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 gothic 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 town ravaged by meth. I knew the walkers; they were my former students. I estimate I’ve lost 100 students to meth in the last 12 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 five year reunion this summer, the class of 2007 will be 1/3 smaller than when they entered high school. A different type of attrition than normally discussed with educators. My husband, the paramedic, comes home with stories of heart failure at 22 or trauma after fixing the roof or moving car engine while high. 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 it sometimes helps me to picture fighting the spread of tweakers by imagining ninja fighting and shotgun blasts to rotted brains.