Editor’s Note — This is a story about late Rocky Fork Lake area resident Jesse Parks and how his family decided to turn the tragedy of his death by a drug overdose into something positive. It was written in first-person by Jeff Parks, one of Jesse’s uncles.
We always fell for Jesse’s disarmingly enjoyable social skills. He often led his way into a room with a wry smile and his frankly dashing good looks, and in a million years you would never understand that our Jesse essentially “walked up hill” his entire life.
Jesse’s “details” reveal a too-short life. Born in early 1981 and passed on the last night of 2016. There is nothing pretty about his death — somebody sold him street drugs that were not what he intended to use. They were laced with Fentanyl and it did what it does and it stopped his heart for good.
We want folks to know that Jesse had a good heart, a challenged life, an unfortunate and awful demise. And we are hurting as his family — as are far too many of our American brothers and sisters.
Jesse was diagnosed at 16 with complex mental health issues including bipolar disorder, and this was just piling on because he was previously found to have significant learning disabilities.
There are many ways to peer into another’s life, but here we just want folk to know of some of Jesse’s challenges, because they are so unfortunately common these days among us all.
Like the day his mother watched as her son appeared oddly in front of the refrigerator, reached in and grabbed an opened bottle of wine, and started guzzling it down, something he had never done before.
When questioned, he simply said: “I just wanna change the way I feel.”
A key component of Jesse’s entire time with us was just that — battling both prescribed and street drugs — and sometimes the doctor’s prescriptions produced imbalances and erratic results that none of us would wish on our children.
Jesse grew up in St. Louis, and his mother recalls that on four or five occasions she would sink in her heart to find her son had been out walking, and walking and walking, to the point his feet were blistered, and all the while with no destination whatsoever and no ability to stop “walking uphill.”
Like many young American men, Jesse was also drawn to weapons and we chose to disarm him over and over — four or five guns, several large knives — because we knew that while Jesse was not violent among us, it is a known byproduct of his challenged “tool kit.”
And about that tool kit… One of the things not always revealed in thoughts about the challenges of anyone struggling with mental health issues is that they are constantly presented with a world for those of us with fully functional tool kits, and routinely are expected to keep up when that is not as simple as one would hope. In Jesse’s world, that meant a lot of criticism, a lot of “what were you thinking?” a lot of “keep up!” He never wore a sign reading, “I’m not equipped like you. Be advised.”
We all have memories of interacting with Jesse when we were expecting him to “keep up” when it really wasn’t his option. They are painful now that he is gone and we deal with our failures to Jesse as they float back in memory from time to time.
At one point, in dealing with our frustrations, we came up with a plan. Jesse had always been good with food. In our family, we have occasional cook-offs, and Jesse won the very first one we had. He was also good at grilling. When Jesse had a full grill of chicken wings, you didn’t want to miss out.
So we decided we would build him a food truck, and he would handle whatever part of the operation that suited him and finally he would have a way to support himself for the future.
The truck was a special gift to Jesse from his mother, Laura Parks, and no expense was spared. It was a mobile creperie, with shaved ice and coffee and smoothies, and we were all thrilled to see him eventually driving the big blue food truck on the streets and highways of Los Angeles, California.
But the story line we hoped for just didn’t pan out. While battling mental health issues Jesse also turned to street drugs, and it was revealed to us in unfortunate moments and examples that Jesse’s issues were actually getting worse as time progressed. It is a very common story among young men diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
To summarize, the truck was eventually pulled from Los Angeles, Jesse moved to the Rocky Fork Lake area among family, and then we lost him forever.
So his mother grieves. His family grieves. His daughter, now 11, grows up without her father.
As Americans, aren’t we all grieving today? Half a million COVID-19 deaths, police shootings, shootings of police, the list goes on.
So what do you do? Because the answer is not to crawl into a ball and hide.
In our case, we found a way to address our grieving. Jesse’s truck needed a new home, a new job, and we finally decided not to sell it but to donate it to somebody somewhere who would give Jesse’s truck an appropriate mission.
We happened to catch a story on NBC News with Lester Holt about the Lucille1913 organization in Houston, Texas about two brothers’ efforts that resulted in over 200,000 free meals delivered in crisis. When approached, Jesse’s mom investigated and immediately agreed that this would be the new home for Jesse’s truck. Her brothers drove the truck from Southern Ohio to Houston — a road trip born of love of family, love of a grieving mother, love of Jesse.
Editor’s note — The truck was driven to Houston in April by Jesse’s uncles, Jeff and John Parks, and delivered to another person battling mental health issues. A story about the truck recently aired on NBS News with Lester Holt. The story can be found on Youtube.