People make bad decisions, but do they have to cost lives? Dion aims to provoke change to pill-testing laws in this moving story representing true accounts from those who have lost loved ones to pill-related deaths in Australia.
Dion’s story is a fictional representation based on researching true stories, not an account of personal loss. If the subjects of drug use, trauma and loss raise any concerns for you, please contact the relevant support services listed here.
My stomach dropped. Out of the thousands of people present, I knew it could have been anyone. A stranger. As sadistic as it sounds, I’d be okay with that. People get intoxicated. They make bad decisions. Take something not knowing what’s in it, or take too much. You see it all the time. You become desensitised. My gut said otherwise.
I fought through the small crowd gathered around the tree, providing barely adequate shade to combat the heat. A glimpse of familiar blonde hair sent me into hysteria. I fell to my knees on the hard dirt. It was her. I fumbled, grabbing and shaking her by the shoulders.
She was drenched in sweat and breathing rapidly. “Did someone give you something?” No response. “Charlotte?” I cried. “Charlotte?!” “What did you take?!” I was slapping her face by this point, desperate for a sign, any sign, that my little sister would be okay.
It was Charlotte’s first music festival. She graduated in the November of 2018, and after much deliberation by Mum, I was allowed to buy her a ticket for Christmas to the festival I was planning on attending in January with my boyfriend, Xavier.
Although Charlotte was no longer at school, and in my opinion, should have all the freedom in the world, Mum is one of those parents of the belief that until you turn 18, you’re a child, and the day you do, you’re no longer her responsibility. Charlotte was 17 until March 2019. This meant she couldn’t even go with a group of friends. Xavier and I would have to look after her. Yeah right. I love her; I wasn’t going to patronise her.
The only word of advice Mum offered before we departed from the Gold Coast to Brisbane was: “Don’t have sex, don’t drink alcohol, and don’t do drugs!”
She may as well have said: “Don’t have fun!”
It was Australia Day. We wandered from Roma Street Station to Gregory Terrace, arriving at, on any other ordinary day, a muggy, undercover Showgrounds car park, one of multiple entrances to the festival, converted into gate security and segregated into three sections.
‘ADULT 18+,’ ‘YOUTH -18’ and those who splurged to become ‘VIP’.
A concrete prison, subduing the senses, armed to the teeth with volunteers, police and sniffer dogs. As people were processed, some escorted to private areas for a strip search, the line sluggishly shuffled forwards like inmates in a penitentiary.
“You’re good to go.”
We reunited with Charlotte as she emerged from the under 18 line, uncomfortably scratching at her wristband. “Leave it alone,” I laughed, excitedly ushering her through the exit to the Royal International Convention Centre, the sun gleaming through the glass doorways leading to the outside – the Showgrounds themselves.
I was taken aback by the fresh air and the sun’s smiling warmth, typical Australian weather. “OH MY GOD!” She exclaimed in awe. It was like walking into another world. A better world. You can be whoever you want to be for a day, assured by the fact that you share at least one thing in common with everyone around you—a love for music. It wasn’t my first festival, but I never tire of that experience. Charlotte was ecstatic.
“The food!” She shouted, running towards the line of stalls. Foods of all different kinds and cultures. Smoothies, hot dogs, donuts; Mexican, Greek, Italian; even a truck dedicated to Mac and Cheese.
“The fashion!” She gestured to everyone around us, emerging from the entrance and making their way to the stages hosting the first sets of the day. People from all different walks of life, expressing themselves through clothes they would never ordinarily wear. I couldn’t help but wonder who they were on a day-to-day basis. University students studying law, medicine, science. The future of Australia.
Girls clad in body paint and glitter head-to-toe, some of them taking the less-is-more approach by choosing underwear as their outfit. Others wore cropped jeans and converse, there were even Victoria’s Secret Model fans wearing flower crowns.
Even guys were embracing the opportunity to be flamboyant, pairing vibrant, patterned party shirts with various styles of shorts, or for some of the more confident blokes, no shirt at all. Mum would be outraged by their lack of sun safety.
“Okay, we get it,” Xavier blurted out, amused.
“Where to first?” I asked.
They both simultaneously spat out opposing answers.
We agreed Charlotte didn’t have the same taste in music as us, so we’d split up and meet at a designated point near the main stage later in the afternoon. I trusted her to be safe. We bounced from set to set, revelling in seeing the artists we adore live, downing a few drinks and breaking a sweat while we were at it.
Eventually, the sun crept down, signalling it was time to reunite. Except, we couldn’t find her. She was nowhere to be seen at the spot we agreed to meet. We strategically studied the setlist to determine if she might have had her head in the clouds, jamming out somewhere and didn’t realise what time it was. That led us to the stage on the other side of the Showgrounds. I spotted the crowd around the tree halfway there.
Xavier had to pull me away so the Red Frogs could get her to the medical tent. I never left her side, even the ambulance ride to the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital. I was informed she was suffering from hyperthermia, possibly in response to prolonged, hot, humid weather. The coroner’s report stated it was induced by MDMA. She went into cardiac arrest at the hospital and was pronounced dead.
I felt a lump in my throat. I couldn’t breathe. I tried to fight it.
And then, it all came out, like a dam wall collapsing. Except, this was a tsunami of tears. Not just sobbing and shaking. A guttural cry. A roar. A plea. Oh god, please. Why her?
The guilt still haunts me. Did she know what she was taking? Did someone spike her drink? There was no pill testing at the festival. No one to help her make an informed decision. Not even her sister. You always think, these kinds of things could never happen. Not to me. Not to anyone I know. Until it does.