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Who is Karlie Hustle? [Installment 9]

Losing a sibling is a predicament.  I think no matter how your sister or brother passes away, it’s always going to be an awkward conversation when people innocently ask you that dreaded question:

"So, do you have any brothers or sisters?"

"Um, yea.  I used to.  I had a brother.  He died."

"Oh my gosh!  I am so sorry!  What happened?”

"He had a drug problem."

"Wow, that’s crazy.  Like…cocaine or something?"

"Yea, that.  And other stuff.  He overdosed on heroin."

"My uncle is an alcoholic."

"Yea, it seems like every family deals with addiction these days."

This banal dialogue has taken place over the past 17 years ad nauseam.

After people die, you start finding out some weird things about them.  For one, I discovered that my brother had been spotted doing drugs with an ex-boyfriend of mine some time after I’d left for Portland.*  

When I first began dating this fellow, he was your average Oregon pothead.  He skateboarded and snowboarded and couch surfed like a lot of other average Oregon potheads. He was adopted by some do-gooder white folks who clearly had no idea how to raise a young Black child in a city so white even I was considered some kind of ethnic novelty.

Over time, my then boyfriend began to change.  He stole my mom’s credit card.  He would explode in fits of anger, which included strangling me on my lunch break one afternoon.  When I returned to work, unbeknownst to me, I had two obvious handprints on my neck.  My boss urged me to file a restraining order.  I didn’t bother.

I found out soon after that he’d started using crystal meth.  To recap, my boyfriend was strung out and my brother was strung out and my dad had long since disappeared to Costa Rica where he didn’t have to pay child support.  I was 16.

That small town I grew up in had its fair share of junkies, but the circles weren’t so vast that these two addicts wouldn’t have eventually run into each other at a party around the way.  I imagine that’s how they must have interfaced.  

After I’d escaped that place and moved north, my brother and my ex-boyfriend did drugs together.  There is something so pointed about this circumstance.  Any normal brother would have kicked the living shit out of my ex, knowing what had transpired.  But when you’re a junkie, your friends are whomever has access to the high.  

I still to this day feel somehow betrayed by the circumstance, even though it’s a clear and finite waste of emotional energy.

After I’d relocated, I was informed that my ex-boyfriend had died from overdoses on two separate occasions, but that EMTs managed to bring him back to life both times.  A mutual friend told me this and thought it would be a good idea for him to facilitate a meeting between me and the ex.  He’d gotten clean and was looking for closure.  I obliged.

It was weird to see him.  He was missing half of his teeth, but looked otherwise healthy.  He showed me a baby shoe he carried in his pocket to help him stay clean.  He’d just had his second son.  

He relapsed later that week and disappeared from my life entirely until just a few years ago, when he resurfaced on Facebook.

….to be continued.

*See Who is Karlie Hustle [Installment 4] for reference. 

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Who is Karlie Hustle? [Installment 8]

I found out my brother died while I was at work.  At the time, I was a barista at a coffee shop in Northeast Portland, Oregon.  I was really good at making extra-hot cappuccinos.  

The year was 1997. I was 20 and had made the ill-advised move to the City of Roses with nothing but the stuff I could fit in my car.  I left because I simply could not take it anymore.  My brother’s drug addiction and my mother’s depression over it were consuming me.  I knew I would amount to more than what that place offered, if only I could escape.

I ended up living with a would-be pimp, but that’s another installment entirely.

People say small towns are safe havens; I say they are the doorsteps to hell.  The big city has nothing on a small town with no hope but the next drug craze to roll through it.  I was trying to save myself.  

Looking back, I really did save myself.  I was brave.  So fucking brave, that when I feel afraid now, I just channel that 18-year-old me with all my might and scream “fuck the world - I’m going to do it my way”.

"Karla, someone is on the phone for you."

"Who?  Who would call me here?!  Hello?"

"It’s me, Stacey.  Your brother overdosed."

"Where is he?"

"He’s dead."

At this moment, I cried about my brother’s death.  Just this once, and never again.  But admittedly, I was in hysterics.  

My work ethic being what it is, I considered how I must have compromised my professional integrity and scared the living shit out of everyone I worked with as well as the entire line of Ethiopians and Eritreans just wanting a cup of Sumatra and a bagel.  

My grief was humiliating.  I am disgusted that I wasn’t in better command of my reaction to this day. I’ve held so much back, that I tend to be overly-emotional about the simplest of things.  Some people find it offensive.  I find it quite endearing.  

Let me work.

"DTA and don’t ever let them see you sweat" was the advice my first mentor gave.  DTA = Don’t Trust Anyone.  I let them see me crumble.  Never again, I promised myself.

I was just broke enough to insist that we split the tips we’d gotten so far before I left to travel south and face the music of my sibling dead on a table.  An ex-boyfriend was kind enough to drive from my hometown to Portland to fetch me.

I designed my brother’s funeral programs.

…to be continued.

Who is Karlie Hustle? [Installment 7]

I am one of very few people who will admit that they were happy to see their sibling die.  Under most circumstances, the tragedy is such that you are beside yourself with grief.  

I want to play along and do the whole crying and carrying on scene, but it’s simply not in me.  For the record, I sobbed once and it was over and done with.  

TRUTH: My tears had more to do with the fact that I was being inconvenienced yet again by this selfish human being and his terrorizing coping mechanisms.  Life was hard on all of us, kid.  Man up.  Instead, he shot up.

It sounds cold.  And it is.  Drug addiction is cold. Watching someone become a shell of themselves is cold.  Never really knowing who they were because all you can remember is their addiction?  That’s cold.  

So I am cold.  And I have little mercy.  I laughed hysterically at the funeral home for I could not help myself.  Have you ever had someone sell you accessories for a dead body before?  It’s fucking hilarious.  And it doesn’t come with a free boom box.  Because I asked and they said no. And it costs thousands of dollars you do not have.

Which is why I got myself a life insurance policy in my early 30s.  But I digress.

His door was locked.  My mom crawled through the basement window and found him.

…to be continued.