Rob Henderson, age 7. (Image courtesy of Rob Henderson)

The Three Adults Who Abandoned Me—And Taught Me Life’s Most Important Lesson

An exclusive excerpt from Rob Henderson’s new memoir. Plus: Sam Quinones on fentanyl overdoses, Democrats cool on Biden, and more.

Today from The Free Press: Ten headlines you need to know. Sam Quinones on the latest teen overdose and the fentanyl epidemic. Plus: The Democrats’ vibe shift on Joe Biden, and more.

First, we are proud to share an exclusive excerpt from Free Press columnist Rob Henderson’s stunning new memoir, Troubled. In it, he describes his heartbreaking childhood—and how it taught him the most important lesson of his life. 

Here’s Rob on “The Three Adults Who Abandoned Me”:

My full name is Robert Kim Henderson.

Each of my three names was taken from a different adult. Robert was the name of my biological father, who abandoned my mother and me when I was a baby. I have no memory of him. In fact, the only information I have about him is contained in a document given to me by the social worker responsible for my case when I was being shuffled around to different foster homes in Los Angeles.

My middle name, Kim, is from my birth mother. It was her family name. She succumbed to drug addiction soon after I was born, rendering her unable to care for me. I have only two memories of her. I haven’t seen her since I was a child.

And my last name: Henderson, which comes from my former adoptive father. After my adoptive mother separated from him, he severed ties with me to get back at her for leaving him. He figured that this would hurt me, and that my emotional pain would transmit to my adoptive mother. He was right.

These three adults have something in common: all abandoned me. None took responsibility for my upbringing. When I was in foster care, doctors, psychologists, social workers, and teachers would often use the word troubled to describe me and the other kids who were overlooked, abandoned, abused, or neglected.

I grew up poor, encountered the middle class in the military, and later found myself surrounded by affluence at Yale. In Troubled I describe what it was like to come from a deprived and dysfunctional background and move up the American status ladder. I have learned a lot about those who sit at or near the apex of that ladder, which led me to develop the concept of “luxury beliefs”—ideas and opinions that confer status on the upper class at little cost, while often inflicting damage on the lower classes. Ideas such as monogamy and marriage are outdated, or that we should “defund the police.” 

The people who get damaged are the ones I grew up with. Two of my childhood friends landed in prison, and another one would have, but he was shot to death first. Studies indicate that in the U.S., 60 percent of boys in foster care are later incarcerated, while only 3 percent graduate from college. This is the story of how I became part of that 3 percent. 

To keep reading, click here.

Ten Stories We’re Reading Now

  1. Alexei Navalny’s widow, Yulia, said he was murdered by Putin, and vowed to continue his work building a free Russia. (Scroll down for her full statement.)  

  2. Trump-supporting truckers have vowed to “shut New York City down” in a protest against the $355 million fine the former president has to pay in his civil fraud case. (New York Post)

  3. The Houthis say they shot down a U.S. drone and that a ship they hit may sink. (Reuters)

  4. More than 100 Yale faculty members called on the school to make teaching distinct from activism. (Yale Daily News)

  5. Polyamory is the latest elite fad. (The Atlantic)

  6. Having flirted with the idea for months, Joe Manchin says he won’t run for president. (Semafor

  7. Julian Assange could be extradited to the U.S., where he would face charges under the Espionage Act. That would threaten press freedom, argues Assange critic (and Free Press friend) James Kirchick. (NYT)

  8. Are you asexual. . . or on antidepressants? (Freya India)

  9. The largest-ever study on the Covid vaccine finds links to heart-related inflammation and ​​an increased risk of a certain type of blood clot in the brain, among other conditions. (Bloomberg)

  10. The dissident right is going woke. (Konstantin Kisin)

Also on Our Radar. . .  

→ The Democratic vibe shift on Biden’s age: Last year, Joe Biden privately called David Axelrod a “prick” for suggesting that Biden might not be the nominee in 2024. Last September, fellow Obama alum Jim Messina compared those fretting about Biden’s reelection chances to “fucking bedwetters.” Well, there are many more pricks and bedwetters now in the wake of that Justice Department report and THAT presidential press conference. 

Now 81, Biden’s age has been an obvious (and legitimate!) concern for average Americans for some time. And the media and Democratic elites have been talking about the problem for a while. But suddenly those private conversations are happening in the open. Talking anonymously to Puck’s Dylan Byers, members of the White House press corps admitted they haven’t covered the story as robustly as they should have done. “The amount of time we spent talking about it versus the time we spent reporting on it was not the same,” said one unnamed journalist. “There should have been tougher, more scrutinizing coverage of his age earlier.” 

Then, liberal favorite Jon Stewart used his return to The Daily Show last week to perform a “wellness check” on our two “chronologically challenged” presidential candidates. Of Biden, he quipped: “If you’re telling us behind the scenes he is sharp and full of energy and on top of it and really in control and leading, you should film that. That would be good to show to people.” 

On Saturday, New York Times columnist Ezra Klein dropped a 4,000-word audio essay explaining why he thinks that “Biden, as painful as this is, should find his way to stepping down as a hero.” Obama speechwriter turned podcast bro Jon Favreau shared Klein’s piece on X, adding that “a LOT of Democrats share his exact concern.”

When left-leaning VIPs openly muse about a Democratic president’s ability to run for reelection, it makes their stock defense—that the whole thing is a nothingburger confected by the media—even less tenable. 

I agree with Nate Silver: It’s time for the White House to put up or shut up. 

→ A death on campus and America’s overdose nightmare: Marco Troper, a 19-year-old Berkeley freshman and the son of former YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, died in a dorm room in a suspected drug overdose last week.

The family are awaiting the results of a toxicology report, but Troper’s grandmother, Esther Wojcicki, told a local outlet that “teenagers and college students need to know that drugs today. . . are often laced with fentanyl.” 

The synthetic opioid is 50 times stronger than heroin and the leading cause of overdose deaths in America. And the crisis eclipses any drug epidemic in U.S. history; last year, 112,000 Americans died of a drug overdose—a record high. In many cases, victims are unknowingly taking the drug after it has been cut into a different substance like cocaine, counterfeit painkillers, and even weed. 

The tragic death of Troper, the son of one of the country’s most high-profile tech execs, is a reminder that there are no racial, geographic, or socioeconomic boundaries to the overdose crisis. For help understanding how deeply the fentanyl crisis has penetrated the nation, I spoke to Free Press contributor Sam Quinones, the author of The Least of Us: True Tales of America and Hope in the Time of Fentanyl and Meth, and an expert on the damage wrought by this drug. 

Sam says of fentanyl: “It’s the deadliest drug we’ve ever seen. The idea that we live in a time of risk-free, recreational drug use is now over. There’s no line of cocaine in America that you can trust to not contain fentanyl and there’s no pill on the street that you should ever take. Most of it has fentanyl in it.” 

Sam told me that the current fentanyl-fueled crisis dates back to around 2016. That was the point Mexican cartels stopped importing fentanyl from China and instead brought in the “precursor” chemicals for the drug so they could make it themselves “in quantities that just boggle the mind.” Since then, Sam says, the supply has been relentless.

“This one drug is both creating demand and extinguishing demand, by killing people. There’s no such thing as a long-term fentanyl user. Some people take a lethal dose immediately. Other people get addicted, become slaves to fentanyl, and then eventually, if they don’t get clean, they will die.” 

Read Sam’s latest dispatch for The Free Press: “Opioids Decimated a Kentucky Town. Recovering Addicts Are Saving It.” 

And finally. . . 

For a study in courage, watch Julia Navalny speak about her husband’s death and the fight for a free Russia. 

Oliver Wiseman is a writer and editor for The Free Press. Follow him on X @ollywiseman.

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