Sad stories of heroin addiction

Another local teen bit the dust. One year out of high school. Her obituary stated cause of death as heroin overdose and was a long tribute to an obviously well-loved girl who dreamed of a future in science. A photo showed a girl with a gentle face and clear eyes. She appeared to be a good girl from a supportive family. What stories she could have lived! I could imagine the pain her parents went through trying to save her, and the neverending pain now. I thought of my own child during her troubled high school years, and how frightened I was that she would not make it through alive and unhurt by drugs (she did!). I remember a classmate she brought home one day, trying to keep him distracted from demons while he tried to kick heroin. One day wasn’t good enough.

Years ago, a PBS special on drugs made a big impression on me. Apparently doing heroin even once could open the door wide to addiction. Just once! That first-time rush of euphoria is so incredible that you want to keep chasing after it, and the end is torment and early death. Why would our kids choose that? And now we have an opioid epidemic, and heroin is cheaper than opioids once you run through your parents’ stash.

The below memoirs have received good reviews from recovering addicts (and addicts’ families) and end with hope. As with all addictions, recovery is an ongoing journey.

The Bitter Taste of Dying by Jason Smith –High school football player keeps his addiction through college and overseas, became a writer and journalist, married with kids.

The Big Fix: Hope After Heroin by Tracey Helton Mitchell – Studious good girl during high school falls for drugs during college, became a mother and an activist for recovery, 19 years free now. Tracey was featured in the 1999 documentary Black Tar Heroin: The Dark End of the Street.

April is National Poetry Month. Emotional pain inspires me to write poems, and so I wrote a poem for this girl and all the kids who have died from drugs. It’s written as song lyrics, and I am hoping somebody will put it to music and sing it out. Teens may not listen to grownups, but they do listen to music.

Can’t Let Go

You found me in the crowd, or I found you,
Seems so long ago but that can’t be true
I can’t remember cuz my mind’s so blind
All I really know is that I can’t let go
I’m tired of crying, but I can’t let go
You whispered softly in my ear,
I tried to resist but your voice so clear
I remember when my heart grew weak
Now all I know is that I can’t let go
I’m tired of crying, but I can’t let go
You called to me like you knew my need
You were everything I wanted you to be
You blew my mind and held me right
Like no one else could in all my life
You were starburst in my atmosphere
Telling me there was nothing left to fear
Nothing left, nothing left to fear
You told me lies and I didn’t see
Didn’t want to know where you were leading me
Remember my friends how they loved you, too
I don’t ever want to let you go
I’m tired of crying, but I can’t let go
One day I’m going to break away
Leave you cold while I hope and pray
Remember when I once was strong
I gotta try hard to let you go
I’m tired of crying, but can I let you go
You called to me like you knew my need
You were everything I wanted you to be
But you blew my mind and I gave up the fight
And no one else in all my life
Could be the sun in my atmosphere
Telling me there was nothing to fear
I got everything, everything to fear
Cuz I can’t let go
I can’t let go

© Linda E. Austin 3/2017



Posted in book talk, death, overcoming, poems, raising kids | Tagged | 5 Comments

Living in Italy: the real deal memoir

I love reading about other cultures, especially from a foreigner perspective. Natives tend to be inured to their surroundings while foreigners—those with open minds—are better able to see the delights and peculiarities of the land (and people) they are adventuring in. And so I had fun reading Stef Smulder’s memoir of moving from the Netherlands to an Italian village where he and his partner bought a house they dreamed of turning from ugly duckling to a swan of a bed and breakfast. And so began a grande lavoro (big project). Oh, my! “How to survive the good life.”

Stef wrote a series of short, light-hearted chapters detailed the amusing and often trying characters and situations he and husband Nico encountered as they settled into this new country.  Italian culture is quite different from their Dutch homeland. Fortunately, Stef knew enough Italian to get along. Finding the right house, dealing with government workers and paperwork, choosing di fiducia (trustworthy) workers who will spend many noisy months in your house—laugh so you don’t cry! Yes, the book reminds me of Under the Tuscan Sun, but with Dutchmen and a dog. A glossary of Italian words and phrases used is included at the end. You may want to learn some of those fun phrases.

The preface of the book says it is a work of fiction. Stef says it is a memoir but with tweaking to make it more entertaining. That’s often a consideration for memoir writers—when does memoir become fiction? If you are making up stories, then you have a book “based on a true story.” Incorporating dialog half-remembered or likely said, adding some unimportant flourishes, or changing names or otherwise altering people a bit to protect their privacy is okay as memoir. Stef and Nico really did buy a house with a lovely view of hilly vineyards, and eventually—we may think miraculously—it transformed from a grey concrete block to a beautifully landscaped home amenable to visitors. Take a look at the Villa I Due Padroni website and you may be tempted to book a vacation in the “Tuscany” of Lombardy, just south of Milan, a fresh breath away from the touristy cities. I know you would enjoy meeting Stef and Nico. Stef writes so personably, you will feel you are friends!




If you like Italy, see also my post about A Zany Slice of Italy, where Ivanka marries an Italian man and discover his relatives.

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Memoir of art, music, history, and the Chinese Cultural Revolution

I was astonished to learn of her past. An unassuming aquaintance, Fangfang Xu, recently published her family memoir, Galloping Horses:  Artist Xu Beihong and His Family During Mao’s China. She did tell me her father was called the “father of modern Chinese art,” but I didn’t realize he was world famous, his work hanging in prestigious museums and selling for high dollars at auction. He is known particularly for his black ink paintings of spirited horses, hence the name of the memoir. It is said he was lucky to have died before the Cultural Revolution. His family struggled to preserve his art and his memory.

In her book, Fangfang exposes the harsh life under Chairman Mao from the unusual perspective of artists, musicians and teachers—intellectuals severely punished  for being “reactionary bourgeois.” People lived in fear of the merciless young Red Guards and the country closed in on itself and moved backwards. Although the Xu family was privileged to know many influential people, including Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou Enlai, that did not keep them, “the children of dogs,” from suffering along with others.

gallopinghorsesFangfang filled Galloping Horses with incredible detail from much research, friend and family interviews, and notes she and her mother had kept. She spent six years doing research on the important events because “I want my book to have credibility for general readers as well as academic people.” Fangfang captures in story what went on during this time and explains the results and implications of the crackdowns affecting families, culture, universities, and the economy. I learned about Chinese art and teaching methods and about the art of music composition as Fangfang was an accomplished pianist at a young age. She made all of this easy to understand and the story line flows smoothly—I was surprised to see what an excellent writer she is, often poetic. I have read several books set during the Cultural Revolution, but nothing like this. I highly recommend this fascinating and poignant memoir for anyone interested in history and the arts or in a compelling story of survival.

I asked Fangfang how she remembered so much of her experiences. She said:

“As for the memory of my early life, I had written about some episodes in my compositions while in the music school. Even though I lost these compositions during the Cultural Revolution, I remember the content. It is an interesting journey to relive these formative years during my writing.”

You never know what incredible stories might be hiding in your friends.

For further information about Xu Beihong and to see examples of his work, see the Beihong China Arts website. Before reading Galloping Horses, those not familiar with Chinese pronunciation may want to learn the basic  x and q sounds—and Fangfang is  pronounced “Fahngfahng.”

Posted in book reviews, heritage, history, multicultural, overcoming | Tagged , , | 2 Comments