Beautiful Boy is published too. After my brain hemorrhage and Nic's last relapse, it's a miracle that we survived, never mind that we completed these books. It feels almost surreal to be embarking together on a tour of America to talk about these volumes and their themes: addiction and recovery. The gatherings we attend, in bookstores, coffeehouses, libraries, and schools, seem less like traditional readings than like family sessions in rehab. We meet hundreds of people. Many tell overwhelmingly heart-rending stories. Some don't seem to have chosen to attend so much as been compelled to. Some have tears in their eyes before a word is spoken. Many look like I did at various times, ready to evaporate or melt away. A father, his stoicism quickly overcome by tears, says that his sixteen-year-old son has been in rehab for four days. Another dad says he hasn't slept for weeks, hasn't been able to work. He and his ex-wife, his son's mother, are constantly fighting, blaming each other. After three rehabs, their child, addicted to OxyContin and alcohol, relapsed and was arrested. “I don't know what to do,” he says, as he too breaks down. People tell us that a loved one or they themselves are on their third or fourth or twelfth rehab. We hear about the crack and meth babies, abandoned and abused children, homelessness and drug-fueled violence, hepatitis, AIDS, heart attacks, and liver and kidney disease. Not everyone comes to talk about addiction. Some tell about their own or a loved one's bulimia, anorexia, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, cancer—just about every mental and physical illness you can name. Mothers and fathers say their sons and daughters, now in their twenties, thirties, forties, are—they don't know where. They haven't heard from them in months or years or decades.
Sometimes I feel as if I'll drown. Relapse, loss, anguish, rage, death—the stories often devastate me. Every day and in every city I'm forced to face this chronic, progressive, and, when untreated, terminal illness. I define and redefine the words in order to fully grasp them. Chronic means that an addiction is constant, unceasing, unending, continual, unremitting, persistent, unrelieved, never-ending. All right. I get the point. Progressive means that it worsens over time. Unless the addicted are treated, they'll deteriorate before our eyes. Then they'll die. That's what they mean by terminal.
There's death everywhere. “Your family's story is my family's story,” people say. They tremble and their eyes well up. Over and over and over again.
“But we had a different conclusion. My beautiful boy didn't make it.”
“My beautiful girl died.”
“Your family's story is my family's story, but we had a different conclusion.”