Thursday, August 11, 2016

Sharing Kevin

If you have read my blog for any length of time or have known me for a while, you are well aware of what happened to my brother. Just in case someone is new to this blog or to me, Kevin passed away from a heroin overdose on January 4th, 2013. It was that day that our lives changed forever.

A person is not born with a needle in their arm, Kevin obviously did not start out an addict. He had a rough go at life from the beginning.  We are both adopted, from different families. It is my understanding that Kevin's birth parents were married and had other children. It is also my understanding that they may have kept some of the children and gave up others for adoption. Whatever the case, Kevin ended up right where he belonged in our family!

Kevin was born into this world with some hardships from an infant on.  He was born with a heart murmur which turned out to not be a big deal.  Also, his foot was turned in and he had to wear a corrective shoe. Not super big deals in my book, but this caused him to not be adopted as quickly as other babies. Which honestly worked out to my family's advantage.

Kevin was a loving boy who really enjoyed spending time with his family. He had big brown, gentle eyes that were warm and friendly.  He loved to go fishing with my dad and on random adventures, and he was a momma's boy through and through.  We used to play games of make-believe all the time. We played school and house and games in the backyard. We had a typical growing up experience with two loving parents. We went on vacations and spend a lot of time together as a family.

Things became more difficult for Kevin when he entered school.  Kevin, as we found out, did not play the game of school well.  He was not going to be the compliant kid that did everything he was told. He was the type of kid that would question or do what he needed to do because concentrating on the task at hand was difficult.  Kindergarten was ok from what I remember.  First grade started out with few problems, I remember his teacher being very understanding and supportive of Kevin.  But then there was an incident where the teacher accused him of trying to steal something from her purse.  From what I remember of Kevin's story, he was handing in a paper on her desk and her purse was open and he saw cigarettes and was shocked that a teacher smoked!  Knowing what I know now, and how teachers talk this may have started Kevin's reputation in elementary school.

Second grade proved to be even more challenging.  Every teacher has a different teaching style, and Kevin's second-grade teacher expected compliance and nothing else.  This was not going to be a good match.  My mom worked at the school we went to, and the teacher pulled her aside to tell her that Kevin would never amount to much.  How can a teacher tell a parent that?! He was eight years old! Eight! Practically a baby and someone's pride and joy! From what I remember, Kevin and my parents went in survival mode to just get through that year and teacher.

Summers were Kevin's time where he could be himself. We had a lake house in Southwest Michigan where we went swimming, fishing, boating, tubing, etc. Kevin had a good group of friends that loved and supported him. He did not have to be compliant. He was allowed to be Kevin.  Summer was a time where his star shone bright and he was the happiest.

Third grade went by with no major events from what I remember, but along came fourth grade for Kevin and a teacher who expected compliant students.  Fourth grade was a struggle for Kevin because of the personality conflict. I remember my parents getting constant phone calls from the teacher expecting them to fix him.  I remember them yelling and pleading and constant worry.  Which leads into fifth grade with a similar teacher.  It wasn't long after fifth grade that my parents came to the conclusion that a private school was not going to be able to meet the needs of my brother.  So they decided to transfer him to the local public school.  Which sounds great, but they put him with a teacher who expected nothing but compliant students.  Things got so bad in fifth grade that this teacher put a refrigerator box around my brother so that he would not distract other students.  This devastated Kevin.  He was so embarrassed, but would never say anything to the teacher or other students as he wanted to save face.

From our understanding, although we aren't 100% sure, Kevin started dabbling with drugs in middle school.  We don't know where he got them, although we do know that some of his friends had older siblings that may or may not have provided him with marijuana.  I know for some people marijuana is not a gateway drug, but for Kevin it most definitely was. Middle school was rough as he battled many inner demons of mental illness and again trying to function in a school system that was not built for students like Kevin.

In high school, Kevin continued his downward spiral and eventually dropped out of school. He was able to complete his GED and enrolled at Purdue Calumet where he was accepted. He majored in social work, and really wanted to help people. College was not a cure for Kevin, he had some rough times, and had to drop classes periodically due to mental illness. However, his goal was to prove many of his teachers wrong.  He wanted to prove to them and others who did not believe in him, that he could earn a college degree and he could make a difference in this world.

Kevin can no longer make that dream come true himself. He left this earth on a cold January day. It was his time. His poor body could not handle much more.  For a long time, I had a lot of anger directed at Kevin. I felt that he chose drugs over his family.  But through a lot of research, sharing Kevin's story, and listening to people with similar stories I realize that Kevin did not choose drugs over his family or over his education. Addiction made that choice for him.  Addicts are not born with needles in their arms. Addiction is a terrible disease and with it mental illness that we as a society need to learn how to treat and prevent.

Although Kevin cannot make his dream a reality, I can. My goal is to work with Purdue Calumet to award him a posthumous degree. I tried once, and they said no because he was not 75% done with all coursework and 85% done with major coursework. I'm hoping that they can possibly make an exception. At the very least, I want Kevin's story to be shared so that his legacy lives on.  I want Kevin to be remembered for his kindness and compassion, his sweet smile, and love for his family and friends. 

Also, in January as a way to share Kevin's story and honor his life, I am creating postcards that share a mini version of Kevin's story and provide a link to this blog post. I am asking anyone who is willing to do a random act of kindness and leave the card for someone. If you are interested, please comment on this blog post and I will mail them. I would like to see this begin in January!