Saturday, August 11, 2001
As he got older, Ross learned to play the piano, composed his own songs and skied like a daredevil.
But family life soured for the Halls when their boys reached their teen years. Both boys had trouble in school. The elder, John (not his real name), was bored. Ross was a loner, and he was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder. On a trip to Australia in 1995, the Halls discovered that their boys were drinking regularly and concealed alcohol in their suitcases. On the plane home, 15-year-old Ross got furious when his parents refused to order him a drink.
Soon, both boys were smoking marijuana. John dropped out of school in Grade 11. For months afterward, he complained of flu symptoms and backaches. One morning, six years ago, Nichola walked into the bathroom and saw John with a piece of tin foil and a lit match. John told his mother that it was heroin. He said he had been trying to quit for months and told his parents that he needed help.
Nichola and Ray were terrified. They put John on a plane to Toronto's Bellwoods Centre, a long-term treatment facility. He completed the three-month program, but on the plane home, he drank to quell his nerves. He started using heroin again within weeks.
To pay for his habit, he stole from his parents. Once, Ray returned from a business trip to find that his video cameras worth more than $7,000 were missing. John confessed to hocking them, and they drove to the Granville Street pawn shop. The owner claimed never to have seen John, but in the shop Ray spotted two other still cameras that had vanished months earlier. John had stolen those as well.
John started shooting speedballs, a potentially lethal mixture of heroin and cocaine injected into the veins. It cost him $100 a day. Eighteen months after he confessed to using heroin, his parents threw him out. One night, he arrived at the house in the middle of the night, high, and banging on the door. Ray called the police, who took his son to a downtown shelter. "The officer said, `You're doing the right thing,' " Ray recalls. "I couldn't believe this was happening to our family."
Ross witnessed his brother's spiral - a cycle of using and thieving, followed by doomed attempts to quit cold turkey. During one bid, John spent four days in his basement bedroom, vomiting and shivering with a fever. He told his parents that he had the flu. Ross knew he was withdrawing from heroin.
Still, when John's friend asked Ross if he wanted to smoke heroin, he said yes. "I knew that [John] had been going through withdrawal," he says now, "but it was like, `I'll never get to that point.' I'll just enjoy this and experience this." Within months, Ross also was using every day, securing a fix before school started at 8:45.