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Jesse V.

By Jesse's father, Ken

Jesse Aaron Vest

Gaithersburg, Maryland

Our youngest son, Jesse Aaron Vest, would have been twenty-six years old today. Jesse died of a heroin overdose four years ago, while attending the University of San Francisco. There are still times when I wonder if he has found peace.

Larry McMurtry is one of my favorite writers. He once portrayed a scene in which a farmer’s wife was sitting at her dead husband’s grave, remembering the time they had together. She wondered what the afterlife would be like. It might be pretty much like it is right now, she thought. Your spirit returns to a place where you were very happy in life, and you abide there forever.

Today, I wonder where Jesse’s happy place in life would be. There’s a photo of when he was a kid scooting along on plastic roller skates, holding onto his Mom’s shirt as she pulled him while riding a bike. She had a beaming smile wide as the sky and Jesse was smiling too, looking down in the shy way he had.

Maybe Jesse’s hanging with his buddies - the “alley rats” - careening on their hot wheels in a mad giggling race down to the street below, terrified moms standing at the end stopping them before they went too far.

Or maybe he’s at the 9:30 Club in Washington, DC where we saw some mighty good music - State Radio, Los Lobos and others. I can picture Jesse in the hours before dawn on an empty stage standing between two speaker towers. He straps on his hollow body and strums a bit testing the loop pedal, then his fingers move hitting lightning fast licks, rhythms, harmonies and leads pure and true.

Someone who lived on the same floor at the University of San Francisco told us he used to sit in his window and play. Kids who lived on Jesse’s side of the dorm would open their windows to listen to him.

Jesse was extremely imaginative. Like any boy he played with action figures, wrestlers, and Power Rangers. One day I walked in on him playing, only to realize that he was creating an action scene complete with dialogue for his figures.

Jesse was a special young man. He was intensely loyal and had a huge heart. And as one of Jesse’s friends put it, “He didn’t have an ounce of bullshit.” Jesse was a talented musician; a skilled hand drummer on the Djembe, and outstanding on guitar.

He played both acoustic and electric guitars, refusing to learn cover songs and instead worked on his own music. For years we would hear him in the basement searching for elusive chords. He had an amazing ability to play 2 or 3 different rhythm lines in perfect harmony, all maddeningly loud of course. We miss Jesse playing that guitar, no matter how loud it was.

Jesse was always a seeker, reminding me of that great Jimmy Buffet song, “He went to Paris searching for answers to questions that bothered him so.”

I don’t think Jesse had found his place in the world before he died. But he was leaning towards social work, helping those in need. He had just started volunteering for Project Open Hand a program to feed homeless drug addicts and people with HIV in the tenderloin of San Francisco.

After he died a friend told us that people often say things happen for a reason, but only the first part is really true. Things happen. Sometimes they’re wonderful, others break your heart, and far too often things are unfair. His mom Sue, his brother Jeremy and I have never given any thought to looking for some larger meaning. We miss him every day and we will always mourn him. You never get over the loss of a child.

Music was, and is at the center of our family life. We closed Jesse’s memorial service with a drum circle led by Wes Crawford, Jeremy’s long time drum teacher and mentor. Jeremy played Jesse’s black Djembe.

About the play

“Inside Job” is a new play about the heartache of heroin addiction. The play is the fictional account of one family. But it is the true story of hundreds of thousands of families in America. It’s our family’s story. Heroin kills. 129 people die from an overdose every day

Inside Job tells the story of Abby and Will Mason, whose son Wyatt dies of a heroin overdose. Their marriage is destroyed as they struggle to cope with the loss of their only child.

The play echoes actual events and interactions after my son Jesse died. But it is not biographical, nor is it an educational treatise on the dangers of heroin and addiction. It’s a play grounded in realism.

My writing process began with a spine and form for the play, holding the characters and the plot at arm’s length. I wrote biographies for the main characters before composing the story so they were human beings in their own right.

I believe live theater can be the purest form of communication. But it raises more questions than it answers about the human condition. When the art works, we find those answers and seek to resolve them on our own. I hope the play will spawn new ideas, and fresh perspectives will emerge to give us greater clarity about how to confront the Heroin crisis.

Finally, I wrote this play to strip away abstractions about heroin and make it real for the audience. I worry there are too many families and individuals who don’t believe it will happen to them. It can and it will. Denial is not an antidote.


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