Sandra had purple hair and a two year old daughter, Emily. She liked to sit crosslegged in the grass and read. She liked to collect records and would only resign herself to buying music on compact disc if the record company wouldn't put it out on vinyl. She gave up smoking cigarettes when she got pregnant, but sometimes she still enjoyed a cold beer on a nice summer evening.
Sandra was intelligent, beautiful, and had the world at her feet. She was about to start a marvelous job that paid very well and she seemed genuinely happy for the first time in a long time. Sandra was one of my best friends in the world. During the early morning of August 3, 2004, Sandra died of a heroin overdose.
Sandra came to the university in the fall of 1997 and I was assigned to her as a sophomore mentor. We both were majoring in biology. I dreamed of being a park ranger and I had these fantastic images of leading people on nature hikes and such. Sandra dreamed of something a little different; she wanted to work in a garden open to the public. In the end, though, we wanted the same thing. We wanted to take people by the hand and help them to see the beauty of the living world. I can still see her then. She dressed very conservatively most of the time, preferring denim skirts and earth tones. She had long, curly brown hair that she tied up with a pencil and she spent most of her evenings out on the green, reading.
We did the typical mentorship things and did a few social things together, but we were in different classes and had different schedules, so after the first semester, most of our contact went on through email. We got in a routine of writing each other encouraging notes on a regular basis and we probably saw each other once a month.
It was sometime during the fall of 1999 when she met Danny. The two of them became inseparable almost as quick as one could blink, and soon Sandra had the courage to start changing some things about herself. She cut her hair short and started to exercise a lot; by Christmas of that year, she had lost twenty pounds and looked absolutely stunning. I close my eyes and see that Sandra; the one with the bright shine of love in her eyes and full of the boundless energy that it brings.
That was to be the high point, though. Danny had a few skeletons in his closet, and with the closeness that had formed between he and Sandra, it wasn't surprising that she came to share some of the skeletons, too. Later in 2000, she started experimenting with drugs; she never told me about it, but I could tell from her lethargy.
I still wrote notes to her every day, but weeks would go by without hearing from her, and I didn't hear a word from her for the first few months of 2001. I knew her life was going downhill; I saw her sadness and emaciation, but it all came to a head one morning that April, when she showed up on my doorstep.
She looked so frighteningly thin, standing there on the doorstep. She was dressed in skimpy, dirty clothes and her face was covered in cheap makeup. She looked at me and burst into tears. She told me everything. She was pregnant. She was a heroin addict, and she showed me her pock-marked arms to prove it. Danny had beaten her and told her to get an abortion, and when she refused, he left.
My wife immediately offered to let her move in for a while under one condition: no drugs at all. She agreed to this, and so we folded out the couch into a bed where she quickly fell into a deep sleep. We sat there watching her sleep and asked each other if we were doing the right thing, if this would work.
Sandra lived with my wife and I for almost two years, and as far as I could tell, she never touched any sort of drugs. We fed her, bought her a new wardrobe from the Goodwill Store, and helped her to get a job. We went to the hospital when she gave birth to Emily, and we stayed up a lot of nights when Emily cried with jaundice and colic.
When Emily was several months old, Sandra had a steady job and a stable life by herself, so she moved out to her own place. We all cried when she left, and a few nights later she invited us over for dinner and served us a three hundred dollar bottle of wine with the meal.
I remember that dinner so clearly. We sat there laughing and joking, and she looked so alive and happy again. I looked into her eyes and they were as crystal clear as could be.
We saw Sandra almost every week after that; she was one of the only people we sent postcards to on our summer vacations. Sandra was working and also finishing her masters degree, which she got in May 2004, and shortly thereafter, she got a job offer to manage a public garden, something she'd dreamed of since the day I met her.
The cold touch of heroin has taken a close friend from me; Sandra is the fourth friend I have lost to drugs. I held Emily in my arms just a few hours after they found Sandra; Emily looked at me and touched my nose and smiled. I read a book to her, and then she asked me where her mommy was. I didn't know what to say. Emily then fell asleep in my arms.
Our world is so full of joy and tragedy. In every moment of pain, there is hope; in every moment of loss, there is a new miracle.