My 26-year-old son, Kyle Fisher-Hertz, died in September of 2016, leaving behind a 2-year-old daughter still crying for her dada, a bereft girlfriend, shattered sisters, parents and other relatives, as well as countless heartbroken friends Kyle died alone in a hotel bathroom, where he was trying to get in one more shot before being asked to leave; the toxicology report did not show Fentanyl in his system — heroin can be deadly all on its own.
Prior to becoming an addict, Kyle was a brilliant, popular student who had majored in creative writing and enrolled in a neurobiology program; he was a City Year teacher elected to give his class-graduation speech; he was a rock-climbing enthusiast who climbed Mt. Ranier; and most importantly, he was a kind, generous, compassionate young man who sought out volunteer opportunities, gave thoughtfully personalized gifts to family members, and devised delightfully inventive ways to express his tremendous romanticism and love of life.
From early childhood until he was 16 and started using drugs, Kyle performed stand-up comedy on several television shows and in multiple comedy clubs in New York City. Kyle was a gifted writer and a poet — as well as a pizza-delivery guy, a coffee shop barrista, a waiter, a tutor, a non-profit researcher, and a rental-car agent with stellar sales skills; even after he became an addict, he won accolades as every company’s best employee — right up until the time he relapsed, betrayed his employers’ and family’s trust, and let everyone, most especially himself, down — again.
Once he crossed the line and began using hard drugs (starting with crack when he was 21 and then moving on to heroin and meth after his new rehab friends gave him a taste), he was never able to find his way back to believing in his own future, despite repeatedly working a 12-step program and completing multiple inpatient and outpatient rehab programs. Kyle eventually recognized he had a brain disease and mental-health disorder but often failed to follow-through with the medical treatments that were helping him stay clean. He had been so smart, successful, and blessed throughout his life, that he believed he could outsmart hard drugs and then the recommended treatment protocols, but he couldn’t. He thought he could beat his medical issues without medicine, but he couldn’t. He thought he could try addictive drugs that destroyed others’ lives and not become addicted nor destroy his own life, but he couldn’t. Once he was an addict, he tore pieces of his own flesh out of his once-beautiful face while on meth and betrayed all his own values, friends, and family members in order to get drugs. Kyle thought one day he would get clean and write about his experiences, but instead he got high over and over until he wrote less and less often, and until drugs became his only subject. Even after many of his friends had died, Kyle thought he was smart enough that he could definitely avoid giving himself an accidentally lethal dose — but he wasn’t and he couldn’t, and now he is dead.
Bit by bit, all of us who loved him were forced to watch him destroy his own golden, promising life until finally he took with him the hope and joy of all of us who are crushed by his awful and permanent absence. Despite years of arrests, accidents, injuries, and disappointments, we had never stopped hoping. Kyle was still young, lucky and hard-working — so when he died he was healthy and strong from six months of recovery; his facial scars had healed; he had once again become a caring son, attentive grandson, loving brother, sweet boyfriend, and, for the first time, a devoted and adored father; he had also mercifully retained his quick wit, razor-sharp sense of humor and keen intelligence; white privilege had kept him out of jail, and he still could have done anything — absolutely anything — with his life. He had many supportive friends; everyone in his family loved him desperately, forgave him everything, and prayed for him to stay well. Instead, he despaired of ever being able to succeed as a functioning adult free of the terrible cravings that consumed him — even though anti-depressants and opioid-blocking medicine had helped free him of those cravings in the past. So when Medicaid wouldn’t cover the medicine that had helped him stay clean and optimistic before (as Medicaid does not in 25 out of 50 states), Kyle relapsed, overdosed and died.
Despite the tragically commonplace way his life ended, Kyle was once truly special; he had a brilliance about him that everyone who knew him could see when he was a boy. Through therapy, he’d realized that his own gifts made him feel pressured and afraid to be anything short of extraordinary — which led him to doubt himself to such a degree that in the end he died the most pathetically ordinary way, like 20,000 other overdosed addicts will die this year. Before he died, Kyle hoped he would one day be well enough to help hundreds of other addicts find their way; he hoped to set a great example. Instead, we can only hope now that his life may serve as a cautionary tale.
Please, if you are an addict reading this, do not give up; the help you need exists, even if you have tried many things and haven’t found the thing that will work yet. Do not believe that you have failed if any one thing — meetings, medicine, therapy, prayer — doesn’t save you; if the one thing isn’t working, keep adding things until you are living the full, rewarding life you and your loved ones deserve you to live. I know Kyle would want that for as many addicts as possible, just as we wanted it for him. Please, let me know someday that hearing this made a difference for you, helped you hang on another day, motivated you to move to a state that covered the medicine you needed to stay alive, kept you going until slowly you came to believe you could do it. I have to believe this can happen for some of you. Please tell me if it can and has. More importantly, please tell another addict. My world is so dark right now without Kyle’s bright light; I am counting on you to lead me back to hope.