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How My Son’s Heroin Story Began | Duane’s Song

This is about my son Duane who died of a heroin overdose when he was 19. Don’t think it’s easy to talk about this just because it’s been four years – it’s not. I don’t know if that will ever change. I grow weary just wondering at how it can still hurt after all this time. Of how I can still wish it wasn’t so. Of how I re-think all that I did in this. Of how much I loved and continue to love that boy of mine, my Duane, my precious one. I only write this because (it’s so cliche but) I want so much for someone to benefit from my family’s experience with my mortal enemy, drugs.

It’s hard to know where to start.
My youngest children are now 15 and 18, girls both. They told me the other day that they can’t remember a time when drugs weren’t a part of our family’s problems. I never planned for it to be this way for them. My dreams were of a big, happy, loving family. And we are happy really we are. And we are big – there are ten children, three of whom are married … and ten grandchildren now. And we are loving. We are very close. So I guess I got that part right. But the other part, oh the other part. It breaks my heart to think about it.

Duane was our sixth child.
He was my joy and my delight. I loved him so much. I just delighted in his little boy ways. He could speak clearly when he was only 18 months old. I remember being in the grocery store with him in the cart. We were walking down an aisle of canned vegetables and he was saying, “That’s green beans and that’s juice …” A woman came over to me and asked how old Duane was. When I told her, she was shocked and a little scared. She explained that her child was 2 1/2 and could only say, oh I don’t remember now, but just the normal 2 year old stuff. I assured her that Duane was advanced in speaking. We never knew why except that he was just very smart that way. He would tell us he wanted a bottle and follow the person getting it to the kitchen and watch us get out the bottle and the milk. And he’d instruct, “I want milk … no, no juice.” And then, “Now pour it in the bottle; screw on the lid …” I told him, “You know, Duane if you can say all that, maybe you’re too big for a bottle!”

Almost exactly a year before he died, he ended up in the hospital from a drug overdose.
We never really got the story straight because it came from his stupid druggy friends but apparently there was a party and a bowl of drugs of every sort. Duane took a lot and downed them with alcohol. Someone noticed he wasn’t in the house any longer and they went looking for him. They found him sitting out in a car and brought him to the hospital and dumped him off. Whether he overdosed on purpose or accidentally he never would say. But he nearly died. He was living in Michigan around his good, ole drug friends and we (his family) were out in New Mexico. Two of my daughters were in Michigan and so they were able to be at the hospital with him immediately and gave me reports while I frantically booked a quick flight. He was in a coma.

You know those times you remember so distinctly that you feel if you close your eyes you’ll actually be there?
Sometimes you smell a certain thing and it brings you back to a time? There are two times that I can remember singing to Duane. How he loved music and he was a natural. He picked up a guitar when he was 15 and he could play. He wrote music and poetry and put them together into some really great things. I’ll share some of his songs here later so you can see how he thought. He hated his voice and made fun of himself but I liked his songs. Anyway, I had tried to sneak away from his hospital room the second of the nights I was there because I really needed some sleep. He saw me leaving and started to wake up and he was crying. I asked if he wanted me to stay and he shook his head yes. As I stood by his hospital bed, he was lucid at very brief times and he was sad and I think scared. I was alone there as only a mother can be. I was so scared. Scared of what he had done to himself; scared about what might happen to my boy and scared of what it would do to me and our family.

I desperately tried to think of a way to calm us both, me a grown woman and my baby boy who was now over 6’2″ with his feet jutting out from under the hospital sheets. I so much wanted to make him happy and my mother’s heart went to lullabyes. I sang to him, his song, Duane’s song that I made up when he was just a little guy, standing up on my lap, holding onto my fingers and grinning as big as he could.

I sang,
“Big and Strong
You came along
It’s a boy to my joy
You’ll be mine
For a time
Here on earth
And if we live righteously
We’ll be together for eternity
You and me
and our family In Heaven above
It’s a boy to my joy!”

After I finished the song, I said, “I wrote that song for you when you were just a little baby, Duane – do you remember it? It’s not very good I know. It’s kinda dumb, huh?” He emphatically shook his head and made me smile. With tears in my eyes I joked, “Do you want me to sing it again?” And he shook his head yes. And I did, I sang it again. I would have done anything in this world to change everything for him. If only there were something I could do. We had tried everything. Counseling; drug therapy; psychiatrists; in-house programs; out-patient programs; al-anon; etc. Nothing worked. He had gotten to where he hated counselors and tricked them into thinking he was “cured” so they’d leave him alone. He knew all the tricks; he didn’t believe that he could be helped. In the end I’m not sure he even thought he needed to be helped.

When he was a little boy, he told me once that he would marry me when he grew up. And when I told him that his Dad would miss us, he thought carefully and said, “That’s ok, mom – he can live next door!” He was such a thoughtful, tender little guy. As I’ve thought back on where it could have twisted, I remember that he was always soulful. He came crying to me one night and when I asked what was wrong, he said that no one loved him. He was only six. He had gotten into an argument with his brother, Johnny and it broke his heart. Is a child born depressed?

I didn’t know when he started using drugs.
He was able to hide it from me for a few years. I don’t really know how. I was a stay-at-home mom and I was very involved with all of the children. I knew how weed users acted because growing up in the 70’s, who didn’t know? I just didn’t see it. I guess I just didn’t even think that a little child like that would be able to or think to use drugs. I don’t know. And I wish I had known from the beginning. Oh yeah, well here comes the self doubt. If only I had known sooner maybe this or that. If only I had caught it earlier then maybe I could have changed everything. If only; if only.

But later I found out (through letters he left) that he first used marijuana when he was only ten or eleven years old! What does that do to a child’s brain? Can his brain even develop normally at all? I don’t think anyone knows. I do believe that marijuana was a “gateway” drug for Duane and the road after that gate went something like this: alcohol at age 12 – that’s when I caught on. I found empty bottles out under the bushes in our yard and they blamed it on passers by. Him and his older brother, drinking. After that he used OTC (over the counter) drugs at 14 and then on to anything and everything. He used to say that he wanted to see how everything made him feel. The danger of it didn’t even cross his mind. You know the youth, they are invicible. Nothing can happen to them. Other kids may die from huffing, but not them. Those other kids just weren’t smart about it. Oh, I know how he thought. I learned it through years of listening to him as I tried so hard to wrest him away from that enemy. After his first taste of drugs, he would sometimes try to quit and even be successful for short bursts of time, but he never really was able to quit entirely.

We even tried moving but it didn’t change anything because drugs are everywhere.
The drugs were so easy for him to get. He didn’t have any money, of course – especially at ten and fourteen years old. But the drugs were always available. His “friends” would provide them; or their unwitting parents. He would steal OTC drugs quite easily. They put them right there in the aisle. He stole alcohol as well (same easy access). Sometimes he’d get drugs fronted to him by some dealer and then he’d use them all before he could even sell them – he had no self-control. He called me once. He was in Michigan and we were living in New Mexico. He said he owed a guy some money because he had “lost” this guy’s drugs. He said if he didn’t get $200 to pay the guy, he was gonna get beat up. As if I would give him money to give a drug dealer. I remember explaining to him that I could not with good conscience supply a drug dealer with money. And Duane understood. And I heard he did get beat up.

Two weeks after Duane got out of the hospital – a real miracle, he was drinking rubbing alcohol in the room my married daughter let him stay in in New York.

Cassie writes about losing her son, Duane to his Heroin Addiction on the blog, Duane’s Song dedicated to his memory. It is her hope that by sharing the learnings from her loss she will help another parent or addict avoid her son’s fate.