I always wanted the best for Travon but I did not know how to give him the love that he needed.
Travon passed away on May 15, 2016 in Kensington, Philadelphia of a drug overdose. He was 28. Travon was kind, thoughtful, and selfless. The only problem is, I did not know these things. I did not know this wonderful, amazing Son that I had. Now he is gone. Of course the saying to many parents is, “it’s not your fault.” But it is, and I know it. And I feel his pain every day.
I had Travon at 16 in Philadelphia, PA. I was raised in a healthy household and the first ten years of Travon’s life were good—my mother and sister loved him to no end. Me, well, I knew he was my kid. I worked. I knew to buy him clothes and all the essential things. However, looking back, the instinctual motherly feeling was not there. I knew to protect him, but the longing and emotional comfort you feel from a mother—which I felt from my mother—was not there.
Years passed and I began having difficulties in my mother’s household. As a young woman I began changing and thinking outside of what was taught in the religion my family and I were a part of. Eventually, I was excommunicated from the faith and had to leave my mother’s home. I could no longer associate with my mother and immediate siblings. I would hold this resentment and bitterness towards my mother for the next 20 years. But Travon would pay the ultimate price for my actions.
For the first time in our lives, Travon and I were on our own. In the beginning it was great. I had freedom! Freedom to go out and party and have fun, to experience things I never had before. But there was a ten year old boy who lost his structure. Again, I knew to feed him and clothe him. I knew he was my kid. But he lost the nurturing he needed, he lost guidance. And emotionally I was not ready to raise this wonderful kid on my own. I had no clue what it took to bring up a child, to help him become a healthy adult.
As Travon grew into his teenage years I began to develop depression and anxiety. I started feeling paranoid, like people were watching me and they knew what I was doing. I felt very self-conscious everywhere I went. I felt ashamed, like I did something wrong. I especially had a difficult time talking to men; I thought they looked at me as a promiscuous woman or thought that I was attracted to them, even though I was not. It got so bad that I abruptly walked out of my job. I walked away from a well-paying job that took care of both Travon’s and my needs. Soon I became suicidal. Travon told me in rehab years later that I even threatened to kill both him and myself by driving off a cliff. Can you imagine going through this as a barely 14-year-old kid? Eventually, I broke down and took pills and was committed to a psychiatric facility. After my stay in the facility, I moved in with my father and stepmother. Travon was sent to live with his father and stepmother.
A year or so later, I got myself together and moved back on my own. I felt like a new person; I lost weight and was feeling a purpose in life again. Travon moved back in with me, but he was no longer that ten year old. Looking back, I can see that Travon needed more attention and help than I could have ever imagined. He had a mother who was emotionally damaged and a father with substance abuse issues. Then he developed a drinking problem. I lost control and I put him out. He was 17.
Travon moved in with his girlfriend and her mother. This turned out to work well for him, he was back in a stable home. He told me years later that during this time with them he did not drink. He said he did not want to disappoint the mother and that she understood him. When Travon and his girlfriend graduated high school, we gave him a big party. I remember him wearing a bright red suit which surprised me because he never wore bright colors. He would say “my dad wears bright suits.” My family and his father’s family were all in attendance. He was grinning from ear to ear. He was so very happy. But he would only have ten years left in his life.
He eventually found a place with his girlfriend and got a steady job. I moved to California, I always had a dream of being in show biz. I was skeptical because I wanted Travon to be okay. He said, “Mom go and be happy.” With everything that happened, Travon was very mature and smart. He grew up fast. He said, “Mom I’m okay.” But he wasn’t and neither was I. My depression and mania followed me to California. Back in Philadelphia Travon would be in and out of rehabs. I would visit home frequently due to my depression and to see Travon.
In my heart, I knew eventually I would bring Travon with me to California. I knew he deserved a second chance in life and I had come to love this state and its beauty. Travon’s condition worsened as the years went on. In addition to drinking his drug of choice became PCP. I started googling drug addiction, calling facilities around the country. I toured a rehab, it was beautiful but at an expensive price. I looked into health insurance and subscribed to online sites. But, never, never did I think death. Plus the information on PCP said you don’t die from it. “He can’t die,” were my thoughts. I would never let that happen to Travon.
I was thinking I could solve this problem from three thousand miles away! Everything came to a head near the end of 2015. His former girlfriend called me and said, “He needs help! Maybe if he moves out there and does rehab with you and sees mountains it will make a difference.” I knew it was time. I contacted a facility in Long Beach, CA and spoke with a young guy in detail. I explained everything in Travon’s life. The guy told me to bring him ASAP. He said do not take him to your home, do not take him to the beach. Bring him here because your son is not going to make it in Philadelphia.
I knew it was time! I was going to make up for Travon’s past and what he endured as a child. I asked the young man if he would accept his insurance and he said no, it is private pay. He could hear my hesitation. He said “But Miss, we will work that out later! Your son is not going to make it in Philadelphia.” I did not think death. I thought about money. I thought about credit.
After Travon’s death, a therapist would ask me, why didn’t you look for other places in California? I said “I don’t know.” I just remember sitting at my small kitchen table and feeling overwhelmed. Not realizing my son was suffering. Not realizing Travon was very sick.
I called his father. In all truthfulness, I did not want the responsibility and I hoped someone would take it away from me. I just wanted him to get it together. His father explained that Travon needed to hit rock bottom. He said Travon likes to party and as long as his stepmother allows him back in, he will take advantage of that. It was at that moment that something in my mind clicked. Travon had been living off and on with his stepmother for several years and she loved him very much. She constantly called his father because the situation was getting worse. However, instead of taking the responsibility which I always said I would, I sent her a detailed text message telling her to put Travon out. Why would I do this? I believe I was in a state of mania but also I felt I should do something. Travon saw the text message and he went off. For the very first time I betrayed Travon. He screamed to his stepmother that I did not know him! His girlfriend told me after his death that Travon said “how is she calling orders across the country and she doesn’t understand!”
Travon called me the next day and asked in a humble low voice if he could come to California and go to rehab. I replied very quickly without even thinking, “I don’t know Travon, I’m scared.” He responded back in a low voice, “that’s okay Mom.” I felt awful and knew there was something I had to do. I called a facility outside of Philadelphia and explained everything just as I had to the young man in Long Beach, CA. He told me to put Travon on a train because they had an available bed. He said they would meet him at the train station. There was no cost for this facility. I texted Travon and said “I got you in the place we talked about before. I am going to put you on the train and they are going to meet you.” In a voice of defeat he said, “that’s okay Mom.” I became frustrated. I felt what more do you want me to do?! My response was angry. I lay on the bed and my head was spinning.
Travon would only have six months left to live.
I remembered Travon telling his stepmother that I did not know him. He was right, so after he left his stepmother’s home I began texting and calling him every day. I wanted to know him. Every morning I woke up and said “hey what’s up?” In time we began having conversations. Travon was always mature and very smart; he often gave me advice. If I did not hear from him I would continue texting until he got back to me. He would always apologize for not getting back sooner but I knew he appreciated our conversations, I could hear it in his voice. I was finally present. I recall he told me once that we had more in common than I realized.
May 13, 2016 was our last vocal conversation. He asked if I would mind him coming to visit that summer.
“Sure, Travon! Of course you can. You are my son,” I said. What he next said next sums up everything:
“This is all I ever wanted! But you were so into yourself, and my girlfriend’s mother was a mother figure to me.” You know, I did not realize the significance of those words until after his passing. He wanted my attention. He wanted his mom. He wanted me to be present.
On May 14, 2016 we texted briefly. His last text was “lol” about something we talked about in a previous conversation. May 15, 2016 is when I received the phone call. It was a Sunday afternoon. Months later his toxicology report would read that there was PCP, alcohol, morphine, and heroin in his system. Travon died alone.
I flew to Philadelphia the very next day. They would not allow me to view the body. He was already identified from his driver’s license. We went to the room that he rented to collect his belongings. I remember on the side of the bed were a pair of black and white shell top Adidas sneakers. You may know them, they are all white with three stripes on all four sides of the sneakers. I see those tennis shoes EVERYWHERE I GO. And, they represent something. They represent young people living life; driving cars and having families. They represent everything Travon will never have; what he will never experience.
Not long after Travon’s untimely passing, information about addiction was everywhere. The president declared it a crisis. People are moving away from the terms “rock bottom” and “tough love.” I still receive The Fix and I am devastated. There are advertisements for help on television every day here in California.
As the months went on, I found out Travon was not partying and enjoying himself. He cried to his girlfriend on many occasions saying “I don’t want this!” I recall him saying that to me once, about a year before he passed, and I still did not bring him to California. I remember crying with him on the phone but feeling helpless. But why did I not just bring him?! His sister said Travon was depressed and suicidal. That is the reason why he said we were more alike than I thought. Underneath his addiction was emotional pain. This was not a behavioral problem and he did not like to party. He was ill and he could not stop on his own. He was too far along in his battle with addiction.
My father has passed away and my mother now has dementia. It is a very cold and lonely world. I long for my son and I am plagued with guilt. I learned that Travon would do anything for you. He mowed the lawns free of charge for older people back east during the snow season. He visited my mother and sister frequently and fixed whatever was broken. He did the same for his father. He was even having bible study in my mother’s religion. He was not a monster roaming the streets of Philadelphia. He was seeing a young lady and wanted to marry her, but after his father and I told his stepmother to put Travon out he lost her. He lost everything.
I always wanted the best for Travon but I did not know how to give him the love that he needed. I often feel his blood on my hands. I feel that I killed Travon. A therapist told me “you did not kill your son. You made it hard for him.” That alone is devastating. I think about Travon every minute of the day.
Even on the best day, for me, California is no longer bright or sunny.