While looking through some old pictures a little while back I stumbled upon these. The inspiration for this story……..It’s painful to write about, but here it goes……..
I met her in a bar in Leadville, Colorado in the fall of 1999. She was a friend of a friend and I was immediately smitten. Nine years my junior. Vibrant, vivacious and beautiful. Her name was Ariana and I fell madly, deeply in love. She was from rural West Virginia, the land of moonshine and hollars. The daughter of two country doctors who practiced their profession for payment of whatever the poor country folk could afford. Sometimes cash, but more often than not they were paid in trade. Chickens, firewood, or work on their 500 acre farm seemed to be the norm.
After a whirlwind courtship I found myself on a plane to move her out to Colorado, and after a couple of weeks drinking moonshine, making love in the woods and seeing beautiful West Virginia we made our way back to Leadville.
In the 90’s most guys “imported” their women to the Colorado tundra. Most of the time you wouldn’t lose your girlfriend ,you’d just lose your turn. And if you were lucky she would let you back in line. This was the norm, and I used to have a pick up line back in the day. “Hey baby, nice sweater!” since you couldn’t ever really tell what their body looked like until you got them naked! I called it hunting “the elusive Rocky Mountain white buffalo.” I stabbed many but never killed one!
Well, here’s where the story really starts…… She was hot and she knew it and at that time there were really NO jobs for women in the tough, ramshackle town that sits at 10,000 feet above sea level. She took a job as an exotic dancer (yes, a stripper) at a high class gentleman’s club in downtown Denver. She would go with her friend to the city for two or three nights every week, and come home with a paper bag full of one’s, five’s, ten’s and twenty’s for plying her wares on stage in front of bald, overweight businessmen who had miserable lives. I was stoked! I had every mans dream girl all to myself….. A stripper chick! Little did I know that it was here that she was introduced to “Mr. Brownstone.” ( from the Guns and Roses song.)
It took me a while to figure it out. The paper bag got smaller and smaller with each passing week. Well, I’m not a stupid man and I’ve seen some things in my life. I may have been born at night, but not last night! It hit me right square in the jaw after finding a soda bottle cap with a little bit of water in it one day sitting on the floor of the laundry room. She was shooting HEROIN!
I knew right then and there that I needed to do something drastic and get her away from this beast. I thought I could fix her. So I packed up our s***, made her quit the strip club and moved us up to Steamboat Springs, Colorado where my dad was living for a fresh start. I took a job installing cabinets and she got a job waiting tables. I thought life was good again. How wrong I was!
Now I have had my day with drugs. And I choose not to live that way anymore. But in my 20’s and early 30’s I definitely liked to party! I spent many a night drinking my fill at the bar, maybe a little blow and a lot of weed. I used to think of myself as a “white Bob Marley” and smoked my breakfast every morning on my way to build some rich ass dudes house in wealthy Vail, Colorado. I had tried heroin a few times, but I always adhered to two rules. Number one. NEVER use a needle, ALWAYS smoke or snort it. Number two. NEVER do it more than once, then PUT IT AWAY for a WHILE! If you do it more than once you WILL get hooked. No if’s, and’s or but’s! I had seen way too many of my friends go down this road of self destruction, and I wasn’t about to join them!
Things went well for a while and I thought we were back on track…… But what I didn’t realize was when I’d leave for work she would jump in her car and make the seven hour round trip drive to Denver to meet “the man “and score some dope to keep her well. She was working at night waiting tables and I was working during the day setting cabinets. We hardly ever saw each other except when she would crawl into bed with me after her shift. When it finally became apparent that the change in latitude didn’t affect the change in attitude I didn’t know what to do……. So, after a lot of contemplation and realizing I couldn’t fight the monkey on her back solo I picked up the phone and called her parents. Surely two doctors knew what to do! Once again,WRONG!
They did what any loving parent would do for their child. They put her ass in rehab in Grand Junction, Colorado. But the sad truth is rehab doesn’t work for most addicts, it just gets them clean for a little while……
She got out and went right back to the love of her life. Heroin, not me! I was buying a washer and dryer from a guy and had the money in an envelope for when he showed up. She grabbed it along with my Martin guitar ( I had to buy it back from the pawn shop) and disappeared down into the bowels of Denver to get high while I was at work one day. After a few weeks the phone rang, it was her. She was living in a flea bag motel and stripping again to make money to feed her habit. I was pissed, but I still loved her and still thought I could “fix” her. So I jumped in the truck and went to Denver to scoop her up and save her.
This was when she went to rehab for the second and last time. Her parents got her a bus ticket. Her car was gone. Sold to feed the beast. I took her to the bus station, kissed her goodbye and hoped for the best.
Well, it didn’t work out so well. On the bus ride to the rehab in Pueblo, Colorado you had to change busses at the terminal in Denver. BIG mistake! If you’ve ever ridden a Greyhound you know that the terminals are usually in the worst part of town. I honestly thought she wanted sobriety, but while waiting for the next bus she scored some dope and went in the bathroom to shoot up. I guess she thought she could get high “one last time.” She overdosed, basically died in some filthy stall, and luckily someone found her and the paramedics were able to revive her. After a night in some hospital she eventually made it to Pueblo and started her second 90 day program there. Hopefully this would be the last. But, WRONG AGAIN!
The 90 days went by pretty quickly. I went to visit her a few times and was now working as a lead carpenter on a huge condominium complex at the base of the ski area. With 20 to 30 men under my direction I didn’t have much time to think about anything but work……. When she got out and came home I watched her like a hawk, hoping she would stay clean. I knew it was a long shot but you gotta have hope right?
My brother was getting married in Florida and I had to go. I was one of the groomsmen, plus, it’s my only sibling so attendance was mandatory! In hind sight I should have brought her with me, but instead I gave Ariana $200.00, the keys to one of trucks and said “Please feed the hound, I’ll be home in 5 days.” She dropped me at the airport and I jumped on the plane. This was the last time I saw her. April 1st, 2002. April fool’s day, and I was the fool!
Thinking back I know she had it all planned out. She wanted to die and leave the wretched addiction behind. She wanted serenity, so she took the $200.00, and the keys to the truck and dropped Tucker (my 160 lb. Newfoundland) at our friend Tanya’s house. She told Tanya that she needed to run some errands and would be back in a few hours to grab the dog. She never came back…….
The next morning I was crashed on my best friends couch back home on St. Simons Island where I grew up. My phone rang and it was Tanya. She told me what Ariana had said and that she never returned to grab Tucker. I immediately said she needed to go to the house and see if she was there.
At the time we were living on 60 acres up outside of idyllic Steamboat with an amazing view of “The Devils Causeway.” You’d cross “The James Brown Soul Center of the Universe ” bridge (real name, no bulls***!) and drive 14 miles up a dirt road to get to our place, so it took a little time for Tanya to drive there. About 30 minutes later the phone rang. Tanya said, “Your truck is in the driveway and I can see the TV is on. The front door is locked. What do you want me to do?” I replied, ” You gotta go in Tanya. The back door is never locked. I don’t even have a key!” This is when it the s*** hit the fan. She was dead. In the kitchen. Blue on the floor with a needle hanging out of her arm……..
I know this might sound strange, but I remember feeling a calm sense of relief when Tanya said, ” Chris, she’s gone.” Her pain and suffering was finally over and she was free…..And so was I.
Well, the cops and the coroner came. They searched the house and obviously found the rest of the heroin and a few needles. (Along with a few pounds of weed stashed in the closet.) Thinking I was a junkie also this cop tells me ,” Mr. Claps, you need to return to Colorado. We need to talk to you.” I politely said I needed to contact my attorney. I called him immediately, and he said, ” Chris, you stay gone for a while and let me deal with this. I’ll let you know when it’s cool to come back.” I took his advice and spent the next several (five!) months couch surfing at childhood friends , catching some waves when the surf was up, hanging at the beach, and building a few decks for beer money.
This is where I met the mother of my children ( that I’m now divorced from.) I saw her on the beach one day and said, “Hey cupcake. What’s your name?” The rest is history, and seventeen years down the road not a day goes by that I don’t think of Ariana…….
P.S. I just recently found out that Ariana’s younger sister Lizzy died of an overdose also while working in the medical field. What a tragedy, and I can’t even imagine how their parents must feel after losing two daughters to our nations opioid epidemic.