A Punch in the Heart: For Every Golden Voiced Ted Williams There Are a Million Peggys
Like everyone I too was moved when just this afternoon I saw for the first time the video of former addict Ted Williams that went viral in a matter of days topping more than 6 million views and counting. It is a story of redemption and hope and the promise that it is never too late to start again.
However, and in a somewhat ironic twist, the Williams story took on an added dimension shortly after I watched the roadside video in which I realized that for every Ted Williams, there are millions more who are struggling with addiction in relative obscurity. Like a punch in the heart, I saw a picture of a former friend from high school that resonated within me in ways I had never imagined possible.
Don’t get me wrong, I have as a radio host and writer come across many upsetting and tragic stories such as the William Melchert-Dinkel case, who is scheduled to stand trial for pursuing in “thrill of the chase” fashion, those most vulnerable in society and convincing them to commit suicide while asking if he could watch them take their lives via his webcam. He even talked a minor into cutting herself on-line.
The difference is that unlike the Melchert-Dinkel case I do not often have the benefit of a before story (or picture) as a means of providing a point of reference to just how dramatic a fall to which a person may have succumbed.
Nor is this one of those anecdotal exercises in which we somehow give ourselves the power to changes lives if only we had known . . . if only we had somehow gotten involved. We in and of ourselves cannot change lives, nor in the majority of instances can we prevent someone from doing something over which they themselves have no control.
What this is, and why I feel so compelled to write is as always due to circumstances that seem to converge and inspire. Think about it for a moment, if I hadn’t seen the Williams video this afternoon, then the picture of Peggy might not have hit home to the same degree.
While I would have most certainly been moved, it would have been a private revelation in which my thoughts and feelings would have been confined to a close circle of friends and familiar bygone acquaintances versus being a written oratory of a life wasted, or perhaps wasting away.
I remember Peggy well, in fact I think we may even have dated for a week or two – if you could call it that at 15, as a pretty, bright-eyed and energetic young woman who always seemed to wear a smile that could light up a room.
When I first saw the above picture my initial thought was that this must be Barb’s mom sitting with her on the couch. Then I read the caption . . . and what followed was the inevitable disconnect between what I was reading and what I was seeing. In a disbelieving frenetic toggle I repeatedly shifted my eyes from caption to picture as I tried to reconcile that which was irreconcilable.
I then immediately sent Barb a note asking her in as delicate and proper a manner as I could “what happened to Peggy.” Although I would then write almost apologetically, that even though “she does not look well,” I could still see “the old Peggy smile and twinkle in her eyes.”
Barb, who herself has always been a warm and considerate person, then told me how Peggy (who looks 20 years older than she actually is), has battled with alcoholism for some time and that as a result her health is quickly deteriorating beyond the point of return. Barb then indicated that she has always tried to stay in touch with Peggy whenever she returned home, encouraging her to turn things around . . . unfortunately to no avail.
With her mom’s passing a year ago however, Peggy’s situation has become worse, exacerbated by the fact that she is in a very dysfunctional relationship with her dad’s best friend (who is also an alcoholic). That’s right, her Dad’s best friend.
According to Barb, Peggy does call her from time to time, mostly out of loneliness and a concern for Barb, another irony that is not lost on her friend who believes that Peggy cares more about her, than she does for herself. This isn’t surprising, as Peggy has always had as Barb put it (and as I remember) a good heart. In these fleeting moments of honest lucidity when Barb asks her if she loves herself and is willing to change, Peggy breaks down in tears and then almost as quickly moves on to another less painful topic.
Like most of us, Peggy does not possess the awe-inspiring gift of a Ted Williams (after many years of unemployment, she is now working in a shoe store at a local shopping mall selling shoes, something she has done off and on since her early twenties). So while I am happy for Mr. Williams and wish him only the very best, I cannot help but wonder if our attention and interest in those that struggle with addiction is limited to individuals with an unused or undiscovered talent?
Think about it for a moment . . . what happens to the Peggy’s of this world? Maybe that is the greater message of the Ted Williams story – that through his special gift he gives us all pause for thought and a time to reflect on those of us who are for whatever reason wounded and most vulnerable. Maybe just maybe, we can can turn the good feelings of a Golden Radio Voice into a universal message of hope and a better tomorrow for everyone.