This past week, all of the major news networks have been abuzz with Colorado’s decision to legalize pot—a law which took effect on New Year’s Day. As I watched a news reporter laugh and make some quip about a sales spike for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, I couldn’t help but think about another headline I heard four months ago today.
Man killed—fatally shot during a drug deal gone bad.
You hear stuff like this all the time on the news; not once do you ever think that the person killed could be your friend.
But in September of 2013, my friend, Mike, was the man who had been killed.
I met Mike in 2008 while working as a TrailWalker at the Anasazi Foundation. At the time, Mike was 15 years old and easily one of the funniest kids I had ever met.
He had come to the trail to overcome some personal challenges—to find himself as he hiked in the Arizona wilderness. Since Mike and I both enjoyed reading, writing, and good food (junk food), we quickly became friends. In the weeks that would follow, he and I would have a lot of life-changing conversations under the desert sun.
Shortly after our time on the trail, Mike had tagged me on Facebook as someone that had changed his life. I don’t know if he ever knew that it was actually he who had changed my life. He encouraged me to keep writing—an act that rippled into my decision to create this website.
Hours before he was murdered, Mike and about ten of his friends were hanging out at his apartment. They received a call from a guy from whom they had bought weed once or twice. He told them that he would help them buy some cheap, quality weed but they had to act quickly. Mike and his friends pooled their money and came up with $200.
They met in secret to aide the exchange. But what Mike didn’t know—what he couldn’t know—was that he had been set up for a robbery. Armed with guns, two men jumped Mike and his friend and demanded their money and car keys.
Mike refused. Then, in an attempt to defend his friend from harm, Mike put up a fight—and was shot.
Although he died a hero, I can’t help but think about the $200—my friend was killed, and another man is a murderer because of $200 and a bag of weed.
Mike, you were worth so much more than $200.
When I asked Mike’s mother if I could write an article about him, she wrote this tender and heartbreaking reply:
In sleeping and prayer and reflection, I would honored if you wrote an article about Mike. Anything I can do to encourage YoungWalkers to stay walking forward. Unfortunately my son made a decision in purchasing grass that put him in the situation that took his life. I acknowledge that he was, in one way, a hero who may have saved his friend’s life by fighting back. That is what I will hold onto. However, this pain is one I would not wish on any family. Mike’s decision to get high left a sister without a brother, and a mother and father without a son. If our story could plant any seeds for any family in any capacity, it would be a small step in making a positive influence from a terrible tragedy.
To anyone reading this article, I want to emphatically declare that your life is worth far more than $200—it is priceless. I promise you that you mean the world to so many people and that untold crowds of people would be devastated if they lost you. Don’t throw your life away to chase a fleeting high.
But more than that, don’t pursue something you feel like you have to hide from others. Whether it is legal or not, the things we do in secret will almost always be our undoing: the relationships we know are wrong, our discreet uses of the computer, the things we hide from our spouses, or our secret addictions that we just can’t seem to quit. Please end whatever you feel like you have to hide because it may cost you everything you hold dear.
On September 13, I went to Mike’s funeral. I stood in a crowded lobby and listened to the eulogy. It was beautiful. But I couldn’t bring myself to come up to the front and view Mike in a coffin. I just couldn’t.
You see, I have this image of the last time I saw Mike—and it’s the memory of him that I want to preserve.
It was 2008, and Mike had just been reunited with his parents in the Arizona wilderness. He was buzzing around camp, making sarcastic jokes and laughing about all the things he was going to do, the books he was going to read, and the sandwiches he was going to eat. He smiled and waved at me as I left. Battered and exhausted after a hard hike on the trail, Mike was now with his family. Mike was home.
That’s the last image I have of him—and it’s the one I want to preserve.
Mike, you’re home. You’ve reached your “Final D,” but I still have a ways to go. I look forward to the day when we meet again, my friend. Save some sandwiches for me.