LEWISVILLE, N.C. – The following poem is the work of Robert Frost, titled “Nothing Gold Can Stay.” The words which it contains came to define the life, and death, of 22-year-old Toria Stevens.
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
“It talks about the flower, only for an hour and it talks about the grief,” said Toria's mother, Susan Stevens, who is speaking out in hopes that her daughter's story will save others.
“First thing I remember, looking at the sonogram was, ‘Look at her cute nose,’” Susan recalled.
As a child, Susan says Toria was “academically gifted,” a cheerleader and an athlete, playing both basketball and softball.
But Susan says on August 7, 2014, someone sexually assaulted Toria.
“It was a turning point,” Susan said. “A darkness.”
Over the next three and a half years, Toria turned to heroin to mask the anxiety, PTSD and night terrors stemming from her assault.
“I shake and I wake up screaming and it’s just -- I keep reliving the day that happened and I can’t get past that,” Toria said to Susan.
Meanwhile, Toria’s addiction caused Susan to lose sleep of her own.
“I didn’t know, is somebody raping her? Is somebody beating her up? Is she on a bathroom floor somewhere in filth?” Susan would wonder.
Toria got a tattoo across her back comprised of the last line of the Robert Frost poem; “Nothing Gold Can Stay.” Susan admits she was so angry that she refused to read the poem, although Toria insisted that it was a classic.
On Monday, Susan received a phone call, thinking it was from Toria.
“I just swiped my phone and hit speaker and said, ‘Hey baby!’ And there’s this [gasping]. 'Toria’s dead,'” Susan reenacted.
She, along with her son and son’s girlfriend traveled to the scene.
“There were syringes, powder substance,” Susan said.
Toria had fatally overdosed and although officers told her she should wait to see her daughter’s body, Susan persisted.
“They told me what to expect, that she had blood on her face and the respirator still in her mouth,” she said. “I kissed her a couple times and I brushed back her hair, I held her hand and it was already, it was already stiff.”
Two days later, Susan, her son and her mother went to see Toria’s body for the last time. She recorded their goodbyes on video, with the hope that if shown to young people, it might prevent them from trying drugs.
“You did not die in vain baby. You did not die in vain,” she said.
That day, she also read “Nothing Gold Can Stay” for the first time.
“It was so fitting,” she said. “I wanted to use that as the opening line of her obituary. Nothing gold can stay.”
So, Thursday night, Susan sat down to write the obituary with the help of a friend. She ended up using the entire poem.
“So dawn goes down to day, nothing gold can stay,” she read.
Susan plans to show the video of her family’s goodbye to Toria to middle school students, in the hope that it will hit home with them.
“This has to go out there. The middle school kids, before they ever take the first drug, need to see this,” Susan said. “Because once you step in that puddle, you never go back.”
She also plans to show the videos to some of the police officers who responded to Toria’s overdose.
Toria’s obituary will be printed in the Winston-Salem Journal this weekend. In lieu of flowers, her family requests that memorial gifts be made in memory of Toria to Eliza’s Helping Hands, which brings resources to victims and families effected by domestic violence, or to the Mental Health Association of Forsyth County.
For more information on the opioid epidemic or for resources to help someone battling addiction, you can visit the National Institute on Drug Abuse website. Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network provides a national, 24-hour hotline for survivors of sexual assault at 800.656.HOPE (4673).