top of page


By Fred Dickey

May 23, 2016

Heroin is a truth serum. It first carries you away to a tropical beach where you can drowse on warm sand as the surf makes a cooing sound. The earth is your mother and life is your friend.

But that's not heroin's truth. That comes later, when you learn that death lies ahead - fast or slow. But before then, heroin will humiliate you, torment your loved ones and destroy the value of your life.

That is its truth.


Darrell Gordon is a tall, courtly, caring man of 66 with a friendliness that masks an underlying dread.

His fear is the possible suicide of daughter Anna that hangs over his spirit like a teetering boulder.

Not technically. Suicide requires intent, and Anna has none. But there are many ways to self-destruct, and heroin addiction is one of the most certain.


Anna was born 26 years ago to a mother who gave her up and moved on. Her father was and is anonymous because, well, he might have been anonymous to Anna's birth mother as well.

Two-day-old Anna was adopted by Darrell and his wife, Joyce. They carried the little bundle into their Oceanside home with the same joy as all adopting parents, grateful for the privilege of nurturing a little human life they could call their own.

Joyce, a neonatal nurse, was cautious about adopting a newborn "damaged" as a fetus by self-destructive mothers. Pediatricians she knew had already warned the couple off other possibilities. Of course, this baby's genetics were unknown.

Anna enjoyed the pampering that accompanies being an only child. Then when she was 4, Joyce died. For two years afterward, Anna was without a mother.

Then Darrell married Karen and the family grew into three children.

Anna's relationship with her new mother was typical for the circumstance: chilly-sunny-stormy. They worked it out.

The marriage between Darrell and Karen ended in divorce after 11 years, when Anna was 17.

But the trouble started well before that. "At the beginning of eighth grade there was a change in her," Darrell says. "Rebelliousness, door slamming and seeing what she could get away with. That sort of stuff. That's when it started, and she never came back from that. She just kept making the wrong turn over and over again. It was just so sad and frustrating."

(In a later interview, Anna admitted using alcohol and marijuana in middle school. She also acknowledged her drug addiction, as does her husband, Corey.)

Torrey Pines High School finally gave up and Anna was sent to a continuation high school, where she earned a diploma. College was not going to happen.

"During high school, she was seeing counselors and a therapist who sensed abandonment issues. She didn't understand why her birth mother gave her up for adoption. She didn't understand why her adopted mother had to pass away," Darrell says.

Those are the types of things most people learn to deal with.

"We've talked about this a lot, and I've told her, ‘Somebody's always got a tougher story than you. You've always lived with a loving family in a great neighborhood with great schools and tons of opportunities, and you've chosen to not take advantage.' To her credit, she takes responsibility. She doesn't blame (what's happened to her) on circumstances."

As a late-teenager, Anna was diagnosed as bipolar and placed on medication - actually, several, in turns. She would take none for any length of time.

In 2011, when Anna was 21, Darrell got a 2 a.m. wake-up call that turned into an unending nightmare.

"She told me on the phone she'd been arrested for selling drugs. I asked what drugs. She goes, ‘Heroin.' I was sitting on the edge of the bed and I literally had to pick myself up off the floor. I've never used drugs, and Karen wouldn't even drink a beer. This was all new."

Darrell still feels guilty about not educating himself about kids and drugs. He didn't realize that schools are a prime market for drug dealers. When Anna's rebelliousness extended to purple spiked hair and goth get-ups in black clothing, it didn't register great concern, even when she was arrested on a DUI charge at 19.

Anna served a year in Los Colinas women's jail on the drug-sales charge. Subsequently, on three occasions, Darrell says he turned her in for violating probation or court orders.

She has spent time in five rehab facilities, but has never completed a course. "These rehab places were like a merry-go-round," Darrell says. "It's a three- to six-month program. If you use drugs, you get kicked out. Anna always got kicked out."

Darrell is a real estate appraiser. He's single and lives in a small condo in Rancho Peñasquitos. He's also active in the lives of his two sons. The oldest was recently awarded a master's degree from Yale University, and the youngest is a college student.

He draws comfort from a strong faith. He has gone on four Christian missions to Ethiopia with his youngest son.

However, he has never been able to bring Anna into the fold.

Darrell says that about 18 months ago, Anna and Corey, also an admitted heroin user, were living in a homeless camp in Oceanside. "They would just show up every now and then," he says. "‘Dad, could we have some money? Can I have this? Can you help me out with this or that?' I don't give her money at all, but would I take her to a restaurant and buy her a meal? Yes. Would I take her to Walmart and buy her a sack of groceries? Yes."

One day, Anna didn't ask for money, but ...

"She tells me she's pregnant. And I know she's using. I'll never forget it."

Did you suggest an abortion?

"No. I don't believe in abortions. She was very hungry and so I met her in the Walmart parking lot. I bought her some groceries. There was a guy standing in line right in front of us, and he had this little 6-month-old in his arms, and I'm there with Anna. There was just this flashback of us 25 years ago, and I thought: What happened? Look at this guy, he's so happy to have his little baby here ...

"‘Anna, what happened?' I said. We both just broke down and started crying right there.

"I told her, I go, ‘Anna, you've got to stop. You've got to stop. Now you've got another life that you're responsible for. You can't do this.'"

Darrell worked hard to get her into a shelter for addicted mothers. However, Anna didn't last a day in that detox facility in East County.

He got a call from the facility. "Dad, I can't stay here."

"‘I can't stay,' she said, and walked out. She jumped on a bus, with no money, and got back to Oceanside in a couple of hours. She called me the next day and she was really high. I said, ‘Anna,' I go, ‘You're killing me with this and you're killing your baby.'

"‘I don't care,'" he remembered her saying.

"I hung up and I said that's it. I just knew in my heart that probably the next call I would get would be from a coroner or the police or something like that."

Darrell was out of town last August when he received a telephone call that gave his spirit a rebirth.

"It was Anna calling from her hospital room. She'd just given birth and she was

off heroin. You could just hear the sweetness and the innocence in her voice, and she just sounded like my little girl again. She just said the baby was healthy and beautiful, and she wanted me to see the baby."

Somehow, Anna and her husband had managed to go cold-turkey and stay clean for about six months, until after their baby girl was born. They both relapsed toward the end of 2015.

Currently, the couple are living with their baby in Banning. Corey was working during the time they were off heroin but has since lost his job, Darrell says.

Darrell is asked about recommending adoption for the baby.

"I have not done that yet, and that would go absolutely nowhere. She loves her child, but is she doing the best thing for the child?"

That also goes back to the issue he and his first wife faced: Who would adopt the baby of a drug addict?

During her years of drug abuse, Anna's upper teeth have been reduced to stubs. Darrell says it was the crystal meth - "meth mouth" is the current term, he says. Anna says it was from frequent vomiting.

Anna has acknowledged shoplifting for drug money. Darrell can't pinpoint instances of her stealing money from him, except he's convinced it happened. He's also certain Anna stole money from Karen. His keepsake wedding band from his first marriage disappeared, and he believes Anna stole and hawked it.

Darrell says, "Even when they're living homeless, they're never out of drugs and they're never out of cigarettes, ever. I think they probably steal, and Anna has told me that she can't ever get a job at Walmart or several other stores because she's been caught stealing.

"Drug addicts have this unseen network that you and I don't see. They know this guy is selling, and they know that guy is selling, and who's got what, and all this sort of stuff. That's the incredible thing: There's this whole drug world, and almost all parents don't understand and don't know it's out there."

One of Anna's rehab stays in her early 20s seemed to be working, and Anna was rewarded with a weekend at home.

"She comes home. We have a great time. Everything is just great. She needs to go back there Sunday afternoon. Sunday morning, she says, ‘Dad, there's a new Disney movie out. Could I go see it?'

"I say, ‘OK, fine. As soon as the movie's out, then it's going to be time to get you back.' I drop her off (at the theater).

"I pick her up two hours later and take her back to her rehab place. The next day I get a call from the director. They've kicked her out. She got heroin in the movie theater or someplace, and she took it back there."

If you went to her today and said, "Are you going to quit?" what would she say?

"‘Yeah. Yeah, I'm going to,' she would say."

Does she ever break down and ask, "Why? Why did I do this to myself?"

"Not that I've heard."

She knows the pain she's caused you?

"Yes, she does. Absolutely does."

How does she deal with that?

"I know that she suffers with that, but apparently not enough to make her stop."

Darrell shakes his head in dismay. He's sick and tired of it all. "Heroin never lets you go."


Darrell Gordon's strength is also the source of his pain: He loves his daughter. Some might say too much.

But he will never stop - loving, trying, praying.

So long as Anna is out there in the dark, Darrell will stand watch at the window.

Next Monday: Anna tells her story.

Fred Dickey's home page is He believes every life is an adventure and welcomes ideas at

© Copyright 2016 The San Diego Union-Tribune. All rights reserved.

Recent Photos of Fred, Family and Friends

bottom of page