‘You never deserved this’: My brother’s fight with addiction
Twenty-one-year-old Emma Long’s step brother Anthony Resti passed away of an overdose December 16, 2014—one of roughly 47,000 people who died from drug overdoses in the U.S. that year, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Since then, Pennsylvania has consistently been one of the most at-risk states for opioid addiction and overdose. Officials, advocates and politicians continue searching for ways to fight back. Recently, Gov. Tom Wolf kicked off an initiative to give out free doses of the opioid antidote naloxone across the state.
In this letter to her brother, Long shares her thoughts on finding empathy for those who struggle with addiction. This has been updated and edited with Long for publication.
My big brother. My best friend. My protector.
I always wanted an older brother. As a kid, I wished that I had someone to look out for me, make me laugh and teach me about life. At eight years old, that dream came true. My mom told me she was dating a man whom she had met at work. Skeptical and hesitant, I met the man she talked about and loved him immediately. When I found out he had a son, I was already in love.
Meeting you is one of my best memories. Immediately and without question, you opened your arms wide to me and welcomed me into your life and what you had to offer. We played the board game Sorry on the first night we met. You were so cocky that you were going to win. When I beat you, a look mixed with disbelief and pride swept across your face. I knew then that you were the best friend I’d wanted. You proved it again when I was 15 at the pediatrician’s office. You taught me how to not be afraid of getting shots by making me laugh until I couldn’t breathe. I was mad at the time, but since then, I can get shots without even flinching. I know you’re proud of that.
Over the years, we grew closer. We went through multiple family deaths together. You picked me right back up when I was alone, and you showed me how to look outward—way out, deep into the horizon, and find that bright, beautiful, shining silver lining.
But I can’t thank you for these things. Because you aren’t here. Four years ago, your battle ended and unfortunately, you lost. It wasn’t your fault. It was never your fault. Addiction is disgusting—it is cruel and it is relentless. Your efforts to get clean were courageous and beautifully moving. You couldn’t understand why this was happening to you and the fact of the matter is, no one could. Your booming laugh and welcoming arms never deserved this. Your future and your dreams and your passion for life never deserved this. Yet, as you would say, you kept moving right along. Because it is rarely up to us which cards we’re dealt in life. Sometimes, it isn’t even our choice how to play them. You saw life in different terms—the beauty of making those cards look like a royal flush.
It was so difficult to watch you suffer. It was so hard to fake a smile when I would see you sick. It was hard to walk into a rehabilitation facility and act like everything was normal. It was hard seeing you in a casket and saying goodbye to you one final time. Even after all of that pain, I know it is not even close to what you suffered. I cannot imagine the physical, mental and emotional toll this took on you. I will never blame you for this, and I will never blame anyone going through this for their addiction.
Don’t get me wrong, every once in a while, I scream and cry and wonder why you did this. Why you had to leave, why you lied, why you stole, why you came up to me while using and were confused when I got visibly upset. This is human nature, combined with a selfish desire to blame it on you—to blame the victims. But I know from experience that this is not correct and it is unfair. I know you wanted to change. I know you would have given anything to not be addicted and to have your old life back. After all, who wants to spend the rest of their lives simply trying to survive, without even getting the opportunity to live?
The person you are in my mind is not made up. It is not a fabricated, wishful-thinking version of the person I wanted you to be. I know who you were, vividly.
Anthony, I loved your laugh. I loved the way people gravitated toward you; how you made people feel welcome. The majority of songs on my playlist are directly downloaded by you, or inspired by your taste in music, which speaks quietly to your soul. After everything you went through, I don’t know how you continued to keep on going, to move right along. It’s unbelievable. I don’t know how you continued to think the way you did.
I talked to you the night you died. I told you to call me if you ever needed to talk, if you ever needed help, or just wanted to hear my voice. I wish you called sooner. I swear, since you left, the world is simply dimmer. December 16 has a different meaning.
It is difficult to express the feeling I get when I have something to tell you, pull out my phone, type in “An,” stop, press delete, and put my phone down. It is certainly a feeling of loss, but also a feeling of defeat. I cannot communicate with you directly. I cannot see your smile, I cannot see the tears that run down your face, I cannot hear your laugh, and I cannot feel your embrace. I think about you every single day and what it would be like to have you back, even for a moment. Being your little sister was an absolute honor, privilege and blessing for which I will never stop being thankful.
Save me a seat next to you, I will sit there forever. I’m positive I will have a lot to tell you.
My big brother. My best friend. My guardian angel.