Updated: Nov 10
By John's sister, Heidi
John Richard Page was a blond-haired, blue-eyed boy who loved playing in the woods and catching any critter that crossed his path. He was a ball of energy: curious, adventurous and fast! The kids in the neighborhood called him “Scrawny Johnny” because by the days end, he’d burnt off every calorie consumed--and some. He could be reckless, too. One time he bolted across the street without looking and got bumped by a car. He landed under the bumper just inches from the tires. Another time we found him stuck in a tree hanging upside down from one boot.
As the teenage years rolled in, John started to get in some trouble. It seemed like he was always at the wrong place at the wrong time. He tended to take things to the limit, if he did something he did it all the way. He and I fought all of the time at this point.
When we stopped showing up at school, a Child In Need of Services (CHINS) action was filed and my mother was told that because she couldn't control her kids they should be placed elsewhere. I was two and a half years older than John and ended up living in three different foster homes. John, who was only twelve, was placed in Juvenile Detention Centers around Boston. John quickly learned how to manipulate the system; if he got tired of being there or afraid of a particular social situation, he would act out--say he heard voices or was suicidal---and they would transfer him to a mental hospital and put him on meds. This swing between the hospital and detention center went on for about five years.
I remember the night he finally came home. I had been staying in John’s room at my mom’s house because I was pregnant and had nowhere else to go. John came home at night, took everything I had in his room and chucked it into the hallway. He closed the door and went to bed.
Little by little I started to learn what had happened during his time away. He got in fights that were so severe he had to have various MRI’s to ensure that he didn’t have a brain injury. He was abused by the staff. He was treated like a guinea pig at the mental hospital and put on a variety of powerful medications. His experience changed him forever. He came back furious, distrustful, and reliant upon substances for emotional relief.
Despite being very bright, John never received his GED and had trouble getting work. He could fix any vehicle or cell phone. He could build with wood but preferred intricate projects that focused on small detail with a lot of parts. I imagine that’s what his mind felt like--a mix of gears, buttons, wires, sensors, nuts & bolts constantly being reassembled. He was also a talented artist.
John found peace while camping in the White Mountains in Lincoln, NH. He also found peace alone in his apartment with heroin. I tried everything I could to help him get better. At one point in time, when he was being treated with suboxone, I would drive 40 min. to pick him up and take him to all of his doctors appointments. Sometimes his girlfriend came along and when she did she always sat up front and answered my questions that were directed towards John. When I asked him why he sat in the back, he said, "Heidi, I just didn’t want you to see me this way."
John made some attempts to get better. Once he tried to check himself into detox but was turned away because he didn’t test positive for heroin. This meant he was injecting pure fentanyl. He and his girlfriend tried to detox together by coming to stay with me and my boys after Christmas. She left after one day, but John stayed with us for 11 days. He wasn’t too sick; I bought him an assortment of comfort meds and looked up a slew of at-home detox ideas. We went tanning. He got a haircut. I did his laundry and bought him a new outfit. Over the course of those days, he apologized often and spent a lot of time hanging out with his nephews. I took tons of pictures during his stay--I was running on hope. During that time, he found out that his girlfriend of 2 1/2 years didn’t leave just because she wasn’t ready to get better, but also because she was seeing someone else--the father of my youngest son. John was devastated, although he wouldn’t admit it. I took him to court and then to a Doctor’s appointment. From there he wanted to go home. I knew it wasn’t the right decision but I couldn’t physically restrain him.
We talked that night and the next. The following night he made plans to see his ex-girlfriend and I was furious.
His ex-girlfriend called at midnight but wasn’t making any sense. I hung up on her and dialed 911, where I was transferred to the Marblehead police department and told I’d get a call back. A minute later, Detective Brendan Finnegan called and said six words that haunt me daily: "I am sorry for your loss." I fell to the floor and couldn’t speak. My 7 year old was still awake. He shut off the oven, grabbed two potholders and ever so carefully took the banana bread out of the oven. He placed it on top of the stove and sat down next to me on the floor, holding my hand.
I miss my brother every single day. On some days I am angry, on others sad. My Mother is forever broken. My middle son lost his Dad the same way three years before “Uncle Johnny’s” death. When he found out, he punched a hole in the bathroom wall, sobbed uncontrollably, swore, kicked the trash barrel until it broke and when he was exhausted just cried in my arms. My daughter has used this awful experience to help me teach and educate others about how serious this problem is. My family will never be OK. This is the hardest thing I’ve ever experienced. John was 33 years old when he passed away on January 29, 2016. He was my little brother and I wish he knew how much I looked up to him. His name will live on.