“No doubt it’s getting worse,” she told us. When I interviewed Vickie for an Ithaca Times story in the summer of 2014, the vivacious redhead was clean and spoke of the future with hope.

The story was an in-depth look at the increase in heroin use in Tompkins County and Vickie took the brave step of going on the record — using her name and picture — to talk about her own struggles and history with addiction. She was in early sobriety and told me that, if her story would help one person, it was worth going public about it.

“I’m rediscovering who I am and what I want out of life,” she said. She was going back to school and enjoying more financial stability. “I graduated drug court, which would have never happened if I continued using—and I’m just way more happy. Being a junkie is just miserable.”

In December, that misery ended, but in the worst way. Vickie’s addiction got the better of her.

Before co-writing that story, I’d known Vickie for years. She was bubbly and outgoing. She had a great sense of humor, even in some pretty miserable situations. We’d laughed a lot. We’d shared a love of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. We’d also shared a love of some really destructive things in life and, when we met, we were both in a bad way. Eventually I cleaned up and, in bursts, she did, too. But addiction is cunning and hard to beat.

It’s easy to get mad at someone in the throes of an addiction. From personal experience, I’d say addicts tend to do things they regret. Sometimes, I’ve found the easiest way to explain it is to say that an addicted person is a placeholder for the person they are when they’re sober. You can’t have the same set of expectations you would of them normally and sometimes they’ll do really shitty things — but with some people, even in the height of their addiction, it’s still easy to see hope and light shining through. And that was what I saw in Vickie. Even in the midst of her struggles, there was no mistaking that she was a great person.

After hearing of her death, I called up a mutual friend — someone I’d met through Vickie — to see how he was taking the news. That day, the same day she died, he’d gotten a Christmas card from her in the mail.

Even in the midst of an addiction, she’d remembered to take the time out for a season’s greeting. She wished him love for the coming year and, as he read the card aloud, we worried about her family.

“It could have been me,” he said. “There were days I shouldn’t have woken up.

I could say the same, as could an awful lot of my friends — those of us who are left. You can’t be a drug addict without seeing a lot of loss: loss of dignity, loss of hope, and loss of life. That’s a loss that Vickie’s family and many friends are feeling right now.

In the days after her death, her Facebook page was filled with a steady stream of condolences and fond memories. Some remembered her as a free spirit, some highlighted her compassion. Some remembered her smile and her vibrance. Some said that she’s another young person gone too soon.

They’re all right. So I’m not saying anything that hasn’t been said dozens of times already when I close by saying: Vickie, you will be missed.

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One thought on ““It Could Have Been Me”: Death, Loss, and a Life Cut Short

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