Other Voices: A life of drug abuse and the death of a son
I was in bed reading when my rottweiler Karl started to growl and headed for my front door. It was around 9 o’clock on Monday night.
The doorbell now was ringing and ringing and ringing. I got out of bed and made my way to the door and when I opened it, I saw a young Grass Valley police officer.
The officer asked if my name was Robert Steuber. I told him it was I. When he hesitated a moment, I asked him if my son Gerry was in the hospital or jail. He told me my son had been discovered dead near the Union Pacific railroad tracks just off of Elvis Avenue in Sacramento. His body was spotted near the tracks by a Union Pacific train crew that was passing by at about 5:05 p.m. on Sunday.
My son started life in a very difficult delivery on June 14, 1961. His mother Coye is not a big woman. In fact, she didn’t weigh over 100 pounds the day Gerry was born.
Gerry was a breech birth baby, who was born with a hernia resulting from having to be forcibly removed from his mother.
He was a fun, normal, polite child and bright as a new penny. He had a quirky sense of humor, much like his dad, and enjoyed life for many years.
When he was 9 years old, his mother’s car had a flat tire and she called my father to come change it. My dad was at work and came to the house in his CHP uniform. A very excited Gerry ran into the house and said to his mother “Mom, did you know grandpa is a cop?”
Coye and I would eventually grow apart. We separated when Gerry was 10, later getting a divorce. This was very hard for Gerry to understand and accept. He was no longer the happy child that we had known in his first years. In his early teens, he started to hang out with older boys who led him down the path to drinking, using drugs, and getting in trouble with the law.
After only one year of high school, he dropped out and became a problem for his mother and stepfather. Soon his mother realized that he was doing drugs and alcohol. She tried to straighten Gerry out, but to no avail. He lived with his mom and her husband for a while, and then, while doing speed, assaulted his stepfather. He went to live with his Grandmother Gertie, but due to his drug abuse and drinking, she finally had to evict him.
The next few years were more of the same: Drunk or high on crank, coke and whatever else he could drink, shoot, smoke or swallow as he sank into the depths of depression and basically became homeless.
He would call me periodically and talk about coming to visit, but he never quite could get straight enough to make the trip up from Sacramento. He would call his Uncle John also, but he never seemed to call when he was straight, so my brother soon stopped taking his calls. He did keep in touch with his sister Edna. She helped him when she was able.
Just a few weeks ago, he called me and was reasonably lucid. I learned he was homeless again, having gotten in a fight with his roommate. I told him I had a Dodge van that had been converted to a small motor- home and that as soon as I could get the windshield replac- ed, I would give it to him to keep him from the homeless camps near the railroad and the river.
He was elated and started making plans to meet with me and get the little motorhome. He gave me his cell phone number. We agreed that I would call him when the van was ready.
The Friday night before Mother’s Day, I called his cell phone, but to no avail as my calls all went to his voicemail. I called a number of times on Saturday and Sunday. On Sunday afternoon, I got a recording that the number had been disconnected. This upset me. I knew that he was looking forward to having a car to drive and a place for him and his dog Lady to sleep.
Why am I sharing this? I am doing this in the hope that perhaps some young man or girl will read this and make a decision to not waste their lives being addicted to drugs, alcohol and nicotine. My son was a decent human being, but he made so many bad choices and those same bad choices led to his death at the age of 46.
As I stated earlier, he was spotted near a homeless camp, lying near the Union Pacific railroad tracks. What caught the attention of the train crew was that Lady, my son’s 15-year-old German shepherd mix dog, was standing guard over his body. When the rescue crews arrived, she would not let them near him.
She stayed loyal and loving to the very end, having to be tranquilized to stop protecting him.
My son died with $64, a driver’s license, a Social Security card and some other small items in his wallet and pockets. Not much to show for 46 years, except that Lady loved him to his last breath and beyond.
It is really too late, but I now realize that I loved him, too!
Robert Steuber lives in Grass Valley.
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