This is a picture of me and my best friend of over thirty years, Craig Ashton Johnson, taken at my first wedding where later that day, he made the opening welcome to our gathered guests. He was sober and healthy and happy and everyone there was aware of the critical role he played in my life.
There was not one person who ever met Craig who didn’t love him instantly. He was THAT person to an infinite number of people, so when just yesterday I was charged with contacting his East Coast friends to let them know that he had been found dead in a hotel room somewhere in Los Angeles, the list of phone calls and e-mails to those in his life became longer and longer and longer.
The first call I made was to a dear friend of his. When she picked up the phone, one of the first things she said was, “Is this the call?” Another friend, just a few hours later said the exact same thing. We have been waiting for “the call” for years.
Crystal meth, the most insidious of drugs had turned him into a COMPLETELY different Craig. The last time I saw him he was in a rage that made the veins in his neck pop out. I was the recipient of that rage and it ended our friendship. For a little over a year, I hadn’t reached out to any of his friends to find out how he was doing and I absolutely felt and still feel okay with that decision. So, just last week when a friend of his forwarded me an e-mail that clearly described the worst of his downward spirals there was no question in my mind that “that call” would be coming very soon.
Craig made the very deliberate decision to end his life. Without going into details, because in the end how it happened would haunt and devastate too many people, it actually took someone else to point out to me the parallels to my mother’s own suicide exactly thirty years ago. They were both a long time coming and in the end, although it seems heartless and callous to say, there was a great sense of relief.
The reactions on the phone from his dearest of friends were varied. Those of us who had been in the trenches of his addiction for so many years reacted like me–numb, relieved and guilty that we couldn’t cry. Others sobbed and couldn’t speak. We all began posting pictures and tributes on Facebook that have made us all smile and tear up. He was a magnificent person.
He was “Uncle Craig” to his friend’s children. He drove them to supermarkets and let them pick out all the candy they wanted. He loved animals. He loved the Stones. He loved Elton John. He chain-smoked and drank coffee by the gallon. He loved Honeycomb cereal. He was brilliant and had a memory like an elephant. He spent his weekends catching up with all of his friends on the phone. He would devote hours to us all. He was the funniest person I knew.
I will never get to drive cross-country with him and sing our way through every Elton John album from beginning to end. There are so many ‘nevers‘ for so many but we all did what we could to make everything a possibility. We all did everything we could.