There are people we meet who make a mark and leave an impression that never fades. They enter with a simple introduction, but soon you realize their meaning to you is anything but simple. They become one of the most interesting people you’ll ever meet.
One name on my list is Timothy Ian Miller.
I first met Tim my junior year of college when he was a freshman. We attended a small school, but not so small that everyone knew everyone. Tim was one of the few exceptions. Everyone knew Tim — at least by reputation.
In our circle of friends, he was the doer of the impossible. He could participate in a stress-reducing water pistol battle during finals week that drenched every uncovered dorm surface from ceiling to carpet and somehow escape from it completely dry.
To others, Tim was a romantic. He gave roses to random girls, not to flirt — though he did — but because he wanted to brighten their day.
Some knew Tim for his talent. He’d walk up to unsuspecting pianos and start playing music. It was rarely a tune you knew, often one he wrote himself, but always one you’d never forget.
When I graduated, distance kept us apart, but little else. He was my link to friends left behind. He encouraged me, and when he graduated, I encouraged him. He wanted a career in music but felt frustration because others didn’t immediately see his abilities. The idea of paying dues and working his way up were an unexpected and devastating roadblock.
During one homecoming, our group reunited, but something was different. Rather than being the center of attention without trying, Tim’s actions felt forced. The best way to describe it would be to say that he was pretending to be the person he naturally was.
Our regular communication slowed as I moved to another city. It abruptly ended with one awful phone call from Tim’s mom. “He’s gone,” she said. Tim died of a drug overdose at age 25.
I remember driving to his memorial service and repeatedly asking, “Why?” I remember a church filled with friends and family. We were shocked. I remember his parents, searching for answers, wanting to know why no one told them he was using drugs.
The truth is that we didn’t know. In hindsight, the evidence is clear. Tim’s frustration and behavioral change were signs of a problem we refused to see. Many years later after his death, I still ask, “What if?” It’s the worst possible question because it has no answer.
Young addicts say they don’t start using drugs because of peer pressure or the need to get high. They use drugs to escape stress and anxiety. Tim faced that pressure daily, more so because he not only expected great things for himself, but because others expected great things, too.
We all think we’re invincible, until life shows us that we’re not. Tim hadn’t yet learned that lesson. It came at too high a price.