All the Rage

A year after Taylor Hooton’s suicide, Plano West Senior High is still in denial about steroid abuse

"I don't know," he says, thinking it over. "It just happened. "

After the bloody fight with Dan Culver, after Taylor had, once more, apologized to Emily, the crying started. "It was never really yelling at that point," Emily says. "He'd just cry and cry. We'd be on the phone for hours, and he'd just be crying. "

Taylor thought he was a disappointment to her, to his parents, to himself. He was on the baseball team, pitching mostly for the JV squad. But this isn't what upset him. No one knows exactly what upset him. The crying, like the fighting, always upstaged what caused it.

Taylor Hooton's older brother, Donald, knew Taylor was on steroids. When his parents commented on how big 17-year-old Taylor was getting, Donald told them the truth. Here, he sits in Taylor's empty room.
Mark Graham
Taylor Hooton's older brother, Donald, knew Taylor was on steroids. When his parents commented on how big 17-year-old Taylor was getting, Donald told them the truth. Here, he sits in Taylor's empty room.
Dr. Babette Farkas treated Taylor for depression. After Taylor's death, the psychiatrist fielded calls from current and former steroid users who live all over the affluent northern suburbs.
Mark Graham
Dr. Babette Farkas treated Taylor for depression. After Taylor's death, the psychiatrist fielded calls from current and former steroid users who live all over the affluent northern suburbs.

He wasn't pleased with his body, that much was known. He'd lost his boyish face, and he still carried roughly 20 pounds of muscle he'd gained--he looked, at that point, much older than his 17 years--but Taylor in mid-June thought he was losing his precious mass. He wanted back on the juice.

"No, Taylor. I don't want to go through that again," Emily said.

"If I start raging"--that's what he called it around Emily--"I'll get off them right away."

But Emily hated that Taylor. That Taylor wasn't at all like the kind, funny one she'd met nearly a year ago.

"No," she said.

Taylor let the subject drop.

He was careful about it, once he started using with Mark Gomez. Taylor took Azo, a detox readily available through the black market, which, in a urine sample, supposedly masks evidence of steroid use. (Which is possibly why his autopsy report didn't show any steroids in his urine, though steroids were present in his bloodstream. It can take weeks for steroids to leave the bloodstream, experts say.) Taylor also took Clomid, an estrogen pill designed for women with fertility problems. Taylor thought Clomid would limit his mood swings, balancing out the testosterone he was injecting and swallowing every week.

But by late June, Taylor's anger had long been replaced by numbing depression. Dr. Farkas still met with him regularly, still had him on anti-depressants. All Emily noticed was how much he cried. He'd cry and tell her she was the love of his life, she was the only reason he went on, he'd love her for eternity. It was strange. Emily knew he was sad, but she thought it was simply a phase teenagers went through. Besides, didn't these words show a romantic side, too?

Around his parents, Taylor was stoic. They never knew the range of his emotions. Neither did Mark or any other friend of Taylor's.

July 16, 2004. One day after the one-year anniversary of Taylor Hooton's death.

Dr. Babette Farkas says the problem of steroid use is not limited to Plano. From her office in Dallas, the psychiatrist talks about the 40 or so calls she's received in the year since Taylor Hooton's death, all of them from former users or their concerned parents or coaches, wondering about steroid withdrawal and depression. People call from Frisco, Addison, Carrollton--all over the northern suburbs. Dr. Farkas is in therapy now with a principal from Carrollton who took steroids in high school, a 26-year-old from Plano who's depressed since he quit using and an 18-year old from Plano West named Chris Wash.

Wash started using steroids when he was 15. He got bigger, angrier and was eventually kicked off West's basketball team. "I was probably one of the biggest hard-asses in school," he says. Didn't matter. He kept using. He loved how much energy he had in the weight room, how big he was getting. He never thought about consequences. Of course, he'd rage, but so would a lot of guys using at Plano West. The rages, he says, were an expected part of this subculture.

What scared him was Taylor's suicide. Wash kept his vow to quit after Taylor's death--only to experience a similar depression. Compounding the problem were insecurities that resurfaced. Steroids squelch any self-doubt about one's physique. Once off the juice and in the grip of depression, the former user loses his build, then his self-confidence, which makes the despair that much worse.

It's a despair that can't be explained unless you've been there, but suffice it to say Wash thought about suicide many times and once stopped his car on the Plano Parkway overpass, Dr. Farkas says. He looked at the Dallas North Tollway beneath him. But he didn't jump.

Last fall Wash fell behind in his classes. He didn't graduate with his friends this spring. And he won't graduate until winter. He'd like to get involved with the Taylor Hooton Foundation, which Don and Donald have organized. He wants other kids to know the dangers of steroids; he feels nearly an obligation to tell them, yet every time he does, Dr. Farkas says, "he's reliving his depression." Which can spiral him deeper.

Yet he's the one who's alive after taking steroids and becoming suicidal. "Very few kids that go through this depression and get suicidal get through it," Dr. Farkas says.

HE WENT over to Emily's on July 14, the night the Hootons returned from their vacation. Emily and Taylor sat on the porch near her back yard. He wanted to stay outside despite the humidity, despite the heavy sweater he wore that he'd bought in England. He told her he'd be grounded for a while because of the laptop. He cried for a time, then brought out the gifts: a teddy bear, a key chain, T-shirts. He gave her a poem he'd written, which mentioned "eternity." (In the year since, Emily, like Don Hooton, has wondered how she missed all the signs.)

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