One of Gifty’s childhood journal entries explains that she learned at church that her friend’s mom won’t allow her to play at Gifty’s house. She told Nana, but he didn’t care.
As Nana’s addiction gradually becomes common knowledge, Gifty and her mother find their family isolated rather than supported by the community in which Nana and Gifty have lived their whole lives. Nana’s addiction insulates him from its consequences, and as a child Gifty struggles to make him understand her suffering.
Gifty recalls intuiting that addiction was contagious and shameful, so she and her mother should not talk about Nana with anyone. She didn’t talk until college when she confessed after a classmate wondered how she knew so much about heroin. The classmate was impressed that Gifty was taking her pain and turning it into helpful research.
In her childhood, Gifty learned that it was dangerous to tell people about the bad things that happened to her (specifically Nana’s addiction) because doing so isolated her and her family or, worse, made them into some sort of object lesson for others. She learned this lesson perhaps too well, leading to her adult struggle to share her thoughts and experiences with others. This revelation adds further depth to her willingness to tell Han about her brother and his death.
But Gifty doesn’t feel so noble. She remembers wishing Nana had cancer because that would have felt less shameful for her. She started researching addiction to work through her misunderstandings and shame. Because she can still look at the scans of addiction-ruined brains and still wonder why Nana couldn’t stop for her or for their mother.
Gifty finally acknowledges that her neuroscientific research isn’t just about proving her capability but is also about working through her complicated feelings about her brother’s death. It’s a sign of her enduring and unaddressed trauma that she feels guilt over her childhood reactions towards Nana. On one hand, she understands that he didn’t have control over his actions, but on the other, her own addiction to self-control means that she has a hard time accepting this truth.
After a short sobriety, Nana disappeared. Gifty imagined how tired he must have been of the pain of withdrawal, of everything. They found him in a park, spread out “like an offering.” They lifted him into the car, while Gifty tried not to cry and people looked on without helping. At home, as Nana started to wake up, their mother hit him, screaming, “This has to stop.” But she couldn’t stop hitting him and he just took it.
The memory of finding Nana in the park ties together several themes of Gifty’s memories and the book. First, in linking being high to other experiences of transcendence, such as her religious experience a few chapters earlier, this moment suggests that there isn’t one path towards transcendence. Neither religion, nor scientific discovery, nor even drugs have a monopoly on making people feel good. But, in this moment, no one feels good. Readers are stuck with Gifty’s guesses about how Nana must feel, but given the circumstances, it’s not hard to join her in imagining his desperation to escape the pain in his life. Moreover, the growing isolation the family is experiencing in the church is highlighted in this moment, where there are many observers (and judgers) of the family’s pain, but no one steps up to help. Since Gifty experienced mostly judgement and very little compassion from her community, it makes sense that she will struggle to reveal herself to others as an adult.