Dad mourns loss of son to addiction
Second in a series
The cool waters of Penns Creek flowing between his legs and a fishing line cast ahead of him, a father turns his head upstream where his son hooked a big one.
That's what he thought, that his son finally caught a fish he could mount. Neither had much luck in their lives at catching that prize fish.
"Dad, this is it," his son yells. "This is the one! We're gonna get it mounted!"
The father moves through the creek, carefully stepping on the rocks below water while sidling up next to his son ready to net the catch.
A decade later and the father's fishing buddy is gone, buried one year ago after injecting a fatal dose of heroin.
Marcus holds nothing back in talking about Kyle, the good and the bad. His voice trembles at moments, is powerful in others. He fails to keep his composure when talking about the grandson Kyle left behind, the grandson who looks just like Kyle.
He asks that the names in the story be changed and that some details be left out. He doesn't think his wife, Kathleen, would fare well with the attention that would accompany a public retelling of his son's life and death.
But the story is important to Marcus. His hope is that it will help someone somewhere.
Above all else, Marcus stresses that an addict, no matter how badly they behave when struggling with addiction, is a loved one to someone else.
A gifted young man
Over and over Marcus says that Kyle was a good kid. He wanted to be a standup comic, often looking to tell a joke.
Kyle always was athletic, too. He excelled at wrestling and baseball as a kid. He also was a good student. Everyone could see these traits, everyone except Kyle.
He lacked self-confidence. Nothing was ever good enough. Before he'd pitch a baseball game he'd throw with his father in the backyard, told him he wasn't right, that he wasn't any good. In the few minutes they had before they drove to the ballfield, he'd be stressed. It didn't affect his performance. He'd play well. But that was quickly lost. The next start would bring the same routine, the same self-doubt.
Kyle was a freshman when he quit wrestling at age 15. He soon after quit baseball. He had new friends, new interests. He was drinking and smoking pot by that time, something Marcus and Kathleen would find out soon enough. That same year he started popping pain pills and snorting cocaine.
His grades slipped. His attitude changed. He wasn't laughing as much. Gone was a concern he expressed often for the well-being of others.
That same year marked the first of nine trips to rehab.
He'd been smoking pot and hallucinating on magic mushrooms. People were coming out of the ceiling, friends were outside his house. That's what he told his dad. Of course,all of it was in his mind. Marcus and Kathleen took Kyle to the hospital. A few days later they took him to a local judge.
Kyle bought into the ruse set up by the judge, a false show of force that had him choosing between jail or rehab. Had he chosen the former, the plan would have fallen apart. Marcus knew Kyle was scared of jail. Kyle was, too, and he chose rehab.
"I thought if we could get Kyle into a rehab, he would be his old self again. The only time he was ever the old Kyle again was when he was sober," Marcus said.
Rehab hopes dashed
It's a Sunday when Marcus is retelling the story of Kyle's addiction from his own point of view. He hates Sundays.
"I'll hate Sundays for the rest of my life," Marcus said.
It was Sunday when Marcus and Kathleen would wake up, get dressed and attend church. From there they'd go to visit Kyle in rehab. That was the routine eight different times that Kyle went to a drug treatment center.
Marcus bought into it on two occasions, believed his son turned a corner both times.
Kyle was 19 years old and was in the throes of an opiate addiction.
He already sold everything he had of value to buy pills. Sold all his video games and gaming consoles, a hobby he was very passionate about before his drug addiction. Sold his father's class ring. When his mother found it in a pawn shop and bought it back, he sold it again.
When he couldn't afford pills any longer, he was turned on to heroin. Where pills were up to $20 a pop, he could get a dose of heroin for a few dollars.
He'd get high and nod off to sleep on the couch with a cigarette, nearly burn his parents' house down more than once.
High school was long over. Kyle never finished. His parents would throw water in face, his dad would pull him out of bed. He was high. He'd go to the school nurse, who'd call and say he was sick. He was high, or in withdrawal. Kyle skipped school so often that both he and his father were cited. At 17 he dropped out for good.
Marcus knew next to nothing about heroin himself. It's what killed Jimi Hendrix, he knew that. He had no idea that heroin was an opiate, and that opiates were in the pain killers his son had already been addicted to.
Kyle had been arrested on a drug possession and paraphernalia charge. Once he left jail he went to rehab for 28 days. After that he went to a halfway house 90 minutes from home. He was attending Narcotics Anonymous meetings, was working out and got a job. His parents would visit on Sundays. He struggled with temptation. Walking casually through a mall, he told his dad he was nervous. He knew where to find drugs inside that mall. He had a knack for finding dope.
Three months into his stay at the halfway house he'd saved up enough money to get an apartment in a nice neighborhood of a college town. Marcus and Kathleen thought it was safe. It wasn't. Kyle found drugs. It wouldn't be long before Marcus drove with a loaded handgun to get his son back home after he'd run afoul of gang members he stuck for dope money.
Ninth and final try
On Kyle's ninth and final trip to rehab he was 23 years old. His body was reduced to bones. At nearly 6 feet tall, he weighed less than 120 pounds. His eyes were sullen.
This time there were no Sunday visits. Kyle didn't add Marcus and Kathleen to the visitor list. He was gone another 28 days.
The emotional toll from their son's addiction strained the relationship between Marcus and Kathleen. It was affecting them both at work. They prayed often, they cried often. Their frustration was mounting.
A telephone call from a drug treatment counselor brought some hope. Kyle was doing well in rehab, volunteered himself for treatment at a facility out of state.
That hope grew as Kyle continued to improve. He was going to meetings and was working out a lot. His parents mailed him some money for coffee and snacks, sent him care packages with chocolate and cigarettes.
Kyle had new motivation to stay sober. His girlfriend was pregnant. Temptation remained difficult but he stayed clean another 60-plus days after he left rehab.
An insurance snafu forced him to a halfway house back in Pennsylvania. Before he could be admitted he had 2 1/2 days at home with his parents. Marcus picked him up. Kyle was nearly unrecognizable. He put on 55 pounds, mostly muscle. His skin tone looked healthy. He was sober.
"All he did was work out to try to keep these demons away," Marcus said.
The time at home was good for everyone. His mother cooked Kyle his favorite meals. He and his father spoke often.
There was guilt, though, for all he put his parents through. The lies, the thefts, trips to the hospital, drug rehab, jail. It weighed on him.
"I don't think he could live with it, sober. The things he did bothered him so much he had to get high," Marcus said.
Dead at 23
After getting set up at the halfway house, Kyle landed a job. He was to start work on a Monday. The Friday before he called home asking for money. He needed boots and tools. His dad said he should buy some cheap stuff to get by until he could deliver some good tools of his own.
The request put a panic in his parents. It was a warning sign and they believed he may have slipped. On Saturday, Kyle called again. There was a change in his voice. Another alarm.
Sunday brought another phone call. Kyle said he was being thrown out of the halfway house because it was suspected he was high. He denied it. His father pressed him, said they'd been through too much to be lied to again. Kyle confessed. He had used pills. He didn't admit to using heroin.
Kyle was taken from the halfway house to a nearby hospital. After that, he would be required to go to a different facility, a sober house.
"He walked out of the hospital, he never made it back, and that was the last time I ever spoke to him," Marcus said.
The phone rang again Monday. It was someone from Kyle's new job. He never showed up. Later that day a call was placed by a relative to Kyle's cell phone. A medical examiner answered. Kyle was dead. He overdosed on heroin.
He was 23 years old.
Marcus learned the news. He then had to break it to Kathleen. It threw her into hysterics.
A year of hell
The past year has been hell for Marcus and Kathleen. The holidays were awful. Marcus often finds himself in a daze driving to Kyle's gravesite.
Over and over he thinks of what went wrong, what he and his wife could have done to save their youngest son.
"I don't know how we could have done some stuff different. We think about it a lot. Everyday you wake up and think about it," Marcus said.
"Every day is terrible. Every day is a struggle. You pray that you'll see him again. You want to believe you'll see him again. I haven't had a good thought in so long, I don't know."
Marcus says he's no professional, but he's been through enough to have an opinion on how drug treatment should be addressed.
"All we did all the time was we fought with our son, we fought with society to get our son help.We wanted to do anything to try to help our son and everywhere we turned we hit a roadblock."
Firstly, he said state and federal government must become more proactive in approaching drug treatment. Policy discussion must result in action.
He said restrictions on getting help need to be eased. A parent should be able to admit a child, even against their will, if drug addiction is proven. Greater access to mental health professionals is needed. Long-term inpatient treatment beyond 28 days is a must, he said, and it's a must that it be affordable.
Drug dealers, even at the lowest levels, must be prosecuted more harshly, he said. And for all drug offenders, access to treatment courts should be expedited.
More education on the dangers of pain killers and heroin must be had in primary and secondary schools. Kyle told Kathleen he lacked education on the dangers when he was a child. It was too late for him, he believed, but greater initiative could save today's kids.
"It's a terrible, terrible addiction and it's claiming more and more kids everyday," Marcus said.
The hardest part for Marcus comes when talking about his grandson. He's pained in thinking about it, hurts to let out the words.
"He has a son," Marcus said. "He never lived to see him."
Marcus and Kathleen remain involved in their grandson's life. They visit monthly.
Marcus kept Kyle's baseball glove, plans to give it to his grandson when he grows older.
Maybe someday Marcus will fish with his grandson like he did with Kyle. Maybe they'll go to that same spot on Penns Creek where Kyle hooked a sucker fish, that spot where they laughed together at the sight of it.
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