‘He was my brother:’ In small towns, every loss hits home 00:00

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‘He was my brother:’ In small towns, every loss hits home

Wesley Josselyn grew up in a rural Vermont town that most people only visit. However, the isolation of small towns makes them hotbeds for the opioid epidemic.

Did You Know? Tap to expand
Fact: More than 81,000 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States in the 12 months ending in May 2020, the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a 12-month period. Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Otis Gray: There’s a real romanticism about growing up in a rural town, like the one I’m from in Vermont. You spend your summers fishing and climbing trees in a landscape people travel just to look at. But – the isolation that makes these places special also drives people to opioids that get stronger every year. And in tight communities where you know everyone’s name, every loss is one that hits home. I’ve got a lot of friends who know that loss, and I tagged along with one of them while he went fishing at a local dam.

Wesley Josselyn: I always lean back on fishing for every issue I’ve ever had (laugh).

All the issues around small towns and stuff, and everybody knows everybody, everybody knows everybody’s business – it’s an easy way to get away from everybody and go out by yourself and. . .

Everything else just fades away at that point.

Hi, I’m Wesley Josselyn. I’m from Belmont, Vermont. I’m a carpenter. And … big into fishin’. 

My father used to take me and my brother out to these local lakes and paddle around in the canoe and he’d set us up with rubber worms or nightcrawlers – some of the best memories I’ve ever had was fishing.

Growing up around here was uh … amazing. Being able to just run wild in the woods and not have to worry about anything. I’ve been all over the place and it’s kind of hard to find a spot that’s just like home. Everything’s a lot simpler here. 

But … when things change here it’s … pretty drastic for everybody. 

Growing up in a small town where there’s really not much to do other than go hang out with everybody – a lot of people get lost in it. Back when we were 15 and 16, we always hung out with the older crowd just because there’s not many people around here and everybody just hung out together. The older generation was showing my generation how to do bad stuff (laugh) and we picked up on it pretty quick. 

Josh (Dave’s Twin), Wesley, and Dave on a salmon fishing trip.

When I first saw someone overdose, it was a party where everybody was drinking. I didn’t really understand what was going on at the point in time just because the guy was acting very erratic and was non-responsive and stuff like that. I honestly thought he was just really drunk. Uh, ended up no he wasn’t. He overdosed on heroin that night. 

He survived it. And I think that was his clerical moment in life where he needed to stop that cause I don’t think he’s touched the stuff since. So. It’s good on him but … people around my age are not surviving overdoses. Addiction is a pretty crazy thing around here. 

I think it’s just the lack of stuff to do and the boredom, to be honest. It’s almost on like a couple month basis. I’d say under a week ago, a girl I went to high school with – she was a couple years younger than me and she had a bad heroin overdose and … she didn’t come back from it.

It’s heartbreaking honestly cause … You have your friends. You have your people around you that can help. I portray that to everybody I know that still does that stuff that if they need anything from me, anytime of day, I will be there 100% of the time because I’ve lost too many friends to this stuff and it’s getting old. 

One of my best friends passed away. From like childhood best friend, like grew up together. Almost been two years since his passing. Yeah …  

Dave was uh … a very interesting individual. I mean that kid was full of life. If that guy walked into any place, everybody knew who he was. Everybody loved him, and just … great friend. He would do absolutely anything for anybody. 

He was the nicest person in the world but if … but he also had that side, if you were on his bad side … hoo! That boy, he was a hell of a fighter. He was probably what – 5’7’’, 5’8’’? And maybe 140 pounds soaking wet. I mean, he would go toe to toe with anybody. I mean, 6’5’’, 300 pounds, he wouldn’t even think, wouldn’t even get a second thought – he would still go after ‘em.

I never saw him lose. 

I ended up going away to college and coming back and – I knew he was hanging out with the wrong crowd. I tried getting back in touch with him quite a bit, but uh … he was too caught up in it. 

First time I saw him actually on it, he actually wouldn’t even look at me. Like wouldn’t even look me in the eye. I think he kind of knew I could see it. He looked rough. I tried getting him to stay with me just because I knew I would do my damnedest to get him out of it. I talked to his brothers and they knew about it. That following weekend actually we tried doing a small intervention with him but … I knew it wouldn’t work just because I knew how Dave is – or Dave was. 

He was very headstrong about everything he did. And I knew just from the look of him and how he … he just didn’t look like he was ready to get clean, and the one thing about this drug – you can’t help somebody who doesn’t wanna be helped. 

He did get clean for quite a while. Like, we went on a salmon fishing trip over in New York maybe a month before he passed. And he looked amazing. Just regular old Dave, happy as hell, runnin’ around, runnin’ his mouth just like he always did. (laugh)

We landed a lot of fish. Had a lot of laughs. 

Honestly, I think the last thing I said to him was on that trip. I gave him a hug and told him to drive safe the rest of the way home. 


Sad stuff.

The amount of people that showed up for the service … we were in a giant church and it was probably 10, 15 degrees outside. There was literally probably another 300 people outside that couldn’t even make it into the church. 

Just the joy that kid brought to everybody … 

I see his twin brother almost daily. I see his younger brother almost weekly. Like I honestly, I still drive down the road and if I see a silver Ford Ranger I like, get excited and then I, then I … it registers in my head that he’s gone. 

Been almost two years now and it’s just … for some reason I think he’s still around but he’s not. 

I wish I could’ve helped. I wish he’d of called me and … I don’t know. I don’t think I’ll ever be okay with it. 

Like, I still go salmon fishing every year and there isn’t a single time I go over there and not think about the weekend that we had over there, I mean … The exact spot we were fishing, I try – definitely try to stay away from.

It’s just one of those places that … 

I don’t like going back there. 

He’s my brother. 

It’s good to remember the good times. But, it’s tough. Small towns like this – everything’s just tied together with all the good and bad memories but – you gotta hold on to those good memories. Cause he’s all about a good time (laugh). And he wouldn’t want anybody feeling bad about it. 

It’s just not the same without him. 

Otis Gray: For iPondr, I’m Otis Gray.

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