Why This Photo From Christmas Eve 2017 Still Haunts Me…

Why This Photo From Christmas Eve 2017 Still Haunts Me…
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There is a photo in my phone that I took on Christmas Eve 2017. Three years on and I am still haunted by this photo.

(Unblurred photo and explanation of why it haunts me, below)

Around 5 p.m. on Christmas Eve my old friend–let’s call him Joel–called me up.

“Steve. I’m really sick, and so is Melody. We don’t have anything to really eat or drink and are both too sick to go out to the store.” Melody was Joel’s girlfriend.

“I’m a bit of a rush. Hannah and I are late heading out to do Christmas Eve with her family. Have you tried anyone else?” Joel was the type of person who liked to lean way too heavily on his friends for favors, to the point of it being unhealthy for all parties; he often took advantage of his friend’s generosity. I couldn’t be sure if Joel and his girlfriend were actually super sick or just a bit sick and Joel was being lazy.

“I tried my dad. He’s a piece of shit. My brother is too far and my mom can’t come ’cause the snow up there. Melody’s really sick, she’s throwing up and can’t get out of bed.” He may have tried those other people, or he may have just assumed their circumstances and went straight to me. Regardless, I wasn’t opposed to helping, I just wanted to try to ween him off the habit of relying on me first.

“Sure. I’ll see what I have we have here and will text you in a couple of minutes.” We didn’t have much in the house then, but grabbed what we did. He’d asked for eggs and water specifically. I had a box of rice which I figured would be a hit. We had some leftover fast food which I also added to the mix, along with a bottle of seltzer and can of Pepsi.

I texted Joel a photo of what we were going to bring by.

A photo of food on a counter.

“Great. You can leave it with the doorman and either he’ll bring it up or I’ll come down and get it!”

Why it haunts me:

On Christmas, I called Joel to ask him how they were doing. He said they were doing fine, and feeling much better. His mom and brother had come over earlier in the day to open presents with him and Melody.

The next day I called again, just to shoot the shit. I can’t recall what we talked about but he didn’t mention anything about them being sick anymore.

On the morning of the 27th, I received a call from Joel.

“She’s dead,” he said starkly to open the call. I had heard what he said, but it didn’t quite register.


“Melody. She’s dead. I’m freaking out. What should I do? I slept in the bedroom and she went at about 1 a.m. to sleep on the couch, and she’s there now cold and blue with foam coming out her mouth. I just woke up; I’m freaking out! What the fuck do I do!?”

I told my old friend he needed to call 911. He knew that but was in shock. He hung up with me and called an ambulance, not that there was much need for that anymore.

That night of her death, after Joel had gone to bed, Melody had gone out in the living room, smoked heroin, drank some vodka, and took some pharmaceutical pills.

Even though she was only 22, Melody had a drinking problem and was scheduled to begin outpatient rehab at the start of the new year. Her intention was likely to have a last hurrah of sorts–one last big high–which turned deadly.

Two months before her death, Melody had her wisdom teeth taken out. In her past, as a teen she’d abused painkillers and told the dentist she didn’t want a pain prescription, but he gave it to her anyway. The opiod prescription had caused Melody to have a relapse of sorts. In the aftermath, police surveyed the apartment building’s security footage. The tape showed Melody, several times meeting someone outside for some brief moments and making exchanges.

Melody had likely been secretly doing heroin at night for about a month or so before her death. Joel, as big of a pothead as he was and always has been, was never into any harder drugs at all. They had only dated a year and a half, and he didn’t know she had a history of substance abuse problems beyond the drinking until it was too late.

The Photo:

The photo of the food I delivered to them on Christmas Eve night is still in my phone; I can’t bring myself to delete it. To many it might just seem like a mundane, ever so slightly out of focus photo, but to me it’s a haunting memory. Would the photo be as creepy if it had been taken at another angle with different lighting? I don’t know. Regardless, it’s still in my phone’s storage, and will likely stay there for a good long time, even if I switch phones.

The Real Melody

Melody’s real name was Melissa. Sometimes I use fake names when writing because it’s easier to personally detach and just tell the story. Other times to protect privacy, but in this case I want to let you all know this girl’s real name because she was a really lovely person. As much as this story focuses on her troubles, Melissa was sweet, beautiful, joyful and kind. She was the type of person who walked into a room and it instantly lit up. I didn’t know Melissa terribly well, but she is still missed.

R.I.P Melissa H. B. – August 30, 1995 – December 28, 2017

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Steven Richard

Steven Richard is the publisher here at Unruly Stowaway. He has written a memoir which will be released one day.