This Hits Home

Mac Miller and Boys

Michael was likely in the fifth or sixth grade when he went after school to the Frick Park Market to buy an ice cream. Our neighborhood deli is an historic place. The building with the striped awning has been a corner store for generations. The prices are high and the selection is small, but the people who run it know everyone by name. I'd have to guess that at least half of their business is school kids who pour in after the final bell to get a blueberry slushy, a pop from the fridge, or an ice cream from the freezer. It's a tradition.

So Michael walked into the market one day and chose a Spongebob ice cream. He put it on the counter and the owner told him how much it was. Michael didn't have enough money. Dejected, he slumped his shoulders and reached to put it back in the freezer when a voice behind him said, "I've got it, Maggi. Put it on my tab." That voice was Mac Miller.

Malcolm McCormick grew up around the corner from my in-law's house, about a half mile from mine. He attended my sons' elementary school briefly and went to Taylor Allderdice High School in Squirrel Hill. He was a gifted musician with an ear for lyricism, and he followed his heart into a career of rapping. Say what you will about his genre, Malcolm, or Mac, as he went by, was talented. And his talent caught on.

As Mac's star climbed, he never forgot his Point Breeze roots. Two of his best songs, in my opinion, are about his childhood, growing up in Pittsburgh's East End. Listening to his songs "Blue Slide Park" and "Frick Park Market" makes me smile. Malcolm had a talent. He also had troubles.

It seemed every time I saw him over the past few years, he had a few more tattoos. And by the time I did a story on him for television, his arms were sleeved with ink that even crept up his neck. But beneath the body art was a babyface smile and such pretty blue eyes. I swore when I looked into them, there was a distance that made Mac seem far older and wiser than his years.

A few years ago, Joe and I and our five boys walked to Grandma's House for Sunday Dinner... a weekly reunion all 19 of us look forward to every week. To get there, we had to walk right by Malcolm's house. Michael saw him sitting on the porch and was star struck. I called up the porch steps and said hello, and asked if Malcolm would mind taking a quick photo with the boys. I think Michael wanted to kill me, he was so embarrassed. But Mac was quick with a yes and a smile. And after all those years, he remembered Michael as the little boy with the Spongebob ice cream. We would see Malcolm outside with pop star Arianna Grande, his serious girlfriend, from time to time. My Littles are in love with her. But for Michael, Mac's always been number one.

And that brings me to Friday evening. I was outside mowing the grass before the weekend deluge when I looked up to see Jack standing in the middle of the lawn. He looked odd to me. Expressionless, almost. I took my earbuds out and let go of the mower's handlebar. "What is it, Jack?" I asked, concerned. Jack's eyes looked almost as distant as Malcolm's had the last time I'd seen him. "Michael would like you to send him that picture you took, because Mac Miller just died."

I think all the air left my lungs. Did Malcolm struggle with drugs and alcohol? Did he hang with a different kind of crowd? Yes. But hearing that he had overdosed not far from my southern California home left me speechless.

It took me a few hours to find that photo. But here it is. My heart aches for Malcolm's mother, Karen, whom Joe had just seen in the hallway at Shadyside Hospital one day before her son died. I would love to grab her and hold her. I wish I would know what to say. But for the thousands of families just like hers, ravaged by addiction, there are no words. Just deep wounds that feel like they may never heal.

My son cried when Mac Miller died. My tall, handsome, grown up boy. He cried. A lot. I need to give him some space because I know he's not ready to talk. I just sent him a text that said very simply, "Don't forget this feeling you have. Know that your decisions have such an impact on all of us who love you. Make good ones, honey."

Drugs are a part of our society. That there's a chance any of our children can become ensnared by them is frightening. I know too many families that already have.

Losing someone as young as Mac Miller to something so utterly preventable is heart-breaking. I don't have a solution. In fact, I don't know what to say. Let's all of us hold onto the people we love a little tighter today. Let's count our blessings for one more day. One more 24 hours of normalcy. 1,440 more minutes of regularity without agony. And for all of you struggling with addiction? My heartfelt love and hope that you weather the storm and come out the other side to feel the sun again.

And for you, Malcolm? May heaven find you struggle-free. Please know that at least one young man back here in your hometown is broken-hearted that he'll never have the chance to walk by your front porch and see your smile again.

 


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