GREENVILLE – While some people only saw his struggles, Candy Helm remembers her son as much more than that.
“He was just so loyal to us, and unfortunately a lot of people never saw that part of him,” Helm said. “That’s heartbreaking to me because they only seen the addict part of him. They didn’t see the awesome linebacker, the center on the football field. I mean he was a good athlete. I still have trophies and medals. He was a swimmer, you know, traveled all over three states in swim competitions. People never seen that part of him, but we did. And it was truly a blessing. He was a blessing to our life. It was just unfortunately he couldn’t get past the monkey on his back.”
Her son, Terry Baker Jr., was better known to his family and friends by his nickname, Bub. He was extremely talented and could fix anything but throughout most of his life he struggled with addiction.
“He was probably the most caring, giving, loving son, brother we’d ever, ever want,” Helm said. “I mean he was a fierce, fierce protector of us. Never once did he ever do drugs in front of my girls, ever. He actually never did drugs in front of me. I always got to reap the rewards of the aftermath, you know, going and picking him up or … you know when I think about the places I’ve been and the things I’ve done to go get him when he’s called me and said ‘I need help. Can you come get me?’ You know I’ve been in crack houses on Salem Avenue, off Gettysburg. Sometimes I think, how in the hell did I ever survive? I mean, you just do what you do as a mother.”
Helm, a sales representative at The Daily Advocate, raised four children – Bub and his three sisters. Bub was the only one of the four who used drugs, but it affected the entire family.
“I raised all of them the same,” Helm said. “They all had the same rules. They all had the same expectations. I didn’t change anything for any of them. I have three daughters whom I’m forever grateful for every, every day – one’s a college lecturer, one’s a school teacher, and one of them is a long-time employee at Lowe’s. So it’s just a decision he made. I never condoned his behavior. It affected all of our lives so drastically. My ex-husband, I know it affected our marriage something terrible. He just couldn’t get the addiction part of it. He couldn’t get the why can’t he just kick it. Why can’t he just walk away from it. He never understood that. Bub, he stole from us and others. He stole our car when he ran away one time. He’d be MIA for days. So that made me an emotional basket case. The things, the sacrifices my girls and husband made, he would go to rehab and we’d have family counseling and they would have to give up their personal life to try to go do family counseling.”
Helm first realized her son was using drugs when he was 14 years old. He spent time in six treatment centers during his juvenile years. He would be clean for periods throughout the rest of his life, but he never could shake the addiction.
“He would stay clean for awhile,” Helm said. “He would stay clean for a short while, and he would do well. He always looked so healthy, he gained weight, but you always knew it was just lurking in the background.”
Bub remained active in sports for a couple years after he started using drugs, but eventually he lost interest. He also lost interest in school and routinely would exit out the back door immediately after his mom dropped him off, ultimately dropping out.
Not only would Bub ditch school, but he also ran away from home. At age 15 he stole a car from his mom and stepdad, who discovered he was missing around 8:30 a.m. the following morning. They didn’t know where he was for the next nine hours until they got a call from police in Marietta, Georgia where Bub was pulled over for speeding.
“That was a terrible day,” Helm said. “The thought of not knowing where he was, absolutely terrifying.”
Helm drove to Georgia to pick up her son, but he ran away again about a year later. This time she didn’t go to get him.
“He called me every week and checked in,” Helm said. “There was no keeping him. It sounds terrible to say that, but it is what it is. Then finally he just showed up at my house one day. I came home; he was standing in my kitchen eating a bowl of cereal.”
Bub eventually did get his GED during one of his three stints in prison.
“That’s when I always slept the best because I knew where he was at,” Helm said.
And even though he had his struggles, Bub still was a hard worker and held steady jobs working in construction, installing garage doors and working a few factory jobs.
“He always worked,” Helm said. “He always had a job, always worked. He was a hard worker. He just couldn’t kick the addiction part of it.”
With his jobs, Bub managed to save up some money and bought a car. But within one day of purchasing it, police stopped him on a rolling stop charge then proceeded to rip apart the entire vehicle looking for drugs though they found nothing.
“He would try so, so hard, and unfortunately, you know, once you get marked as a troublemaker you’re always a troublemaker in some people’s eyes,” Helm said. “It was bad. I felt so bad for him. Some people would say, ‘We’ll, he deserves that.’ No he doesn’t. You know, he works. He gets up and works every day.
“That was frustrating. It was frustrating as a parent to watch him go through that.”
Helm didn’t want her son to be defined by his worst habits, but she still believed in tough love. After he stole a check from her and took $450 from her bank account, she kicked him out of her home.
“That’s when I changed the locks on my house, and he wasn’t allowed in my house unless I was home,” Helm said. “He lived in a van parked behind my garage because I wouldn’t let him in my house unless I was there. The proverbial tough love – it’s heart-wrenching.”
Nothing was as heart-wrenching, though, as the day Bub overdosed – May 2, 2010.
“The day that he passed away, I hate that day,” Helm said. “I hate it. I just hate it with a passion. I wish they’d just take it off the calendar.”
It was around 2 a.m. when a deputy from the Darke County Sheriff’s Office knocked on Helm’s door and told her that she needed to get to the hospital.
“Unfortunately he was with some people who didn’t care when it happened,” Helm said. “They literately laid him on the couch, and he laid there for two hours before they loaded him up and took him to Wayne Hospital, pushed him in in a wheelchair and said, ‘I think something’s wrong.’ What kind of a person does that? But there again, they were partying so they didn’t want to get in trouble either. So they have no morals and no ethics sometimes. When they do the drugs, they just get to a certain point where they don’t care. It’s all about getting high.”
At age 29, Bub died of an overdose of heroin and cocaine laced with feline sedative.
It’s been almost nine years since her son died, but it feels like it happened yesterday.
“It’s the most awfulest, awfulest, awfulest, severe pain that anybody could ever, ever, ever, ever imagine,” Helm said. “Imagine not being able to get up every day and see their face and hug them or not be able to pick up the phone like I can my girls, dial the phone, ‘Hey, how are you?’ Hear their voice. I now hear his voice on home movies and a cassette tape. I have a shirt of his I keep in a Ziploc baggie that smells like him. Appreciate your children for being here because there might be a day that they’re not.”
While she’s learned to cope in the years since his death, the grief still can be debilitating sometimes and nothing is ever the same.
“Some days it’s not quite as bad,” she said. “The pain isn’t as vibrant or isn’t as stabbing, but then other days it’s like I can’t … especially May 2. It’s just hard for me to function that day. Sometimes it’ll be a great day and I’ll go to the grocery store and I’m walking down the aisle and I see his favorite cookies. Just little things that trigger.”
It took her almost three years, but Helm eventually mustered the strength to seek help through Compassionate Friends, a worldwide support group that meets monthly locally. At first she just wanted to cry during the meetings, but as time went on and with the help of the group she learned to better manage her emotions.
“You finally find yourself going to the dark side but you don’t stay as long if that makes any sense,” she said. “There’s always that woulda, shoulda, coulda, you know. It’s not as bad as it used to be.”
Holidays continue to be a difficult time, and the family still celebrates Bub’s birthday every year.
The pain remains – and always will – but Helm at least knows her son is finally clear of the struggles he faced most of his life.
“In my heart I know that he’s safe,” Helm said. “He doesn’t have to deal with all of the demons.
“His peace comes at such a painful price for us.”
Kyle Shaner may be reached at 937-569-4316. Follow me on Twitter @KShanerAdvocate or get updates on Facebook by searching Darke County Sports or Advocate 360. For more features online go to dailyadvocate.com.