I have lost my little brother. He’s still alive somewhere, he just isn’t Daniel anymore. He’s Junkie Dan, the Heroin King. Ok, that’s not really his nickname. But he is a junkie, he has chosen heroin over every other relationship in his life, and he is lost to us all.
I grew up with three brothers: Ricky, the oldest; Jack, the middle brother born two years after me; and Daniel, the youngest, the baby of the family, though he wasn’t really all that much younger. We four kids were only spread out over six and a half years. All of my brothers had issues while growing up, they all had trouble with the law, but two of them recovered from it. Nowadays, Ricky is the one who is a Very Successful Businessman, Jack is the one who is Very Happily Married, and Daniel is the one who became a Worthless Junkie.
We don’t really talk about Daniel very much. Jack and I exchange text messages about him sometimes. He and I are always checking the court system websites looking for our baby brother’s name. That’s how we know there is a warrant out for him right now, which explains both why he showed up at our parents’ house a couple of months ago (immediately post-arrest) and why he has (or claims to have) left the state. Ricky and I used to talk about Daniel a lot too. I used to check the Craigslist postings in their city – my brothers all live in the same geographic area, while I am a thousand miles away – to see if there was anything of value that Daniel was selling. When I found something, I would call Ricky, and then Ricky would call our parents and say things like “Hey, I noticed you guys are selling <insert expensive item name here> on Craigslist. If you want to get rid of it, I’ll take it.” Then of course my parents would be like, “Ricky, what are you talking about, we’re not selling that,” and he would mention that it was listed on-line with Danny’s name and phone number. My dad would get mad, usually at Ricky because how dare he check up on his brother like that, and my mom would make excuses and claim it must have been some misunderstanding.
That was before Danny decided to loot their house one final time and then go live on the streets. See, he had been living with them for over five years. He celebrated his thirtieth birthday as an unemployed junkie living in his parents’ basement. Lest you think basement = dank miserable living space, let me describe it. Danny was living in a very comfortable bedroom with a private bathroom in a fully finished basement that features a very nice bar area, a big television (eventually sold for drugs), a workout area, and a pool table. He had it good. There was always plenty of food available, and my parents made sure his favorite beer was always stocked in the bar fridge. My mom did his laundry and cleaned up after him. They paid for his truck, and his new truck after he totaled the old one while drunk driving, and his car insurance, and his cell phone, and gave him an allowance (an allowance! he was a grown man! what the hell??) which he spent on cigarettes, prescription painkillers, and heroin.
My parent have always had excuses for Danny. What you need to understand is that the world has always been out to get him. It’s not his fault, not ever. See, every time he almost gets back on his feet, every time he starts to accomplish something, every time anything in his life starts to improve, the world immediately kicks him back down again. It’s never been his fault. In fact, if you ask my parents right now, the three people who are most to blame for Danny the Homeless Junkie are Ricky, Jack, and myself. It’s our fault, because over the past six years we haven’t supported him enough, haven’t been there enough.
Some things you should know about Danny: He’s sly, attractive, and charming. My other brothers and I, we’re ok looking. Maybe slightly above average, if that doesn’t sound too braggy. Danny, he could have been a model. He has beautiful eyes and a smile that makes people want to be nice to him. The old Danny, I mean. Danny in his early twenties, especially military Danny. When he was in the Army, I was surprised they didn’t pull him out of the ranks and use him in their ad campaigns as the perfect handsome soldier. But he’s sly too, and a liar. He’s always had this lying streak, even as a little kid. He’s always had the ability to tell people what they want to hear, and then smile in a way that they want to believe him, and he has a great wounded look for when you don’t believe him. You know, when you don’t believe him and you’re part of the big bad world that keeps kicking him when he’s down.
His drug problem started as a teenager. I think the alcohol abuse started first, and I do think Ricky should shoulder the blame for some of that (not me, I moved out when Danny was just thirteen). Ricky enabled drinking for both Danny and Jack (full disclosure, I did buy Jack alcohol when he was eighteen, but I figured he was an adult so it was ok). I don’t know when the pot smoking started. Sometime in high school. I remember him lying about it, like when he’d tell me that all his friends smoked up all the time, but not him, no never him. He’d say that while his clothes reeked of pot and his eyes were bloodshot, and maybe I was an enabler too because I’d pretend to believe him and tell him how great it was that he stood up to peer pressure like that. I thought that was what he wanted to hear, but maybe I should have told him back then that I knew the truth.
Danny went to college. At that point, I was in grad school on the other side of the country and didn’t really speak to anyone in my family very often. But I do remember the call that October(?) when he was arrested for drug possession. It was sometime in his first semester, and my parents explained that it wasn’t his drugs, he was taking the fall for a friend. They were so mad at that friend. And I couldn’t believe they believed that story, but I didn’t say anything. Danny was put on probation, but you have to understand that probation is really hard. I mean, he had to have a job (because he had dropped out of school having failed/not attended his classes), and he wasn’t allowed to drink (since he was only eighteen) AND on top of all that, he had to stay away from drugs. I can’t remember how long he lasted. I do know he quit his job, but pretended he didn’t and left the house (back at the parents, of course) every day in his uniform. And I know he started failing drug tests. When he stole my mom’s post-surgery prescription drugs and failed the subsequent test, he ended up in jail. He said that was good, it was easier to serve his few months and get it out of the way rather than be on probation for the next year and a half.
After jail, he ended up enlisting in the army. It was post-September 11th, and they were willing to overlook the drug transgressions. I thought the army would be good for him. He finally had a career, he had a purpose. If you ask my mother, she’ll tell you the army destroyed her poor baby. In her delusions, she thinks the army is 80% responsible for my brother’s current heroin abuse (Ricky, Jack, and I cover the other 20%).
Danny went to Afghanistan. While he was there, he was in a convoy under fire, and the vehicle he was in rolled. He was injured in the rollover. I feel like the worst person in the world writing this, but sometimes I think it would have been better had he died there. Then he would have died a hero, a soldier, fighting for his country. He wouldn’t be just another homeless heroin addict who hurt everyone who ever cared about him. We would remember him with love and pride and talk about ‘what if’ and be able to wonder what amazing things he would have gone on and done had he survived the accident. Instead, today, we think of him with sadness and pain, and maybe a little bit of anger and hate. I love my brother Danny. He was always my favorite. And I miss him. And I would have cried every day afterward if he had died in Afghanistan. And sometimes I think maybe he did die there. The man who came home was not the brother I loved, and this paragraph is the hardest and worst I ever wrote.
When he came back, he was addicted to painkillers. I want to stress that he had been using drugs before, and he had gotten in trouble and demoted more than once because of his drug use. But it got worse after the accident. Then he got pretend married (long story for another post), and then he was deployed again, this time to Iraq.
I remember the day in 2008 when I got the phone call. Danny had been airlifted out of Iraq. He had been taken to a hospital in Germany where they cared for injured soldiers. The cause? Supposedly some kind of seizure from his old back injury, though I suspect the seizure may have been caused by drug abuse. He was sent back to the United States. Several months later, he was honorably discharged with something like a 10% disability. By then his wife had left him – she married the strong handsome soldier, not the injured drug addict, and she wanted nothing to do with him. I hated her for awhile, but I understand her decision now, and quite frankly, in her position I would have left him too. He moved in with my parents at that point, eventually got surgery and completely recovered from the injury. And continued to abuse drugs.
I don’t know when the prescription drug abuse became heroin abuse. They may have coincided for a long time. I just know that he could never hold a job, he failed numerous drug tests, and he was stealing from people. He came to visit me when I was pregnant with Wildling. I was so excited to see him. I was so happy he was able to come out, even though it was just for five days. And those five days became three, because he got sick while he was here. Sick with withdrawal. He was so sick he flew back early. My mom made excuses for him, he went home because when you’re sick you want to be in a safe place, you want to be at home. But in truth he went home because he didn’t want to take drugs through the airport, and he thought he could last a few days, and he was wrong, and he couldn’t find anything in my medicine cabinet to tide him over.
I still remember what it was like picking him up from the airport. I was waiting for him, and when he finally came down to the arrivals area, I didn’t recognize him. I didn’t recognize my own brother. And when this strange man started walking toward me, I remember thinking “That can’t be Danny, is that guy coming over here? Wait – that is Danny! Shit, what the hell happened to him?” My Danny, my baby brother was unrecognizable to me.
That was around the time I started talking to Ricky about it. Ricky was concerned too. Later that same year Ricky found out that Danny had stolen a ring from our father, one of extreme sentimental value to my dad and really, to all of us. A ring that Ricky will probably inherit one day, and later on Ricky’s son. A ring that symbolizes a lot for all of us, but happens to be made of gold, and was worth a lot of money when sold for scrap. Yes, sold for scrap. Ricky found out about it when Danny called him, desperate for cash. Danny explained that he had sold his army ring, and needed money to get it back. We knew at the time that Danny had a drug problem, but we didn’t know how bad it was. But then Ricky went to the scrap gold place, thinking that he would buy back Danny’s army ring and keep it for him. The guy there told Ricky he was lucky, that they hold the jewelry for thirty days after the deadline to pay to get it back, but that they only sent out the gold to be melted down twice a month, and that the ring had survived only because the expiration date happened to be one day after the scrap gold was sent to the furnace…and then he gave Ricky our father’s ring.
We started trying to deal with the drug problem then, and Ricky and Jack sat down to talk to our parents about it and return the ring. Our parents rather nicely explained that Danny did not actually have a drug problem, that he had already disclosed his gambling problem, and that he was going to start going to Gambler’s Anonymous meetings. I think flabbergasted is a good word to describe our collective response. Gambling? Wouldn’t Danny have to go somewhere other than our parent’s basement? Shouldn’t he do something besides smoke and sleep? Mom explained that it was on-line gambling, and when I told her he needed a credit card for that, she didn’t believe me. No, he was a gambler, her son couldn’t possibly be a junkie. I won’t go into all the details here, but suffice to say that Ricky, Jack, and I all harbor some resentment for how we were treated while all this was going on.
That was fall 2011. Soon afterward, Danny admitted his drug problem. Between fall 2011 and winter 2013, he tried rehab a few times at the VA, swore he was clean a few times, stole my dad’s ring a few times, stole numerous electronics, stole cash from my teenage nephew (Ricky’s son), stole from my other brothers, lied about a thousand things. I don’t know if I actually spoke to him at all during that time period. He doesn’t answer his phone and his voice mail is always full. At some point, he changed his number to avoid debt collectors (It’s their fault! How dare they give him a credit card! What did they expect? – that’s my mom’s response to the debt collectors) and he didn’t give me his new number. I found out his number changed while browsing Craigslist and recognizing my parent’s basement in the background of a post selling their things without permission. At some point the debt collectors connected him to my husband and started harassing Will, but that’s a story for another time.
Nothing worked to help Danny. No matter what, heroin was more important. He continued hurting everyone. Then my father got sick. He was diagnosed with cancer (don’t worry about him; his final surgery is soon, he is better, his prognosis is excellent). While my father was in the hospital for surgery just before Christmas, Danny went on some kind of looting binge. He took everything he could, including Christmas gifts my parent’s purchased for Jack’s six year old son. He took the electronics that had been purchased to make my father’s recovery time more comfortable. He took it all, and left to live on the streets. I’m not going to comment on the stupidity of living on Midwestern streets in the winter time. I was glad when I heard he was gone. No surprise, he showed up Christmas Eve to collect his gifts, and then not again until March, when he came long enough to get money and destroy the relationship my parents have with Ricky and Jack. Jack and I joke that he was back because he knew enough time had passed that our parents had likely replaced their valuables so he could steal again. Now I think it was because of his arrest, and perhaps, since he gave a poorly disguised version of their address as his own (really? you changed the street name to a synonym for that street name in their small town? you thought that would hide you? very clever, asshole) to collect any mailings from the court before our parents could see it.
Now Jack isn’t speaking to our parents, because they made it very very clear, both verbally and in email, that they value Danny above the rest of us, that we are all at fault for Danny’s addiction (except Danny, of course, he’s the victim), and that if given a choice they would sacrifice all contact with Jack’s children rather than notify Jack whether his drug addicted younger brother was in the house. To make that clearer: Jack said his kids could not be around Danny, our parents decided that meant Jack was calling them bad people/liars who wouldn’t protect their grandchildren, and they cut off contact in a passive aggressive way while trying to sound like martyrs for their poor ill baby boy. Ricky still visits them, but he has written off Danny as a loss and will not speak of or to him.
As for me? I think I lost Danny a long time ago. He was my favorite brother, and I loved him. But I lost him. He’s gone. He’s Junkie Dan the Heroin King. He’s made his decision. I don’t believe he’ll ever be clean, and when I get phone calls in the middle of the night, I always expect to hear that his body has been found, dead of a overdose. He was my baby brother, and I loved him so much. But the second he injected heroin, I lost him forever. And I will always miss him.