THE DAMAGE DONE...
“The hardest thing I ever had to do as a father was to sit in that room and listen to my son Zachary tell his story to other addicts at the meeting that night. I insisted I come along...I really wanted to be there...to show him and the whole world I was supporting my boy. But after just a few minutes I really wished I’d have stayed at home and not heard what I did.”
This is part of the tortured story a dear friend of mine told me as he, his wife and I sat together on the balcony of my condo in Melbourne Beach Florida, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. As I recall it was a warm evening in early December of 2009. Vince spoke in monotone, pretty much void of emotion. Mary didn’t say much at all. She just stared out into the darkening sky over the ocean. The rhythm of the waves coming ashore seemed to set the tempo for our conversation...
“I could never grasp what was happening to Zachary,” Vince began. “We argued constantly...about what his addiction was doing to his mother and to our family. All I wanted to know from him was why...why did he keep getting high? How could he keep breaking the heart of the woman who gave him life...who brought him into this world and worried about him night and day for twenty three years?”
Vince reached over to take hold of Mary’s hand. She drew it back and put it on her lap. Her grief was palpable.
"Why do I do this?” Vince recalled his son telling him. “The answer is simple Dad. I feel nothing anymore. Not a God damned thing. Nothing else I have ever experienced compares in the slightest to being high. There is not a single thing in my life worth stopping for. There is no light at the end of the tunnel for me...no happy ending. It's just too hard to stop.”
“What the hell do you mean you feel nothing?” I shot back at him, the anger in my voice beginning to betray my concern. “You can’t feel your mother’s love? You can’t feel your sister’s love? We all love you Zachary. If you would just stop...if you could just get clean, get your head out of your ass and that needle out of your arm, you’d see this. You’d feel our love for you. It would be enough.”
“I can’t and I won’t and I don’t fucking want to!” Zachary said, pausing between and emphasizing every word. “My life is empty without it. There is nothing to replace it with...nothing to look forward to. I look at myself in the mirror and I disgust myself. I realize how skinny I’ve become and how ugly I’ve gotten. It just seems like such a long road to put it all back together again. I end up thinking, screw it...just give me my damn gear!”
“You are killing her Zach,” I said. “I hope you know that. I hope you know the gravity of the sin you are committing. She’s never done anything but love you.”
Vince told me he thought maybe he could guilt his son into getting help...going to rehab or maybe a narcanon meeting. But Zachary had no conscience. He’d lost it to the heroin. By the time they got wise to it, he’d stolen more than half of his mother’s jewelry and pawned it. He’d broken into and stolen out of neighbor’s houses. His own relatives didn’t want him to come for holiday dinners after they’d found out he’d stolen from them too.
It was in September of 2008 that something miraculous happened. One day Zachary showed up at his mother’s job at the high school and told her he was admitting himself to a county rehab center. He promised her, with every ounce of honesty and strength he had in his body, that he was going to get clean.
But Mary had heard this line before...twice before as a matter of fact. He’d promised to go but when the time came to sign the papers and commit to a 3-month program, twice he turned and ran. He would disappear and she wouldn’t see him after that for a month or more.
But he did go and he did get clean. And he made his father proud when he began attending the Narcanon meetings at the Episcopal Church in Rockledge. That is where my story begins today. Zach began telling a story that would end up breaking his father’s heart.
“My name is Zachary Davis and I am an addict,” he began. Then he went on to explain what heroin had done to him in his short life...
“I make the sure the door is locked behind me. I wait a few moments, gathering myself. I pour the powder from the bags into my cooker. I reach for my bottle of water and insert the syringe…drawing up about 20cc. I squirt the water into the cooker, watching it move across the white powder…turning it into liquid. I have this down to a science.
I move my lighter back and forth under the cooker until the heroin begins to bubble. It brings a smile to my face. My heart begins to race and my body begs for relief. The smell is sweet but it makes my stomach turn. I bite off a small piece of a cigarette filter and spit it into the smoking liquid and I wait. I wait a few more seconds…then it’s time.
I draw the clear liquid up into the needle through the filter until I get it all. I close my eyes for a moment or two before I allow the beast to enter my body. In it goes. There’s a bit of a sting at first. I pull back on the plunger and watch as a dash of red-blue blood snakes up the middle of the clear brown liquid. A direct hit. Total euphoria!
My heart is really racing now. My body feels to be on fire and I am loving every moment of this. But it won’t last…it never does. Soon I will find it hard to breathe. My concentration will scatter and the walls will begin to close in on me. When it leaves me I will feel completely empty…completely hollow.
Then, all I can think about is the next time…where will I get my next bag? Where will I find the money for my fix? What won’t I pay this week…my rent? My electric? My food?
But I wasn’t always like this. I wasn’t always a homeless heroin addict. I was a good kid once. I was actually an altar boy. I was even an all-conference athlete. Isn’t that funny?
But what isn’t funny is that I only took heroin once. Can you believe that? Just once! God damn it…I wish I could turn back the clock.
After that first time, it took me any place it wanted to. It changed me. Now I will do anything to get high. I will fucking crush you if you try to stop me.
I know that my mother certainly did nothing to deserve me stealing all of her jewelry that my father had given her as gifts over the years…just so I could sell it for a quarter of what it was worth to buy heroin on the street. Those were precious metals and gems that could never be replaced…and each one had a story behind it...a love story between my parents. I flushed it all down a proverbial toilet so that I could shoot up, throw up and pass out.
I’m scum. I cheat and I steal and I cannot tell the truth to anyone any longer. I am a liar. Nothing I say is truthful anymore…except this. I am dying.”
Then he looked at his father and slowly finished his story…
“And if you loved me, you would let me die.”
But Vince would not let him die. That night changed who he was as a man and as a father. He was able to stop blaming himself and could see his son’s addiction for what it was. That night was a turning point for them both. For the first time in years they turned toward each other rather than away. But sadly, this story does not have a happy ending.
Zachary Davis was twenty three years old. For the first time in as long as his mother could remember, he had hope...
I know this because his journal tell me this,” Mary said, her first words all night. He’d written in scrawled purple handwriting, an introduction on the opening page...
“Thoughts that I hope one day may change my world around.”
But on 2 February 2009, the day after Super Bowl 43...after two and a half years of use and abuse followed by several clean months, Zachary relapsed. His world did indeed change, but not as anyone had hoped. It ended in a filthy motel room in CocoaBeach.
“By the time Mary and I got there,” Vince said, “there were police cars, an ambulance and a fire truck blocking the entrance to the motel. We had to park on a back street, off A1A. There must have been fifty people lined up, four deep, on each side of the police tape. It was a spectacle.
“I knew it was bad,” Mary said. “They had barricaded his room off. They wouldn’t let us inside. I said, “Where is he? I want to see my son.” A paramedic looked at me told me, “I’m sorry. He’s gone.”
In a duffle bag that Zachary had brought to the motel, among other things, Mary found a journal. She tortured herself for days reading her son’s final thoughts and emotions...
“I had the knee surgery last month. I’ve been putting off. Lots of pain! The meds weren’t a new thing for me, but they were not a good thing for me either. I take one and then snort two. I just never can get enough. And when it ran out, the doctor wouldn’t re-prescribe. I had no other choice, did I?”
“For the first time in my life, I know what it’s like when people said they can’t feel the weight of their body. They can’t hold it up. I slid down the wall and now I can’t move.”
“I feel like there’s no such thing as gravity. For a while now, I’ve found it difficult to secure my feet to the ground. I feel like I’m floating and I have no idea how to get my feet back on the ground, on the grass, on this earth.”
There were other, more disturbing entries in the journal. But she said they were too painful to talk about. All she could say was...
“I wasn’t expecting it. He was doing so well.”
Vince felt the need to tell me what the coroner’s words were outside the motel room...
“I don’t want to make this too graphic for you,“ he said, “but the needle was still in his hand. He didn’t get all of what was in it into his body. I feel as if he died of sudden cardiac arrest, but I won’t know until the autopsy. I suspect whatever was in that syringe was probably not what he thought it was.”
Two weeks later, the official coroner’s report cited the cause of Zachary’s death to be acute heroin overdose — accidental. His body also contained the opioid pain medication Fentanyl, which is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.
“It created a speedball,” Vince tells me. “His heart didn’t know when to pump or when to stop. It exploded! These kids don’t know what they are getting off the street. This is what is killing our children and there’s not a single God-damn politician anywhere doing a single thing about it.”
Another entry in Zach’s journal read:
“I feel so guilty. I was given a chance at a very good life, I am so very fortunate to have the parents God gave me and I’m thankful for my friends and family. But the shadows and the beast won’t go away. I am confused, lonely, sad and secretive. I’ve fallen off the deep end and I can’t find my way back.”
Just two days before he died, Zachary spent the night at his parent’s home. Mary recalls going into his bedroom to say goodnight. I told him I loved him and he told me he loved me too. That’s the last I saw him alive.”
“He used the robe’s belt as a tourniquet,” Vince said.
“The paramedics took us out behind the fire truck so we couldn’t watch them bring him out,” Mary said. “I don’t know why I did it, but I ran from behind the truck. I looked back and watched them take him out through the motel room door in a blue body bag. That’s the last I saw of him. This beautiful little baby boy with so much blond hair, this gorgeous little sweet thing, this little roly-poly, and they take him out that way...in a fucking blue body bag.”
In high school, Zachary Davis was named prom king. He excelled in academics and was active in student government. Soccer was his favorite sport. He wasonce a very normal kid.
Mary reached into her purse and took out her wallet. She held up a picture of her son in action on the soccer field. He looked so healthy. So strong.
He injured his knee in his senior year and was prescribed Percocet...
“It’s a highly addictive opioid,” Vince said. “I know that’s what got him on the track to heroin. The kids with sports injuries can’t get enough medication due to the restrictions on prescribing. So they go to the street and get it. That’s what he did. He could score heroin a lot cheaper on the street than a pill.”
“That was the start of the end,” Mary said. “Two months after he was sidelined, he bought a gram of heroin and shot up for the first time.”
“We would find these little corners of sandwich bags in the house,” Vince said. “Later, I learned dealers would put capsules of heroin in the bags and tie them off. I would find burnt spoons in his room, and my lighter was always missing. I think he melted the heroin down in a spoon with a lighter and was shooting up while we were asleep in the next room.”
“He robbed me blind,” Mary said, tears beginning to stream down her cheeks. “I had to lock my bedroom door. When I took a shower, I’d take my purse with me. My Discover card was missing. I used it only for emergencies. He’d charged it over $1200. He was buying stuff at Wal-Mart and pawning it. I have very little of the jewelry Vince bought me left. He took the knob off my door. He took my TV and my router and my laptop. He didn’t get but maybe $200 or $300 for it, but that was probably a week’s worth of heroin for him. That’s how sick he was. We are talking about a boy who would die if he hurt my feelings. You would have loved him. You would meet him and want him to marry your daughter.”
“Toward the end, everything he did was in excess,” Vince says. “I could never understand why he did it. I just know that he had a sickness and until he wanted to quit, it didn’t matter what I’d say or what his mother would do...he was going to keep doing it.”
One of the last entries in his journal said...
“I will be 23 years old on Tuesday. It is crazy to think about that. I feel a hundred years older somehow. Most of my life I’ve been lost. I wonder if I will ever find myself. I wanted to do something big with my life. I’ve been blessed so much with my special gifts.”
“He was doing great,” Mary recalls. “But all of sudden he started using again.”
“The coroner asked us if we had any idea where he might have gotten the drugs,” Vince recalls. “He said he hadn’t seen an overdose of this type in Cocoa Beach before. All I could say was...
“Sir, it is coming. It’s coming and you better get ready for it. You are going to see this a lot more.”
A kid like Zachary thinks...
“I’m just going to do this to get high, I won’t do it again. But then he got hooked and continued. All we can do is hate the drug and love our children.”
“I’m so scared I’m going to forget what he sounds like...his voice,” Mary finishes, her own voice trailing off. She thinks about Zachary’s final moments in that motel room...
“He was so tired of this life," she said. "I think he thought, “This is the last time I’m going to do this. I’m tired and I want it to end.”
At his funeral, his father spoke from a podium...
“Zachary was a vessel, empty and longing for fulfillment. It’s hard enough being twenty three and confused about the future, but throw in the grandiose, melodramatic dynamic of an addiction, and one can not help but feel truly lost.” Vince and Mary stood and shook my hand... "Thanks for listening," he said. "We hope we didn't ruin your night." And then they were gone. I turned off the lights and went to bed. But sleep was not going to come to me that night.