LIFE, DEATH & DRUGS: In the end, Cyrus Lewis couldn't beat his addiction
SHAMOKIN - A yellow Labrador retriever running loose in a Perry County park is corralled for its owner by a young mother and her children.
Cyrus Lewis let Nico off its leash on purpose. What better way to meet the woman he spied from his front porch than with a little help from man's best friend?
Hope Schildt thought it was sweet. She hardly knew that was the day she met her husband.
Theirs was a tumultuous relationship - off and on for 15 years. Cyrus struggled with an addiction to drugs and alcohol. Hope figured his longest stretch of sobriety was about 2½ years. The other years were marked by stints in jail, thefts from her home, overdoses and threats of suicide.
Cyrus wanted unconditional love and a family of his own. Hope offered it. But she long ago cautioned him that he needed to put the work in himself. She could get past his addictions. If only he would commit, she believed he could get past them, too. He couldn't.
Cyrus, 34, hung himself with a bedsheet inside a jail cell at Northumberland County Prison. It was Father's Day, June 15.
Hope, 38, blames Cyrus for relapsing on heroin and for putting himself in jail. But she would later blame jail staff for failing to see the warning signs, and for failing to protect Cyrus from himself. (See separate story.)
"I wanted to fix him. He was an amazing man when he was sober," Hope told The News-Item inside her Shamokin home on June 30, three days after receiving his cremains.
A large collage of photos, a small album and other framed photos of Cyrus, Hope and family lay on a dining room table. Hope points to several: together at the New York-New York Hotel in Las Vegas, dressed in formal wear at a wedding, at a New Year's Eve celebration in Harrisburg. One shows Cyrus, Hope and daughter Darrien at the circus. Another shows Cyrus holding his granddaughter, Serenity.
On a shelf mounted onto a wall nearby sits his urn. It resembles an ages-old book, the kind long tucked away on a library shelf. It's closed, his story completed. Inscribed on its front is: "If love could have saved you, you would have lived forever."
"No matter how much you love that person or how much you want them to change," Hope said, "if they don't want to change, they're not going to."
Hope and Cyrus never had any children of their own. Hope already had three from other relationships. Cyrus had two, she said. But Cyrus was like a father to Hope's two youngest, especially Darrien, now 16. It was how he treated Darrien early on that convinced Hope she was in love.
When Hope's eldest daughter gave birth in September, she said Cyrus relished the role of grandfather. He liked how it caught others off guard given his age. Hope had clung to the idea that it may inspire Cyrus to seek treatment.
Hope and Cyrus lived in Sunbury about seven years before moving to Shamokin just over one year ago. Cyrus didn't keep a long-term job. Hope said he often clashed with bosses, believing jobs he had held were beneath him. He had a knack for fixing cars and electronics, though, and was a natural tinkerer, dreaming up inventions he hoped would turn a buck. He put together a wooden box with an amplifier and speaker that connects to a cell phone, and gave it to Darrien as a gift. She's held onto it.
In Darrien's eyes, her own view of Cyrus is more balanced. Maybe more angry, her mother said.
Whenever Cyrus would drink, his mood would sour. Many trips were spoiled by booze, Darrien said. She remembers socking him in the face once when he was drunk. He didn't respond. But in the days before his death, he grabbed her by the arm. It hurt. She accused him of being high. They argued. She told him she didn't want to see or hear from him. That was the last time they spoke.
"She needs to stop only seeing the good and see the bad," Darrien said.
"He's gone," Hope said, "I only want to see the good."
But Darrien remembers good, too. She remembers Cyrus reluctantly waking up to make her pierogies overnight when she had a craving. She remembers his sense of humor and a shared taste in hip hop. There was the box he invented, too. He also took care of the maintenance on her car.
She loved Cyrus and she'll miss him, but she said she won't miss the person he became when he was drunk or high.
Alcohol would be a demon in Cyrus' life from the start of his relationship with Hope. She and Darrien both said beer wasn't at issue. If he was drinking beer, he was OK. It was liquor that made him moody.
Heroin use was more sporadic. He was good at keeping it to himself, Hope said. In June, it became obvious. Cyrus stole $1,400 on a Saturday. That day he crashed Hope's car along Route 901 in Coal Township and was arrested on suspicion of intoxication. Hope spoke to him twice after the crash. Both times he indicated he was trying to kill himself.
By Monday, the money was gone. He broke into a Shamokin tattoo parlor that night and was busted not 30 minutes later trying to steal a pickup truck. It was the start of his last trip to jail.
The day before his suicide, a Saturday, Cyrus had scheduled a visit at the prison with Hope. She couldn't make it. She was working a double shift at a nursing home. Even if she could make it, she said she wouldn't have gone. She was still too angry.
"You can hate the addiction. It doesn't mean that you hate the person," she said. "I'm left here to pick up the pieces, so, yeah, I'm very angry at him. But I still love him."
Hope wonders if Cyrus was angry, too, that she didn't show. He didn't know she had to work two shifts. There was no good way to get him the message. Maybe she should have called the prison, she said. It's one of several regrets.
The next night as she drove to work, she got a phone call. It was a strange number. She ignored it. She ignored it several times more before answering. It was the police. She was told to drive to Sunbury Community Hospital. There she learned Cyrus was dead. It came as a shock, she said, but in a way, it was expected.
Cyrus had a history of mental health issues, Hope said. He made several attempts on his life, and he never took the medication that was prescribed to help. He wasn't averse to hurting himself for pain medication, she said. She thinks his addiction was partly a result of his mental health, and partly an excuse. Whatever the reason, she believes he couldn't stand to face the guilt he held with how he treated those he loved.
"My thinking is he wasn't trying to be selfish, he was trying to figure out how to stop hurting us. This was his only answer, because he couldn't control anything else," Hope said.
It hasn't stopped the pain, it's brought on a new pain - a lot of anger and regret.
There are many more pictures of the two. There's one of Cyrus passed out drunk in a lawn chair at a Fourth of July celebration. Hope keeps that as a reminder of the complexity of their relationship.
Complex, too, is the meaning behind a photo of Cyrus using heavy machinery to crush a favorite vehicle, his Ford Econoline. He used the van to escape whenever addiction called. After an arrest last year, Hope gave an ultimatum: his family or the van. Cyrus chose family.
One last photo is of Hope and Cyrus together at Knoebels Amusement Resort. It was taken in late May on their seven-year wedding anniversary. Cyrus was sober that day. Hope remembers it fondly, and wonders how, in just two weeks, everything spiraled out of control.
"It doesn't just affect them - the suicide, the drugs, the alcohol," Hope said of addicts. "It's not just them taking away their pain. They're adding pain to their loved ones.
"There's no way for us to deal with what (they've) done unless we want to become an addict or a drunk," she said. "It's left in our hearts, in our memories. I don't think they realize with what they're doing, what kind of heartache and pain they've left behind."