‘She said, ‘It’s your dad. There’s something wrong. The cops said they found him on the ground.’ We still had so many questions.’: Woman details life with drug-addicted father, ‘I’m not mad at you’

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“It was around 10:15 p.m. and there goes my phone. I was unsure who would be calling and anticipated it to be my mom. My grandma had been suffering from stage 4 cancer and was getting worse, so I thought for sure we’d lost her. But, as I looked, it was my dad’s girlfriend, Pat. She said, ‘It’s your dad. There’s something wrong. The cops came and said they found him on the ground. They had an ambulance take him to IHC.’ I felt my heart start racing and a huge weight sit right on top of my chest. She really never calls or talks much. But she sounded pretty stressed.

I told her I’d call my brother, and we’d get there. I didn’t know where my sister was. She wasn’t easy to reach and was battling her own problems and illness, just like my dad. As we drove, my brother and I were really worried. It wasn’t too long before this, we had been visiting my dad at the hospital because his heart was acting up. The doctor had scolded him to take better care of himself and not to do what he was doing. And my dad, like his usual self, tried to joke. The doctor was so annoyed and said, ‘You need to stop what you are doing or you will end up dead.’

I thought it was harsh, but I understood. It was his second time at the hospital, and he had a long background of addiction and bad health. But this time, this time was different. Let’s go back to elementary for me. Yes, that far back. I’m 42 now, and this has been my life. My brother’s life, my sister’s, and my mom’s. Hell, it’s been everybody’s life who he touched, whether it was good or bad. It’s been his whole life, and that’s what makes it even worse. His time here was hard. He fought to live, to survive, and to be loved.

I was young and didn’t understand a lot of it. But I remember trials and tribulations we went through because of his sickness. I remember being in the auditorium singing ‘Jingle Bells’ and looking, searching the room to see if he showed up. He didn’t. He wasn’t going to. And I knew why. I didn’t know what kind of drug, but I knew it was what he chose. That hurt. It hurt so bad because ‘I love you’ wasn’t being said, and there weren’t hugs or acknowledgment. It was neglect, and it shaped me.

Courtesy of Alicia Martinez Laird
Courtesy of Alicia Martinez Laird

As I grew and had boyfriends and different life experiences, I would see him here and there. My mom would take him back, and the resentment grew so strong. When I’d watch him drive by as I walked on a snowy or hot, dry day, I’d think, ‘He’s so inconsiderate.’ I used to get so mad when I’d see him drive by with another woman. It would kill me.

My mom finally decided to divorce him, and I remember he didn’t even show up. We stood at the court house and looked out the window from the top floor. I could see the pain in my mom’s face. There was a definite time this beast took over again, this drug. He had no sense of responsibility or respect. He was consumed by drugs, and I knew now what it was. It was heroin. He was lost, and I remember feeling like he was already gone, like he’d already passed away.

Courtesy of Alicia Martinez Laird

As time went on and family passed away, he didn’t show up or even show his face. I’d be driving in our old neighborhood, and I’d see him ride by on a bike or in someone’s car. I’d see the news and panic if he was the man found dead. I can’t tell you how many times I called to be sure it wasn’t him. Those calls would stop me in my tracks for weeks.

I’m going to fast forward to one of the last times he was in jail or prison for the lifestyle he had during his addiction. I always tried to forgive and wanted a relationship. So one time, he came and stayed with us after he got out. We had a nice dinner, watched TV, and just hung out. He stayed a few days. Sober and trying. And then he left to stay with my uncle. I remember telling him as he was leaving, to be careful, I loved him, and to not leave me hanging. He got in my uncle’s truck and it was like he ignored me. No ‘I love you’, no ‘OK’, no nothing. My feelings were hurt. I called my uncle’s phone on Father’s Day to tell him Happy Father’s Day. My uncle got quiet. ‘Umm… he’s not here. He hasn’t come back, and it’s been 5 days. We don’t know where he’s at. I’m sorry honey.’

Courtesy of Alicia Martinez Laird

Again my heart hurt. The weight on my chest and the feeling of resentment were back, just like they never left.

As I became a mom, an aunt, and everything I thought I should become or do, I couldn’t share it with him. Because he was absent. I used to say, ‘You know, he was nice to people. He tried to help. He was caring, even though he did things that were wrong or took from the ones he loved. He never made people feel like crap for no reason. If he did, you made it that way yourself.’ But I didn’t do anything to not be talked to, hugged, or loved back. I’m his daughter and he pushed me away.

Courtesy of Alicia Martinez Laird

Even towards the end, he had this relationship with my siblings. A relationship we didn’t have. They talked, called each other, and would see each other. I was proud he came to my son’s graduation and graduation party. He came to his granddaughter’s baby shower. It was nice to have him there, see him, and listen to him — even if it was a smart a** comment. He was funny, goofy, and clumsy. He looked like my grandpa, his dad. My older son looks like the both of them, and I love that. I really am proud of that.

Courtesy of Alicia Martinez Laird

As I rode through my old neighborhood on Halloween, to go deliver my little boy’s Halloween crafts he made for each grandparent, I stopped on 2nd Avenue. The last house at the bottom of the the street, a familiar street. We lived in the last house at the top of the street before this addiction ruined our lives. I pulled up, he was on the porch.

‘Chewbacca has something for you.’

He looked in the car and said, ‘Pat, get the candy. Our first trick-or-treater is here.’

We gave him his picture. It had a painted footprint on it, made in white to be a ghost.

‘Donovan, you going to do me dirty like this, and make me smell your feet?!’

My little boy giggled and we all laughed. He just had a way to make people laugh. That was it.

Courtesy of Alicia Martinez Laird

That was the last time I talked to my dad. He was good at hiding that he was still using. That he still had this illness. He took good care of his hair, his skin, and his clothes. He wasn’t your usual drug addict. He was a handsome man, handsome dad, and handsome grandpa. The ladies loved him. On the real, he was a ladies man. I mean, even my mom and him made peace. She always loved my dad, even when she couldn’t stand him.

The doctor in the E.R. approaches my brother and I to make a decision, to take him up to ICU or to let him off the machines where he is. We still have questions and aren’t ready to let him go. From my understanding, he left on his bike for a few hours and was found on the ground behind an area we grew up going to in old Midvale. Right behind Vincent Drug, an old building. He was near his bike, and his hat was several feet away. The EMT’s worked on him and couldn’t get him to respond. His heart failed him. The drugs killed him.

Courtesy of Alicia Martinez Laird

We stayed and tried everything at the hospital. His brain waves were showing no sign of a comeback. If we didn’t make a choice to let him rest, he would be a vegetable. We knew our dad well enough to know he can’t stay put. His pride would kill him to have to be fed and cleaned, and his dignity would take a toll. He was a free bird his entire life, and we couldn’t change that. As we stood there — my siblings, my mom, his siblings, and some friends and family — we watched him take his last breath.

You think even when you’re hurt or mad that it’s not going to get to you. But the truth is, when you lose someone you love to this disease, you feel robbed. You feel complete emptiness. Because this illness really couldn’t care less if your daughter needed at least one last conversation with you, or a chance to say, ‘I need you to say I love you back dad, because I am grateful for all and any time and attention you gave. I’m not mad at you.’

The pain hasn’t gotten easier. It’s still there.

We have a new relationship now. I feel like you’re at peace and no longer struggling with pain. You are with your parents, siblings, family and friends.

We miss you…

Drug’s will destroy your home and family. They will take from your time with the most important people. They will make you forget time and days. They will cause you shame and embarrassment. But I also believe depression, anxiety, and PTSD lead a majority of people to do drugs. I believe my dad didn’t want to let it control him. He was a very strong person, and I know he was very ashamed. I do forgive him for any and all his mistakes. I believe he knows that.”

Courtesy of Alicia Martinez Laird

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Alicia Martinez Laird of Utah. You can follow her journey on Facebook. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.

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