I want to have a serious discussion with you today about zombies.
Although I like science fiction and fantasy, my identification with particular characters has never been strong. I’ve never felt the need to buy elf ears, vampire glitter, Star Trek uniforms, or Renaissance dresses. Perhaps my sense of whimsy is broken. But in the last decade, I have developed a fascination for zombies in my media: Day of the Dead, Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Walking Dead, etc. It wasn’t clear to me why. I don’t believe in actual zombies. They lack glamour for a good Halloween costume. I dislike the genres of horror and goth usually. And yet. I needed to laugh at them, to shudder at their sudden flesh-eating appearance on screen.
I eventually made the connection that I associate methamphetamine users with zombies. The pallor, the twitches, the inevitability of their decline after the changing bite, the lack of thinking, the walking. And maybe that link, even subconsciously, explains zombies’ popularity in pop culture rising alongside the methamphetamine epidemic.
I taught for six years in a very small, rural Western mountain town in Trinity County, California ravaged by meth. I knew the walkers; they were my former students. I estimate I’ve lost 100 students to meth in the last 14 years. I’ve also had two success cases, students who tried but then pulled themselves out to have families, jobs, lives. But there’s been a lot of deaths, too many promises to come clean followed by shaking, sweating, and walking the streets at 3 am, too many babies born too tiny and addicted, too many dropouts and lost teeth. At the ten year reunion in three years, the class of 2007 will be 1/3 fewer than when they entered high school 15 of the 45 are dead. A different type of attrition than normally discussed with educators. I read the news to discover my former students in stories about house fire fatalities, suicides, car accidents, missing persons, until I had to stop reading the news.
Meth may be slower than a zombie apocalypse, but just as inexorable. And more surprising. Students know meth kills, rots organs and teeth, makes you old at 20, dead by 30. And some still do it. We educate about how meth is different; they vehemently declare, “Never,” and then, somehow, walk the streets at 2am with a blank stare.
I don’t know how to stop the tide. Education isn’t doing it. I understand that when you’re young, poor, hurting, a quick, cheap joy is still a joy in a world where there are few. And addiction and long-term consequences seem very small and far away. Maybe the answer is fighting poverty as well as meth? I do know that when faced on the street with a former student that doesn’t seem to really see me, everything I know to do is inadequate to the scope of the problem.
I do know that it sometimes helps me to picture fighting the spread of tweakers by imagining ninja fighting and shotgun blasts to rotted brains. As gory and unrealistic as zombie fighting is in the movies, it seems simpler than fighting the reality of methamphetamine use in our communities.
Hopes for a bottle of blood on Halloween
My fingers stained, propylene glycol and red #40
Running down their faces,
I’ve made another batch of zombies.
I can do it in three minutes now:
Grey base, black eyeliner for scars, spray blood, liquid blood, black lipstick.
And I will open up myself, my fears.
For them, for students from the last decade.
Gone. Too self-destructive and reckless to make it to adulthood.
For Blank, burned alive in a trailer fire cooking meth.
For Blank, pistol to the temple in boot camp.
Blank, ran into a tree this last weekend. Drunk. Still.
Blank, shotgun to the head 10 years ago, screaming about incest.
Blank, bikini, 4-wheeler, and Bud Natural Ice.
Blank, 104 mph on 101.
Blank and Blank, hitchhiking in the back of a tweaker’s truck.
Blank, heart attack at 25. Just another way to say death by meth.
I doctor up my current students as zombies to talk about how much I fear their
Self-destruction. I’ll talk about the dangers of meth and drunk driving, that being
So careless with their lives is a form of suicide.
I make them look dead now,
hoping I can protect them from themselves later.
Who knew a bottle of blood could aspire to so much?
And tomorrow. Day of the Dead.
Someone once told me they pray to their dead, a village of their deceased, every November 1st. And I wrongly imagined that everyone I ever knew that died lived together in some Dia De Los Muertos graveyard bestrewn with flowers. Together. My grandparents feeding my former students cornbread.
I can’t shake that thought.
My village is young and stupid, and I loved them.