by Victoria Kiarsis
I met Billy Derr at a 12-step meeting in Boston in the fall of 2014.
Although I didn’t think much about him at the time and was even dating someone else, Billy had different ideas. He told me later that when he saw me for the first time, in my burgundy pants, tan booties, and leather jacket, he knew he’d make me his girlfriend one day. And that he did.
In May 2015, when I was single again, we went to a concert together with friends. He wooed me with his dance moves and his jokes, and even though I didn’t think I liked his haircut, I liked him. He made me feel normal, something that I had never felt before. I had been sober for 10 months, he had just celebrated a year.
We instantly became inseparable
I’d hang out with him at the sober house he worked at, his friends ridiculed us for PDA and my friends made comments about never seeing me without him. But I didn’t care.
When I celebrated my first year of sobriety in July, I experienced happiness I never thought was attainable and attributed it to the twelve steps, my friends, and, of course, Billy. I thought life would go on this way–that I had met the man I’d marry and we’d be blissfully happy, forever.
I didn’t know that before I celebrated my second year of sobriety, he’d be gone.
When the cold came that year, addiction crept in and took him from me, from his friends, from his family that he (and I) loved so much. I was naive. I myself have suffered and am recovering from alcoholism and addiction, and yet I didn’t even understand it in someone I talked to every single day.
Relapse wasn’t a possibility, and death definitely wasn’t either
We were both sober and that was where it ended for me. But after a month of barely seeing Billy and wondering why he hadn’t been as responsive, thinking that he must have lost feelings for me, I got a call from his friend Evan while I sat in a Starbucks trying to a write a paper for class.
“Yeah. He’s going to BMC now, do you have a car or do you need a ride there?”
“Uh, I have my car, I can come there.”
“Okay, I’m on my way now so I will see you there.”
And he hung up. What? Billy overdosed?
Confusion flooded my mind and as I drove to Boston Medical Center, I thought that it had to be a joke, that I would drive up to see Evan and Billy laughing at me and I would slap Billy on the chest and say how stupid of a joke that was. But when I pulled up to BMC, there was no one outside except someone sneaking a cigarette on the side of the entranceway.
The anxiety of hearing him drunk, of not knowing the truth, of not knowing what secrets his phone held, took over my body and made some of our time together miserable. We did have good times sprinkled in the six months between October and April. We went to New York City for his birthday in February in -11 degree Fahrenheit weather, walking around Central Park, seeing the Intrepid, going to a Rangers game. The smiles in the pictures from that trip are treasured memories.
I loved his smile, his laugh, his humor, his positive disposition, his sociability, I even came to love his haircut. I loved his family and the possibility of what our life together could look like. But in the end, I was staying with him for the potential of getting him back. Any feeling of trust, stability, or sanity had vanished from our relationship the day he overdosed in October, and the reality was that it might not ever come back.
The last time I saw Billy was April 8, 2016
He had come over to my house for a sleepover, and I was to bring him to the airport in the morning for what would be his final trip, alive, to Richmond. A text message interrupted our night, a guy from the rehab he had gone to texted him saying that he had what Billy needed, 100 a gram. I flipped out.
“What the f*** Billy?” I shouted at him. Billy shouted back, saying the guy was mistaken, he had the wrong Billy.
“What do you think is a hundred a gram, heroin?” He asked me, knowing that I didn’t know anything about heroin (but yes, heroin can be a hundred dollars a gram).
“I don’t know!” I responded. “Just get out of my apartment!”
With some more yelling, he took his duffle bag and left. I watched him walk away from my window and didn’t know it would be the last I saw of him, the last real image of him burning in my mind. I then texted his mom telling her what had happened, and blocked both her and Billy. I couldn’t do it anymore.
Over the weekend Billy and I exchanged a few emails. He told me that he was enjoying his time in Richmond, wished I was there, that I was the love of his life. I loved him in a way I had never loved anyone before.
Then, after three days without speaking to him, while I was in Italy on a family trip, my mom got an email from Jenny that Billy had died.
There, my life changed
I can’t believe that it has been two and a half years since Billy died. It still makes me cry. I think October might always be weird, memories popping up not in images but in a physical feeling, the cold hitting my heart and bringing back the beeping of the machine in BMC as I watched Billy trying to come back to life.
I don’t have any wisdom for people going through loss or grief, not really. I’ve probably done it wrong, running away from the feelings instead of towards them most of the time. All I know is that no matter what, no matter how baffling it is or how unfair it seems, life moves forward after loss.
There’s no stopping the moving on process, despite how much you’d like to stay exactly where you are – with all of the pain. I wanted to stay in my relationship with Billy, even after he was gone, even after I started dating other people, but I’ve had to try and move on while still respecting Billy, his memory, his friends, his family, and myself. I’ve stumbled and haven’t known the words to say many times.
My grief is very different from Billy’s parents, siblings’, or his friends, and it may not feel true to everyone, but I believe that Billy is okay now, wherever he is, and everything else, here on Earth, will be okay, too.
Learn what I wish I’d known before I lost my son to drug-related suicide