Gay Man Loses Loved One to Addiction & Learns “It Wasn’t Up to Me. It Was Up to Him.”

by Peter Horjus

It wasn't up to me from the beginning, really. It was up to him.

So my name is Peter Horjus. I’m from Grand Rapids, Michigan. 

I moved to New Orleans where we are now about 22 years ago. Frank and I met, my gosh, I guess it must have been 2015, 2016, somewhere in there. Once it started being like, “Oh, okay, this might be more than just a few dates,” he was very honest with me. I remember we were driving home and we parked and he said, “Just wanted to have a serious conversation.” Wanted me to know about his struggles, his past struggles with addiction, heroin. 

And I told him at the time, I was like, “Thank you for telling me, not that I’m experienced firsthand or tons of experience secondhand, but I know what you’re supposed to know about addiction. And so I really appreciate you telling me. I’m glad that you’re not using now.” And I said to him, I was like, “Listen, that’s not a red flag or a reason to stop seeing each other.” But I remember saying to him at the time, “But please just never lie about it. If you relapse, you have problems, that’s okay. We can figure that out and what it means for us. But just please don’t lie to me.”

Fast forward maybe two years or so, and it was beginning of 2018. In hindsight, I think there were several signs that Frank was using something, some set of drugs again. And then I guess it was March of 2018, Frank had a major overdose and I happened to get the call from the hospital because I was the last one to text from the phone. And I thought at the time, like, Oh, he must have broken a leg or whatever, don’t panic. 

Got in my car, drove to the hospital and I remember there was this nurse, she was the admitting nurse in the ER. She’s the one that had called me and I was referring to us as boyfriends at the time.

But she took me out into the vestibule of the emergency room and she said, “Listen, don’t tell anybody I told you this because I could get in trouble for it, but if you just use the term partner instead of boyfriend, you’ll get a lot more access to what is going on with Frank.” And I later learned that she was lesbian. And it was funny because then from that point forward, Frank and I used the term partner. 

Then while I was in the emergency room, she was the one that then came out. And her words I remember were like, “If you pray, this is the moment that you should pray.” Then she’s the one that brought me into the back to talk to the doctor. And then immediately talked to Frank’s mother on the phone. 

His family came down a week, he made it through that week, they left and then it was just me. I was so afraid that he was going to die alone. And so I didn’t want that for him. They had to amputate a leg because of the way he had fallen and laid on this leg for too long and he cut off blood supply and they had to go through all of that. When he got out of the hospital, I moved him in with me. It was just a lot of doctor’s appointments and just driving around to these appointments and all this kind of thing for months and months afterwards. Whatever I can do or whatever I’m capable of giving to be sure he’s going to be okay, I was doing without any second thought or question.

And he was working hard too. He was going through a lot and he was working really hard in getting better. 

Nine, 10 months later after this, it started to become evident that he was starting to use again. He would deny it unless really caught red handed. And Frank was a sweet, kind, loving man and a terrible liar unless it came to drugs. And then he was a very good liar. I think it had gotten to the point with him that my support was helping him, enabling him to use instead of helping him recover. And that was the really hard lesson at that time was that I couldn’t save him. And I remember actually at the time, I said, “You have to stop using if you want me to have this support.” And then I said, “Or at least stop lying about using.”

And then he made the choice at that time then to move out. He wasn’t in a place where he could admit that he was actually using again or to what level. And at the time he moved out and he was like, “Oh, but I still would like to have your help with important doctor appointments if you can go with me?” And I was like, “Frank, it’s not how this works.” 

Between spring of 2019 and spring of 2021, he went through some really rough periods and was in the hospital a number of times for less severe overdoses. But he also applied to grad school. From what I understand, he was three months… he was in a program and he was three months sober and getting all A’s in his masters of social work program that he had started. And had gotten a car, was mobile and he’d really come a long ways and I knew this. And I was very hopeful for him. 

And then I guess it was early April of 2021, I got a call from his sister. She called me up on the phone and said, “Frank overdosed this morning and died.”

After he passed that day, then his mom and his sister, some of his other family members all came into New Orleans. And then I was able to see them and it was really great. And then also to meet a friend of his that I think was a romantic interest and I don’t know how to characterize it, but he and Frank were very good friends. He’s the one that found Frank, uh, and, uh, and he and I immediately connected.

When Frank and I first started dating, I made him a quilt. He loved it so much and he was so happy with it. When I met this friend of his that I was talking about, he said, “Oh yeah, Frank always had that quilt on his bed.” And he said, “That’s the one part of Peter I got to keep.” 

Of course I still feel guilt and regret and questions of was there something else I could have done or was there something I could have handled differently or done differently or done more that would’ve changed the outcome? And I’ll always wonder that, but I do know that I can’t, it wasn’t up to me from the beginning really. It was up to him.


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