When Greg Fazenbaker was 10 years old, his friends used to argue over which side the stout, red-haired boy would play for during the daily backyard football games in Silver Spring. He was the type of kid, friends recall, who wasn't afraid to try everything.
On Aug. 2, D.C. police found Fazenbaker slumped over the steering wheel of his father's battered old Volkswagen, parked a few blocks from Ninth and O streets NW, near Washington's notorious drug corridor. Inside the car was a syringe, a homemade cooker and a small packet of what police said they believe was heroin. Greg Fazenbaker, the boy who wasn't afraid to try anything, was dead. He was 25.
Even though the results of the autopsy are incomplete, D.C. police have listed Fazenbaker as the 72nd person to die in Washington this year from a drug overdose.
Fazenbaker's death was different from most of the other six dozen fatalities, because he was a suburbanite. About a half-dozen of those who have died from heroin overdoses have been either suburbanites or from outside the Washington area, according to city medical records.
Police say Fazenbaker's death is also the latest indication that the use of hard drugs -- heroin, Preludin, Dilaudid, cocaine -- is not a phenomenon unique to the lower-class neighborhoods of the District of Columbia.
Montgomery County officials, and Fazenbaker's family and friends in the Viers Mill Village section of Silver Spring where he was reared, agree that his journey from a cute, chubby neighborhood football hero to a convicted burglar with a $100-a-day heroin habit is a familiar tale in many of the predominately white, working-class suburbs that surround Washington.
"He was bored, just like me. That's why we started," explained Mark Larson, 25, who grew up a few doors away from Fazenbaker and was one of his closest friends.
"If I'd been on the outside, I'd have been with him Sunday night buying heroin ," said Larson, sitting behind a green wire screen that separates visitors from inmates at the Montgomery County Detention Center on Seven Locks Road in Rockville.
Fazenbaker and Larson, who is serving a five-year sentence for possession and sale of illegal drugs, had been childhood pals, high school buddies and heroin-shooting partners.
The last time both of them were on the streets, they drove downtown to buy drugs, Larson said. Along the way, they broke into sidewalk newspaper vending machines to get enough money to buy Dilaudid pills, a heroin substitute sold illegally for about $35 a pill.
"We went from one machine to another with a little bag in broad daylight," chuckled Larson. "Old Greg, he was that way. He just didn't care about getting caught."
Larson and Fazenbaker were both 13 when they first smoked marijuana, Larson said. "All the cheerleaders and jocks were turning on with pot. Everyone's older brothers were coming back from Vietnam turned on. Everyone in our neighborhood was into something, pot, PCP, or angel dust."
Fazenbaker's parents learned their son was smoking marijuana after he had a motorcycle accident at age 15 and police found marijuana cigarettes in his pockets. "We just figured that he would outgrow it," says Fazenbaker's father Hugh, an electronics engineer.
"We didn't know anything about drugs then," adds Fazenbaker's mother Ann. A few years later, Fazenbaker began dropping Preludin, diet pills used illegally as heroin boosters or substitutes. But, his parents said, once again they were not alarmed.
The Fazenbaker family -- there were six children, four boys and two girls -- had other problems. Fazenbaker's older brother Gary, now 32, had at that time become addicted to heroin and alcohol. His parents said they didn't know that until after Gary had moved away from home. It shocked them.
Hugh, the father, suffered a heart attack and required surgery, adding to the family's difficulties.
A lackluster high school student (his parents now wonder if drugs interfered with his school work), Fazenbaker graduated from Wheaton High School to the Randolph Hills billiard parlor on Boiling Brook Parkway in Rockville.
He went there nearly every night. Sometimes, he would hustle 9-ball games on one of the 20 pool tables, study the racing sheets perched above the snack bar grill or play one of the four electronic games by the graffiti-marked front door.
"Greg was really a good shooter," Larson recalled. "I played for $100 once, but mostly we got 5- or 10-buck bets."
The pool hall was well-known in Fazenbaker's old neighborhood. His parents had told him to stay away from it when he was younger. "My folks forbid me from going there when I was a kid, most parents did," explained George Simmons, a neighborhood friend.
Fazenbaker went through a series of jobs, mostly construction or stocking shelves at the local grocery store. He lost the grocery store job when they found him asleep one day in his car in the parking lot.
In 1978, he was convicted of housebreaking and sentenced to 18 months in Montgomery County Detention Center. The sentence was suspended, and he was put on probation and ordered to attend a drug-treatment program.
Three days later, probation was revoked because he refused to take part in the drug program. He was sent to Springfield State Hospital in Sykesville, where he was diagnosed as having a drug dependency, a habitual excessive drinking habit and an antisocial personality.
Despite his boastfulness and tough exterior, Fazenbaker suffered from "traits of inadequacies and weaknesses," according to Eduardo R. Acle, who made the diagnosis.
Fazenbaker's mother put it more simply. "He really was afraid," she said later. "He was afraid to try and make it without drugs."
After his 1978 conviction, Fazenbaker's life became a revolving door between his parents' home and jails in Maryland and Washington. He had been out of the D.C. jail one month before he died.
"Those drugs, they just controlled him," Fazenbaker's father said last week. Hugh Fazenbaker was sitting in the kitchen of the house he bought 32 years ago, a few steps from the bedroom of his dead son. His family was with him, sharing the agony, sharing the bewilderment.
"Talking don't do any good," the father said. "I talked to him and he promised me he would stop and he meant it, but he just couldn't. He needed someone just to pick him up and force him to stop."
"He didn't like what he was doing to himself," Ann said, her eyes glistening. "He told me last week he wasn't proud of what he was doing."
"The drugs, they wouldn't let go," added Hugh.
"If he'd loved us like we loved him," said Hugh Jr., 24, "then he would have stopped."
"No, that isn't true," countered Kathy, 26. "He did love us all. It's just you couldn't trust him. After a while, you said the hell with it."
"I gave up on him," said Ann, tears in her eyes. "I loved him, but I just gave up on him. His father never did."
"I just kept hoping," his father said. "I just couldn't believe what those drugs were doing to my boy . . . " His voice turned into a sob. "What's the answer? One boy outgrows it, another never does it, and one -- it kills him. You ask yourself, why? You go to bed blaming yourself. But you tell me: Why him?"
"He'd be sitting here like he was half asleep," said 12-year-old Patti. "It was scary."
Fazenbaker knew his addiction hurt his family, Larson said. But it was easier to return to drugs than to stop using them. "When you're feeling bad and you know what makes you feel good, you go back to what makes you feel good," he said.
Rhonda Edwards was the last person to see Fazenbaker alive. She was walking toward her apartment near Ninth Street and Rhode Island Avenue NW when she saw him, gagging inside his parked car.
"I reached through the window and grabbed his arm. I said, 'Do you need help?' Then I saw several bottles of beer on the floor and figured he was just drunk. If I'd known it was drugs, I would have called the police," she said.
Fazenbaker was buried Thursday at the Parklawn Cemetery on Veirs Mill Road, a few miles from where he was raised. Inside the tiny chapel of the Tyson Wheeler Funeral Home, about 70 mourners gathered while ceiling speakers played recorded hymns. The minister asked the audience to remember the good things Fazenbaker had done during his short life.
Before the pallbearers closed the silver casket, they tucked a couple of billiard balls inside the white, silk-lined coffin. "We couldn't find his cue," one of them explained later.
At the graveside service, Ann Fazenbaker threw her arms around her husband as both wept. "It's over now," she said.
After most of the mourners had gone, a handful of Fazenbaker's friends stood in the rain staring at the flower-covered casket. Later that night, Jeffrey Tedder, one of the pallbearers, held a party. With music blaring from a stereo, a group of Greg's friends drank, and a few got high.
Tedder thought it was an appropriate send-off: "It was just what Greg would have wanted to do if someone else had died."
But at the Fazenbaker home, there were only more tears, guilt and lingering questions.
"He was really depressed last week," said Hugh Fazenbaker. "He had tried to quit so many times.
"I'm not sure he didn't do it overdose on purpose," the father said quietly. "I think he was just tired of living."