“A voice kept on telling me, ‘you gotta give it back, you gotta give it back.’”
Aeric is remembering the day he met Kaitlyn. His story has the contours of an ancient myth or a medieval tale: a moment of truth that would set him on a quest to meet the woman who would end up saving his life.
Here are the facts of Aeric’s life on that fateful day. He was a heroin addict. His entire existence revolved around finding that next score simply to not be sick. He was living in what he calls “street mode” in the toughest neighborhoods in Baltimore.
Then he came upon that purse in an alley.
“I will do something right,” Aeric said to himself. It was an expensive purse filled with the evidence of a busy, well-off life: notes, receipts, luxurious wallet, and bills. On one of those bills, Aeric found his destination: the address of the purse’s owner, a woman named Kaitlyn.
With no phone, map, or money, Aeric set off in search of Kaitlyn. Filthy and “looking like [he] had been living in dumpsters,” Aeric was kicked out of a barbershop when he asked for directions. He sold a $4 bus pass to get one dollar so he could get on the subway. When he stopped at a soup kitchen, a volunteer tried to buy the valuable purse from him. He refused and pressed on.
Exhausted, lost, and reaching the point of hopelessness, Aeric nearly gave up. Then, close to his destination, a woman again asked if she could buy the purse. Again, he said no. The purse belonged to a woman named Kaitlyn.
“I’m Kaitlyn,” she said.
As they’ll each readily admit, Kaitlyn and Aeric will talk your ear off. Their minds have a similar racing, energetic quality. And they both credit divine intervention for their miraculous meeting.
“I feel like God is watching over me,” said Aeric. “Things are falling into place. He put us together for a reason.”
“We have a strange accountability to each other that keeps us honest,” said Kaitlyn. “Like, how would he tell me he went back to drugs or how would I tell him I didn’t hold up my end of the deal? We’re in this together.”
The day Aeric returned Kaitlyn’s purse was the beginning of his path to sobriety. It started with Kaitlyn and her friend giving him a sleeping bag, flashlight, some clothes, a new backpack, and a ride home.
That soon turned into a one-way ticket to a rehab facility in Florida, arranged and paid for by Kaitlyn. Once he was there, Kaitlyn started sharing her remarkable story of how she ended up getting her purse returned. (In the meantime, Baltimore PD found her stolen credit cards among goods seized from the home of a thief they arrested.) And she started a GoFundMe for Aeric.
The extent of the current opioid crisis is staggering.
In 2015 alone, 12.5 million people misused prescription opioids. 828,000 people used heroin. 33,091 people died from overdosing on opioids. And the relapse rate is about 90%.
In spite of these odds, Aeric recently completed a 90-day outpatient program to continue his recovery and medical treatment. Sobriety is both a lifelong process and a daily struggle. But Aeric isn’t alone.
In addition to the hundreds of people who’ve donated to his campaign and sent words of support and encouragement, Aeric has “Kait the Great,” as he affectionately calls her. She’s become not just his friend — Kaitlyn has also essentially become Aeric’s caseworker. She unwittingly entered into a crash course on addiction, recovery, and the surrounding bureaucracy, and she’s emerged as a fierce, loving, and no-nonsense advocate.
Once, Aeric had a thriving landscaping business. He was more than able to support himself and have plenty left over to donate to his church. Then came a car accident, pain pills, and a slide into addiction that’s all too familiar to millions of Americans.
Three years ago, Aeric pawned his landscaping equipment to buy more pills. This past Labor Day weekend, with 75 days clean, he was able to buy back his equipment with the money donated to his campaign.
With Kaitlyn’s help and support, Aeric plans to relaunch his business in full for the spring season.
This story is far from over, but one of Aeric’s updates provides a fitting coda.
I would like to give an update on our progress in this relationship that God has made between us. This is not an update about what we have achieved in my progress but what I was given to make this whole movement possible. The word is “HOPE.” When I was in active addiction I was hopeless…
The reason I speak of hope is because I remember the moment I got it. It was when she told me that she would help by sending me to rehab. I want everyone who reads this to never give up on hope. If you have it, hold onto it tight like the love of your life in your arms. If you are hopeless, let this message give you hope to hold on another day. We can only live our lives one day at a time and hope for God to give us one more. Thank you Kaitlyn Smith for what you have given me.
Listen to the inspiring interview with Kaitlyn and Aeric on the True Stories of Good People podcast, a GoFundMe Heroes production.