NEWS

Part 3: Wasted Youth/Dawn of Recovery

Steve Damish

A syringe and a baseball shirt.

That's all he had, all that mattered to Pat Terrill as he wandered the street early that April morning — his used needle, and the jersey he had earned pitching for the Brockton Legion team.

Not long ago, he had been the team's closer, the go-to guy. On the mound, he had the cool facade, the glacial glare — yet fire in his gut, lightning in his arm.

He loved his shirt, would wear it for weeks — it symbolized Brockton pride, and was full of fresh memories.

But he loved the needle more, even though it symbolized his sickness, and contained nothing but a blot of stale blood.

His blood.

It needed to be loaded with heroin — soon. The spasms of withdrawal had already started.

He needed money.

Nearby, he noticed a clerk counting change inside a convenience store. In an instant, he forgot what shirt he wore, what it represented — who he was.

And passive Pat Terrill, the soft-spoken and introverted wisp of a man, became something else, something evil.

And attacked.

He cornered the clerk, waved the bloody needle at him, and ranted a warning.

“I've got HIV! I've got HIV! Give me the money or I'll kill you!”

***

He's courteous and complacent, accommodating, unassuming, barely audible when speaking, barely noticeable when in a group.

When off heroin, Pat Terrill is mild as a monk.

At the treatment center, when addressing fellow addicts as a guest speaker, he makes sure nobody is ignored, assures everyone in the audience they'll never be alone, as long as he's around.

At his apartment, when addressing his addiction, he makes sure nobody's coffee cup falls low, begins and ends every interaction with a hearty hug, is eager to please and always empathetic.

He hasn't always been like this.

“There are two Pats,” said Terrill, 23. “There's clean Pat and using Pat. The clean Pat has good intentions in every thing he does. The clean Pat just wants a better life. The using me is a very angry person. You don't want to be around me.”

In his three-year fight with heroin, Terrill has done things to make one applaud — and to make one appalled. His story of addiction is one of repudiation and redemption — of loss, perserverance, and reawakening.

Since 2004, he has been locked in a life-or-death duel with the drug. He's healing now, but not before causing many casualties through what was a savage struggle.

“I give him credit,” said his older brother Brian. “I kind of idolize him. You have to really dig deep to get through stuff like that, stuff like he did.”

Pat Terrill, the taciturn one, the helper and friend, has done wonderful things.

But terrible things, too.

***

No more runs. Down 4-1, coach Dave Seropian knew his team couldn't fall behind any further to Needham Post 14.

After all, this wasn't any game. It was the South Sectional for one of the most respected leagues in New England — Legion baseball, some of the best ball in the region.

Teens waited for years to make the team, to don their blue game jerseys, and treasured every minute with “Coach Dave” and the venerable Brockton Post 35.

But the 2003 season seemed about to end, especially if the Needham barrage continued. Seropian looked at his bench in the fourth inning.

“Hey, Pat! Terrill! You're in. You gotta hold 'em now. No more runs.”

Terrill shut down Needham, allowing just one hit the rest of the way, and no more runs.

Buoyed by the performance, Brockton's bats began connecting, and Post 35 scored four in the final inning.

Brockton 5, Needham 4.

Pat Terrill, the boy with lightning in his arm, had saved the season. Again.

When it was over, he ran from the city's James Edgar field into the arms of his teammates, then his coach, and then his biggest fan — his mother, Janet Terrill.

Like Pat, she lived and breathed Brockton baseball. She never missed a game, and was the light of Pat's life.

Few knew it at the time, but the light had begun flickering. Soon, Pat's world would disappear into darkness.

***

Her four boys and baseball — that's what drove Janet Terrill, gave her purpose and joy.

They all played, all excelled — she not only supported them, but joined them, running their leagues with the help of her husband, Bob.

Her name became synonymous with Brockton baseball, especially Cal Ripken ball at the city's now-defunct East Side Improvement Association.

Always there to watch her sons play, Janet became president of the youth league, and took over the scheduling, maintenance and daily operations of the East Side fields.

Energetic and effervescent, she propelled the family through a decade of innocence and exuberance.

“It was normal family stuff,” said Bob Terrill. “It was what it was supposed to be.”

Baseball took over the Terrill family — and for years the boys thrived. There were summer tournaments, travel teams, all-star events and, as they reached their late teens, the ultimate reward — a chance to play at the Edgar field for the legendary Legion team.

Pat and his younger brother Bob played together — they were both tall, thin as foul poles, but powerful pitchers.

“Pat was a skinny, scrawny kid, but we liked him,” said Seropian. “He had that spark about him.”

One day in May 2003, while Pat and Bob practiced at Edgar's, their parents arrived, but not as fans.

They had just come from Mass. General Hospital, where Janet learned she had pancreatic cancer, and perhaps a year to live.

“She was basically given a death sentence,” said her husband.

Nobody realized it at the time, but so was Pat.

***

He was 21, a year out of Brockton High School, working odd jobs and trying to shape his life.

Even with the ever-optimistic Janet vowing to fight her disease, stay by his side, and help Pat find focus, the impressionable young adult began drifting.

He had smoked marijuana in high school, and had begun experimenting with cocaine.

The family was living on crime-plagued Manchester Street, but had just purchased its dream home, complete with a pool, on the quieter Dandy Road.

Even facing Janet's diagnosis, the Terrills kept their plans and moved the family.

As his mother's condition deteriorated, so did Pat's. Tired of cocaine and its high cost, and watching his mother dying before him, he moved to a pain-killing narcotic in 2004, one that his friends at Brockton High had raved about — the prescription drug OxyContin, or OC.

“I remember, I was in high school and there were kids falling asleep standing up in the hallways,” said Terrill, who graduated in 2002. “I couldn't understand it — people nodding off in class. I never knew what was happening, didn't know what physical effects it has on the body, but I knew the OxyContins were everywhere.”

By spring 2004, Janet Terrill's sickness had stolen her balance, confining her to the couch, where she sat propped by pillows. She often sat for hours in silence, her hand holding Pat's.

She would pass away in July, but not before watching her son be devoured by a disease himself — that of drug addiction.

Pat now had a full-blown OxyContin habit, crushing and snorting the near-pure opiate like most abusers. He had also begun stealing things from the house to pay for more pills.

“Before she died, like two weeks before, I was sitting with her on the couch and hugging her,” said Pat. “She looked at me and said, 'You know what, you're going to be all right.' ... She didn't tell me that for nothing. She knew something I didn't. Maybe she knew that this was coming.”

“This” would be a hellish three years of heroin addiction.

It would be a time of trial and torture for Pat, when he wouldn't just alienate his father and brothers, but betray the one person he thought he would never hurt.

His biggest believer and fan.

His mother.

***

Hundreds attended Janet's wake at Brockton's Hickey-Grenier Funeral Home — current and former players poured in to honor the woman whom for more than 20 years helped make their dreams on the diamonds come true.

It was a day of mourning for the city's baseball leagues — it was also the first day Pat tried heroin, snorting it before the wake.

Soon, he was injecting heroin every six hours, falling unconscious in strange places, flirting with death during frequent overdoses — and hurting people.

But as worried as they were for Pat when he was gone, his brothers grew more concerned when Pat returned home.

What would he steal this time to buy drugs?

What harm would he cause to the house and family?

Would he die in front of them?

“It's not the way any of us were raised,” said Brian. “I didn't even know the kid. I couldn't talk to him, couldn't get any answers out of him. Every day it just got worse. Every day was a nightmare.”

Pat took the tools Brian used in his carpentry business, the ones his father used to repair cars, the two DVD players, TV, the 200 CDs, three air compressors, two nail guns, appliances — anything he could carry to the local pawn shops.

“I would wake up at 5 every morning, sick, and would have to try to find a way to get high,” Pat said. “I would crawl into my father's room, Army style, trying to find something. I actually contemplated taking the pipes out of the house and bringing it to a copper shop.”

Pat stole from friends, other users, strangers — anybody within reach when he was without heroin.

One day, while walking aimlessly on North Quincy Street, on the Brockton-Abington line, he glanced at a clerk making change in a gas station store.

He remembered hearing how someone actually robbed a store with nothing but a needle.

So he reached into his pocket, and charged in.

“I've got HIV! I've got HIV!” he lied.

He demanded money, but fled with nothing when a customer arrived. Several hours later, Abington police chased him down in nearby woods.

Alone, sick, disgraced and now arrested, Pat thought he had reached bottom.

He was wrong.

***

Police, the courts, even the store clerk who faced the bloody needle gave the outwardly harmless Pat a break — robbery charges were dropped, and he was convicted of possession of a hypodermic needle.

His case was continued, Pat was put on probation, and a judge sent him to Plymouth's High Point treatment center for 30 days.

“The day I got out, I relapsed,” he said. “The last three days there I had overwhelming anxiety and I had every intention of getting out and getting high.”

Meanwhile, his family had begun splintering.

Their mother gone, most of their valuable belongings hawked by Pat, and their father unable to work, the family lost the Dandy Road house — then they lost each other.

The father lived at a hotel, then in his car — then, finally, got subsidized housing in the city. The kids sought sanctuary with various relatives.

Pat, alone again and back in his heroin haze, spent the winter of 2006 living in a 24-hour laundromat on Main Street in Brockton.

There, he had all the essentials of an addict.

The manager would let him sleep on a row of plastic chairs and wash his clothes for free, lending him a shirt and sweatshirt to do so.

The concession machines would yield free food and drink if Pat shook them hard enough, and his dealer worked the corner across the street.

Still, somehow Terrill never lost the taste of sobriety he had savored during his month in Plymouth, and began taking small steps toward a cleaner life. He would, sometimes, ignore the morning dose, or skip a few days — just to regain some clarity.

He would recover and relapse repeatedly, returning to High Point, then to a half-way home in New Bedford, then a sober house in Middleboro.

Once, while using in Brockton, he won $500 on a Lottery scratch ticket — he went straight to the mall and bought sneakers for himself and a DVD player for his father, to replace the one he had stolen.

He spent the rest on heroin.

Two days later, his winnings and heroin exhausted, Pat stole the new DVD player from his father's apartment, and returned it to the store. It was still in the box.

Pat would stay sober longer after each relapse — once for 11 months.

But this year, on Feb. 17, he ventured back to Brockton with a friend, and the disease, ever-present, resurfaced.

So did the angry, unpredictable Pat Terrill.

***

Nowhere else to go, he sought refuge with his father, now living at one of the city's subsidized high-rises.

Sleeping on an air mattress, he foraged through the city by day to sustain his habit.

His dad had little left, except for a few possessions he kept locked in his room safe, along with his medications.

It was sacred ground, because inside he kept the two things he cherished most — the urn containing the ashes of his beloved wife and, behind it, the diamond engagement ring he had given her.

It had been his grandmother's.

“It was in a little black box,” said Bob Terrill. “When it's there, you can hardly see it, but when it's not there, it was like the only thing that was in there.”

After retrieving his pills, he closed the safe, pulled the key — but didn't turn it. He realized his mistake a few moments later, and dashed out of the bathroom after taking his medication.

What he saw horrified him.

The safe door was open, and the ashes had been moved.

The black ring box was gone.

So was Pat.

***

Pat hadn't hesitated when he noticed the safe door cracked.

He just acted, as he always did when desperate for heroin.

“It's humiliating to talk about,” he said, through a shaky, low voice. “It was three weeks into my relapse, and I moved her ashes to get to the ring. So I physically moved my mother. It would be like taking the ring off her dead finger. ... I have to live with that every day.”

Pat met his dealer around the corner, on Plain Street, and exchanged the priceless ring for a bag of heroin, worth about $50.

Meanwhile, his father, enraged and frantic, called the police. Pat had crossed the line — there would be no more protecting him. He also called Pat's brothers.

For now, they didn't care about Pat — they wanted the heirloom returned.

When Pat trudged back to the apartment, his family was waiting for him. His oldest brother, Shawn, had a demand: Take me to your dealer.

Now!

They tracked him down, and his family made it clear — sell the ring back to them for $50, the value of Pat's heroin, or else.

The dealer, an acquaintance who had known what had happened to Pat's mother, relented.

Then the family surrendered Pat to the police.

For the first time, Pat was heading to jail.

“I know people go lower, but my bottom was right there,” he said. “Sitting in a jail cell, sick, wondering how I got there, and wondering why I do those things and not knowing the answer.”

Freed two months later, Pat returned to his father's apartment, but while he was away, his brother Brian had been developing a plan — he wanted to re-unite the broken family.

He wanted to save his brother.

Meanwhile, the oldest brother, Shawn, moved the ring to a different home — just in case.

***

Brian and Bob mustered enough money to secure their own apartment in Brockton, moving into the second floor of a French Avenue three-decker a month ago. They brought every thing they had.

They also brought Pat.

“I'm proud of him,” said Brian. “He's done every thing within his power to get better. He can be a mentor to a lot of people. ... A lot of people, they do this drug, they don't take responsibility for any of their actions. But once he got sober, he's never hidden anything that he's done.”

His hardest days, Pat said, are when he passes by Plain Street, near where he had sold his mother's ring.

“I still get shaky when I remember what I did there,” he said.

Pat has no money, no job, lives in a neighborhood known for drug-dealing, is on probation for nine more months, has frequent probation meetings, and is subjected to random drug testing.

“I'm happy,” he said. “I go through struggles, but I'm happy with myself because I've been to places most people haven't been and where most people don't want to go. As far as I'm concerned, I'm one of the success stories, at least as of today.”

Sober since March, he maintains the apartment for his brothers, who both work. Pat cleans throughout the day, prepares dinner every night, smokes, guzzles coffee, sleeps late and takes naps, but works hard at home.

He recently borrowed some Christmas decorations from a neighbor, including an artificial tree, and surprised his brothers one day by adorning the apartment.

“I missed a lot of holidays, a lot of weddings, a lot of family things the last few years,” he said. “It's nice to be able to do this.”

After all, he said, it's what she would have done — the one person he tries to impress every day. His mother.

To contact Steve Damish send an e-mail to sdamish@enterprisenews.com.