It seems right, somehow, to herald a nightmare with a fragment of song. Journalist David Sheff introduces his forthcoming memoir, Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Meth Addiction (Houghton Mifflin), with a lyric by John Lennon: Before you cross the street, / Take my hand. As if in response, 25-year-old Nic Sheff, David’s addicted son, opens his own wild-hearted memoir, Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines (Atheneum)—geared to young adult readers—with another Lennon quote: How can I go forward when I don’t know which way I’m facing? Read these gripping books in tandem, and you begin to understand how love can miss its mark and spiral toward tragedy.
Nic Sheff, charming, talented, college bound, was 18 when he discovered crystal meth. As he graphically describes it, "when I took those off-white crushed shards up that blue, cut plastic straw.... There was a feeling like—my God, this is what I’ve been missing my entire life. It completed me." At first his father had no idea. Then came the warning call from the school, the late nights, the lying, the ghoulish pallor and the wasting away. David’s life became an eternity of waiting: for the phone to ring, the door to open; for a sign that his beautiful boy was safe. His fears were less gruesome than his son’s reality: begging, dealing, promiscuous sex—whatever it took to dull the ache, the "feeling of torn-apartness" that had terrorized him at least since his parents’ divorce when he was a child.
How does a father keep from drowning in guilt? How does a brilliant, tormented young man refuse a syringe full of bliss? Desperately seeking clues to Nic’s disintegration, David Sheff became "addicted to [his] addiction," obsessing about Nic at the expense of his second wife and their two young children, while Nic kept emerging from rehab only to boomerang into an emotional black hole. The struggle is ongoing for both. As these narratives show, fear still sabotages trust. Yet, David writes, "The constellation of these impulses that we call love feels like a miracle."