Kristen Purcell Fundraiser
The first concrete memory I have of her involved a sand castle and an elvish battle and her, looking quizzically at me from behind that lanky reddish-brown hair that often fell in wisps in front of her eyes. She had let me draw her into one of my many make-believe worlds probably involving pitched warfare and dramatic chases and all kinds of magical goings-on.
But what I remember best is her 9-year-old face crinkling up into a skeptical-beyond-her-years look and saying something along the lines of, "Okay, but WHY would Roquat the Red be trapped in his tunnels if he and the fairy queen have a secret alliance?"
She was always looking for an explanation, that girl.
I was talking recently with my Ari-love about our memories of Kristen and she said that she'd always felt like there was a question mark hovering over their friendship, going back to our high school years. I said from what I remembered of her, that I imagined she wasn't alone in feeling that way. We agreed, though, that she had what seemed like an unusually developed sense of both fairness and acceptance for someone so young, at least for other people -- I imagine she was harder on her self.
The last concrete memory I have of her involved a missed train, a frantic 19-year-old me trying to get back to the city, and her, unquestioningly willing to pick me up in Shrub Oak and drive me to the Croton Harmon station at what was probably an ungodly hour of the morning.
That would have been 1995, at the waning of the year and mere weeks before I ended up dropping out of Barnard, much to the confusion and dismay of friends and relatives alike.
She lived another nine and a half years and I have no idea what she fell into, other than brief snippets of information from mutual friends. She was having fun and being smart with her drug use. She had a job as an au paire. She was doing great. She had OD'd. She was fine. And eventually, one warm summer afternoon in 2005, a sobbing, near-hysterical phone call with the news: Kristen was dead, found in her apartment by a friend who had started worrying.
I sometimes wish we'd intersected during those intervening years, as we each played with and struggled over our particular demons. We both skipped along from one drug of choice to the next but I, at least, eventually skipped along to less scary playgrounds with less dire consequences. (Even then, though, it's hard to stop, and easy to explain away one's drugs when partaking mostly with friends who love you, who are dabblers, who are respectable and smart and don't quite see your desperation, the extra pills you secretly take, the light-headedness and nausea you feel afterwards sometimes for days, the miserable crashing cross-country plane trips during which you kind of almost wish you were already dead. It's also hard to stop when the most magical thing in the world is wandering through Times Square alone at 3am, fairyfied by the wonder that is ecstasy and a summer rain, feeling such deep connection to the sparkly shining air and the laughing giddy people around you that you have to stop moving just to breathe, and so you find a quiet dark stoop somewhere to write out all of this passion you are feeling, only the next day you discover that your treatise on the beauty of life is completely and utterly illegible. Not unintelligible, mind you, but actually illegible. You, with the once-pretty cursive meticulously cultivated ever since grade school, find pages and pages of toddler-scrawl and not much memory of getting home.)
The main difference between us, of course, was that I got out alive and she didn't. I was very lucky in those years after college.
I had a steady, stable, embracing job that provided a reliable paycheck and a place for me to have to go to every day -- a place I actually wanted to go to every day. I'm pretty sure my colleagues didn't know the extent of my after-hours doings, but their warmth in the face of my headaches, my sometimes glassy-eyed stare and exhaustion, was at times more than I could bare. (I imagine they knew a little, perhaps, in the face of (for example) me trying not to stare too intently at my beloved boss as she explained our next project, unaware that her hair, wonderfully curly on a good day, was spiraling and writhing around her head Medusa-like, at least to me, at least after a particularly beautiful but ill-planned night of ecstasy and acid at the same time. Because why not, if you have it.)
I also had friends who, despite enjoying the odd evening of substance-induced debauchery with me, were ultimately supportive and respectful when I finally came to the realization that even these fun drugs -- you know the kinds I mean: the pleasingly multicolored tabs of acid, the ecstasy pills with their fanciful little stamps, the dried 'shrooms that taste like old flesh in the back of your throat -- were too much for me.
I do not know the specifics of Kristen's story, and part of me is glad not to. But I wish, in moments, that we had been more aware of each other during those years; that we could have shared our stories, perhaps shared our burdens, a little bit.
She died alone in the summer of 2005, two years after I finally decided to give it all up, when we were 29 years old. Later this month a few of us are congregating not far from our old stomping grounds to celebrate our 20th high school reunion. It's hard to fathom not her absence at this reunion, as I can't quite imagine she'd have been into such silliness anyway, but her absence in the world -- this girl we knew, for me practically the girl next door.
We're raising some money in memory of her own personal demons but also in honor of her intellect and inquisitiveness and desire to have everybody get a fair shot -- even Roquat the Red in his underground tunnels, even each of us in our failings, in our disappointments.
We're raising money in particular for a non-profit organization dedicated to helping those struggling with drug issues in legal and medical and practical ways.
Please take a look at the link at the top of this ramble, please consider donating. I think Kristen would appreciate that this money may not only help people get the treatment they need, but may help people get the meal they need, the shower they need, the needle they need.