A little over 18 months ago, I got a call from my daughter. “Mikey died today,” she said, “You should take flowers over.”
I walked a few doors down with a bunch of daisies and knocked on the door. What do you say to a parent who has lost their 23-year old son?
Rumors started. They always have in these situations, but cell phones and Facebook facilitate them at a higher and faster rate. Mikey had been found in a hotel nearby. I don’t believe the needle was in his arm. But it was definitely close by.
The death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman has, blessedly, illuminated a terrifying epidemic. I do not mean to make light of Hoffman’s death – my heart goes out to him, to the pain he was undoubtedly suffering, to the grief and confusion his children and partner and loved ones are feeling.
They know rationally there was nothing they could have done. But in their hearts, they are and will be thinking, “If only …”
Addiction was not something I understood when I was young. Like so many people, I thought you should just kick your habit. Yes, you would need treatment and ongoing help. But, I thought, it could be done with enough effort.
Older, and minutely wiser, I now clearly see the physiological link. I see in it a family member, who describes it as a compulsion. I see it in my college friend who passionately works her program. I know it is not just a matter of willpower because if it were, no one would be an addict.
Mikey had always had acute anxiety. He was kind and sweet and very sensitive. My son, five years younger, adored him and doggedly followed him around the neighborhood.
And Mikey let him. I think he was such a sensitive soul that he was just unwilling to risk hurting anyone, especially a young boy who looked up to him.
The kids in the neighborhood grew up, moved on to college and jobs, and as happens, you don’t even realize they aren’t around anymore. The morning I got the call from my daughter I wondered, “Where had Mikey been?” I hadn’t seen him in ages.
Mikey, the sensitive kid who had been taking Xanax in high school to help control his escalating anxiety, had spent the last four years sometimes sober, mostly not, and always struggling.
Trying to find normal
He had been through a half-dozen treatments centers. He had been kicked out of at least one, had remained at some, had at times been sober; and the only time he ever felt normal, he had told his mom, was when he was high. It was the only time his acute anxiety was in control.
But so was the heroin. And Mikey desperately hated being an addict – the label, the embarrassment, the hurt he was causing people whom he loved him very, very much.
So on a warm June night, only two days out of another round of treatment, he checked into the hotel, wrote a note to his family and injected a lethal dose of heroin.
He knew it was selfish – he said as much in his note. But he could not face the rest of his life trying to find normal. It had eluded him for more than two decades and he believed that it always would.
From all accounts, Philip Seymour Hoffman was a kind and sensitive person, loved by many – as we all are, but often fail to notice. And if love were enough, Mikey and Hoffman and so many other tender souls would still be here.
I am not romanticizing their deaths. To do so would be a dishonor to them.
Mikey stole and dealt pot to support his habit; Hoffman reportedly spent vast amounts on his addiction. Mikey left parents and friends who will always be hurt at his choice to end his life. Hoffman left behind family and fans and colleagues who may always be astonished by his relapse.
A sad, desperate commonality
Mikey’s death didn’t make the paper. Hoffman’s has been broadcast worldwide. Neither man was homeless, indigent or uneducated; yet both were beholden to a powdery white substance that controlled them and would ultimately affect every single individual they knew.
And finally, both men died alone — a sad, desperate and tragic commonality of a middle-class kid and a star of Broadway and film.
Carrie Daklin is a Twin Cities freelance writer.
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