The call came at about 10:30pm on Friday, June 12, 2009. Actually, two friends arrived at my door unannounced with a cell phone in hand. "What is this?" I asked before taking the phone. On the other end, my distraught mother telling me she wanted someone there with me before telling me the news. My brother was dead. He was 28. Marshall took a trip to NJ to visit an ex-girlfriend, where they proceeded to take a fatal dose of heroin together. I stood there and felt a cold wash come over. I couldn't cry, couldn't really talk. Couldn't believe this could be true because he kicked that horrible addiction and started a fresh new life in a new city with a new circle of friends! I have to backtrack; I think it was December 2007 when my father sent me an e-mail confirming a dreaded suspicion. My brother had not been healthy, turned sickly skinny and distant, a shadow of his former self as my parents described it. I didn't witness it first hand as this was going on in Maryland and I was busy living my life in Pennsylvania. Money started quickly disappearing from my brother's savings account; my parents could witness the transaction action. All of this money was disappearing with nothing to show for it other than stories of my parents' visits to him to see him slumped over on his bed in a heroin nod. He finally broke down in front of my father at work and admitted he had gotten himself strung out on the drug over the past year or so. I had been blind to the evidence in my not so frequent visits. At our cousin's wedding earlier, after an evening of mild pre-wedding celebrations, Marshall slept through the night and the entire following day, just waking up an hour before the evening wedding. That's not normal. On a summer 2007 visit, he drove me to meet up with the folks for an early evening dinner. He could barely keep his eyes open at the wheel of the car. I mildly confronted him with, "You haven't been messing around with heroin have you?" to which he dismissively denied. He then proceeded to excuse himself from the dinner table to vomit in the restroom. Denial is a dangerous thing. He couldn't be injecting that drug into himself; he's too smart for that. Even with all that evidence smacking us in the face, we couldn't see it. Then, later in the year, it all came pouring out. He had been abusing the drug. He had kicked the habit once, but relapsed. He was getting off of it again, but refused professional help. He was moving away from his small hometown in Maryland across the Chesapeake Bay, to Baltimore to start over. And he did. Understand he still enjoyed partying, drinking with friends; he readily admitted he would enjoy some marijuana which he didn't even consider a drug in the first place and it seems we were all kind of fine with that as long as heroin wasn't in the picture. He got out of a crooked used car dealership job and into a respectable occupation in house refinancing. I saw him on a few occasions weeks and months before his death. He was healthy, full of life, had a group of friends that were clearly not drug addicts. And then, for reasons we will never know, he decided to take a trip to meet an ex-girlfriend with whom he had been reconnecting with. In hindsight, it is obvious they used heroin together and that drug may have been the focal bond between the two. This visit triggered something to force heroin's insidious pull. They were both found dead that Friday afternoon. The proceedings and funeral that followed were not those of the death of a junkie. The church was packed with innumerable friends that were inconsolable and in utter disbelief that he met such an early end. I even asked those closest to him straight out, "Did you have any idea he was using again?" “No way,” was always the reply. In fact one of his closest friends said he would have given Marshall an ass-kicking had he known. Stories circled about how his infectious smile brightened any room he entered, and the positive influence he had on his many friends were twisting my mind. What could make it worth ruining this renewed life? Putting all of this in writing doesn't solve anything. He's gone and the most distressing thing is that I don't think any family or friends' influence or attention would have changed the outcome. It's made me question, “How could he have really loved or even cared for any of his friends or family if he was willing to go back to heroin?” The miserable fact is that this drug is the devil. Once that door is opened, things have been changed, forever. There's no going back. I've learned that the most innocuous of things can trigger that craving for the drug years after users have kicked it. My brother didn't have the word moderation in his vocabulary. He was a 'take it to the limit' personality. That combined with a tendency toward chemical abuse is a recipe for disaster. We believe his arrogance was his undoing-'If I was able to kick it before, what's the big deal of me having a little 'chemical vacation' once in a while?' How long can youdance on the lip of a volcano? As it turned out, not that long. There's anger, grief, anxiety, distress, every emotion you could ever imagine that follows the senseless loss of a loved one. I know this is not the outcome he wanted but I curse whatever motivated him to take that path. My last look at him will haunt me till day's end. There he was prior to embalming, wrapped in white sheets, fingers blue, hair wetand unkempt, bruising appearing on his cheek, and so, so cold. I kissed his forehead and whispered "See you in the next one." As children of God we are born onto a slippery slope. Events like this are proof to the illusion of control we foolishly buy into, sometimes. From all of this, all I can do is plea to any reader to not open the door to opiates. Please.
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