A Mother Builds Awareness
I met Cathy Warren on the southwest corner of Main Street and North Avenue in Webster, N.Y. She held a sign with a picture of her son with the words “Have You Lost Someone to Drugs?” written in black crayon. I rolled down my window and told her I never lost my son, but I understood her grief being my son was an addict. As I drove down the road, tears streamed down my face because the unimaginable hit me like bullets shattering my mother’s heart. It could have been my son. I turned my car around, parked it outside The Coach Sports Bar and stood with her on the corner. I told her about the many people who shared their stories of addiction with me and, like her, I wanted to help the parents, the addicts, and the schools to have a better understanding of drug addiction. Every little step, every stride, every accomplishment in bringing awareness to the epidemic taking hostage our loved ones and, in Cathy Warren’s case, taking their lives is a positive move toward healing and resolution.
The Story of Curtis Warren
Curtis Warren was an avid reader. His grandfather introduced him to books at a very young age. He often read to Curtis in an animated voice, and Curtis sat next to him with eyes of wonder wanting to hear more. Eventually, as he learned to read himself, he and his grandfather would take turns reading to each other. Curtis grew to love Sci-fi and Fantasy novels. When the first Harry Potter book came out, he read it in one night. Science books intrigued him as well. He would read them to Cathy, and he would try to explain everything she did not understand. His love for reading kept him going through the difficult times in his childhood, the times he felt alone.
Cathy called herself “The Kool-Aid Mom.” Her door was always open to Curtis’ friends, but when Curtis entered Spry Middle School, he fell into the wrong crowd. The friends coming through her door stole drugs from her medicine cabinets, but she still took on the protective role. Curtis’ friends were her children as well, and they knew it. One example was a young one man who ran away on a winter night, and the police searched for him everywhere. Cathy looked at a snowbank outside her window and saw lines scrawled across the newly fallen snow. The next morning when she looked again, she saw “Cathy, can I come in.” The young man did not want to come to the door, so he hoped she would see his request in the snow. Tears rolled down Cathy’s face as she told me the story. She had countless stories of wayward adolescents and teens flocking to her door.
By the time Curtis reached high school, Cathy felt lost in the chasm of Curtis’ poor choices. Webster-Schroeder High School had her on the phone nearly every day. She attended superintendent’s meetings, signed a 504 plan, and lost her status as a cool mom. A barrage of self-doubt kept her awake at night. It was an assault and battery on her conscience. She felt like a terrible parent. After all, she was a single mom. Dad was completely out of the picture. She worried about paying bills and putting food on the table. She worked long hours to make sure she meet her boy’s needs. Even Christmas became a guilt trip because she bought the things they needed, not the things they wanted.
The day Webster-Schroder High School called her at work and told her they expelled Curtis, she could not move. They arrested him, and he threatened to kill himself. She worked it out that he would go to Boces, but it lasted for one class. He threatened to blow up the school and held security off with a chair. She saw her version of hell take place within her home from that day forward.
The Downward Spiral
Cathy saw his slow fade happen. His eyes glazed over. A physical transformation took place, and it was like watching the metamorphosis of her son from a loving person to a person she no longer knew. The bad scenes escalated, and one night she called 911 only to have the police officers throw accusations about the medications visible on the top of her refrigerator. The medications were for her arthritis, nothing else. Curtis finally went to rehab and was clean for three months when his world collided with drugs the final time.
During his last days, Curtis withdrew from everyone. Riddled with anxiety at night, he drank. He wanted to smoke weed, but it was too expensive. He once told Cathy, “I can go down the street and get heroin for free.” When he started using again, she didn’t understand he was doing more than smoking weed and drinking. Suddenly, his friends stopped hanging around him, and even some of his closest friends didn’t recognize he was in trouble.
Cathy found Curtis rocking back and forth in the kitchen in front of her microwave. She assumed he was merely drunk. Eventually, she knew it was much more. She called 911. The EMTs cut off his shirt, and when they saw his acne, they assumed they were needle marks. He died of an acute overdose. He never mainlined.
She later found out the drug dealer refused to sell him the heroin because he had been drinking heavily. He knew if he did, Curtis would die. In desperation, Curtis went to the city and bought his drugs off the street where dealers don’t care.
Cathy’s World Now
Three weeks after Curtis died, Cathy’s mother passed away from a broken heart. It was the only way to explain it. Applebees Restaurant fired her after 17 years of waitressing. She went back to work too soon. When friends of Curtis kept coming into the restaurant and saying how sorry they were for her loss, she finally broke down and cried in the middle of the dining room floor. Her grief overwhelmed her and broke her into a million shards of memory. Cathy is currently going through her own ordeal as if she hasn’t been through enough already. She has melanoma under the retina in her right eye. She is undergoing laser treatment in NYC, and the tumor is still the same size. Cathy’s world will never be the same, but she is determined to bring awareness because too many young people are dying in Webster.
When the System Fails
Two weeks after Curtis died, Cathy went up to see her mother at the hospital. She decided to take a detour into Rochester Mental Health. Her words to them said it all. No commentary needed.
Two weeks ago, my son was supposed to be here, and you canceled his appointment. Now he is dead. He was expected to be here at 9:00 AM this morning, so you need to go into group, and tell them what happened and how they should hope their mothers are never sitting here right now feeling the same grief I am feeling.
A Wish in Life Becomes a Wish Fulfilled
Curtis firmly believed in relationships. He wanted people to be there for each other. He never wanted to experience the feeling of being utterly alone and isolated. The need for companionship grew with his addiction. His mother worked. His friends found jobs. He wanted someone with him all the time, which was an impossibility. His death brought people together again. His friends have stronger bonds within their relationships with each other, and they tell Cathy over and over again how Curtis was their best friend. The outpouring to Cathy is a testament to how great Curtis truly was in the lives of his friends. It took Curtis’ passing to bring family and friends together again and closer than ever before.
Learn from Curtis and Cathy’s journey. You are not alone in this battle with your loved one. Cathy is one of the countless people facing the loss of a child. I have a tattoo on my back. Stagli Vincio. It means “stay close.” My prayer for you is you stay close to your loved one. Hold tight. Love them even when they are hard to love. Give them room to breathe, but be the gentle guide to becoming drug-free. If you have lost a loved one, share your story. We all need to hear it. We all need to bear one another’s burdens. We all need hope.