Ryan was born June 8th, 1983. He had one brother, Eric, who was 10 months older than Ryan. Needless to say, they were best friends from the start. Their mom would tell stories from when they were little, and she described them as “little terrors.” But she loved her 2 little terrors more then anything. Ryan’s parents divorced when he was little. Both of his parents remarried, his mom to his dad’s roommate!! When Ryan’s dad got remarried, added to the family was a little sister from another mother, his step sister Samantha. They were close growing up over the years, but as Ryan’s drug use began his sister distanced herself while Ryan’s kept up a shield to protect her and keep hidden what he was doing. But the love he had for his step sister was no different than if she were of the same blood, and he proved it by getting her name tattooed on his left side across his ribs.
As a kid Ryan was your typical cute, charming, want to be center of attention class clown, and he kept those same characteristics as a grown adult. One of my favorite stories I love to hear his mom tell is when he was little, and he was getting dressed for school, and it was time to leave and he came out crying, his mom asked him ,“Ryan what’s wrong, why are you crying?” “Because I wanted to wear red pants like Eric’s.” His mom told him the ones he had on were like Eric’s, but he said as tears dropped off his cheeks, “I want to wear red ones like Eric’s .“ His were maroon, so they weren’t the same as Eric’s in his eyes. Growing up Ryan and his brother were best friends, double trouble. He loved to ride bikes and play in the dirt, same as any other little boy. Ryan loved being the center of attention, the more the merrier, unlike his brother who was a little bit quieter. At school Ryan was the class clown in every class, his sense of humor would get him in trouble at times. There’s always a time and place to clown around, but not in the classroom while the teacher is teaching. Just like any other child, Ryan wanted to play a sport. He chose to play basketball, something him and my son have in common, and an activity they loved to do together.
Ryan’s outgoing personality attracted people everywhere he went, from childhood into adult hood. His beautiful blue eyes and bright smile and charm made him a lady’s man, which had all the girls drooling. He was gorgeous and a matching personality.
Ryan never spoke much about his childhood. Most of stories I know, are ones his mom told me. Having his parents divorce when he was young, his mom was a single mom, working hard to provide for her and her 2 children. It wasn’t easy for them growing up, especially with their mother being an alcoholic. I’m not certain, but I have a feeling that has something to do with Ryan’s lack of talking about his childhood. The one thing he did talk about was Christmas, and it was always brought up when we were out shopping for my kid. He always said, “your kid is so spoiled, we never got nearly the amount of toys at Christmas, or birthdays, or any time of year.” And he never said anything more. But it was enough to know that shopping for my kid, brought back some unpleasant memories for him. Ryan was very materialistic and always about getting money. Makes sense to me, he grew up having very little and as an adult, he was making up for it. Selling drugs, it put a lot of money in his pocket quickly with very little effort. Quite different than his mom, a single mother with 2 boys, busting her butt working fulltime just to put a roof over their heads and food on the table.
Once his mom remarried, the family had a cabin up in northern Minnesota on a lake. Ryan loved to there and go fishing. He and Eric loved to sleep out the tent, even in thunderstorms. As he got older and into drugs, his times visiting the cabin became less and less. His mom invited us every summer for 5 years to come up and spend the week or even just a weekend and go fishing. But we never got to go. Ryan was either too high to go and was paranoid to be around his mom and step dad, out of dope and withdrawing and refused to go up there with no dope and sick, or in jail. I wish we would have been able to go. Ryan loved motorcycles , so did his dad. He had always wanted a Harley and was bound and determined he would have one some day. In February 2014 Ryan got his Harley Sportster 1200. His step mom was due for a new one, so he took hers. Of course, he had to tweak its looks, so he and his dad set out to redo the bike. He redid the paint on the gas tank, put custom exhaust pipes and a screaming eagle air filter kit, for starters. March 12th, 2014, he passed his motorcycle drivers test, had his bike ready to go, now he just had to wait for the weather to warm so he could ride. It didn’t take long before Ryan was in his first motorcycle crash. He had been out drinking and was trying to be a show off with a female friend of his on the back, and as he was going around a street corner he hit a patch of sand and wiped out. Thank God no one was seriously injured. He had some pretty nasty road rash on his knee and leg, I never thought that it would ever heal. It went through some pretty nasty stages to heal and I was the one who got the privilege of cleaning it. Thanks Ryan!! That wasn’t the only crash, he had 2 more crashes, the final one was the last one. He called me to come get him from some gas station because he crashed his bike. He again had been drinking. He was nervous to call his dad to come get it because he knew he was going to be angry. He was right, his dad was angry as he came with a trailer to pick up the bike. That was the end of his motorcycle he loved so much.
Ryan also loved to help his dad with a hot rod car his dad was building. We tagged one summer with his dad and the hot rod to the 1/8 track at Grove Creek race track. It was a blast, going from 0 to 100 in a matter of seconds. Besides motorcycles and hot rods, Ryan had a passion for audio equipment, subs, amps, decks, whatever it took to make his stereo bang he did it. We had so many amps and subs in our garage it was insane. He installed systems as a little side gig. He always tried to get me to come sit outside with him and learn how to install a stereo system and I always said no, it’s boring. I wish now that I would have taken those moments and went to learn. It would have created more memories. After he died I wanted new speakers in my car, and I was bound and determined to install them on my own in honor and memory of him. And I did it!! He’d be proud. He was such a great guy. He was funny, charming and always brought smiles and his dumb funny jokes every where he went. When we first started talking and he asked me out to dinner, the night he wanted to go I had my son, but that wasn’t stopping him from taking me out. He said, “well he can come with us”. I thought to myself who brings a kid on a first date, I guess that would be us. So, we went to old Chicago and had pizza. And after dinner Ryan and my son Braeden played the crane game with a mission to take home all the prizes, we were there for hours. Ryan and my son had a close relationship, it made my heart melt. Both were very smart so the conversations they had blew me away. Ryan’s drug use led him to prison, which led to broken promises with my son. It was to a point my son had enough and wouldn’t speak to Ryan, for quite a long time. It hurt Ryan knowing his addiction had led to broken promises with my son. It hurt them both. It took a toll on our relationship at times because my son came first. I’m glad that they had the chance to strengthen and repair their relationship before Ryan died.
Ryan died 12/3/2017 to a fentanyl overdose. He was brought home to me by a friend, nearly dead. The hospital didn’t do any blood tox screens just urine tox. First the nurse said it was positive for opioids then after me asking for them to check for fentanyl they changed their answer and said no opioids were found. They had him on fentanyl the entire time and he over- dosed on fentanyl thinking it was heroin. When I finally connected with detectives they sent out the substance found in Ryan’s pocket. It came back as fentanyl. After fighting for his life on life support for 5 days, we had to make the decision whether or not to take him off life support. His dad pushed to take him off. I wish every day they would have given him more time. My heart and other factors tell me he should not have died, but I am trying to just accept it as god’s way for him to not be suffering any more.
For me Ryan was such an amazing man, I didn’t see him for the addict he was but for who he was as a person. He always made me laugh and was there when I needed him. We had our moments because of drugs but I wouldn’t give up my time with him for anything.
I refuse to be silent. Sharing Ryan’s story, I hope will save lives. When he died I had to make a choice, either let his death destroy me or take it and grow as a person and be his voice, our voice and take initiative to help save lives and reduce the stigma that surrounds addiction. People think “addicts” are some separate species of life, but in all truth and reality they are just like anyone else, they just have a different disease. We don’t treat people with diabetes or cancer as a separate species so why treat addicts different. Despite Ryan’s addiction he was your normal guy who was funny, loving and had a heart of gold. He worked hard and never asked for help. The guilt and shame he carried with him was something he just couldn’t shake.
Story by Anne Emerson