We grew up middle class, nice neighborhood, good house, yearly vacation; just your average American family. My childhood home was in a small town in Connecticut, about a 45-minute drive from NYC. Our parents chose that house specifically because it was a safe neighborhood, with good schools nearby, they never expected our lives to become what they did.
I am two years older than my brother. As kids we bickered, argued and fought just as much as any other siblings. He was always different, I don’t mean that in a bad way, trust me if you knew him and knew my family you would understand. He wasn’t a black sheep or rejected by the world, he was just him. A class clown with a heart of gold. He could make anyone laugh, was always fairly positive and just had a certain something special about him.
He was able to make friends with anyone, but never let anyone too close. I had my friends and he had his. We just never clicked, I was more of a preppy girl and he was never really part of any specific group; just a floater. He had his neighborhood friends that he knew since he was 3, beyond that everyone else was considered an acquaintance. It’s not that we hated each other, we just weren’t compatible in any way besides being related. I loved him and I know he loved me, even though it was rarely verbalized.
He idolized rock stars from a young age. The first CDs he ever owned were Aerosmith and Elvis. I still can’t hear “Dream On” without thinking of him. Pink Floyd, Zeppelin, Hendrix, Grand Funk, The Stones and The Beatles became his idols. It didn’t take long for his personality and image to match the musicians he cared about so much was about. At 13 years old he had the long hair, the “I don’t care attitude” and eventually started smoking weed. I knew he was smoking and didn’t think anything of it. Who was I to judge? I drank and smoked pot on occasion, we were teenagers it felt normal.
As time passed he seemed to become more and more reclusive and secretive. I just thought he was doing his own thing, but when one of his friends from the neighborhood came to me with his concerns I had no idea what to do. It was 2005 and prescription painkillers seemed to be everywhere; even in our small town. They told me Jackson was at their house the other day and snorted a pill in front of them. I was scared but didn’t know how to handle it. I probably should’ve said something to my parents, but I didn’t. It may have been the fear of pushing us further apart or having him feel like I “snitched” on him that kept me from saying something, I’m not really sure. I regret my choice that day, I wonder what would’ve happened if I had just said something.
Not long after this I left for college in Ohio and didn't see or speak to Jackson until he came with my parents to visit. As soon as he came to my dorm I saw an obvious decline in his physical appearance. He wasn’t in good shape. His eyes were sunken in, his skin had lost all pigment and he just seemed to be a shell of his old self.
I spoke to my parents later that night about him. They said he was recently arrested for trying to sell pot to some freshman and they had him going to therapy sessions to help with any charges he might have to face. I told them about the pill incident and they seemed to brush it off. Maybe it was denial, but they said something along the lines of “that’s why we brought him out here, it’ll do him good to get away from everything for a little while”.
Fast forward a bit, Jackson is now 18, I’m at the end of my sophomore year of college. We spoke here and there, mainly during the holidays and on birthdays. He was constantly stealing from them and other places and one day got arrested for shoplifting. A week later he got arrested again, then again. He admitted to my parents he had been using heroin for over 6 months. They panicked and got him into a local methadone clinic. Drug addiction was greek to them, they didn’t know how to handle it and to be honest, neither did I.
Heroin wasn’t big then, there was no heroin epidemic. He was just a kid, my family went into this blind and just hoped for the best. We had no idea how bad it would all become.
At first, it was working and he seemed to be doing ok. We had hope, but that hope soon faded and was replaced by fear. Jackson was arrested again, this time for crack possession. If it wasn’t for my Dad being close friends with the chief of police he would’ve 100% gone to jail. It soon came to light that while he was in the methadone clinic he was also smoking crack and started shooting heroin instead of snorting it. My brother was gone. Not in the physical sense, but in who he was. He was unrecognizable in every way. I drove home and we had an intervention. Jackson reluctantly agreed to go to rehab.
Less than a week out of treatment and he was back to the same. This happened time and time again over the next 3+ years. He’d go to rehab, get out, make it a few weeks or few months and relapse. Every time he relapsed it got worse. I was emotionally ready to hear that he had died, but I wasn’t ready for what happened next.
Jackson had a month or so clean and had come up to Connecticut for our grandmother’s funeral. Everything through the funeral went as normally as it could. We were back at our parent’s house sharing memories and laughs. He seemed to be doing great, back to who he used to be; he was finally my brother again. The next day I was waiting to shower. I knocked on the door, but no response. I knocked again. Nothing. When I open the door I found him lying on the floor. I screamed for my parents.
6 years ago I found my brother died on the floor. 6 years ago I called an ambulance to let them know my brother had overdosed on heroin. 6 years ago they were able to bring him back. My story isn't different from tens of thousands of others, except mine has a happy ending. That’s not the case for over 64,000 others. That’s how many people died from a drug overdose last year, that number is expected to rise in 2018. We got lucky, Jackson got lucky. I don’t know what would’ve happened if I lost my brother that day. Please if someone you care about is struggling or if you think they are, say something and do something.
He went back to detox and to rehab after the incident and then went to a halfway house. It was the same thing he had done in the past, but something was different. He wanted it, more than anything he wanted to get clean. We supported him emotionally, but not financially. He had to learn to be his own man and we couldn’t enable him anymore. It’s been 6 years since I got my brother back and I can’t explain how thankful I am.
By Jamie Wood