Walking into the classroom I knew that I was going to hear the story of Josh Levine again. The story of a dangerous mix of adderall and alcohol and the deadly effects that took Josh Levine from this earth. What I did not know was how much the story changes when told from the view of a grieving mother.
“You’re going to hear it from my perspective,” said Mrs. Buckner. She stands in the front of Mrs.Bonnie McGuire’s West Bloomfield High School classroom facing the students with a pile full of pictures of her son grasped in her hand. “He can’t speak, so I speak for him.” She begins to talk about being a mother of five boy and how she has watched them grow through the many different phases that childhood and adulthood bring. She then focuses on two phases, the high school and college part of her children’s lives.
Throughout high school her children were active in all sports; she was the “ultimate sports mom.” She watched her boys go to college and there is where she became aware of the excessive drinking on college campuses. Mrs. Buckner then forwarded to graduation day where her son, Josh Levine graduated from the University of Michigan in May 2014. She said, “Graduation was magical.” She talks of how her family was together and she could have not been happier. “Life is not about the big ticket events, its more about those smaller moments, these moments that make the tapestry to our lives.” Mrs. Buckner then explains how Josh took a job in Chicago, which he hated. Everyday he would say, “I hate it, I hate it. I want to quit.” McGuire even told him before he left that he would hate it. As Mrs. Buckner mentions her son she also describes his personality and how Josh, “hated to be incorrect on anything, he always had to excel.”
At this point the classroom is silent. Students are coming to the realization that they are not so different from Josh Levine. A boy who was raised in a good home, had a sports career in high school and college and was interactive in the community. As Mrs. Buckner explains the attributes of her son, each characteristic resonates differently with each student. Being a student in the back of the classroom I found myself numb. It is with overwhelming sadness that I begin to understand just what Mrs. Buckner is saying–that Josh simply made the wrong choice and it can and has happened to many others. That what happened to Josh Levine could happen to anyone, especially those who drink and mix drugs.
Mrs. Buckner elaborates on how her son was not an alcoholic or a drug addict. Like many others, he drank alcohol in excess in college and she thought he had grown out of that phase. After quitting his job that he hated, he felt on top of the world on July 18, 2014. “He was a big kid, popular, a jock.” He had thoughts in his head of coming back home to West Bloomfield to substitute teach until he had gotten his own teaching degree, explained Mrs Buckner. “He just wanted to have fun,” Mrs. Buckner said.
Then the hard part comes. Well, the hardest part: explaining how Josh died. Mrs Buckner shared how her son had so foolishly been drinking and using adderall all night in Chicago, and that by mixing adderall and alcohol, he had not known when to stop consuming alcohol. That her son, always having his phone on him had so stupidly left it at a friend’s apartment and he was alone on the street in a big city. He then passed out and the ambulance found him and resuscitated him on the spot. He was then taken to the closest hospital and promptly put in the ICU on life support.
Andrew, Josh’s brother woke up on July 19 and finding the absence of phone contact with his brother disturbing. Increasingly worried, he called his mother and Mrs. Buckner said, “I’m sure he’s fine.” Mrs. Buckner then recalls the last conversation she had with her son. A few hours passed and another call from Andrew worried Mrs Buckner. “If Andrew was worried, I was worried.” Hours later, Mrs. Buckner received the devastating call where her son Andrew said bluntly, “ Mom, they found Josh, He’s in the ICU. It’s really bad.”
In the car ride immediately after the call from her son, Mrs. Buckner sat with her head spinning. She knew nothing of Josh’s situation or condition. Only that her son was in a Chicago hospital and she needed to be there for him, now. Mrs. Buckner arrived at the hospital around 1am and when looking at her son laying in the hospital bed, full of tubes not moving, she knew it was over. “He’s gone, He’s not there.” This is how Mrs. Buckner described the sight of her son.
When she received more information about her son’s death, she was dumbfounded. “I knew it was a study drug, I did not know it was used as a party drug.” After mentioning this Mrs. Buckner then asked the class if there had been any situations that the students had been in where drugs had been abused with alcohol. The class was silent, then one brave voice spoke up. This student had said that they had been in a place where an MIP (minor in possession) was being threatened by a police officer. The situations of underage drinking have parents and adults in communities concerned. Mrs. Buckner asked the class to describe college campuses. The answers she got from students pretty much summed up the college weekend experience on game day. “Crazy, crowded , so many drunken kids.” After having the class identify what the effects of alcohol looked like, she then asked another question. “ Do you think these kids were raised by wolves? Do you think these kids would act like that sober? Do you think these kids were raised to destroy?” Then following up Mrs. Buckner says, “ all because they were not in control of what they were doing, and they have to live with those repercussions.”
Josh Levine is not living with these repercussions, but the family that he left behind is. Anyone can tell how hard this is on his mother and how strong she is as she stands up and uses her voice. Mrs. Buckner has been working to start a foundation to help advocate to students and parents, create an ad campaign that helps reveal the real dangers of drugs and alcohol and have students become the change. Mrs. Buckner makes it really clear to the class that she knows drinking goes on and she is not asking for unrealistic changes. Just for kids to realize the dangers and risks they are taking before they take that shot or pill.
To raise awareness for her foundation, she has a tagline, “It’s fun until..” Mrs. Buckner lets the students come up with the rest of the sentence. The answers students gave consisted of, “Black out, getting sick, car accident and death.” The class focused on the “Its fun until…you black out.” The class focused on this because you are not yourself when under the influence. You shift into someone else and can remember none of your actions when you come to, hours later. But the scariest part of the blackout is the part you cannot remember, because anything could happen to you or you could be doing something to someone else. Rape on college campuses has risen in rates and one of the problems is that binge drinking can provide the ideal environment. Women must be in control and be able to protect themselves at all times.” It’s a girl power type of thing,” Mrs. Buckner explains.
The class has now gotten more comfortable speaking out and interacting with Mrs. Buckner. From where I sat during the lecture, I could see the effect Mrs. Buckner had on the room and that she had woken up the students from the dream they had been living in. Drinking is dangerous, and adding drugs to the mix only raises the chances for death, rape or serious injuries. When students drink irresponsibly , they not only make choices for themselves but choices for their families and the people that love them. Mrs. Buckner begs us, “ When you hang up the phone after talking to someone you love, leave that conversation with I love you. Don’t ever fail to do that.” The silence in the room is deafening as Mrs. Buckner adds “I love you” were that last words she heard her son say.