Heroin Killed My SisterI lost my younger sister to a heroin overdose. We grew up in a middle-class neighborhood of Woodbridge, the fifth largest municipality in New Jersey. The town is a busy one, close to all means of major transportation, shopping malls and the Jersey shore, but it is neither a high crime town nor one known for excessive drug use. My sister, Kyndall, was the sixth child of 11 children. I am the oldest. The bond that we shared was like a mother and daughter when she was younger. Because my mother had so many young ones to care for, Kyndall became like my own. As a child, she was so good and quiet but she was also very sensitive. If she got yelled at, she would act as if you struck her with a sword. She also tended to hold in her feelings, so you were never really sure what she was thinking or feeling. I knew, though, that she needed some extra care. I tried my best to give her that. Kyndall had a wonderful artistic talent, which was recognized at an early age. Although she did not express herself much by talking, her beauty and personality was evident in her artwork. But it wasn't just her artwork that made her special. Each year at school, she would have at least one teacher who became attached to Kyndall and would go out of their way for her. It was like she had some magical charisma that people would draw into. She carried that special trait with her throughout her life. When Kyndall was around the age of 13, our mother left the house and our father was given custody of us. Our mother visited but then eventually never came back. Kyndall felt abandoned. Our father was there but they did not get along. At the age of 14, she moved into her friend Amber's house. Amber's parents supported the idea of her living there and treated her like their own daughter. At that time, Kyndall was smoking pot just like a lot of the other kids her age. She once commented, “It‘s only pot -- not a big deal, it's all natural.” When she was 15, she started hanging around with a boy who was a “good friend” of hers. This “good friend” recommended a better, mellower high than pot. This is when she met heroin. Kyndall was a private person. She rarely disclosed her feelings and she hid her heroin usage well. Although her grades were declining, she managed to make her way through high school. She was even awarded a first place prize of $1,000 in the National Asthma Poster contest. However, some of our brothers and sisters knew something was wrong. Money would disappear when she came over to visit. She started complaining of headaches and she slept a lot. When we heard she got a full scholarship to the University of Arts in Philadelphia, we thought that was the best possible thing for her. We figured whatever problems she was having would be all better once she went away to school. WRONG. Kyndall was expelled from school only a couple months after she started. They found a syringe in her dorm room, but she denied everything to us saying it was someone else's and she got the blame for it. We thought she would come back home to Woodbridge, but she stayed in Philly. That is where she spent most of her addicted life. From what I knew, she lived with an abusive, heroin-addicted boyfriend, and then she lived in the streets. She was in and out of rehabs, all the while telling me she was in a hospital being treated for depression. I knew what the real story was, though. I even offered to take her in. She stayed a short time at my house but was asked to leave because she stole my daughter's piggy bank. Another one of our sisters offered to let her to stay at her house on the condition that she follow some rules and go to Narcotics Anonymous. Kyndall never showed up. In fact, Kyndall didn't show up for a lot of things. Weddings, showers, birthday parties, even Christmas. We would not hear from her for months at a time. Then, at age 22 she called and said she was in a halfway house. It was a rehab facility for women in the Poconos, NY. This was the first time she admitted to us that she had an addiction. I prayed very hard for her. She finished the program and moved out eight months later. She had a wonderful roommate, a friend she met at work who was an extremely good woman. Our family cherished the time we got to spend with Kyndall that year. It was so wonderful to have her back. She seemed to be full of life. She bought nice clothes, had her nails done, kept a job and was planning to go back to school. I was so proud of her being clean one year and at how far she had come. I didn't sense anything was bothering her. She stayed clean for a little more than a year and then she relapsed. We will never know why she relapsed – only from what we read in her journals: her addiction was a fight for her life every day. No one really knew how hard it was for her. It was 11:30 am, Sunday, September 7, 2003. I was teaching Sunday school class when I got the call. Olivia, Kyndall's roommate called me first. She said that Kyndall did not come home the night before and that when she left she was crying and upset about something. I told her to calm down. Olivia wanted to file a missing persons report. I told her to go ahead and do that. I wasn't that worried. I thought, ok, maybe she needed to just take a break for a while. Then my phone beeped – my father was on the other line. He said, “Nikki, they say she's dead.” I felt like my soul rose out of me and I was staring down at my body. I was screaming and sobbing uncontrollably. It was the sound of utter defeat and desperation. I will never forget that moment. I was told that Kyndall was found at Ken's house, her old roommate, near Philly. Apparently, she overdosed on a speedball; a mixture of heroin and cocaine. Ken claims he did not know she took the drugs. He said that she asked him for a sleeping pill before going to bed. During the night, he noticed her struggling for air. He called an ambulance but by that time, she was not breathing. They pronounced her dead at the hospital. I made it to the hospital in Paoli, PA around 9 p.m. My whole family met there. I wanted to see her -- I had to see her as I still couldn't believe any of this. I walked into the room alone. It was cold and very silent. It was a small, square room with nothing in it except for the metal table. There was someone lying on top of it. I slowly walked over to it, my whole body shaking. It was her! It was Kyndall! My heart sank. She had a sheet over her body and her head was turned to the side. She had a big tube in her mouth. There was a little blood on the sheet. I reached down and touched her face. It was cold. I leaned down closer to her. I could smell her hair, a fresh, shampooed smell. I wanted to wake her up. I turned closer to look at her face. Her eyes were slightly opened and I looked into them. It was then that I knew she wasn't there. Her eyes were empty. She was gone. I started weeping and I left the room. Goodbye, my baby sister, goodbye. No longer will heroin harm you. I hate this drug. I hate it with every ounce of hate a person can have. Heroin. I hate it. Since burying my sister, I have been determined to help as many families as I can about education and the prevention of drug use. I started by creating a web site called InKyndallsName.org. The site tells Kyndall's story along with our family's thoughts, her journal, and links to resources and help with drugs. I have even helped a few families find rehabs for their loved ones. Most recently, I have been asked to speak at workshops at area junior high schools. This has been my ultimate goal. I believe that if you educate children especially at this age on a regular basis, they will be more inclined to turn down drugs when presented with them. I do not want any other family to suffer the pain that I have felt. It only takes one bad decision to ruin your life and the lives of the ones who love you. Education is the best prevention of drug abuse. Had I known more or if Kyndall had known more, she may have been here today. Till we meet again, my sweet sister.
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