sisters were there, I still visited them. I even spent the night sometimes. Every time I visited them (even at Jules’ house), their friends and relatives were always surprised when I told them that I don’t drink, or smoke, or have ever done drugs. “You don’t look like a pushover,” one of them said once. “You must have a lot of willpower.”
Well, that willpower was really going to come into use soon.
One night, when I was at my own apartment, alone, I got a call from one of the people living with the sisters. It was Bella’s father’s sister. (A lot of people lived in that apartment.) And she called me asking if Amanda could live with me instead, because she got caught with a needle, and since Bella (and another baby, which I won’t get into) were living in that apartment, that was absolutely not tolerated for even a minute. They kicked out Amanda that very night. I called Mitch and said I need a ride over there. But when we got to the apartment, Amanda wasn’t there…
Not only was Amanda not there, but nobody knew where she was, except Christine. And Christine refused to tell us.
I spent the next week looking for Amanda. During this time, I turned 21. The night of my 21st birthday, I did nothing but look for Amanda, not caring that it was supposed to be a happy occasion. Fortunately, the night ended somewhat well, because after several days of searching the streets of Gresham and NE Portland, I finally went up to Christine and DEMANDED that she tell me where Amanda was. She gave in, but made me promise not to tell anyone else, and so I did.
We walked the whole way. Amanda was about 2 miles away, in a house full of smoke, and full of men. It’s not hard to imagine what was going on there.
When I got to the house, Amanda had bruises in her eyes, on her arms, and on her legs. I nearly broke down crying. She could barely even speak. I remember getting a little ‘annoyed’ (which is just another way of saying ‘stern’) with her, asking her over and over why she’s doing this. She started crying, saying that she misses Justin, and misses her mother.
I called Mitch and had him come over, even though it was midnight. Since it was kind of my birthday, I wanted to celebrate it with Mitch and Amanda (Christine wasn’t interested), and so we went to the only place that was open, Shari’s.
At Shari’s, we tried to have a fun time, but Amanda lacked energy and could barely keep up. At one point, Mitch got up to use the bathroom, and then I turned to Amanda and begged her to come home with me, rather than staying at that house full of men who just want to take advantage of her. Amanda simply said, “I can’t. I’m sorry.” Then she rested her head on my shoulder, and I rested my head on hers.
When we finished eating, and got back in Mitch’s car, Amanda made us promise that we’d take her back to that house. And we did, even though it broke our hearts. Back at the house, even though it was at least 2am, we talked to Amanda a little bit more. But all she did was cry again, even burying her face so that we couldn’t see. Mitch looked just as sad. I put my hand on Amanda, then pulled her in for an embrace. Mitch put his arms around both of us.
We were trying to show Amanda how committed we were to helping her. But by the end of the night, nothing got accomplished. So finally, right before we left, I insisted that Amanda agree to something: The next time we come over, which will be in 3 days, we get to get her out of that house. She said yes.
3 days later, we drove back to that house, went to the front door, and some guy told us to leave. We insisted on speaking to Amanda, but he insisted that she wasn’t there. I called bullshit. So, I told Mitch to drive back to the apartment where Christine was still living.
There at that apartment, I gathered everyone into the hall, including Christine, her ex-boyfriend, and a couple others. I told the group outright: “Amanda is getting out of that house tonight, one way or another. She either willingly comes home with me, since Mitch can’t have her at his house, or I get her arrested.”
(Amanda had been wanted by law enforcement for quite a while, for being a prostitute.)
We made a plan together that involved getting Amanda out of the house and getting her to walk to a nearby Seven Eleven. Then, I told Mitch, “Okay, call the cops now.” He did. A few minutes later, police intercepted Amanda at the store.
Even though I knew she’d hate me for this, I didn’t want to deceive her. So, when the cops arrested her, I approached Amanda on the sidewalk right outside the store, so that she could see I was the one who did this. And sure enough, she was in shock, and livid. She started cursing me, and I took it. After she was driven away, I called her mother saying, “She’s safe now, in jail unfortunately. I tried to get her to live with me, but she refused. So, jail is the safest place I could get her.” Then, I paused and started crying. “She hates me now….. She hates me….”
Her mother tried to console me, saying that I did the right thing and Amanda will come around someday, but I still hurt.
A little while later, I learned that Amanda was only going to be in jail for a couple weeks. She initially said that if she got arrested, it would be 6 months, but apparently it was only going to be a couple weeks. And since her mother still didn’t want her in her house, and she wasn’t allowed in the other apartment, where Christine was, the only option for Amanda was going back to the very house that I was trying to get her out of. And knowing she’d still refuse to live with me, I had to think of something.
So, I went to her mother one day, saying that I’d like to live with her. I said it would benefit us both, since we could split all of our expenses. Her mother agreed, not knowing what I was up to. I moved in a little while later. Then, a little while after that, Amanda got released from jail. In fact, she got released from jail sooner than I expected.
Of course, I found her at that house with all those other guys.
But this time when I got there, I informed her that I was living with her mother now, and that she can come live with us there. Amanda agreed….
She packed all her belongings, which likely mostly weren’t her belongings, and we left for the bus. We went all the way out to Milwaukie from Gresham carrying armfuls of clothing and possessions. But it was worth the trip. When we got to the house, Amanda collapsed on the couch, and I went to my room.
I woke up to hearing Jules say, “What part of ‘Amanda cannot be in this house’ did you not understand?!”
I remember not caring at all that Jules was screaming at me. I thought to myself, Amanda’s safe now, and you’re not going to reject your own daughter twice, so therefore, I don’t care that I broke your rules.
Sure enough, I was right. Jules outright admitted that she couldn’t kick out her own child twice, because it was hard enough the first time. She made an agreement with Amanda which included the obvious (such as, no drugs and no junkie friends in the house, etc.), and the last part of the agreement was that I’m in charge of Amanda. She couldn’t go anywhere outside of the house without me or her mother.
So, for about a month, things actually went well. Amanda slowly but surely got sober (suffering minor withdrawals from heroin). Even though I was against her smoking, I chose to wait until she was completely off heroin to start working on her smoking addiction. So, sometimes, I went with her to the store to buy cigarettes for her. One time, on my way home from work, she called me and asked to buy cigarettes for her, and I did. Point is: I was trying to protect her from herself, without being excessive about it.
But, once Amanda got sober, she became hostile.
She started ignoring me every chance she got. She started disrespecting me and sometimes outright avoiding me, and I never understood why. To this day, I still don’t know why. But when it got bad enough that I chose to talk to her about it, I simply asked, “Can we talk?” and she just made excuses not to talk to me for a few minutes. I started to push, and at one point I said, “Mitch would be disappointed to see you treating me like this.”
And she responded with, “I don’t care about Mitch or you.”
That was my breaking point….. All these months of trying, and that was how it ended.
I admit I made another suicide attempt the very next day, swallowing an entire bottle of painkillers. I cannot describe how much it hurt to put in so much effort – literally everything I had, including my belongings – only to be spat in the face. What did I do to deserve being dead to her? I wasn’t in love with Amanda, but I was in love with Lisa, my first girlfriend, and both of them rejected me in the coldest way imaginable when I did nothing to deserve it.
At the hospital, Mitch ordered me to never speak to Amanda again. I obeyed. When neither Amanda nor her mother were there a few days later, Mitch helped me move all of my belongings out. I never gave Jules any notice that I was going to do that. I ended up crashing with Mitch for a while until I could get back on my feet. See, I had also lost my job around this time, because the stress of helping Amanda made my performance at work plummet. Right before they fired me for poor performance, I just quit to save them the trouble.
About a month later, I checked in on Amanda through Christine, and she said that Amanda had relapsed… So, not only had my and my best friend’s efforts meant nothing to her, but they ended up accomplishing nothing in the end anyway. Nothing ever changes with people….
I wrote on Justin’s wall that I failed him. I told him, “I tried. I really tried…”
And then I envied him. I envied him for being free of this world. At this moment, now 5 years later, I don’t know what’s going on in Amanda’s life, but I still occasionally stay in contact with her sister, who never fell as far off the deep end as her sister. Christine, at least, is living a sober life now.