Phil Hans is worried. You should be too.

October 6, 2015

 

— Calvin Luther Martin, PhD

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Notice the expression on this man’s face.  He’s smiling ever so slightly.  Why?  Because he’s looking out the window at this.

His name is Phil Hans.  He’s a member of the Malone School Board.  He’s running for Malone Village Trustee.  He’s a dairy consultant with Food Commodities International.

But this doesn’t explain why he’s smiling.  When I finished interviewing him for this article, I asked Mr. Hans to stand and look out my window — at the Flanders Elementary School playground, loaded with boisterous children.

You, too, would smile.  He’s witnessing the wild rumpus my wife & I get to enjoy several times a day.  (I tell visitors it’s better than Prozac.)

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He’s also smiling because his wife, Heather, is a 4th Grade teacher at Flanders.  (Perhaps he spotted her out there?)  He’s also smiling because he and Heather love children.  They had none of their own, so they adopted three.  Two twin boys (now aged 4) and a 6-year-old girl named Nina.

I’m partial to “Ninas.”  I married one.  I’m also partial to Grade 4.  It was the high point of my academic career.  I earned a Certificate of Achievement which I still cherish and examine on occasion.  Besides, 4th Grade is when I first fell in love (with shy Nancy Henderson).  Naturally, I fell in love with Miss Benson, my teacher.

I’ll bet all the kids love Miss Heather, Phil’s wife.

But I digress.  Phil grew up in Cohoes NY.  A dying milltown not unlike Malone.  Cohoes is in worse shape than we are, Phil tells me.  Drugs are real bad.  Crime, bad.  Abandoned, derelict, empty buildings.  Dispirited people.  A disease of the soul.

Phil doesn’t want Malone to go the way of Cohoes.  That’s why he’s running for Trustee.

The truth of the matter is, he’s worried.  He’s worried about the future of the kids he’s looking at — the kids his wife teaches — and the kids he and his wife adopted.

He’s worried because they’re all kids like this one.  Her name is Sue.  (Sorry for the grainy picture.  That’s her younger brother in front.)

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Sue grew up in a good family.  Good parents.  Loving parents.  They took their children camping.  They toured the USA in a camper.  They visited Washington DC.  She fished, played softball, had sleepovers with friends.  She laughed a lot.  She turned into this pretty woman.

Sue Sleasman

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She’s now dead.  She carefully wrote her own obituary several years before she died.  Her family discovered it after she died.  She titled it, “Message from Sue.”

I ask that EVERY parent and grandparent show this to their teens, even if they are perfect children. I was a perfect daughter, and my parents never knew I was using and drinking for at least the first five years (age 12 to 17), then only suspected it until the last ten years of my life when I couldn’t hide it any more.

Message to the teens: If you haven’t started — don’t. If you have, quit NOW. Your drinking/drug using friends are not really friends, they will steal from you, use you, and will do anything to get another “fix” — just like me.

What starts out as fun for the first year or so, ends up to be a horrible, lonely life. During the last ten years, I never knew from one day to the next where I was going to be, I ate out of garbage cans, begged, and stole. I slept in bushes, doorways, abandoned vehicles, and nearly froze to death in the winter.

Most of the time I was high or coming down, and much of that time, did not know what I was saying or doing — I could remember very little of what happened the night before. While using, I thought I was invincible and nothing could ever happen to me — after all, I was the “safest” user out there.

I had a little girl who, because of my drinking and drugging was born with fetal alcohol syndrome and other very serious problems. I did not believe this; I believed she was perfect and only a little slow.  And, of course, it was not my fault — she will need specialized care for the rest of her life.  Again, not my fault, or so I thought.

You will become a thief and a liar, next you will lose your family, your “real” friends, and eventually your life. I started with marijuana and alcohol. It did not take very long for me to be so hooked on hard drugs that I could not have quit if I wanted to. Some of my closest “friends” overdosed and died; I did not quit. The light of my life, my daughter, was taken away — even then, I could not quit.

I entered the methadone treatment and stopped using, but unfortunately my drinking habit kept on and I started using again. More recently I was admitted to the hospital because I was vomiting blood — my stomach was raw and the lining split because of crystal meth and alcohol. The doctors glued it together, and tried to get me to go to treatment — I said I would do it myself.

I have quit now, but I am dead.  Don’t wait as long as I did, give your life another chance.

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In an accompanying note, Sue gave her family permission “to change times and dates fitting with the time of her death, which she knew was inevitable,” write her parents.

I look out the same window Phil was looking out.  My wife, Nina Pierpont, is a behavioral pediatrician who also does adult psychiatry.  Sometimes we stand together at this window.  “Nina,” I say barely above a whisper, “how do these kids turn into drug addicts?”

How did one of them turn into Elizabeth Sue Sleasman?

How did one of them turn into Jess Spaulding?

Jess Spaulding

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Jess died of a drug overdose, alone on her bathroom floor in Malone the other day.  She posted this on her Facebook page several weeks earlier, adding the prophetic comment “Possibly true!”

I’m beautifully broken,
perfectly imperfect,
beautiful in my flaws,
all together, I am a
beautiful disaster

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This summer she posted this.

Died last night in my sleep,
Walking the streets.
Of some old ghost town.
I tried to believe in God and James Dean,
but Hollywood sold out.
Saw all of the saints lock up the gates
I could not enter.
Walked into the flames, called out your name
There was no answer!!!
NOW I KNOW MY HEART IS A GHOST TOWN!!

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She underscored the impact of the last two lines by adding multiple exclamation marks and all caps, just as I’ve done here.

I died the other morning on my bathroom floor.”  Jess could have written this.  Sue Sleasman wrote something eerily similar:  “I have quit now, but I am dead.”  (By the way, I’m confident those saints unlocked the gates for Jess and Sue.)

This is why Phil Hans is running for Village Trustee.  Cohoes NY is chock full of young men and women like Jess and Sue.  Phil knows this.  He wants to stop the horror from becoming any worse in Malone.  He got himself elected to the School Board because he thinks education can help the young Jess Spauldings and Sue Sleasmans, though he admits he’s not sure how.  Nevertheless, he’s hopeful and willing to try.

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I bless him for throwing himself into this nightmare, eager to figure out a way to stop it.

If you think your kids are beyond the reach of this — think again!  Heroin.  Cocaine.  Spike.  Illegal “street” prescription drugs.  And don’t forget the booze.  Add in chronic depression or manic/depression or borderline personality disorder or ADHD.  Don’t forget to include the usual sorrows and failures and sense of shame we all experience in just plain normal living.

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Phil Hans understands.  He’s a wise, thoughtful, college-educated, gentle man who sees what’s going on as he ponders his two sons and Nina, the 6-year-old.

Jess.  Sue.  Someday I expect there will be a third name added to the list.  Lindsey.  My daughter.  I wait for the phone call.
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Jessica L. Spaulding, 29, of Constable, died Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015, at her home.

She was born in Malone, June 9, 1986, the daughter of Herbert Spaulding and April Maloney. She attended local schools and graduated from Franklin Academy.

She is survived by her loving family: her mom, April; father Herb; siblings Joshua and Jolyn; a stepsister, Erica Robideau; her boyfriend Jerimiah Fountain; and many loving friends.

Also surviving are her paternal grandparents, David and Elsie Spaulding; and several aunts, uncles, and cousins.

She was predeceased by her maternal grandparents, Richard and Marjorie Maloney.

She enjoyed hiking and walking her survival dog Jazzy, who was a loyal and beloved companion.

The family will receive friends at the Spaulding Funeral Home Thursday, Oct. 1, from 6 to 8 p.m. for a celebration of Jessica’s life.

Malone Telegram 9/30/15

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