IN THE VOICE OF HIS OLDER SISTER
If the last year of Justin’s life taught me anything, it’s that the universe is always speaking to us; we just have to listen. For much of 2018, Justin was doing his best at sobriety. Not perfect maybe, I just recently learned, but certainly the best in my eyes at the time. Enough so that I let him stay with me for several days that summer. Him not being able to stay with me was a hard boundary that I upheld for many years, so allowing him into my home was a huge step, and man, we had the best time. He was just so much freaking fun. Pain in the ass, for sure. A slob, oh my gosh, my poor OCD clean freak self. But I let all of that go because I was just so happy to have him clean, sober, and with me in my home. This video is from that visit; we had just gotten back from the pool at my gym. While there, he went to get me and my friend Tina water from the snack shack. After being gone for a very long time, Tina asked, “Where did Justin go?” And I said, “He’s probably charming some girl he met en route to the snack shack or making a new friend.” Sure enough, from across the pool, I see him walking back, shit-eating grin on his face, and thought, “What in the hell did he do?” Waters in hand, he walked up and told us that he had met a new friend, the young kid working the entry booth at the pool. They were talking about their love of music that entire time. I just rolled my eyes, looked at Tina, and said, “Told you.” That was Justin. He could make a friend anywhere, and the ladies loved him. His charm was undeniable.
Like a needle in a haystack, I found this video while looking for pictures for his services, and it was like finding pure gold. I have this saved in like 20 places and guard it with my life because it’s the brother that I loved: clean, sober, and FUN! I remember this moment like it was yesterday. I remember him doing this, “I love the universe, and the universe loves me back,” while hugging himself and finding it so funny that I made him repeat it so I could capture it on film. I was always wanting to capture moments with him, knowing they could be the last. He didn’t seem to mind that and appeased me every time because, well, he knew I was right.
Justin Grant Fox was the youngest of us four kids and the best of us. That may seem like a strange thing to say, given that he’s overdosed and died. But it’s the truth. Had he had a chance, he would have outshone all of us for sure. He was the purist in mind, spirit, and soul. He was the most authentic in his heart, without trying, and could have been incredible had drugs not taken him. He was the most loving, the least judgmental, and the most fun. He was genuinely the most beautiful person you could imagine, times ten when he was sober. As an older sister, I looked up to him and tried to embody his kindness and confidence always.
On drugs, though, he was ugly, toxic, criminal and often unforgivable.
When Justin was born, he was everything to my older sister and me. It was like having the best play date every day, and between him and James, we were in heaven. Justin was a precocious little one, launching himself out of his crib on the regular. All you’d hear is a -THUMP- and we’d know he was out and needed to be corralled like a wild animal. As he got a little older, he was just so freaking cute - bushy blond hair and big brown eyes - and the most precious smile. And then, as he got juuuuust a little bit older, he became a bandit. Any time we tried to change his diaper, or as he got older, his clothes, he’d bolt out of the house naked and run down the street, laughing at us trying to catch him. He’d do this in the summertime, so tan that his butt would be the only white part on him. Because of this, we nicknamed him angel butt...for the rest of his life.
I don’t know exactly where it went awry. I’ve heard that Maggie, his ex-girlfriend, started him on heroin, but he introduced her to something else. Who knows? Who cares? I don’t even know if Maggie is still alive. I found pictures of her recently on my hard drive, and my stomach turned. Not because I’m angry with her, no. Because I missed it, they were in my home all the time, and I missed it. How the hell did I miss that?
When it started to go south, his daughter Kayla was very young, so my attention turned to her. I became the stand-in for Justin on the regular. And then, after a certain amount of time, it was just me, instead of him, and her amazing mother. This became the wedge between us that would drive deep and last almost until his death. I will never forget the day he said, “maybe you should have your own kid so you can stop trying to steal mine.” It haunted me for a long time. My response at the time? “Maybe if you weren’t such a dead beat fucking loser, I wouldn’t need to step in all the time.” It hurt both ways.
Justin apologized for this and a lot of other things that weekend. I apologized too. We had the opportunity to talk, be honest and forgive on our terms, in the privacy of my home. I was even given a chance to tickle his back just one more time, just like we did when we were kids. Yes, this 6 foot 2 grown man would still lay over my lap with his shirt pulled over his head and say, “Come on, tickle my back.” I could never say no, ever. It was something that I am so incredibly grateful for now, given the circumstances. I would do anything to have my brother back so I could love him differently, understand him better and support him more.
Being given that gift of time together taught me something. I realize now more than ever that it is something we all take for granted until someone is gone. Because of this, I have dedicated the rest of my life to helping those like Justin, and their families, so that they might still get the time that we lost.
If you are like Justin, please hear me now. You are worthy. You are loved. And your loss will carve a hole in the heart of your loved ones so big you can’t imagine. I know you don’t want to be this way. I see your pain. And I hope that you find solace and safety in a place like Herren Project, a community of people ready to love you and care for you the way you need to find wellness, happiness, and sobriety.
But most importantly if you are like me, I really want you to hear this. Being the family member or friend of an addict is incredibly painful. It is insanely difficult and confusing, leaving you feeling helpless all of the time. It is not just you; it is the same for all of us. You do not have to travel this dark path alone. You do not have to question what to do or when to do it. I wish I had found an organization like Herren Project when Justin and our mom were still alive. Perhaps the outcome of their lives would be no different, but our experience together while they were here breathing would have been. So I am here. Dragonolia is here to implore you to reach out. There is beauty in the darkness, I promise you. And if you reach for it, it will find you.