Sometimes there are stories you just aren’t equipped to tell. The one that became “The Patron Saint of Flatliners” (published in Mysterion, Patreon exclusive until March 28, 2024) is one of them.
I wrote the earliest version of it the summer after my best friend lost a young member of her extended family to the Vancouver drug toxicity crisis.
It wasn’t really a story at that point—just anger and cursing and chaos on a page. Unpublishable. I never expected to come back to it. But in 2023, I encountered Seanan McGuire’s works and found in her Ghost Roads series a surprising parallel.
Perhaps my strange, admittedly somewhat twisted form of processing/coping mechanism had produced something that would connect with readers after all . . .
But in connecting with readers, in taking something that I wrote for my own reasons and offering it to the world, I find myself concerned that fiction may be mistaken for fact.
So permit me the indulgence of straying into facts for a moment, starting with this:
I never met the girl who died. I know her only through second-hand accounts.
A scattering of stark snapshots of her life are here. Her truth is not.
I can’t tell you what it was like to be her. What her hopes and dreams were, how she thought about the future, God, herself.
I can tell you that, while she experienced hardship and betrayal, while she made choices you may not agree with and that she herself expressed uncertainty and regret over—according to my friend who was working to help her in her final days—I didn’t nearly capture her rage and desperation.
Nor the fervour of her religious practice. In life, she was a devout Catholic.
So, while this story does not, cannot, offer full and meaningful representation to that girl or the (many) other victims of the drug toxicity and opioid crises (please seek out survivors’ first-hand accounts and art for that!), it is perhaps in the area of faith that it falls most short.
In portraying an angry, questioning, alienated protagonist railing against God for her isolation, I fear I have crafted an engaging fictional narrative, but reinforced popular, comfortable myths.
There are convenient untruths that we all cling to at times. “Bad things don’t happen to good people.” “People get what they deserve.” “Overdoses happen to those people and we are not those people.”
Popular myths, modern myths, religious myths, even, depending on the context. Nice people, nice families, educated people, professionals, women, students, children, good church-going folks, stable married couples, middle class households . . . immigrants. Believers. Catholics. Pentecostals. Baptists. And so on.
Pick your label. It still won’t protect you and yours.
The truth is that drug use, experimentation, dependency, addiction, poisoning, overdose, all of these can and do occur within the Church, to Christians, to nice people, to our loved ones, to us. They are not, in and of themselves, a mark of “godlessness.”
This story—both the real life story behind the fiction, and the linked piece—also highlight intersecting marginalizations.
While I think it’s important to take this moment—particularly as this piece was first published by a faith-affiliated market—to challenge Christians and religious communities, along with the “comfortable majority,” to recognize their own vulnerability, it’s also desperately important to stop...