I also heard from addicts and their families—their brothers and sisters, children, and other relatives, and, most of all, parents—hundreds of them. A few respondents were critical. One accused me of exploiting Nic for my own purposes. Another, outraged at my description of a period when Nic briefly wore his clothes backward, attacked, "You let him wear backward clothes? No wonder he became an addict." But the great majority of letters were outpourings of compassion, consolation, counsel, and, most of all, shared grief. Many people seemed to feel that finally someone understood what they were going through. This is the way that misery does love company: People are relieved to learn that they are not alone in their suffering, that we are part of something larger, in this case, a societal plague—an epidemic of children, an epidemic of families. For whatever reason, a stranger's story seemed to give them permission to tell theirs. They felt that I would understand, and I did.
"I am sitting here crying with shaking hands," a man wrote. "Your article was handed to me yesterday at my weekly breakfast of fathers who have lost their children. The man who handed it to me lost his sixteen-year-old son to drugs three years ago."
"Our story is your story," wrote another father. "Different drugs, different cities, different rehabs, but the same story."
And another: "At first, I was simply startled that someone had written my story about my child without my permission. Halfway through the emotional text of very familiar events and manifest conclusions, I realized that the dates of significant incidents were wrong, and thereby had to conclude that other parents may be experiencing the same inconceivable tragedies and loss that I have…
"Insight acquired over a quarter of a century forces me to rewrite the last paragraph: Escaping from his latest drug rehab, my son overdosed and nearly died. Sent to a very special program in another city, he stayed sober for almost two years, then began disappearing again, sometimes for months, sometimes years. Having been one of the most brilliant students in the country's highest ranking high school, it took him twenty years to graduate from a mediocre college. And it has taken me just as long to discard my veil of impossible hope and admit that my son either cannot or will not ever stop using drugs. He is now forty years old, on welfare, and resides in a home for adult addicts."