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Kyle D.

By Kyle's father, Don

Kyle Downey

Boulder, Colorado


I say his name and I feel my son’s life, everything he was: a person of humor, compassion and deep intuition. His sweet face registered loving curiosity. He wanted to know more, to see more, to experience everything. He was a risk taker but also supremely cautious. He might climb a dangerous rock formation in a remote part of Colorado at midnight. But he had trouble joining groups and was concerned what people would think of him. The irony is that people dearly loved Kyle. They were often touched by him and in high school felt that he could go as deep as they wanted in personal conversation.

Kyle was our bright light and we lived through his darkest days. He was emotional and so sensitive that adjusting to life came very hard. In college he began to show signs of depression and a struggle to adapt to adult life. At first this emotional trauma showed up as cutting and numerous trips to the emergency room. One night I went to pick him up at a party where he had been drinking and then cutting himself to receive attention. These traumatic events were incredibly painful and confusing. I knew they were cries for help but I felt so ineffective. I didn’t know what to do. The doctors whom Kyle’s Mom and I spoke with said: “Do nothing. Do not show up at the hospital, show this behavior no attention.”

So we did. And the cutting stopped.

But the self-harm was a step on the road that led to drinking and drugs. Often Kyle used in excess. When I finally heard the word heroin I was in a state of deep denial. I wanted to hide from it and to hide it from the world. We spoke about it and other family members coached me to be strong. We went to family and group therapy, and he went to inpatient and outpatient treatment. But for five years it haunted Kyle and our family. Somehow I felt his addiction would be solved, that it was like a broken arm and would heal, or a deep depression that would lift. He would take control of his life. But it wasn’t like that.

Still his addiction fooled all of us for while. During a two-year period of sobriety Kyle became a competitive ultra runner and ran numerous races of 31 miles (50k). He was really good at running and reveled in it. On one race he ran for six and a half hours starting at an altitude of nearly seven thousand feet in the Rockies and running up and over a mountain at a ten thousand foot elevation. He also enjoyed biking and continued with it up until about six months before his death. I always felt his intense and powerful talent to train and compete showed his innate ability to beat his addiction. But it also indicated his desire for extremes. Kyle began to discern this too as he got older and he stopped the intense training. But that dovetailed with his addiction, which again reared its head.

Kyle loved to drive and explore. He mostly worked as a cab driver or in food delivery. He had the talent to do more but he explained that for him just living “a simple life” was paramount. Emotionally it was difficult for him to do more due to his addiction and the challenge of his form of mental illness: a moderate form of bipolar. However, his driving allowed him to take long road trips around the west, which he loved. He would call from California, Arizona or Nevada…but he would always come home to Colorado.

He camped often to save money. Sometimes those savings would go into drugs, but not always. He was happy in the woods. He met a number of interesting people on these voyages and he would describe them to me at length in conversations we would have in person or often on the phone. Kyle wanted to know more about life, about unique and unusual people and he was always drawn to those less fortunate, on the margins, people who were left out. Kyle identified with these folks because in high school he was severely bullied. His defense against this was to put up a wall and try to ward it off. He joined a group of softer, kinder and more creative friends as a result.

Before Kyle died he was in a period of his addiction where he seemed to be turning a corner. I called it “steadying.” But now I feel I was lulled me into a false sense of security. Kyle had been taking his medication. He was working again and looking for permanent housing. His last voice message was positive, speaking about people he was meeting, about a place he’d found to live with his boss, a new psychiatrist he had set up through new insurance. He used these words:

I’m onnnn my way!

His last day I thought I would call him. We had had a very loving conversation the night before. But I said, ‘no, let him live his life.’ I told myself I didn’t need to check up on him every day. After all normal parents don’t do that with their children. But he was already gone. He had died early that morning, probably just after midnight. The night before he had driven his car out of Boulder, Colorado to a favorite camping spot deep in the woods. It took him forty minutes to get there. For forty minutes he had to delay his fix. But when he got to his campsite he just stopped in the middle of the forest service road and prepared the heroin. As with so many other bright young people it killed him.

The world is entirely different without Kyle and agonizingly similar. It makes me realize that every young person I see on the street is a miracle. The difference between life and death is infinite. I try to measure it every day and I try to accept.

Kyle was so wonderful. He is my loving son, my prayer and hope…not long ago, not only when he was alive…but now.


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