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Aaron Torrance, 30, looks over at his son Kaeden, 9, as they walk down 75th Street in Everett on June 6. After 15 years of escalating drug use - marijuana, meth, cocaine, OxyContin, and finally heroin - and four different stints in jail, Torrance has gotten clean and gained full custody over his two young sons, Kaeden and Liam, 3. Torrance is part of a growing trend of people increasingly turning to heroin after abusing OxyContin. Heroin, which was not regularly seen in Snohomish County until around 2002, is now relatively common. It is cheaper than OxyContin, and more accessible, and the formula of OxyContin was changed, making it harder to smoke.
Torrance went to jail for the last time on October 8, 2010. That was the same day that Kaeden and Liam were taken from their mother by Child Protective Services and placed in foster care due to worries over her drug use. Torrance, who was no longer together with the children's mother by then, found out about it a few weeks later. During the time that Torrance was in jail, he detoxed from heroin - "the worst thing I ever done in my life....Oh my god." As soon as he was released, he borrowed a cell phone from a man he ran into and tried dialing different drug dealers. Nobody picked up. The man then handed Torrance a card with a Narcotics Anonymous meeting schedule. Torrance went to his first meeting the next morning, and continued to go to as many as he could every day after that.
Torrance says that when he then found out a week later that his sons had been put into foster care the same day that he went to jail, it was a turning point for him, and he knew he needed to fight to get them back. "I just realized, like maybe, maybe God's finally looking out for me, and showing me the path to take." Here, Torrance helps Kaeden with his homework on June 21 at their Everett home as Kaeden's friend Ivan Westergard, 10, left, looks on.
This is the first time in Torrance's life that he is completely responsible for his sons, and navigating the world of single-parenting is something new to him - as is being clean while doing it. Kaeden still remembers Torrance taking back Christmas presents he had given him, and pawning them for money to buy drugs.
Aaron Torrence entered the Snohomish County Family Drug Treatment Court in January 2011. He went through in-patient and out-patient treatment, and his progress was monitored by different social workers and lawyers. He consented to drug tests a few times every week. On March 23, 2012, Torrance graduated from Drug Court, and officially gained custody over his two sons. Here, he listens as his mother, Donna Myers, reads him a letter during his graduation in March. She touched on her anger at him for the "hell" he put her through during the past 15 years: "When the phone would ring in the middle of the night, and you would be calling from jail, that was the best night sleep I had because I knew you were safe." But she went on to express her pride in how far he'd come, and her support for him. "You have stepped out of the darkness and into the light...I want you to know that for as long as you are trying to do the right things, I will be there to support you."
Liam points a toy gun at his dad outside their Everett apartment on June 21. When Torrance got the kids back, he said he was "overwhelmed. Stressed. I didn't know how to deal with them." That struggle continues daily for him.
Slowly, though, Torrance is establishing a sense of normalcy. Here, he serves up dinner to Kaeden at their Everett apartment one evening in June. "When CPS throws hoops at you, you jump through them. If they lit them on fire, I'd jump through them even quicker," Torrance says about all that was required of him to get his kids back.
A handwritten note by Kaeden was taped to his bedroom door in the Torrances' Everett apartment.
Torrance could not do without the support, and the friends, that he says he's gotten through Narcotics Anonymous. He and his good friend Troy Cessarini, of Everett, take a break from softball practice here in the dugout of a Marysville baseball field. They both play in a softball league made up of NA members.
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Torrance and Liam fool around together one afternoon.
Kaeden Torrance says a short, improvised prayer as Aaron bows his head before dinner on June 6 at their Everett apartment. "I used to despise him and hate him," Torrance says about God. "But not anymore."
Torrance smiles as a crowd applauds him after he spoke about his experience as a single father recovering from a drug addiction at Housing Matters, an event held on March 30 at the Tulalip Administration Building. Social workers, city council members, and employees at organizations that provide housing for people were all there, interested in learning how to better help people in positions similar to Aaron's.
Torrance holds onto Liam as he tries to explain to him how important it is for Liam to listen to him. "Why will you listen to other people but not to me?" Aaron said to Liam earlier that month.
After a long afternoon of trying to get Liam to behave, Aaron Torrance watches as Richard Williams carries away Liam. Williams and his wife Alissa were the foster parents for Liam and Kaeden for 11 months before Torrance regained custody of them. The boys sometimes spend the night back at the Williams' house.
After a year of living in his Everett apartment, Torrance lost his housing subsidy and had to begin looking for a new place to live. He had been having a hard time finding regular work, because of the felonies on his record. He has a suspended license, countless fines to pay off, and is $10,000 in debt. With the help of his family, though, Torrance managed to find an apartment in Puyallup for him and his boys, and line up a job as a carpenter. The end of June was spent packing up his life in Everett.
Aaron Torrance comforts Liam outside their Everett Apartment.
Torrance struggled on the day he moved out of his Everett apartment. "I wasn't myself. I was a wreck," Torrance says. Torrance kneels in the corner of his empty bedroom as he tries to assure his mother on the phone that he did not use drugs again. He later reflected: "I was working on a relapse, is what I was doing. I was about to - if people didn't get there and show up, and things didn't happen the way it was gonna happen - I was gonna go back out."
"My rent was gonna be 800 bucks, and I didn't have any money to pay towards rent...[I was] worrying about if mom was gonna bail out on me, and wondering what was gonna happen within the next couple days, or months, or future, for me and the kids." Here, Torrance's brother, Neil Torrance, of Auburn, sits with him at the end of the moving day.
After the move from Everett to Puyallup was finished, Torrance said he was able to pull himself back together. His new apartment is near the rest of his family, and being close to them helps him. Donna Myers, his mom, shown above, offered to watch Liam and Kaeden every day while Torrance is at work. It "kinda sucks I'm having to be codependent again," Torrance says about having to rely on his family for help. "But I need the help. I can't do it on my own right now." And "if I have to take a step back to have a future, I'm willing to do it."
Torrance, who used drugs with his father at one point when he was younger, says that his experiences with his own dad "makes me know what not to do, that's for sure. And teaches me how to do, you know, the right things for my kids. And do things different than the way he did. 'Cause that's all I want - a lifestyle for my kids that I didn't get."
"It's a relief" to be in a new home, in a new city, surrounded by family, Torrance says. "Everywhere I looked [in Everett] was bad memories. So it feels good to be out of there. A new start, you know?"
The life Torrance wants for Liam and Kaeden is one that's "happy, joyous, and free."
The best thing about fatherhood, Torrance says, is "waking up to them, you know, knowing they're safe, and warm, and have a house over their head. And knowing that I did it all for them." And for the boys, it's good to be home with their father again. "I love you more than all the pieces of sand," Kaeden told Torrance one night in June as they were winding down from the day together. "And more than all the clouds."