Tag Archives | Drug overdose

Fade to Black

In the process of packing up the house in anticipation of our move, I’ve unearthed boxes that have been stowed in the

July 1, 1999 blurb in the local paper

July 1, 1999 blurb in the local paper

farthest, darkest corners of the garage.  Boxes that haven’t been opened in more than 17 years.  The boxes contained things that belonged to my first husband – who, as I’ve written before, died of a drug overdose in a stranger’s front yard in June, 1999.  A lot of photos, including his old school photos dating back to early grade school.  Collector coins his dad foisted on him every year for Christmas.  A video tape of his first (and only) skydive.  An old blanket.  Old cards.  Books from his childhood.  Old schoolwork.  His wallet, which was on his person when he died.  Belongings found in his truck after his death.  Our wedding rings.

I boxed this stuff up after he died, and wrote on the boxes: “KELLY’S STUFF – SAVE FOR KEVIN.”  Kevin was two when his dad died, and I believed that it was important to save mementos for Kevin because Kevin would want them someday.  I assumed he would long for some connection to the man who contributed half of his DNA.

The last photo ever taken of Kevin and Kelly.  May, 1999, about a month before he died.

The last photo ever taken of Kevin and Kelly. May, 1999, about a month before he died.

As it turns out, though, Kevin has no interest in any of this stuff.  He has no memories of his biological father, and he mostly feels contempt for him, knowing that he was a wife-beater, a liar, an unapologetic manipulator, alcoholic, and drug addict who couldn’t or wouldn’t get his shit together, even for his baby son.  It’s true that I’m responsible for Kevin’s perception of his father, but it’s all based on pure truth, and if I have any regrets about being brutally honest with Kevin about Kelly, those regrets have only to do with how it has possibly shaped Kevin’s self-perception, and not with anything I may owe to Kelly’s memory.  I didn’t set out to poison Kelly against his dead father, but I always answered his questions with total honesty, and by the time he was an adolescent, he had a pretty clear picture of what life was like for me and for us when Kelly was alive.

After all these years, I still carry around bitterness and pain and anger towards Kelly for everything he did.  I don’t dwell on it, but the hard kernel of it in my heart swells when memories come to the surface.  I struggle to dredge up any happy memories (though I have no doubt there were happy times; it’s just that what good there was was way overshadowed by the ugliness that went on for so many years).

So, I don’t want his old stuff.  Kevin doesn’t want it.  And it occurred to me today as I tossed most of it into our rented dumpster (with the exception of the coins and the books, which are going to Goodwill) that there really isn’t anyone left who cares about these old mementos.  Kelly’s biological mother is long dead, his dad is dead, and his one living brother has made not even the tiniest shred of effort to know or connect with Kevin – his nephew! the one child of his dead brother! – in the more than 17 years since Kelly died (which tells me that he also doesn’t care).  The one living person who might care would be Kelly’s step-mother, but she’s got plenty of mementos already, and anyway, she cut me out of her life years ago.  So into the dumpster Kelly’s stuff went.

Maybe it reveals me as cold.  On some level, it strikes me as sad that a person lived for 33 years and died, and his memory is fading to black.  But mostly, I feel like, well, this is what happens when you live like a son of a bitch, leaving destruction in your wake.

The Nature of the Beast

Another one bites the dust.

As you’ve no doubt read or heard by now, actor Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead in his apartment this morning from an apparent drug overdose.  Reports say that he was found with a syringe still in his arm, and a few envelopes of heroin nearby.  He was 46 years old – my age.  Young.  Young to be dead, anyway.

These sorts of deaths – death by addiction – always strike a painful nerve inside me.  When Amy Winehouse died a few years ago, I was shaken by it.  Not because I was an especially avid fan of hers (but, man, could she sing), but because her youth and the manner of her death seemed like such a terrible, tragic waste.  It brought back vivid memories for me of a man pulling up in front of my house in a plain white, but official-looking car and informing me that my husband, from whom I had finally filed for divorce only two weeks prior, had been found dead of an apparent drug overdose in someone’s yard a couple of miles away that morning.  The news of Amy Winehouse’s death brought back vivid memories of years living as a virtual slave to someone else’s addictions.  More than anything, I think, I felt for her family; I understood the hell they surely went through watching her slow suicide.

I’ve never not had an addict in my life.  Loving somebody with an addiction is a special brand of hell.  What is so haunting about Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death is that he was apparently clean and sober for years.  And then – who knows why? – after years of sobriety, he fell off the wagon . . . and it ended up killing him.  That is the nature of addiction: there is no cure.   Like cancer, there is treatment, and there is remission.  But every addict is always a hairbreadth away from recurrence – from being swallowed up again by their beast, and taking every person who cares about them down with them.  Loving someone with an addiction means living with despair.  Loving someone with an addiction who is currently clean means living in a state of constant vigilance, always looking for signs of relapse, worrying about triggers.  Loving somebody with an addiction means living with a degree of anger and a feeling of impotence, because although we may recognize addiction as a disease, unlike cancer, there is an element of choice in it.  The anger comes in because it is difficult to reconcile choice and illness.  And, of course, because addicts tend to behave so hurtfully and destructively.

Addiction destroys so much.  It destroys trust and hope and potential.  It destroys relationships and lives.  Everyone who cares about a person with an addiction is impacted in some way by that addiction.  And for every celebrity death by overdose that results in a media frenzy, there are thousands – probably millions – of people unknown to the public who succumb to their addictions and take their loved ones down the very same road of cold, dark grief.


The Past Never Leaves Us

I’ve often joked to people that if you opened my closet, bones would come tumbling out.  All those proverbial skeletons, you know.  Although the term “skeletons in the closet” implies long-buried secrets, and I’m not a woman of many secrets, so maybe not a fitting term after all.  But I certainly have lived a life with some weird twists and turns.

Most everyone who knows me in real life or who has followed my blog for any length of time knows that I was once married to someone other than Michael.  I was very young when I got married the first time – 19.  What followed was a twelve-year volatile mess of a marriage that ultimately ended with my filing for divorce and him dying from an (presumably accidental) overdose of the drug to which he had become addicted and which played a huge part in the mess our life together was: cocaine.  Pretty much the only good thing to come out of that relationship was Kevin.  Kevin was two when his father died.  He has no memories of him, although Michael and I have both always been very open with him about this piece of his past; however, Michael is really the only father Kevin has ever known.

The breakup between me and my first husband was ugly.  We were in dire financial straits because he had run us so far into debt with his drug habit; there had been so much abuse and lying and just absolute destruction that the feelings on both sides were extremely acrimonious.  The last time I ever exchanged words with him was in court at the hearing for the restraining order I applied for against him.  He showed up in court at that hearing, not with an attorney, but with my mother.  Yes, my mother.  That’s a whole other story, but suffice to say that her choosing to show up in court on the side of the person who had so destroyed me was the final nail in the coffin of my relationship with her.  Anyway, out in the hallway outside the courtroom, standing together facing me and my attorney, my mother said, “Who’s going to protect Kevin from you?!”  And Kelly, my estranged husband, looked me in the eye and said to me, “You have no idea what’s in store for you.”  Those were the last words ever spoken to me by him.  I was granted my restraining order, and two weeks later, Kelly was dead.

The exact events that played out leading up to his death remain somewhat of a mystery; he died alone, and nobody has ever come forward to say that they saw him that night or were with him during any part of the night.  What was pieced together by the police was this: he parked his pickup truck at an apartment complex (where it was found about a week after he died; it took the police that long to locate it, and to this day neither I nor anyone else knows if there was any specific connection to that apartment complex: did his dealer live there?  Was he partying with someone there?  Or was it just a random place he chose to park his truck?), and proceeded on foot, ending up in a neighborhood (which also appeared to be random) about a mile away where he wandered up and down the street for a while.   Neighbors reported later of their dogs barking on and off at somebody.  He still wore the slacks and shirt and tie he had worn to work, but at some point he abandoned his shoes, leaving them in someone’s backyard (they were found a week or two after he died).  I vaguely remember being told by the police that they figured out he had wandered up and down the street because there were bloody footprints.

Eventually, he sat down on a low wall in someone’s front yard.  He collapsed and he died.  The time of death was later estimated to have been around 1:00 a.m., but he wasn’t found until later in the morning when the poor people who lived in that house came out to retrieve their Saturday morning paper (as I understand it).

Meanwhile, I was at home, absolutely fuming that he had not shown up for what was supposed to be his first supervised visit with Kevin.  As I’ve said, eventually, someone from the sheriff/coroner’s office showed up and informed me that he had been found dead that morning a couple of miles away in someone’s yard.

It’s funny, because you think someone dying would provide a clean break.  But it didn’t.  For a long time, it felt as though I was never going to be free of him.  There was the financial mess to clean up.  There were the notes he had left hidden around the house before he was ordered by the court to move out so Kevin and I could stay there – notes I would find periodically over the next several months: “BITCH” “I HATE YOU” “FUCK YOU, CUNT” “BURN IN HELL”.  There was the lawsuit I was served with arising from a car accident he caused before he died; I was now being held responsible as his surviving widow.

And then there’s Kevin.  A living, breathing part of Kelly that walks around in my life every day.  Not that I begrudge Kevin his parentage or his presence – he is by far one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received in this life.  But often a gesture or expression or attitude disallows me from forgetting where he came from.

I’ve moved on with my life.  It’s taken a great deal of work and very conscious effort to put all that behind me as much as possible and refuse to be enslaved by it.  Nevertheless, once in a while, something will trigger a memory, a certain feeling.  This happened when Amy Winehouse died a couple of months ago.  I was suddenly overcome with sadness, just at what a waste it was, this young life thrown away, and the anguish all the people she left behind must be feeling.  It felt so parallel on some level to my ex-husband dying, and I wrote about it: Slow Suicide

In a very bizarre turn of events, I received an email yesterday from a woman who is in my book club.  As a founding member of this book club, I’ve been in it for eight years now, but she only joined in the last year or so.  I have not gotten to know her; she comes to a lot of our discussions, but doesn’t talk much.  So she sent me an email yesterday telling me that she had read my article about my ex-husband’s death, and she was “shocked” to realize a connection, and she wondered if we could meet to talk.  I couldn’t imagine what connection this virtual stranger could possibly have to my ex-husband who died twelve years ago.  Well, actually, I could imagine – that was the problem.  My thoughts ran the gamut from “She knew Kelly,” to “She partied with Kelly that night,” to “She slept with Kelly and has his love child, so Kevin has a mystery sibling out there.”  The trying to guess was driving me a little nuts, so I finally just sent her an email last night and asked her to just tell me whatever it was she had to tell me.

As it turns out, she and her husband live in the house whose yard my ex-husband died in.  She and her husband are the ones who found him dead twelve years ago.  They saw him dead.  I never did, for which I am grateful.  They called the police.  And now, twelve years later, I am in the same book club with this woman.  What are the chances?  Bizarre bizarre bizarre.  Or maybe not.  Maybe it’s a smaller world than we usually realize.

It’s thrown me for a bit of a loop.  Not that it changes anything.  And it doesn’t exactly stir up old hurts or grief . . . but I’m suddenly confronted with imagined scenes of his death again after all these years.  I doubt it was peaceful or pleasant in any way.  He sat down on a low wall in a stranger’s front yard, coked out of his head, feet bleeding, and he collapsed and suffocated from respiratory arrest.

Life.  Live it.

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