Just Another Junkie
By Lucille A. Karam
Lucille Karam is a single parent. She’s been in recovery from substance abuse for 20 years. She volunteers at Attica State Prison Rehabilitation Center working primarily with other people in recovery; she co-facilitates survivor groups; she is a member of a 12-Step Group.
Every April and October for four years I bring out my pen and pad and try to write this story. I never finish it because it begins to hurt so bad I quite writing until next time. Perhaps this time I will finish it.
It’s a story, a true story, about my son, Nick.
Nick was born in April of 1980. Nick died in October 2003.
Nick had a disease. A disease of alcoholism and drug addiction. He started using as a young child and he died using.
I don’t it had to go down this way. I believe he was a victim of the systems that fail many young people. The years between his birth and death were controlled by drugs and alcohol. Nick was institutionalized for most of his younger years. He was treated for behavioral problems and other things, but never once were alcohol and drugs ever addressed. By the time he reached 17, he was on his own and his addiction problems escalated. He would come home after being stabbed or having his head split open and never even go to the doctor for stitches. He felt no pain.
I did not know what to do for him. I tried every agency, begging for help to get him off the streets and into professional care. Because Nick wouldn’t cooperate, I was told that there was no help for him. At 17, I believe he still had a chance.
The old, “He has to be willing to help himself” was the standard response at each agency. Well yes, I believe this to an extent, but here was a young man who didn’t know what “help” meant. His was a horror of a life, beyond what a human being should endure.
The arrests, the calls in the middle of the night, the tears, the waiting for the next episode, were devastating. The helplessness of not being able to help Nick, of having to watch him die while trying to get police and judges to understand and help him are things I’ll never forget.
As his drug and alcohol use got worse, so did his young life. He was constantly being arrested and thrown in jail, but the next day he would be out. Once cop told me Nick had about ten warrants against him and I were to have him arrested, the warrants would put him away. One day, after he broke into the house and stole the cable box, I had him arrested. It tore my heart out to do this, but I would do anything if I thought it would keep him safe.
When I went to court to beg the judge to put him in a “rehab,” the district attorney talked me out of pressing charges. When I went in front of the judge, crying and pleading to get Nick off the street, the judge offered me a restraining order.
I’ll never forget the night Nick pounded his knuckles into a wall till they were bleeding and said, “This is between you and me now and I want you dead.” I went into the police station and Nick, who lost his drivers license because of drunk driving, drove away right in front of the police.
I was totally confused. I thought I was losing my mind. How could this be happening? I asked the police. The answer still sends chills through me. The cops told me Nick was an informer for them now and that’s why he keeps getting away. (He never really got away with anything.)
I gave up after that night. I just gave in to the system. How do you fight the police? I think I realized then that it was only a matter of time till Nicks’s luck would run out.
I tried to stay away. I didn’t ask questions. I didn’t look for Nick, but every time heard a siren, my heart would ask if they were on their way to my Dickie.
In July of 2003, I received a phone call. Nick had tried to kill himself with a drug overdose. He was almost successful. I found out that this was not his first attempt. The nurses showed me the scars on my son’s wrists left by a time he had tried to die before.
I remember very clearly a nurse telling me that if Nick lived, he would not even realize what he had been through> Once the tubes were out and the life support system was taken off, he would not remember the horror. I thought, “Dear God, if he lives, maybe it will make a difference if he could see himself dying.” I took my camera to the hospital and took pictures of my Dickie. He pulled through that time. After being on life support for three days, he just got up and walked out of the hospital. The night before, when he regained consciousness, I tried to talk him into going to a rehab. He refused and said he would “do it right next time.” He said this in front of a policeman, his brother and myself. I begged a psychiatrist to commit him. She said, “Unless he tells the doctors he’s suicidal or homicidal, we can’t help him.” She wished she could help me, but, it was the law, she said.
Here was my son with scars on his wrists from a previous suicide attempt and this time he came so close it was unreal. What more evidence did they need? An actual corpse? Well, soon they would get that, too.
The last time I saw my son alive was about a week before he died. I heard a loud noise in the driveway and it was my Dickie on his motorcycle. I was glad to see him. Usually, if he were drinking, I wouldn’t let him in. This time it didn’t seem to matter. I picked up a wall plaque that read, “You asked for all things that you might enjoy life. I gave you life that you might enjoy all things.” I gave the plaque to Nick with the pictures I had taken of him on life support in the hospital, hoping they would make a difference. He looked at the pictures but never really said anything and left them behind.
A week or so later, he reached his goal. He was dead. He ran his motorcycle into the guard rail on the Thruway going 120 miles an hour.
The medical examiner wrote suicide on his death certificate because of his previous attempts, and because there were no skid marks on the road at the scene. I pleaded with the examiner and he changed Dickie’s death certificate to read: “Undetermined causes.” I don’t know why, but at the time, it seemed important that his death certificate not read suicide.
I’ve often wondered if the same cops who told me Nick was an informer were the ones who went to the death scene. I often wonder if the cop who laughed and said if Nick died they would all be out of work was the one who found Nick with his leg amputated.
I often wond3er if the doctor who refused to commit Nick every knew that Nick died.
I often wonder if they know how our family fell apart and split up after Nicks’s death. I bet they don’t even know that Nicks’s younger brother was so devastated that he tried to join Nick and still suffers over his brother’s death. I bet they don’t even know that Nicks’s daughter was born seven months after he died, a little girl he never knew, a little girl who would never know her father.
And I wonder if they that not one day goes by that I don’t think of my Dickie. I suffer more than they can imagine because my Dickie was not just another junkie or just another informer. He was my son and I will always love him and always wonder if it had to happen that way or might he still be here if it weren’t for “the system.”
I understand that Nick made choices with his life and that no matter how much help was offered, he refused it, but did the police have to use him the worst possible way? They enabled him to go on using and feeling good about it because he was “helping” them to catch dealers. If he’d been made to suffer the consequences of his actions, he might have made different choices. We will never know this, but I wonder how many other kids will die the same way?
Law enforcement and the medical profession let us down. It was a disgrace that a young man so obviously bent on dying was allowed to walk out of a hospital and IE.
I still have the pictures of Dickie in the hospital the last time he failed to kill himself. I’ll always remember our last hug.
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