The silent killer

I was the kind of teenager who broke lots of rules. I snuck out at night, stole my mom's car, had a string of boyfriends, and dabbled in drugs and alcohol. I chose not to abuse inhalants like fumes, solvents, and gases.

Because of my uninformed choice, my mother didn't have to do what my best friend's parents did; she didn't have to bury one of her children.

Not a day goes by that I don't think about Christina. She was wild and beautiful and strong and brave. She laughed loudly and without fear. She smiled at the world, yet knew how to kick its ass when necessary. She had long red hair and a face full of freckles. She was a free spirit. And she was dead at 18.

Christina changed my life.

Before her death, I thought of huffing as something silly and pointless. I would laugh at the boys in my gym class who kept bottles of Freon tucked in the inside pocket of their coats, roll my eyes when they'd huff and then talk in droning voices with spittle pooling in the sides of their mouths, and shake my head at their glassy eyes. I thought nothing of people inhaling "Rush" at a party or a friend's house. It didn't occur to me that it was more than stupid that many of my friends chose to hang out at closed convenience stores to huff gas fumes.

I never stopped to think those silent, noxious fumes could kill me. My mother certainly had no clue she should be warning me about inhalants the same way she beat me over the head with warnings about drugs and alcohol.

I didn't know. I chose not to huff the same way I chose not to experiment with hard drugs or pills -- because I was scared. But my best friend was braver than me and she made a different choice. I didn't know I should stop her.

Christina died in August 1994, just a few weeks after her birthday. She died from complications from flash burns incurred after huffing in a car with the windows rolled up. She lit a cigarette and the air in the car exploded. She survived for nearly a month in the NC Jaycee Burn Center, but ultimately lost her battle.

Today, one in five teens in the United States have used inhalants to get high. One in five. If you have a child, you have to learn the warning signs and talk to your children about inhalants. Most of the kids I knew who huffed started as young as 10 or 11. At Christina's memorial service I met a girl my age whose twin brother passed out after huffing glue, vomited in his sleep, and asphyxiated. He was 12.

Inhalant abuse is serious and it's deadly -- and it's legal. Your children can find inhalants in your home or buy them without hassle at any store. They could die the first time they try it. Know the signs of inhalant abuse and arm your children with the knowledge of how dangerous huffing can be.

You'll never regret that talk.


  • Sarah

    I had a response written but it timed out when posting...thank you for writing this. Christina's death could have been prevented, and so could have Andy's. The sad part is that Christina knew Andy, and knew what happened to him. I always hoped that if there was any good that could come out of his death it would be to teach others the lesson that these things can, and will, kill you. Before I read your next to last paragraph I was going to respond about my brother - but you got that covered too. Thank you Kelly.

  • Amy

    Christina and I didn't know each other until driver's ed and she was my driving partner. I remember little about driver's ed, except that she and I were both not the greatest drivers in the world. There was also a guy driving with us who grew up on a farm and "could drive anything" according to him. She and I would sit in the back seat and roll our eyes as BS'ed his way through! She was quite a character and made driver's ed a little more tolerable. Her death was such a tragic loss that just didn't have to happen.

  • Amy

    Part of my comment was lost...

    When Andy died it was the first time someone "my age" that I actually "knew" died. It scared me so bad that I never tried a drug...ever.

    Thanks for this post! It has reminded me that I need to have this talk with my step-sons. We talk about drugs and alcohol and sex, but we have never had this conversation!

  • amber_mtmc

    Wow. I am shivering after reading this post. Thank you for making me aware.

  • Draft Queen

    I have such an internal battle with knowing all the drugs and choices my kids will be faced with.

    I never got into huffing, but I was an early adopter to other various drugs and alcohol.

    And I'm doing everything in my power to make sure my children don't follow in my footsteps.

  • Cheryl

    I don't think I even knew about huffing as a kid. If any of my friends did it, I wasn't aware. And honestly, I don't think I would have thought anything of it if they did. Thank you for sharing this, Kelly. I'm so sorry about your friend.

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