Steven was my younger brother and we grew up in a small town in central Florida with our sister Amanda and our brother (his identical twin) James. I remember the crazy stuff we did as kids, particularly a bad habit of mooning. He even mooned people in the car, pressing his behind against the window of our mom's minivan. He was a funny guy. We had a hard time finding a picture for his obituary because he never took a serious picture. He was the kid who was always building ramps for his bike and taking the inevitable tumbles, including falling into a cactus patch once. He was a great uncle to my sons who he adored as if they were his own. We fought as all siblings do but at the end of the day, no matter what, I knew he loved me. It's hard for me to write about what he was really like because I don't know. He started using when he was 12 and so his constant drug abuse prevented it. He started with marijuana and it quickly led to crack. His behavior had changed and he seemed alternately angry and depressed and we chalked it up to puberty and my parents' divorce. He finally came clean to our mom about it one day and thus began the first of many trips to rehabs and psychiatric facilities. Over the years he used and abused every drug he could get his hands on. He couldn't hold down a job, he never had a real relationship with a woman, he never finished high school, and he never did any of those things that you assume everyone does. He was frequently suicidal, violent, and generally horrible to be around. Every time he went to rehab we hoped against hope that he would be able to hold it together. He never did for long. I am grateful for the brief periods of sobriety because the little I knew of him as an adult came in those periods. He was deeply regretful of his actions and never wanted anyone to do what he did. When he was sober he was loving and funny again and we all lived for those times. But, addiction is a disease that gets worse over time and every time he relapsed it was worse. He popped handfuls of pills, mainly tranquilizers and pain pills. He was also shooting heroin and drinking heavily. His addiction was killing him and everyone who loved him. We tried everything we could to help him and I mean everything. As much as he loved his nephews, he showed up to my home blasted. My older son is nine and sat and cried in my arms asking me why Uncle Steve couldn't just stop and I had no answer for him. Just a few months before he died he went into treatment again and was sober for a while in which time hope surged in us all that this was it. We had Steve back; he spent time with his nephews, got a job, and seemed OK. He was living with our mom and had been told very strongly that if he used again, he was out. He was an adult and he needed to take responsibility for his life. He apologized to us and, again, he seemed OK. For whatever reason, he started using again a day or two before he died. He went out with some "friends" and came home late and totally wasted. My mom got up the next morning, angry with him but thinking he was sleeping it off. Around 1:00 she went in to wake him up and found him cold and blue in his bed. She called 911 but told them he was dead. The paramedics came, ran into his room with all sorts of equipment, and left less than 30 seconds later saying he was dead. My mom was alone with his body and a police officer for a while before the crime scene unit came and did their investigation. They found pill bottles, needles, and spoons in his room. My mom called me at work and I rushed to be with her and sat with my mom while they carried his body out of the house. I will never ever forget that day as long as I live. On some level I hate him for it. I miss him though; he was my baby brother after all. Now I sit and listen to my mom cry. She says she feels like someone ripped a hole in her heart and she is just bleeding and no one can fix it. I am a mommy and I lie awake at night scared to death for my boys and hoping against hope they won't take the same path. I wonder if there was something else we could have done that we didn't and I know that none of us will ever see Steve again. I have learned that life is short and you only get one shot at it. I have learned that a decision made at the age of 12 can determine the rest of your life. I have learned that there are hurts that never go away. I am grateful, however, that as a teacher in a middle school I have the opportunity to share this with kids the same age as he was when he started using and with any luck a few of those kids won't make a huge mistake. I hope so, it would give some meaning to his life and his death and Steve would like that. He always wanted something to be proud of.
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