It is in the very early stillness of the morning that I search him out. I’m on the farm walking to the road to get the newspaper. If the stars are out, I stop. I find the shiniest one. The most sparkly constellation is my son, William.
William was in college, 21, majoring in history, reading Gandhi’s biography, pondering the future, challenging his history professor with thoughts and issues. He loved Herbie Hancock, Wakarusa in the woods and black cats because no one wanted them. And he loved a very special girl.
His friends were mostly engineering students, serious types. He was the poet. He was the dreamer.
Sometime during his sophomore year, William developed an addiction, which started with marijuana and festered with heroin. Several car wrecks and an arrest for DWI set the course for rehab and more worrying on the part of his parents, his cousins, his grandmothers, his friends.
Up until the night we got him into treatment, he was trying to sneak out of the house for one more fix, one more escape.
We sent William to Palmetto Addiction Center in Rayville, and with him went all our hope for our brown curly-headed boy.
While William was in recovery, his parents were assigned homework. We visited an AA meeting at O’Brien House, an addiction treatment center in Baton Rouge that this month marks 50 years in the community.
We were scared. But we found open arms, acceptance and many stories about lives fallen apart because of drug and alcohol abuse.
We learned of those whose parents had finally given up, so worn down by worry, theft, struggle and all the things with which addiction assaults friends and family. One woman admitted her parents threw her out the house and bought her cemetery plot as a final gesture.
“Please, we want to understand,” my husband begged the group. “We’re here to learn and help our son.”
Fast forward 90 days. Treatment is over. We brought our son — our joy — home. He apologized for putting us through hell, told us one day he’d repay us. So began nine months of sobriety. Nine months of Primus music and AA meetings where he found friends and hope. Sponsors came and went.
Then came a little trip to the Buku Festival in New Orleans. William left with friends, ready to reunite. His hope was to return to college the next year and continue his degree.
On his final days, he met up with friends, visited the Insectarium and listened to music. He called me the Saturday night of the festival to tell me he loved me. I was driving back from a wedding and told him goodnight. Little did I know what was to follow. I forgot in my haste to reply back “I love you too.”
At 2 a.m. a phone call came that changed our lives forever. Our son had overdosed on heroin in a New Orleans hotel.
The world stopped.
I read so many obituaries in the paper these days. If it’s someone who died of an addiction I relive the horror of those first few days.
Thankfully, the funeral was a blur. Many of William’s friends had their exams delayed to support us. I remember Todd Hamilton, the director of O’Brien House, standing in the line at the wake. He gave me a look only a person who has lost someone or endured this struggle could give.
A packed house and three priests celebrated my son’s life. His cousin, Adam, wrote a song and played it after giving a beautiful eulogy. William’s beagle was a pallbearer. He followed the group as we went behind St. John Catholic Church in Brusly to take our boy to his resting place.
Since then O’Brien House has been my passion — the one way to combat the bitterness of losing an addict to the devil.
As COVID-19 closes in on us, I'm again working with O’Brien House on its annual fundraiser, a breakfast that in normal times would pack a hotel reception room. There would be many hugs, tears and healing.
This year it will be virtual. Different. But its mission of helping addicts is still so important.
Many lives have been saved by Pat O’Brien’s brainchild. Many families have been somewhat repaired.
To love someone with an addiction is like chasing a beautiful kite that just left your hand and soars. Sometimes you catch it. Sometimes it gets away from you.
As I walk out to get the paper this morning, I’m searching the stars for my son. I see the stars of others who have traveled his road and carried the same burden.