We received a call recently letting us know that we had lost the kid. He left this world. We were unable to fully recover this drone. ;-( <3 ;-( After several days of processing it all, I wanted to write a drone recovery blog post remembering the kid and sharing my view of our journey. Writing helps me process and deal with it all, and hopefully continuing the healing that Drone Recovery has brought for me, while also acknowledging it also fell short of helping the kid find his way. While I feel immense regret that I couldn’t do more to help the kid, I am confident I gave him everything I had to give when it came to the recovery toolbox I have access to. It frustrates me that I couldn’t help the kid find his way, but I am thankful I managed to find a moment in time where I was able to connect with him. That moment is called Drone Recovery.
I Never Really Got to Know the Kid
I’ve known the kids since he was 16 or 17, when I first met his mother. Over the course of the last decade he has never really opened up to me, leaving most conversations nothing more than just a sentence or two. The kid always held his cards close to his chest, and I am not one to push on people when it comes to getting to know they really are—it just isn’t my style. I was just the dude who was going out with his mother. Other than the occasional visit to the house, and the times we’ve stepped in to help him move, and make the transition to and from rehab, I never really got to know the kid on any level. I have helped contribute to the raising of a handful of “kids” over the years who weren’t of my biological creation, and there is always tension that exists, but it was clear that the kid was shut down by the death of his father, long before I came around. Most young men aren’t interested in other men coming into their lives to be with their mother, but he carried a pretty damn good reason for why he was not interested in getting to know me. I don’t blame him. I would be the exact same way. Regardless, it was a significant part of the tension that existed between us.
When the kid would hang out, most of his talking was directed at his mother, which politely excluded me. He would lightly engage with me if we were out of the house at a restaurant or I would make an effort press him on a particular subject. Once we started hanging out together without his mother around the summer of 2016 he would pretty much stay silent, always walking far behind me, never much responding when I would bark orders, and tell him where we were going. He acted like he didn’t give a shit about any other this, me, himself, and the world. However, during our time roaming the mountains there were brief moments of clarity where he’d begin talking to me, sharing stories, and changing his entire presence. Something he always put back away once we started our journey back to town, pulling his hoodie over his head, distancing himself from me, walking far behind so he wouldn’t have to talk to me, or let me into his head at all. These brief instances were the only moments where I feel I got to know and hangout with the kid—most every other moment I was around him he was an awkward, brooding, dark and quiet energy sitting in the corner talking to his mother.
Digging in the Dirt at Hallelujah Junction
The first time the kid start talking to me, and losing the pissed off at the world poker face he possessed was under under the sun up at Hallelujah Junction. About an hour North of Reno Nevada there is an intersection called Hallelujah Junction, and shortly after the intersection there is a turn-off on the right that puts you on a dirt road up to Peterson Mountain—where you can dig for quartz crystals. You can’t go up to the top of the mountain because it is a privately owned mining claim, but they are fine with people digging at the base of the mountain. We spent three separate days going up to the mountain and during that time the kid seemed to find a little bit of peace digging while sitting in deep holes in the ground shadowed by beach umbrellas to protect us from the intense desert sun. The hours of scraping at the moist cool dirt in the sun, occasionally finding little muddy pieces of rock that you would quickly assess and toss over your shoulder into the pile to keep, or to be lost back into the mountain seemed to work at breaking down the walls that existed between us. He talked to me occasionally, and he didn’t have a “fuck it all” look on his face. He was just in the moment. Hands in the dirt.
During our time in Reno I also decided to buy a drone. The kid is a gamer, so I figured that maybe this digital gadget might help bridge him to the world we were exploring, providing him with a familiar digital controller and interface to help make a connection. Once we got back to Peterson Mountain the next day we took the drone for its inaugural flight. The kid took his spot in the front seat of our rental truck, and the drone took off straight up into the sky. Once it reached a maximum altitude it took off speeding down the mountain range until I couldn’t hear or see it. After about 2-3 minutes into the flight the kid sprang out of the truck looking upwards, declaring that he had lost connection. After about 5 minutes of looking for the drone it flew back over us, and landed exactly where it had taken off from. Teaching us about the “return home” feature of our drone which would come in handy many more times down the road. The kid was a natural with the drone. He wouldn’t look up into the sky for it as I would. He rarely seemed concerned with where the drone was until it was gone or crashed. He just flew it as fast and far away as he could take it. Always pushing the drone to its limits. Not matter what environment it was being flown in.
Finding Peace Up on Diamond Creek
About two weeks into our journey after making our way to Oregon I decided to take us up to Diamond Creek—the place where I had initiated my journey to get clean. Diamond Creek is 60 miles out in the mountains of Southern Oregon in the middle of a massive forest fire burn. The place is harsh, rocky, and a days drive over the most punishing road you have ever driven on. The kid just kept asking, “is that a road?”. About 3/4 of the way down into the valley the road was washed out. Sheer cliff going up and down, with a 5 foot wash out in the middle After quickly sizing up the situation I just stomped on the accelerator. The kid didn’t think I would do it. I did. We jumped the wash in our little Subaru Outback. Once we reached the bottom he jumped out shaking, and went for a smoke. To relax, I began walking the 1/2 mile down the creek to one of the deepest and most beautiful crystal clear swimming holes you’ve ever seen. I took off my clothes and dove in. It was still May, and the water shocked my body as I entered, something that forced me back out onto the hot rocky shore within about 5 seconds of entering. It was worth it. So worth it.
After about two days along the creek, swimming, and sitting around a fire, I inspected the car in preparation for the return trip. I noticed I had tore up the shroud underneath the car with the jump, and learned later I had also cracked both transmission mounts. As I was considering the best route out the kid asked if we could stay longer. He had never asked for anything. He just kind of grumbled and went along with everything I told him we were going to do. There is no shade or comfort down at Diamond Creek. It has all been burnt, and there are just small scrubs that provide you minimal shade as you sit with your feet in the water. You just end up soaking in the water, then laying out on the hot rocks. Repeat. Repeat. Until night falls and then you make a campfire. Like most people, the kid would just sit around the fire and poke it with sticks late into the night until we both fell asleep. In those moments he’d talk about when he first started doing hard drugs, how he views himself and the world around him. I have never heard more words out fo the kids mouth as I did sitting around the fire up at Diamond Creek. While our time up there didn’t yield the outcomes I envisioned, I do believe he found some peace of mind sitting up there, swimming, stoking the fire and flying the drone.
Visiting Manny’s Grave
A couple days after returning from Diamond Creek we went to the graveyard where my best friend from high school is buried. Manny died in 1997 from what is known as “suicide by cop”. I was the first person to get Manny high, which ultimately contribute to his death. The kid had no interest in getting out of the car at the cemetery but I made him. I made him sit while I shaped a heart of crystals from those we had dug up at Peterson Mountain in the center of the grave and tell the kid of the story of how I killed my best friend. All he said in response is that Manny would have probably gotten his hands on dope without me, and gone down the same road, so it wasn’t my responsibility. It was a nice sentiment, and looking back now, I think he was alluding to the blind determination that us junkies have when it comes to getting what we want, while also showing how little belief the kid had in his own ability to live. Manny called me the day he died asking me to meet him, I didn’t call him back. I miss him. His death was one of the things that helped turn me around. I wish the kid had someone he cared about that would have helped him see the value of his own life too.
Broken Up On Top of Kerby Peak
At first Kerby Peak seemed like a quick win. At 3.5 miles hike each way—we’d be done in a single day, no problem. We didn’t consider the grade before we set off on our journey that day. Within the first mile we realized that it was nearly straight up the Rocky Mountain, resting as the trail switched back each time. Enjoying the many amazing flowers and views along the way. By the time we reached what appeared to be the top, we saw it actually kept going around the bend. After laying there for about 30 minutes in the dirt the kid suggested we fly the drone up to the top to see if it was worth it. Resulting in one of the most stunning drone video shots he made of our time out in the woods, and revealing a pretty stunning view. A view so impressive even the kid suggested we keep going after landing the drone back down on the rocky landscape at our feet. So we kept going, hiking up the narrow trail through the rocks to the top of Kerby Peak.
At the top of Kerby Peak we felt very much like the rocks up there—broken and worn. There are the remnants of the foundation of the old fire outlook station, and you can see why the station existed. As you sit there you can look 360 degrees in all directions seeing the Rogue and Illinois valleys. Kerby peak produced the most amazing drone video shot produced by the kid, and one the more powerful photos of the kid looking out over the Illinois Valley. It was the first time the kid saw the benefit of the physical exercise involved with what we were doing, and the benefits of breaking ones self so that you can out the other side stronger. Looking back, Kerby Peak was the high point of our time out there in the woods, literally and figuratively. I managed to break the kid a few more times after that, but I don’t think there was the visual pay-off that existed up top of Kerby Peak. As he stood up top of Kerby Peak looking out over the edge I felt like I had made my mark, but looking back the grade of the hike, and height of the peak didn’t compare with the up hill battle he faced each day, and his desire to continually push things to the edge.
Drone Recovery Ended Up Being More About Me
Looking back it is clear that Drone Recovery was more about me than it was about the kid. He left the summer not really caring about drones or hiking out in the woods. I don’t know how he felt about the summer because he never opened up about it with me. II don’t know if he was thankful for me doing it, or just saw me as an asshole for interrupting his regularly scheduled programming. I learned a lot about myself during the months we were out in the woods. I managed to deal with a significant amount of my baggage from my youth, and found peace with a few more of my demons. Pushing me to ask questions I have ignored since I forced myself into the woods back in 1997. While it may seem like I’m continuing to highlight what I did for the kid with Drone Recovery as I talk about him through this lens, it really is the only time I got to know him. I don’t have any other positive stories to share about our time together, other than those days on the trail, and around the campfire and swimming holes. For very brief moments I saw a kid who wasn’t angry, broken, and someone who didn’t want to die, but also didn’t quite know how to live. I saw a young man who just might make it through all of the shit life had thrown at him, and might just possibly make it out the other side.
Not Wanting To Die, But Not Knowing How to Live
At 26 I had a death wish. I was convinced I would die by the age of 30. If it wasn’t a cops bullet like with Manny, it would be on a motorcycle, or some other grand explosion. I had seen it all play out in my minds eye (now I wonder if it was me I was seeing). Everything I grew up with had shown me this was the only way. It was inevitable. Only now do I see how the people around me failed to give me hope about the future, allowing me to craft this bullshit narrative in my young high mind. I don’t think the kid wanted to die. I just think he had been dealt the shittiest of hands, had his entire existence crushed at the age of 12, just as he was beginning his journey into manhood, and he couldn’t ever figure out how to actually live. Other than his mother, I don’t think he had a single thing in his life that showed him any other way forward. I’ve spent enough time with him to have channeled some of the pain he felt, and he was hurting real bad on a daily basis. I don’t blame him for doing dope. That shit feels good. Real good. Why not? Honestly, my beef with the kid wasn’t because he was doing dope, I don’t care. Go have fun. Do your thing. Feel good. My beef was what it did to his mother, and that he kept crashing into our worlds just as we seemed to be pulling our own lives out of the ditch. Him being a junkie prevented him from being able to see how far I had come, making it something he felt was impossible to apply to his own situation.
I have cried twice now since the kids passed. I am not overwhelmed with grief about his death or that that he overdosed. It may sound shitty to say, but it is true. I have a good relationship with death at this point in my life, and I see it being more about him finding peace, than about what he left behind. I am glad he went out high. Without pain. Good for him. I am sad, even mad at him, though for doing this to his mother. A conversation I’ve had with him many times before. So I have already said my piece on that tone. I am also extremely pissed at the world for not being able to give our kids more hope right now. I am angry that so many kids like him have been watching the opiate epidemic unfold around them, and us grownups do nothing to help. I bear no ill will towards kids who choose to check out right now. The world hurts. It sucks. Us grownups aren’t giving you all much to be hopeful for. We say we care and that will do something about it, and then we don’t. We should be ashamed of ourselves. To be so wrapped up in our own bullshit that we can’t give each other hope, let alone give our kids enough hope to just be able to keep living. We have to do better. We need to figure out how to make the kids a priority over everything else, or it isn’t just the kids that will be lost, it is that our society, culture, and everything we know will be lost in them.
Thanks For Spending the Summer with Me Kid
I hope you are getting some rest kid. I truly do. Knowing me, I won’t grieve as heavily as your mother in this moment. I am too fucking cast iron from previous rounds of this shit. My grief will come in waves over the years. Manny creeps up on me at the most unexpected moments and I’m guess you will do the same. I don’t have any regrets from this summer except that I didn’t do more of it. I should have kept pushing you and breaking you until you saw the light. I should have stuck to my promise of doing it again if you relapsed. I didn’t. I just couldn’t pull away from the tractor beam of my career and life to make you a priority. This was wrong. With all of this said, I know in my heart I gave you a lot. Having lost several other drones over the years I know that it helps have a pretty strong “return home” impulse to step back from the ledge. Ultimately it was Manny who pushed me back from the ledge, and the birth of my daughter a couple years later that kept me from leaving home at all. I am not sure what your “return home” impulse would have been kid, beyond your mother. Without it, stepping back from the ledge and finding your way home just gets harder and harder to do, until eventually you step over the ledge, forgetting you ever had a home in the first place.
Thanks for hanging out with me that summer kid. Sorry I couldn’t help you find your way. It weighs on me. I now feel like it was your death I saw in my minds eye all those years ago. Clarity has always been my curse when it comes to my super power of seeing into the future. Good job also in just doing you, and sticking with it until the end. You were a stubborn mother fucker. Can’t imagine where the fuck you got that from. In the end, just know that I got your Mom. I’ll make sure she’s taken care of boss. She’s good. Unlike your mother though, I also know you’ll be back around for another shot at this. Once you enter the drone recovery program, there is no leaving it. It just takes several crash and burn outings before you get the hang of it, and can navigate this insane reality we just shared. It took me a number of crash and burns before I had the scars I needed to navigate this craziness. You have to have scars you can’t see or remember. They are the ones you just feel and know. I am guessing your life will leave a powerful scar that will help you through the next mission. Just know that you made a mark. I won’t forget you, and since your mother is is so damn stubborn and going to live to be a hundred, I have to outlive her by at least a couple days. She’s endured too much death for me to go first. Anyways, I’ll be thinking about you all that time. Later bro!