Thursday, November 1, 2007

Day 1: What a way to begin

Today would be the birthday of John William "Billy" Toulin, were he still alive.

One time he decided that he wanted dreadlocks. My sister and I sat him down and put toothpaste in his hair to make them stick and to help dirty it up a bit. I was 15 I think? And she was 17. It didn't work. This other time he robbed my dad's house for money for heroin, a drug that would take his life. I don't remember feeling any anger when that happened, though. His heart was good and the heroin made him someone else.

I feel like telling the whole story would be a little too hard for me. I feel like not telling any of it would cheat him. He liked attention and I think he'd want to be remembered in some way at some point. I don't remember the day he died so his birthday has served as an anniversary to remember his life and ultimately reflect on his death and what it meant to our town.

Tiverton is tiny. Most people who don't live there only know about it if they've passed through it on their way to Newport. It has three stop lights, two Dunkin' Donuts stores (which is low for New England towns), and an alpaca farm. It has four elementary schools but only one middle school and one high school (700 students) which means eventually every kid knows every other kid. We all knew Billy.

I knew him well because he dated my sister on and off for three years. I won't even get into the countless parties and shenanigans that they let me tag along for because it was always the same: drinking, smoking, suburban kids trying to forget something they didn't even know was there.

Billy was a trouble maker. He wasn't a bad kid, as far as kids go, but he got into trouble. He was from one of the wealthiest families in town and lived in one of the most expensive areas in one of the largest houses. The world was like a giant experiment to him and he was always trying to throw it off, to knock into it hard enough to make it fall off its track. He was frigging good at it too. There were a lot of stories about things he'd done, laws he'd broken, girls he'd loved and left. He was fascinating because he was untouchable and because nothing broke his heart. But he was so good. He'd always go out of his way for a friend and he was one of the people who showed up when you needed him. He was good to my sister (mostly) and good to me, and that was enough.

Eventually they broke up and lost touch. We'd run into him from time to time and we heard through the veins of gossip that keep towns like ours alive that he'd gotten into heroin and was going downhill. My sister contacted him and they became friends again while she tried to get him help. Then he robbed my dad's house.

This is getting painful because we're about at the end. Every time I hear anything about heroin I think about him.

The day he died, my mom called me. I was 18 and living with a boyfriend in another town and hadn't thought about Billy in a year or so.

"Hello?"
"Hey honey. I have some news."
"Who died?"
"...How did you know?"
"Your voice. Who died?"
"Billy. Overdose."
"...Oh. I can't say I'm surprised."
"Are you okay?"
"Let me get back to you on that."

I was numb. Numb numb numb. My boyfriend was no help.

"You haven't seen him in a year. Why are you upset?"

Because he was good, I thought. Because his heart isn't beating anymore and his brain doesn't work and I'll never see him again, and he'll never have a chance to get clean because he's dead. Because he was like a brother for so long. Because he let me tag along. Because he didn't think I was some stupid kid sister and he put up with me being around even though he didn't have to.

I said, "Oh, it's just sad is all."

I can't even think about the wake, funeral, and vigil. People were screaming and sobbing. Over the next few days the story came out about the hours leading to his death, and it was as terrible as any after school movie. Death by cliche.

This will be quick. Just write it.

He shot up too much. His friends noticed and became scared. They didn't want to bring him to the hospital because they were all high on something too and didn't want to get in trouble. They left him at the end of his driveway instead, where his mother found him dead when she went for a morning run.

I can't watch movies with scenes of heroin use. The first one I saw after he died actually made me vomit. I cried for two days.

It kills me that he died alone. I only hope he didn't know that he was dying.

I'll never understand the fear or thought process that made those other kids drive away. But when people in town found out who was in that car there was an unspoken hit put out on them. Billy had some loyal friends. I hear those kids skipped town and never came back. I'm glad for it.

Kids who were on it when Billy died got help and got clean. Awareness spread from his death, and parents started to notice what their children got up to at night and where they went and for once were not afraid to confront them about it. Now it's back to the way it was. None of the kids who are there now even know who Billy was. I hear the drug of choice in town now is crystal meth. Crystal fucking meth. I guess every generation needs its own personal tragedy because the tragedies that came before don't matter in five years. They'll learn from their sorrow.

A lot of kids I went to high school with have died. Nora was in a car accident (not her fault) Jared was too (but his was during a drag race). Thinking about them is a really disconnected feeling for me, like they never existed. I know they did but I didn't know them that well. Billy's death is a bruise the won't heal. You don't know it's there until you touch it and then it hurts like hell.

I don't really know what else to say. Maybe I've made him out to be better than he was. Maybe I didn't make him good enough. I know who he was though, and I'll never forget him.

What a way to kick off NaBloPoMo, no? I promise tomorrow will be less of a downer.


1 comment:

owen said...

I stumbled across this because I knew his Birthday was coming up soon and wanted to get in touch with his fam. Billy was my best friend at Bishop Stang and we stayed very close up to his death. Thanks for sharing this heart wrenching story with people. I can not begin to fathom how difficult this was for you and I thank you.

Owen R.