The Incomplete Story
© Copyright 2020 by Gregg Heid
In my son TJ’s final two years of college he lived in a trailer with three roommates. Vicky, my wife, and I would visit occasionally. Above the cabinets stood their collection of beer cans and whisky bottles. We asked him about them. “We have poker parties here once a week,” he responded. “Some of our Physics professors even come. Sure we drink but nothing bad.”
At his graduation he didn’t appear to be himself—no joy or sense of accomplishment. Turns our he was either drunk or hung over. We took family pictures. Looking at his face makes me sad to this day.
He entered graduate school and dropped out after a semester. He moved in with us in the spring of 2011. No biggie, we would help him find a job and place to live. Then one afternoon I saw him stumbling around in our back yard. I went out to talk to him and immediately realized he was drunk.
As summer turned into the fall, his drinking became a problem for Vicky and I so we enrolled him in the Salvation Army’s work program. He went along with it because he hated how his drinking affected us and caused strife in the family.
So here he is with an Engineering Physics degree sorting clothes at the Salvation Army’s warehouse with a bunch of other men sent there by the courts or their families. We had peace because he was out of the house with a place to stay, and something to keep him busy.
In the fall of 2012 he entered the Salvation Army’s rehab program down on 23rd Street. A six-month program that gave Vicky and I peace knowing he was off the streets with a bed to sleep in and three meals a day. He joined the worship service band and made a lot of close friends. Towards the end of his six months he was caught with some alcoholic medicine and kicked out. He knew the rules.
Without meds to manage his anxiety, he called us in dire straights. We, by the grace of God, found him that night down by the Pepsi Center and brought him home. I asked him a few days later, “TJ how did you get like this? How did you become an alcoholic?“
“When I was living at home you and mom used to tell me how bad drinking and smoking marijuana were for my brain and thinking abilities. So when all my classmates were drinking in high school, I stayed away from it. My first party at college I drank with the rest of my suite-mates and friends to be a part of the gang, and wow! Just the opposite, I felt great and confident in talking to everybody, even the girls. I felt so different and had so much fun that I couldn’t stop. As time went on, I began to drink alone—to get that buzz with no worries.”
A few days later he was drunk and back on the streets of Denver. He would sleep on the streets or at the Crossroads Shelter when a bed was available. Sometimes he would help serve meals and clean up, so he could have a regular bed. But being in a room with forty other snoring men, who took every opportunity to steal from one another, kept him away.
We worked wth him to get him back into the Salvation Army rehab/work program. He had one strike against him but they knew his abilities and work ethic. He started a second six month of rehab in the summer of 2013. He joined the music team again and was trusted enough to run the front desk check-out procedures for the men who needed to come and go. He also helped the other men with their technology needs—email, job searches, applications, etc.
Finally his second six months were finished. He entered the work release program and got a job at Walgreens running their photo lab. He stayed in the Salvation Army’s upstairs apartments, and paid a reduced rent from his salary.
Every day he walked by a liquor store on his way to work. One day he bought a bottle of vodka, snuck it up to his apartment above the rehab facility and got caught. Back out on the streets.
His uncle Mike worked for TIC in HR and got him an interview for an engineering position in Kansas City. TJ was nervous as we took him to the airport. The company was flying him out for the interview. We told him not to drink on the plane and stay sober for the interview.
After the interview we called him. He was excited. “I got the job.”
“Did they actually tell you, you got the job?” I asked.
“No but all the guys who interviewed me were my age. We went out to lunch. They liked me, I could tell. We had a good time.”
“Did you drink?”
“Maybe one or two before lunch, but not with them.”
“I thought we told you not to drink.”
“It relaxed me.”
He didn’t get the job.
That sent him into a drinking spiral for the next four months. He was admitted then kicked out of different rehab programs due to drinking then he would go and stand in line at The Rescue Mission in down town Denver.
Vicky and I prayed and prayed for his sobriety and salvation. It hurt so bad to see our son—smart, gentle spirited, easy going TJ—wasting his life. The toughest days were when he was on the streets. Better days came when he had a place to stay. Best days were when he was in rehab.
I can remember one evening waiting in line with him at the Samaritan House hoping he would get a room for the night. He met someone in line that he knew and told me I could go home—he’d be ok. He ended up sleeping in a park close by. A place that I’d been to with him when we went for a walk while he was in Salvation Army Rehab. He said at the time, “Dad you can get anything you want here, booze, meth oxy, coke—It’s a user’s smorgasboard.”
There were lots of parks and underpasses in the city where the homeless hung out, slept and traded money or personal items for drugs. He once told me that some of the most intelligent people he had ever known were on the streets. Like him, drinking and drugs led to divorce and loss of job, which led to homelessness and more drinking and drugs. “Once you’re in that spiral, Dad, it’s hard to get out. Having to walk everywhere for lack of money and trying to get a job with no address keeps us on the streets. Eventually one gives in and succombs to the life of free food and shelters.”
He still had his cell phone, which was his contact for getting his meds from the clinic, checking on jobs and available beds at the shelters, and staying in contact with us. Vicky called and he said things weren’t going well. He’d frostbitten his toes sleeping on a heating grate down town. He’d been robbed and needed money and a place to stay.
We had moved to Pagosa Springs and brought him down to stay with us. Things went well for a month. He drank, but only occasionally as we kept him busy and occupied with drives, hikes, doing odd jobs with our neighbor and church. He got a job at the Springs Resort in November. We had a nice Christmas and New Years with him. He worked five days a week until the middle of February.
I said, “TJ looks like you are getting things under control and your job is going well.”
His answer shocked me. “I’ll probably drink on the job and get fired.”
“What? Why would you do that? You’re doing so well.”
“Just will, that’s how it works for me.”
Two weeks later we got a call from his supervisor. They fired him on the spot.
We had to come and get him. He was too drunk to drive.
He stayed with us two more weeks. Drank every day, stole money from us and bought marijuana from the dispensary a mile from our house.
When he knew we were at our wits end he said, “Dad you can take me back to Denver. I hate what I’m doing to you and mom. I’m ruining your lives. I can live on the streets. That’s what I want.”
“Thats what you want?”
“Yep, cuz I can drink and not be a bother to anyone.”
Vicky and I agreed and I brought him to Denver the first week of March, 2016. He snuck sips of vodka (alcoholics are very sneaky) on the drive so I wasn’t able to have the heart to heart talk I’d planned. I was going to take him down town to one of the shelters. He said, “Dad you don’t have to take me. I know how to get around, just take me to the rail station.”
So I took him to the light rail station at Evans and Colorado Blvd. I hugged him and said, “Keep in touch TJ. Let us know how things are going.”
We heard from him the next week. He was in the hospital. Some black kids playing the “knock out game” tapped him on the shoulder. When he turned around one hit him and broke his nose. They picked the least racist, most loving person in the city to pick on. The consoling part for Vicky and I, he was safe and had a bed for three days in the hospital.
That fall we went on a vacation to South America. We were walking around Cusco, Peru. Vicky and her sister visited a small Catholic church. While praying, Vicky had a premonition that something bad happened to TJ. Four weeks later we returned home to receive a call from the Fire Marshall in Denver. “Are you parents of a young man named Timothy Heid?”
“We have some unsettling news. We’ve found an ID with his name on it next to what we believe are his remains.
“Where? What happened?” I asked. Vicky was already crying sitting at my side on our bed.
“There was a fire in the Denver Motel in April. Since it was abandoned and sited for demolition, the fire crews put it out and no one did an investigation. We were back in this month and found what we think is your son’s remains. We need dental records for positive identification.”
We picked up his remains from the crematorium in Denver the following week. When I carried the urn to the car I told Vicky, he weighs the same as when he was born. We both sat in our car and cried.
Corrie Ten Boom (The Hiding Place) was the Holocaust’s sole survivor of her family. Years later she was doing a needle point in her back yard. What she shows the people is the backside of her framed work, which is a spaghetti-like scrawl of threading running randomly. From that perspective, none of it makes sense. Then she turns over her work which reads “God’s Love Never Fails.”
On this side of reality, the whole story is unavailable to us. Only from God’s elevated perspective—which we temporal ones only participate in by faith in God and His loving kindness towards us—will the mess we call our lives make complete sense.