Fresher Eyes: Remembering my niece, the right way


judy-adairby Judy Adair

Charles Wood’s “Fresh Eyes” [“Fresh Eyes: Victoria’s overdose,” by Charles Wood, Sept. 14, 2016] seemingly learned nothing beyond how to take advantage of the sad story of my beautiful, talented and troubled niece Victoria. This time he got his name in print —  good for you, Charlie.

During Victoria’s life, I repeatedly refused to take her to his place. I couldn’t stop her from going but I damn sure wasn’t going to be a part of taking her to what in my mind was like “Mother Superior’s,” the heroin den in Trainspotting — a place where addicts were free to self-destruct, overdose and sometimes die. Mother Superior was the supplier and had a habit, and perhaps there was no supply or economic gain here, but Victoria was not part of the heroin scene before this person’s name kept cropping up on a regular basis. I am in no way implying that her habit started there — it didn’t — but once on that road, his was the place she wanted to go.

There are so many stories to tell about Victoria and that day and everything that led up to it, some of them beautiful, some of them cruel. I could tell you about the scene that late afternoon in front of his apartment — all of us locked out. We wanted to see her just one last time. I was there with her mother, her father, uncles, aunts, her friends — all drained of color, exhausted from the emotional rollercoaster we’d been on for so long just to now face the end we all feared — the end of Victoria’s self-destruction — our collective nightmares collided on that late summer afternoon.

There’s the story of watching her grandparents collapse at the news of her death. An uncle who literally stalked College Hill on a nightly basis looking for her, hoping to find her safe, preparing to rescue her if not. The stories of the mourners sadly passing through her art exhibit in agony and shock, coaxing each piece to tell us just one more story.

Do you want to hear about the horrible night before rehab, her pacing and screaming at me for hours? Or how about showing her pictures of the accident she was in weeks earlier and the forced trip to the scene where yet another addict drove them through a fence piercing her bladder? I wanted Victoria to know that she was in danger — I wanted her to care that she was in danger.

Do you want to hear about my sister?  She’s a constant advocate in pain then and now. Do you know what losing her beautiful only child has done to her? Those are the stories I really don’t want to tell but they’re a part of understanding how much we lost that dreadful day.

Or would you prefer to hear about the good times?  Her infectious laugh and wild imagination. You should have seen those Mediterranean blue eyes pop large and wide open out of an icy river pool she fearlessly leaped into. She was beautiful! Or how proud we were on graduation day and how we celebrated her great success, talent and the promise of our future together. What about the soul who cried inconsolably when her autistic cousin was bullied at the Dan River? Or the little girl who routinely confronted her cousin’s tormentors. Victoria had a huge heart. She was fearless.

The tents built in our houses. The pretend pediatrician diagnosing the cat at age 5. Listening to the soothing rain in the cabin with the tin-roofed screened porch, coloring books and art supplies scattered on the floor. She liked to make things, beautiful pieces of art, silly drawings, handmade paper, sun catchers, dreamcatchers, photos of the world as she saw it. Each attempt more refined as she practiced her art. I have many, many of these stories, too. She was once the little girl explorer, once a young woman of the world — kind, mean, funny, difficult, easy, sober, reasonable and totally messed up. There are many stories and everyone who knew Victoria has many to tell — she was memorable.

Five years have passed and we miss her every single day. We have all beaten ourselves for not doing more, not being able to stop that terrible day. Some days I can convince myself that Victoria was hell-bent on dying and there really wasn’t anything left to do. Other days I wonder if I had just tried one more time maybe… just maybe… she’d still be here.

I’m not the only one. Nothing frigging ever worked — I still go back and forth and wind up sick to the pit of my stomach. Every story about an addict dying or recovering brings me back to Victoria, but so does driving down Walker Avenue remembering her pointing out the lions and elephants unbelieving that I didn’t see them, too. No one thought like Victoria — no one laughed like her — no one loved like her and no one broke our hearts like she did. I cherish my memories — all of them. I dream of her laughing and crying, but mostly of her being here.

The author’s “Fresh Eyes” learned nothing, and even inferred that he’s just the same as he was then. Where’s the self-reflection in your fresh eyes?

There’s my flare of anger, but really I have hope for Charlie. I hope he can reflect rather than on that particularly awful day, instead to all of the days he had with Victoria. She left a huge impact on everyone she knew. What has he learned from her life? How has her absence left his own life less rich? How can he use his experiences with her to improve himself, his relationships with others, with society? What can he do to help someone else not crawl into the vortex she did? How can he help them up, not down?

Charlie, as a writer, as an artist, can shift his perception, change his point of view and wax poetic about my niece. If he makes that shift, his nightmares will fade and then perhaps his art will mature. Quit revisiting the stale, lifeless end. Look again; if you can’t find a better perspective… look again.

Judy Adair lives in the Triad with her husband and daughter, works as a business systems analyst for an international non-profit human development organization and writes about people and topics that impassion her.