No One Could Wake Adam; No One Ever Will
By Marilyn Schirmer
Drug addiction and its devastating consequences can occur anywhere, even in the pastoral setting and safety of my country home. I’ve changed some names and omitted others to protect privacy.
The next to last time I saw Adam was on my living room floor. A team of paramedics was working over him. I watched helplessly as they repeatedly injected his heart while alternately trying to shock him back to life.
My daughter had known Adam since high school. And while their life paths often led them apart, when they reconnected, it was absolute. They were kindred spirits.
Adam had a keen sense of humor, was adorably cute, musically talented and had an unshakeable addiction to heroin. I knew of all his attributes except the last.
Adam was always welcome in my home. My daughter and Adam would sit up all night talking, playing music and laughing. I could hear them all the way into my living room.
I remember finding out that he did body piercings. I’d always wanted my nose pierced. Afraid that he would make fun of this old lady, I asked if he’d do my nose. He laughed and replied, “Why sure!” There was no judgment.
So how did he get caught up in the allure of heroin? There is no way for me to know. I’ve never done this. But years ago I warned my daughter that, in my limited experience, heroin was an insidious master, that to try it once seemed a sure snare, a one-way ticket to hell.
Only once in my life had I felt sure I was in the presence of someone on heroin. I was at a rally in Washington Park in Over-the-Rhine. Under the trees, away from the main gathering, sat an emaciated young man with stringy blonde hair. He clearly was not participating in the rally; he could barely walk.
I couldn’t help but glance over at him from time to time. My heart was breaking as I watched him pee in full view of everyone; he didn’t know what he was doing. After a time, he lay down under a tree and nodded off. As the skies opened and it started raining, some kind soul thought to cover him with a jacket.
So for me, the “real” drugs, the dangerous ones, were confined to the city.
That last February night, Adam came in smiling as he greeted me. I offered him dinner and he said, “Maybe later.” He and my daughter disappeared into her room.
Sometime later he went into our bathroom. He was there a long time. If we’d only known he was shooting up, we would’ve broken down the door and the end of this story would be very different. My daughter kept knocking on the bathroom door, laughing and saying, “You need some help in there?” He finally came out and still we were clueless.
Early the next morning, my daughter enlisted my help to awaken Adam because he was due at work in an hour. We laughed as we shook his shoulders and jumped on the bed. My daughter told me that he was notoriously difficult to wake up. Even this seemed normal to me. After all, I had had a son with the same attitude toward greeting the day.
After a time, we became concerned that he would get into trouble at work, so we called his girlfriend. She assured us, “Yep, he is impossible to get out of bed.”
Daughter and I sat on the couch, taking a break and wondering what to do. Louder than the TV came a strange sound. We didn’t – couldn’t – recognize the sound for what it was, Adam’s death gasp. Daughter said, “Oh, that’s just my TV.”
A couple minutes later daughter went into her bedroom. I heard her scream, “Oh my God! He’s turning blue!” Blood turning to ice, heart rising yet sinking, my mind hardly able to obey, I somehow ordered my daughter to call 911.
While my daughter tried to follow the operator’s CPR directions over the phone, I could only shake and pray and watch for the help that was so terribly slow in coming. Finally, finally, they arrived; and as the paramedics worked, all I could do was sit on the couch and sob. All I could focus on was the tattoo inked across his stomach, under his belly button, “D.O.A.” Daughter was screaming, “Adam, wake up! Adam, don’t do this to me.”
But he did do it. He was gone.
I later found out that Adam had tried, really tried to overcome his addiction; he’d left his old friends behind and moved back home. He’d gone through extensive rehab. He’d been clean for a year.
Adam’s family, unable to deal with the wrenching loss, blamed us and especially blamed my daughter. I understood this. Hadn’t I lost my own son when he was exactly Adam’s age?
“Why did you wait so long to call 911?” was the father’s anguished question. How could I explain? I told him that the whole time we thought he was asleep. He’d been breathing and even snoring. I spared him the horror of the death rattle that is burned into my daughter’s and my own memory – a memory we would be happy to spend a lifetime without.
The last time I saw Adam was in the funeral home, lying in a casket. All the lives touched by Adam in his short, mostly joyous, years will never be the same.