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HEROIN ON MAIN STREET: Family copes with mother’s addiction

  • From left, the Wheeler children, Anthony, 17, Amylynn, 12, and Jade, 14, sit in the living room of their grandparents’ Antrim home Friday. STAFF PHOTO BY TONY MARQUIS

  • In downtown Antrim, there have been 19 heroin-related incidents since 2015, according to Police Chief Scott Lester. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Staff photo by Ben Conant—



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Friday, November 24, 2017

The Wheeler kids were little when it happened, but they remember the day when life flipped.

The day momma died.

She was in a car accident. Rear-ended. She went into the steering wheel and the airbag went off, knocking her out.

After that, she was in constant pain. She’d forget things. She’d see things that weren’t there. It was the medicine, thought their grandmother, Carol Tabakaru. It started with the stuff the hospital prescribed. Later, when she was living under a bridge in Lowell, Massachusetts, it was heroin.

After the accident, she was gone. Anthony, her oldest, knew it first.

She couldn’t take care of the kids. She’d go to sleep and not wake up to feed her 2-year-old daughter Amylynn. Anthony, at only 7 years old, took on the job, changing diapers and microwaving bacon for dinner.

One day, she locked her children out of their Nashua apartment. Anthony called Carol, who found him and his sister Jade, who is now 14, standing outside in their pajamas. She took them home.

“At 4 o’clock in the afternoon she called me, and told me how wonderful the kids were and what a beautiful day it was, and I was like ‘What do you mean?’” Carol said.

“And she said, ‘I’m sitting here watching them play,” and I went, ‘Well, what are they doing?’

She told Carol she saw them playing on the swing and on the monkey bars.

“And I’m like, ‘Your kids are in my yard,’” Carol said.

“I went right to the courts and filed (for custody),” Carol said.

A choice

Carol doesn’t blame her daughter, Tiffany Wheeler, for her drug addiction. Tiffany was an honor roll student in high school. She went to college. She had training in accounting, Carol said.

But she was never the same after the accident.

“I blame it on medication. They treated her because of her blackouts, her inability to figure out where she was. And they treated her for bipolar disease and it’s not what she had,” Carol said.

She went from opioids to heroin. Last any family knew, she was living with her boyfriend Ray under a bridge in Lowell.

For the past 11 years, the Wheeler kids — Anthony, Jade and 12-year-old Amylynn — have been living with their grandparents. The Tabakarus won custody of their grandchildren on Dec. 12, 2007 after the father backed out, Carol said.

To take care of their grandchildren, Carol and her husband Phil Tabakaru sold their Harleys and moved into a house on Main Street in Antrim.

Tiffany still calls from time to time.

“She anticipates that Anthony is seven years old when she speaks with him,” Carol said. “I have to remind her that Anthony is 17 and that Amylynn isn’t a baby anymore.”

The kids and their mother have tried to reconnect. Tiffany has come back into their lives on multiple occasions. Carol gets a call every time a firefighter, EMT or police officer administers Narcan on Tiffany. So many calls, she can’t count them.

The last time Tiffany was admitted to a hospital, the children tried to get their mother back

They gave her a choice: A life with them “or you can choose the life that you’re living, where you go back to your bridge, you live with your needle in your arm,” Anthony said. “We thought she was making the right choice.”

The next day, the hospital called them and told them that she checked out.

Anthony says he “absolutely resents” his mother.

“I blame her surroundings. I blame everything she’s been put through. Life has given her a crappy deck of cards and she can’t really seem to fix it,” Anthony said.

Jade, who is younger, is more forgiving.

“I understand that she’s going through a hard time and this is her way of like coping with things...I realize now that there was a chance to help her, we took it, and then it didn’t help,” Jade said.

The misfits

Anthony stands against a post in the living room wearing a T-shirt of The Misfits, a horror punk band. Carol says he has multiple learning disorders. His fingers twitch as she lists them off.

“Anthony will wiggle his fingers when he’s agitated,” Carol said.

Anthony interjected: “Talking about my mom gets me really agitated.”

Despite the learning disabilities, Anthony seems mature for his age. He speaks with a sober tone — the tone of a boy who raised his younger sisters at 7 years old.

“Anthony was large and in charge and then he came to live with us, and I’m like, you can be a kid,” Carol said. “He’ll still step in and tell his sisters what to do, and try to take over, and I’m like, ‘I can parent, I don’t need you. You need to go be a kid.’”

Phil says Anthony is just starting to relax. And it shows when he softens as his sisters tease him about girlfriends.

The inside of the Tabakaru house is warm and there are pets everywhere. Two dogs cozy up on the couch and three cats walk in and out of the living room. Carol has two cookie sheets full of chicken tenders in the oven. It’s a Friday night. Chicken parmesan night.

“If I could have changed the circumstances and made it so my mother was healthy, I would,” Anthony said. “But as of right now, my life is perfect and I love it just the way it is.”

Ledger-Transcript’s Abby Kessler contributed to this report.