The first time I saw him was a picture of him while I was on my first date with his dad. As his dad held up his picture it was like looking at twins, he looked so much like his dad.
The first time I met him he was standing at the top of the stairs. I was nervous, as I knew that Kevin was the most important person in his dad’s life. I’d pulled over on the side of the road on the way home to freshen up my makeup and if you know me, well, you know that I normally don’t do things like that. His first words to me were “you look pretty did you just come from the spa?” I gave him a nervous laugh. He was literally standing in my way; I couldn’t even get in the door. They were waiting for me to go to dinner. And Kevin figured he got the introductions out of the way and after a hug that became signature for him (as his girlfriend would say, “sometimes just a little too tight”) his next words were “ok dad she is here can we go eat now?”
It was 5 in the afternoon! That kid loved to eat! That never changed either. He stayed with us that entire summer since he lived with his mom and stepdad in Maryland. I fell in love with the role that I got to play in his life that summer. I knew from a very young age that I would not be able to have children and this felt like a shoulder tap from God, giving me something that I desired, but had no idea since I had prepared myself for no children as far back as I could remember. Kevin and I loved to blare music in the car and act crazy. He loved the beach, he loved movies and he loved me.
And that was everything to me.
Less than a year later, he moved to Florida. He wasn’t with us long before he asked me if he could call me “mom”. And of course I told him yes. Since I was 23 and he was 12 we got lots of interesting looks in the grocery store, so much so that we did it on purpose on every single aisle in the grocery store!
Kevin had beautiful blue eyes that looked like the ocean and when his eyes were filled with tears, as they so often were, it was impossible not to feel like your heart had been ripped out of your chest. I knew that his situation with his mom and step dad wasn’t great, but I really had no idea how bad it was until one day with those tear-filled ocean eyes he shouted at me “at least your mom didn’t sell your VCR for crack cocaine!” That was when I knew that I had found my person and nobody will ever be able to tell me that he wasn’t just as much my son as if I had given birth to him myself.
It was important to me that he be well educated. He came to us with all kinds of behavior issues at school and that precluded him from learning. As an educator and at least at that time a huge proponent of Christian education, it was important to me to put him in a private school. I fought his dad on this and the decision finally was made that if I wanted to pay his tuition that we could send him.
So, I went out and got a second job so that he could go. One night I came home after a 14 -hour day and Kevin told me that there was a surprise waiting for me our bathroom. Not only had he drawn me a bath (one of my favorite things in the world) he surrounded the outside of the tub with grape and cherry Now & Laters. He left the flavors I don’t like on the bathroom counter “just in case”. I was moved by his maturity and the fact that he realized the sacrifice for him. That was the kind of kid he was, most of the time. And Now & Laters (especially cherry) is one of my love languages, and he knew it too.
As the years went by we had some issues with him for sure, we ended up home schooling him because of his behavior at school. He sat outside my home office for 3 years and did his school work while I would take breaks and help him on difficult tasks. It became clear to me that he was more than capable of passing the test for his GED when he was about 16 years old. And he did.
September 11, 2001 hit him hard. Because he was home schooled, he saw it all happen on live TV. It affected him. And the ocean eyes, again, were filled with tears. He decided then that he wanted to do something about it. He told us he wanted to go into the military and so we drove him to all the recruiting offices and he picked the Coast Guard. On graduation day, the boy we sent off to boot camp was a man. I specifically remember looking over at him and thinking what an amazing opportunity he had out in front of him. Sadly, just 6 months later he got kicked out of the Coast Guard for under aged drinking.
And the disease of addiction started then.
We spent countless amounts of dollars putting him in rehab but he was never able to stay clean. The next several years he had run ins with the police and ultimately served a short prison sentence for stealing in order to fund his drug addiction. He moved back to Maryland where his newborn son lived and bounced around from house to house to rehab facilities and he was never able to stay clean.
I had not seen or heard from him since the day that I left his dad. I remember that too tight hug that day and wish I could linger there for just a few more minutes right now. I can still see him leaning against the moving truck that held the previous 12 years of my life in it. I was headed west, to Clearwater. After that tight hug, he whispered in my ear that he understood why I had to leave. The truth of the matter is that he and I huddled in the closet more times than I can count waiting for his dad to pass out in an alcohol induced coma. So, he got it. But because of his dad’s actions, it was not safe for me to stay in touch with him. They were doing drugs together and his dad told him to rob that house for which he went to prison.
It was not until I got the phone call that his dad was found dead in a hotel room did I talk to him again. I still don’t remember how I found him, but I was the one that had to tell him that his dad was dead, found with drugs in the room, heroine mainly. He switched the call to Face Time and suddenly I saw that kid standing at the top of the stairs. I wanted a tight hug at that moment. We stayed in touch but then he disappeared and I knew that all of the money that he inherited was being shot into his veins. I prayed much and just hoped I was wrong. Months later he called me straight out of rehab. He had nowhere to go and had burned every bridge. I knew that if he didn’t get off the street that there was no hope for him. He ended up in a sober living facility, where I paid his first two weeks. I hoped that this time it would stick, and it did, for over a year.
That year was filled with healing conversations, video chats and text messages. He validated my “parenting skills” from his younger years telling me that the worst thing I did to him was not let him listen to inappropriate music. I apologized and he said “why are you apologizing, I don’t let my son listen to it either”. He was doing well, had met the love of his life and had his rights restored for his son. He’d gotten a good job and every month he would text me a picture of the coin he’d gotten at his NA meetings.
I started to become concerned when communication became erratic. When the Caps won the Stanley Cup, I texted him and didn’t hear back for weeks. Then I received a text message from him telling me that he’d relapsed and had just gotten out of the hospital. Things went back to normal until I woke up to a Facebook message from his mom. If that message were not in black and white in front of me, I would not believe it. Kevin Watson, age 33, dead of a drug overdose. He had taken a lethal dosage of heroine laced with fentanyl.
It still doesn’t seem real. It is a month ago today. Ironically, this is also the day of that first date where I was introduced to Kevin Michael Watson over a diet coke and Caesar salad.
This news came during the worst possible time for me health wise. I was literally fighting to get out of bed in the morning. I don’t know if that is why it hit me so hard, but the light is gone from my eyes and plenty of tears have filled them. His death has me questioning everything I ever thought was true.
“The Lord is close to the broken hearted, He rescues those who’s spirits are crushed”
As I was thinking about what to write today, I wanted to share with you this verse that I didn’t even know existed. As I prayed about which Psalm to pick, Psalm 34 just kept coming to my mind. I got my Bible out and the first several verses did not speak to me, but then I got to verse 18 and about 20 minutes later I was in the same position on my couch with tears falling on the pages of my Bible.
A crushed spirit, huh? Yes. That is exactly how it feels. I don’t have any regrets with Kevin; I have lost too many people to leave things left undone. My last words to him were “I Love You”, as we laughed about how impossible it was for us to have an actual phone call. But the last month has left me asking lots of questions to my God Who can handle it. He seems silent on this subject. In fact, He seems silent period. My mind floods with all the times I did everything I could just to keep him alive. I rapid fire my questions to God and every time I run out of questions, I find myself begging him for Peace. And He gives it, even if it is for a short time before another huge wave of grief hits me, again.
You see, addiction is not new to me. While I have never used heroine, I, at one time, coped with my life through pain medication. Honestly, I am lucky to be alive, and if there is any guilt with either his dad’s death or Kevin’s, it is the very real knowledge that any number of times that could have been me too. Why them and not me? We are literally in an opioid crisis in this country and since my life was spared, I would like to put a face on it for you. Just look at my profile picture. My life was spared despite my best efforts after taking a handful of pain pills and washing it down with wine. I am free of that now, with no desire to go back, but I know it can happen. The terror in the eyes of those who love me stop me, I think. I wouldn’t want anybody to feel this pain.
I know I will have friends who think this is too real and too personal. And while I care what those around me think, this is bigger than what any reader will think of me.
As I mourn the loss of this 33- year old beautiful disaster, I can go no other place than to God. Because when I take Him out of the equation, I still have my grief, but not God. And so I cling to the precious promise of this verse. He is close, he is right beside me, and His burden is light.
My load is heavy. So tied to him on the yoke, I give Him a little head nod and ask Him to take over.
Because I am tired. I am sad. I am confused. I am crushed. I can’t carry any of this load I have to have Him carry it for me. Otherwise, I will join them and that would be a waste of all God has healed and that He has redeemed.
This will take awhile to heal, and part of me will always be missing. Every time I think of Kevin I find myself literally shaking my head and sometimes saying out loud “it didn’t have to be like this”. And I am asking that question along with countless others who are losing their loved ones to this epidemic.
I don’t know what tomorrow brings or what lesson God will bring through all of this. I do know this and that is that He is a sovereign God and we can’t explain Him. One day we may want to ask Him the age-old question “if you are a good God, then why?” but unless He decides to reveal that to me, I have two choices the first of which is not an option for me. I can attempt to do life without Him or I can just admit there are some things I just don’t understand.
A few people have thrown around words like brave and strong to me lately. Many don’t understand why the death of Kevin sent me reeling into questioning God. My answer to them is all the same and that is I just think that with all the pain, all the abuse and all the loss, losing a child is something we just aren’t wired to handle.
And so I look for Him because He promises He is close and that he will rescue those with a broken spirit.
That is me God, that is me.
As for Kevin, I am confident I will see him on the other side. Those ocean eyes have no more tears. He is not in withdrawals from drugs. He is not sad about his dad or the things that happened to him as a child. No more pain, no more tears, no more sorrow.
But I will get that tight hug.
There will be that day for me too. As it will be for anybody who understands that living this life is brutal and dare I say impossible to live without God, Who loves me more than I can ever comprehend.
And even though He is God, I don’t think He is wired to watch our pain either. We know He grieves with us. So, I can only conclude that I was not made for this world, and one day will see full restoration in both my body and spirit.
But for today, both are on the injured reserve. But they will be back.
Because He promised.