Transcript

108:

Truth and Lies at Age Ten
Transcript

Originally aired 08.07.1998

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/108

Prologue.

Ira Glass

At three years old, children have a hard time telling fantasy from reality. By five or six, they operate in both worlds. By the time they're 10, we expect children to be able to distinguish what's real from what isn't real. The process of becoming an adult, you could argue, is the process of learning to tell the truth about the world. But telling the truth is not always so easy.

When she was 10 years old, Claire switched schools, moved to a rich suburb. Her family didn't have much money. She became best friends with a girl whose family had immigrated from Chile. Claire started to become obsessed with her.

Claire

It wasn't really like when we would hang out together that I would idolize her, or that she was like the boss. But like, I'd go home and I would make up these songs about her, and I'd like make up songs about the letters of her name. She had like a really Spanish sounding name. And her phone number, I would just dial it over and over and over again. And I'd make songs about her phone number. Because it's just like everything about her was like golden to me. It was just like absolutely perfect and beautiful.

Ira Glass

Claire dressed like the Chilean girl, wore only the modest jewelry that a Catholic mom would allow, demanded to go to Sunday School and get First Communion like the Chilean girl did. And then Claire started to tell people that she was Chilean herself. She'd say that her family fled a dictatorship, started over in America. That her family was like her friend's family.

Claire

I think it was because she was really poor. Like my family was really poor. But she was like such a different kind of poor. You know, she was like the good, righteous poor. You know, it wasn't her fault or her family's fault that they were poor. It was like political oppression and circumstances that made them poor. And they were good, you know, people. And in my family, it was like there was violence and there was drinking and their family-- her mom kept a good house and my family always had like a really messy house. They just-- it wasn't her fault that she was poor. We were poor because we were bad people.

Ira Glass

Why do you lie? Sometimes you lie because you're powerless to do anything else. And who was more powerless than a 10-year-old child?

Claire

It definitely carried me through that time. It definitely gave me a sense of like, a sense of pride. It's so weird, you know, that you can like feel pride in something that you're not. And there was just no other way except to lie about it. There were things that were just totally unmoveable and unchangeable. Which was, you know, because I was a kid and my family was the way it was. And there was nothing I could do about it.

Ira Glass

One summer, Claire went to a Bible retreat in Wisconsin with her mother and her brother. She befriended a girl from Venezuela. It was so natural, Claire says, you know, her being from Chile and all.

Claire

Yeah, so I told her that I was from there and that I didn't Spanish very well because I wasn't actually born there. That I came here when I was a baby or something, but that my family was from there. So obviously she was going to meet my mother and my brother, who spoke not a word of Spanish and didn't look at all, you know, Central or South American. But I remember hearing that like lots of Nazis moved down there and that, yeah, well, my mom, you know, she has blond hair and, you know, she looks the part, so yeah. That's what happened. And I kind of just decided that like my mom was a German descendant of a relative of some Nazi or something, and that that's where we were from. And that we moved back here because of political oppression.

Ira Glass

This is how far it went. It was preferable for people to think that they were Nazis than to think they were low income people just living in a rich suburb of Chicago. And one of the most important things about these lies is that Claire says they didn't feel like lies at the time. She said she felt like she was telling people about a part of herself, a real part of herself.

Claire

You know, if I could convince somebody else for just a little while then I could believe it, too.

Ira Glass

Well, from WBEZ Chicago and Public Radio International, it's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Today on our program, Truth and Lies at Age Ten. Today we bring you two stories about people lying to themselves, people lying because they thought they had no choice. And how they slowly came to face the truth, which took decades. Stay with us.

Act One. I, Danny.

Ira Glass

Act One, I, Danny. How to deal with rejection. With something so primal as being told no. Being told you're not wanted here. You know, people spend years sometimes going over what happened, thinking it through, turning it over and over in their heads, wondering if they could have done anything differently. Trying to make sense of it. Well, Dan Gediman got a kind of cataclysmic rejection when he was a boy and, powerless to do much else, he lied about it. In this story he returns to the scene of the crime as much as you can and tries to make sense of what happened to him.

Dan Gediman

This is about a lie. A lie I tell almost to this day but not after this day. Anyway, I'm Dan Gediman. Danny. And I was in the first cast of the TV show Zoom. Chances are, Zoom is either something you've never heard of or something you can't forget. And it's probably the only TV show remembered for its address. Zoom was a public TV show for kids in the '70s, produced by WGBH in Boston and aired all over the country. For those of you who've never heard of Zoom, here's a little context from television historian David Kleeman.

David Kleeman

Zoom was really the first children's television program to put children at center stage, to tell them that their ideas, their works, their creativity was very important. It gave them a chance to submit ideas for the program, to submit art works, to submit pretty much anything that they thought was important in their lives. And then it might appear on the air. But one interesting thing about Zoom as a generational identifier, it's one of those programs where, if you walk up to people who are of that age, who did grow up with Zoom, and say the name, they'll sing the theme song back to you.

Dan Gediman

OK, here goes. [SINGING] Come on and zoom, zoom, zoom-a, zoom. Come on and zoom-a, zoom-a, zoom-a, zoom. We're gonna--

Man

I remembered constantly singing the theme.

Woman

People who know it show great enthusiasm. They're willing to do the Bernadette Butterfly thing or risk singing the ZIP code.

Man

Boston, Mass., 02134. I still have it!

Woman

It was such a big part of my life and I remember-- like the first time I ever saw a kayak was on Zoom.

Man

And I was just dying to be friends with the kids on the show. Or be one of them.

Woman

[SINGING] Oh come on and zoom, zoom, zoom-a, zoom. We're gonna zoom-a, zoom-a, zoom-a, zoom.

Man

[INTERPOSING] That was as much a playground litany as "Ring Around the Rosies" for me growing up.

Woman

02134. Yeah.

Dan Gediman

02134. Send it to Zoom. You know, I haven't sung that in years. [SINGING] Come on and zoom. Come on and zoom, zoom. Come on and zoom.

OK. So, suffice it to say, for the purposes of this story at least, Zoom was a big deal. And if you were a cast member of Zoom, you were famous.

Adam

Zoom was a given every week and I don't ever recall watching it with you, though. Now that I think about it. I don't recall ever watching that show with you. Maybe it was too painful. Did you watch it?

Dan Gediman

Yeah, I watched it.

That's my best friend, Adam. And he's right. It was painful. I guess I better tell you my lie now. I wasn't really on the first cast of Zoom. I was almost on the first cast of Zoom. They actually cast me and then they cut me. I can't tell you how horrible this was for a 10-year-old kid, but I guess I can try. That's what I'm doing here. Here's what happened, or at least what I think happened. Memory can protect you from the truth sometimes.

Dan Gediman

I'm sitting in the dining room of my parent's house talking to my parents about Zoom. And I'm sitting around the dining room table.

To reconstruct my memory, I tried talking to my parents first.

Father

Now I think he told me that he liked certain qualities that you had, one of them was being very forthright.

Dan Gediman

Here's my dad, telling me what he recalls about how I talked to the Zoom producer, Chris Sarson, during the audition process.

Father

But some of the things that you said, whether they ticked him off or not, I don't know. But the two I remember is, that you said that they were wearing rugby shirts and when he asked you what did you think of the rugby shirts, you said, they suck. That was what-- 12? How old were you? 10. Well, in those days that was very precocious. I don't know. Maybe it was popular then, too. In any case, I was embarrassed when I heard. Not because of the word, but just I thought, oh gee, there goes the farm.

And the other one was the name of the show. And apparently you had told this Chris that you thought that Zoom was not a very good idea, that it was kind of corny or one thing or another. And you suggested, I don't know if you gave them another idea, but you suggested they change the name of the show. And those are two things I remember.

Dan Gediman

My father apparently remembers me as somewhat of a pain in the ass. And I suspect he's right. I was a bit of a-- shall we say-- a show-off. I certainly liked attention. I'd gotten the Zoom audition in the first place through a Sherlock Holmes skit that my dad, my brother, and I did around the family tape recorder.

Young Dan Gediman

Oh, Holmes! I'm John Alfafa, don't you remember me?

Father

Of course, yes, I remember you very well from the club. Yes, yes, yes. How are you?

Young Dan Gediman

Very fine today. But I have a friend here that would like to meet you. Mr. Watson. Mr. John D. Watson.

Father

I see, of course.

Young Dan Gediman

Yes, he's right here.

Father

Of course, you neglected to mention that it's Dr. John D. Watson.

Brother

Oh, hello, Mr. Holmes. I'm Dr. Watson.

Father

Of course you're Dr. Watson. John D. Watson.

It looked like it was all set. I think that I'm sure that I was telling everybody that you were going to be in it. And this was the very beginning of Zoom, so it was going to be the very first group.

Dan Gediman

Do you recall at all my excitement about this? I remember being in the kitchen, right around where the sink is, and it was at night, and I was having a little fantasy in my head about what type of house to buy you. OK. What type of house I would buy you with the-- in my mind-- the millions of dollars that were going to be coming in from doing this show. I was sort of imagining, you know, different styles of houses. And you were going to be so proud of me because I was going to move you into this house, like Elvis did with his parents.

So this wasn't just a case of me wanting to be famous. I wanted the money, too. I thought I was going to be like Jodie Foster or Johnny Whitaker, from A Family Affair.

My dad had been laid off from his engineering job and our family was coming out of some pretty hard times in the early '70s. Or at least it seemed that way to me at age 10. I thought I could save them. I was banking on it. But then it fell apart. And this is where it gets hazy. I know I invented some stories to protect myself. But now I can't exactly remember which ones. And my parents couldn't help.

So I decided to embark on a search for the truth about my past. Even though it had been 25 years, I figured, what the hell. I'd contact the members of that first cast of Zoom.

John

I continued to be recognized up till my third year in college. I was registering at NYU, and I was stopped at the front door by someone who recognized me.

Dan Gediman

That's John. I called him up in New York, where he's a playwright now and approaching middle age, like all of us. This is him 25 years ago.

John

She cannot read, read, read. She cannot write, write, write. But she can smoke, smoke, smoke her father's pipe. She asked her mother, mother, mother for fifty--

Dan Gediman

I thought John could shed some light on my history because he was part of the reason, at least as I remember it, that Chris, the producer, cut me from the cast.

Dan Gediman

And then Chris Sarson told me, I'm afraid we've decided internally that we need to add another girl to the cast.

John

Oh.

Dan Gediman

And there's too many-- we had five boys and two girls. Nina and Nancy. And what Chris told me was that you and John are both sort of little song and dance men. And so we've just sort of arbitrarily decided that John would work out better than you.

John

I can't believe they said that! I cannot believe they said that. Oh my god.

Dan Gediman

And then said to me, but, but, but we're going to roll the cast over in a few months and bring in new kids. And we would like you to be involved then. But my recollection is that I turned down the opportunity to be on the second cast out of youthful hubris.

John

Really?

Dan Gediman

I felt so humiliated. So-- so I--

John

You can like title this piece, like Misery.

Dan Gediman

Well, I think I felt like, you know, I had my shot. I blew it. I'm no good. Why bother?

John

Yeah, all at age 10. Your life is over at age 10.

Dan Gediman

John was sympathetic and I appreciated that. But he didn't remember any of this incident. And no reason he should, I suppose.

Dan Gediman

Why don't you go ahead and open up the package I gave you?

He and I were in different studios for this interview and I'd sent him a photo that he opened while we were talking on the phone to see if he even remembered me.

John

Oh. Oh my goodness. Wow. Oh, look how little we are. Holy smokes. Now this really brings back how young we were. Oh. Now this is you with the blond hair? Oh, man.

Dan Gediman

Does it ring any bell whatsoever?

John

In your suit. Mmmm.

Dan Gediman

I'll take that as a no.

John

Yeah, it really-- you know, I feel, I'm embarrassed. You look like you're a really cute kid. You should have been there.

Joe

I'm Joe.

Nina

I'm Nina.

Kenny

I'm Kenny.

Tracy

My name's Tracy.

Tommy

I'm Tommy.

Nancy

I'm Nancy.

John

I'm John.

Joe

I still have paycheck stubs from back then. I saved them.

Dan Gediman

Next I went to visit Joe, another kid from the first cast.

Joe

And all the publicity. God, we were in-- we must have been in every single newspaper in the United States. We were in Life magazine, Time magazine.

Dan Gediman

Just what I wanted to hear.

Joe

It was a great experience. An amazing experience. It's on my CV. Absolutely. I put it on my CV now when I apply for jobs as a psychiatrist.

Dan Gediman

Now Joe is a child psychiatrist. Isn't that perfect? I remember Joe as a nice kid. Very magnetic, thoughtful.

Joe

I just remember you were blond and you were fun. And it seemed a good fit. I was convinced that you were on the show. I think we all were. But you know, I guess then we never got together after that, did we?

Dan Gediman

No, we didn't. Not until now, all these years later. Talking to Joe, it was like I couldn't help myself, him being a psychiatrist and all. I began to confess.

Dan Gediman

All the kids in my school, I remember them making announcements over the PA system that I was on Zoom. And I was treated, for a brief period of time, from being rather a pariah, to being a celebrity. And then back again, lower, because the kids felt like I had, you know, lied or something. And the year after my whole Zoom deal was really rough. And since then, I'm sure I went through a period where I told some fibs about my experience. If only because it was so humiliating, in my mind, what really happened.

Joe

You've obviously grown quite a bit. It's to your credit. You must have a good therapist. You know, I think that you actually, of everybody involved in Zoom, probably had the most unique experience. And I can see it as a really devastating experience.

Dan Gediman

Listen. He's treating me.

Joe

I mean, there you are. You're given the prize and then they say, I'm sorry, you're disqualified. This is tough for anybody, but especially at that age. I mean, your whole self esteem is mixed into this. There you are. Are you good? Aren't you good? Are you talented? Aren't you talented? What is this? You know, I'm not the right sex? If I was a girl I would be able to do this? So I think, you know, I don't envy your position. This is a tough position to be in. It's a tough experience to have had.

Dan Gediman

Joe told me that maybe I've been recreating this past in my relationships, where I might be loved by someone but I'm always thinking that they could change and decide, no, I don't want to love you. And I told them about how I had one set of memories in which I was the one who told Zoom that I didn't want to be a part of it.

Joe

My guess is if you created this memory where you blew off Zoom instead of the other way around you might have been just a tad on the angry side, don't you think? Just a little annoyed by this whole event. But it's an incredible experience that you had. That needs to be cherished. It is unique. I didn't have that. Thank god.

Dan Gediman

Listen, I know time is up. I had two things I was hoping to do before I walked out the door. One of which-- you probably aren't asked this very often. I'm wondering if you could autograph your picture here. I'm going to ask Tommy to do the same.

Listen to me. I'm getting his autograph. Why? Because he's famous. He's Joe, the Zoom kid.

Tommy

Well, I mostly remember speaking to you on the phone, like often during that period, I guess. And you were kind of a wise-cracking, kind of show-bizzy, kind of person that I seem to get along with pretty well. As I do gravitate toward show-biz phonies even now.

Dan Gediman

That's Tommy, another Zoomer from the first cast. He was actually my best friend of that group. We talked all the time on the phone while we were auditioning for the show.

[INTERPOSING VOICES]

Dan Gediman

Then dip your note in a bucket of lard.

Tommy

In a bucket of lard, yeah.

Dan Gediman

Then Nancy came in.

Tommy

Joe doesn't know what he's talking about. You put it in an envelope, without a doubt.

Dan Gediman

Then everybody came in.

Tommy

Then take your typewriter, pencil, or pen. If you make a mistake, you gotta do it again.

Dan Gediman

I got a real kick out of reminiscing like this. It made me feel like I was still part of things somehow. Tommy really tried to make me feel better. He called me the Pete Best of Zoom, which didn't really help that much, but I knew his heart was in the right place. But what I wanted to know from him was, was it great being a Zoom kid? What did I miss? Was it great being famous?

Tommy

Well, I'm sure that the fame must have went to my head because you've got so many people walking around kissing your ass and telling you how great you are. And just the fact that you're on TV, people look up to you. Just the fact that you're on TV is always like one of the biggest things you can do in America. It doesn't matter how-- what kind of other achievements you can get.

Dan Gediman

Tommy and some of the others from that first Zoom cast went on to try to make it big. They did a commercial TV show and a record, but nothing really panned out.

Tommy

Our parents kind of kept the ball rolling and we got like a lounge band and tried to play live, and then things just kind of started fizzling. When things start fizzling down, they fizzle down pretty quick.

Dan Gediman

Tommy's a video cameraman now. He loves the work, but he still wants to be a rock star. In fact, he gave me a compilation tape of all the bands he's been in over the years, hoping I might use it on this show.

Dan Gediman

The long term effects of this on you, you know. Looking back now, you're 30-- 9? Is that right? OK. It's been 25 years. How has being a Zoom kid affected you long-term?

Tommy

It created my dream to work in this business. A dream that I pursue to this day. So it was a very heavy influence. It's hard to live up to it sometimes. You're really hard pressed to come up with something that's a better, well-known achievement than that. I don't care how many degrees you have, how good you are, or how smart you are. If you're on Zoom, that's what people know you from. So I'll just accept that fact and move on.

Dan Gediman

Kind of depressing. I confess it made me feel a little better though. When I got home from talking to Tommy, I listened to his tape.

John

Once you've done it, it debunks the mystique. Because in real life terms, what it meant was you really couldn't walk down the street without being recognized in some way or scrutinized.

Dan Gediman

This is John again.

John

There were certain events that were sort of traumatizing, like being mobbed. When a year ago, you could go to the mall and just buy your shoes or whatever, I'm with friends and suddenly, hey, there's John. And then three more, three people come and of course, will you sign? Then someone decides, oh, it's a good idea to get an autograph. And suddenly you can't move because they're-- it's what seems like a multitude. Who knows? Probably it was 20 people. They're demanding your time. They're grabbing your arm. I found it incredibly unpleasant. Because they're looking-- they were looking at me and not seeing me. They were seeing some sort of image. And it was sort of a glazy look of excitement and unreality.

Dan Gediman

This kind of helped, hearing this. I began to wonder if maybe I missed something that wasn't so great after all. Whether I wasted a lot of time wishing I was on the show, even pretending sometimes that I was.

Karen

You know what? I want to ask you a question. I want to ask you if it was true, were you ever really going to be on Zoom?

Dan Gediman

Yes.

I called up Karen. She had nothing to do with Zoom, she just watched it. But she was one of my closest friends during that time.

Dan Gediman

I've come to distrust some of my own memories and wonder whether, you know, how much of it was wishful thinking. How much of it was fantasy or dreams or aspirations. And/or what I told people as sort of a cover story.

I guess I should get back to my lie, in the spirit of full disclosure. Here's exactly what my lie was. I let people believe that I, Dan Gediman, was Danny. The Danny. The real Danny on Zoom.

Karen

Was there a kid on the show named Danny?

Dan Gediman

Yes.

Karen

And I remember trying to make him be you. Because I wanted you to be on that show so much. I though, well, maybe that's Danny. Maybe he just looks very different on television, and sounds different.

Dan Gediman

He was actually in the second cast. I didn't really intend to impersonate him or anything, but some of the time I would just kind of go with it and say, yeah, I was Danny. Which, technically speaking, was true. And they would get all excited and think that they were with a celebrity. So I did get some mileage out of that.

Angela

Oh, I was totally impressed.

Dan Gediman

This is my friend, Angela.

Angela

Yeah, I couldn't believe I knew somebody who had actually been on Zoom. It would be like knowing, you know, the guy who did Oscar the Grouch or something. But then I was very sorry to hear that you were kicked off. I think you would have made a fine Zoomer. Actually, I think-- oh, I know what my response was. My response was, you weren't Danny, were you? That's what it was. Now, if that had been the case I don't know what I would have done.

Dan Gediman

If I'd really been Danny?

Angela

If you'd really been Danny, I'd-- you know, it'd probably be almost like-- not quite-- well, it wouldn't exactly be like meeting Donny Osmond. But it would have been up there, I would say. Yeah.

Dan Gediman

So you were disappointed when you found out--

Angela

I wasn't disappointed. But you know, it was a nice little thought there for a moment, that maybe you might have actually been him.

Dan Gediman

You know, I think everyone I talked to really wanted to make me feel better. It's OK that you weren't the real Danny. You're a perfectly good Danny. By the way, do you know the real Danny? See, that's the problem, isn't it? Fame makes you more real. And it's funny, we protect children from other adult experiences that have this kind of power, but not from this one. We don't let them drive cars or smoke or get married, but we let some of them be famous, and the other ones yearn for it.

And here's something else. WGBH is starting the whole thing up again. They're reviving Zoom right now. They have a new cast, a new director. It's already hitting the airwaves in some markets.

Boy

Back when our parents were young, they had the first interactive show for kids. That was then and this is now! A brand new Zoom. It's hip, it's hot, and it's for our generation.

Dan Gediman

So I went back to Boston and dropped by. I wanted to see the new kids, imagine their futures, guess at their fame.

Dan Gediman

What happened when you were finally told, all right, you're in?

Haley

Well, I was at my friend's house and my mom called me. I answered the phone and she said, Haley, you're in Zoom, and I was screaming so loud. My friends started screaming. They didn't know what they were screaming about. Then when I came home, everybody was jumping up and down in the driveway. So that was fun.

Dan Gediman

Have you thought at all about when it happens-- when I was your age and I was going through this, I gave a lot of thought to, oh my god, I'm going to be famous. You know? Have you thought at all about what it would be like to be famous?

Haley

Yes. That'd be awesome. And if I did become famous, I'd try out for tons more stuff. But I don't really care about being famous. I just like-- I've been in plays. And it's no different from being in like any TV show. I just like it because it's fun, and I like to do this kind of stuff. But that'd be awesome if I was famous. I'm Haley!

Dan Gediman

Awesome. Yeah. Like Danny. The real Zoom Danny, who I finally tracked down in Marlborough, Massachusetts, where he's working now as a musician. I called him up.

Danny

[SINGING] Come on and zoom. Come on and zoom, zoom. Come on and zoom. Come on and zoom, zoom.

How's that?

Dan Gediman

That sounds great.

Danny

Thanks. Great song.

Dan Gediman

I have spent almost 25 years, since my own involvement briefly with Zoom, being mistaken for you.

Danny

No.

Dan Gediman

My name is Danny. You've never seen me, but I have-- when I was the age-- we're about the same age. And I had long, blond hair down to my shoulders. Thick Boston accent, it's gone now. And we actually resembled each other a little bit. So as my teen years progressed, I would oh, meet somebody, often a member of the opposite sex, and I would start to tell them the story of how I almost got on Zoom, and they would look at me, and they would kind of size me up. And they'd say, you're Danny. I remember you. You're Danny.

Danny

That's funny.

Dan Gediman

And I have to be honest with you, I did not always correct them.

Danny

That's great. That's funny.

Dan Gediman

OK. I confessed. I'll skip over this part, but basically Danny was nice about it. Maybe a little embarrassed for me. Maybe a little flattered. Like Tommy, he sent me a tape of the band he's in, just in case I wanted to use it in this show. Here it is, by the way.

I told Danny about my friend Angela and how she was in love with him, second only to Donny Osmond. And he was flattered by that. So I asked him a favor, to say hi to her. To give her kind of a radio autograph.

Dan Gediman

If we could take 15 seconds, we would make this woman's day. She's now in her early 30s. And just send a message out there to Angela.

Danny

Hi Angela, this is Danny from Zoom, and I heard you were my biggest fan. It's great to get an opportunity to thank you for watching Zoom and being a fan of mine. That means a lot to me. And I do get around. If you're ever up in the Boston area, look me up and it'd be great to get together and say hi in person. Take care and best of luck to you.

Dan Gediman

See how his voice sounds? He knows he's the real Danny, that he can improvise a long paragraph like that to a complete stranger, a stranger who he assumes would want to look him up if they ever came to town. And in fact, he's probably right. He did it. He was a Zoomer. It's part of him. Like Joe the psychiatrist says.

Joe

It satisfied a very important part of my life, you know, that sense of having had that fame, having had that sense of being somebody special. And I don't need to do that anymore. It's nice. You've just got to go on.

Dan Gediman

Do you remember me at all?

Chris Sarson

Oh, sure. I don't remember your audition, and I don't remember-- although I certainly hope when I open the envelope I'll get a chance to see your face.

Dan Gediman

Ground zero of my search. Chris Sarson, the producer who rejected me. He's sitting in a studio in Boulder, Colorado, and I'm in a studio in Kentucky.

Dan Gediman

Why don't you go ahead and open up the envelope I sent you and see if this does any good to jog your memory.

This was awkward.

Chris Sarson

It's like Christmas. Christmas revisited.

Dan Gediman

I kind of put him on the spot.

Chris Sarson

Good heavens. I remember you much better now.

Dan Gediman

As I suspected, he didn't really remember who I was, but he was nice about it.

Chris Sarson

It's a picture of presumably you, but it doesn't have-- oh, wait a minute, there's a note. This is me--

Dan Gediman

Obviously this moment was a lot bigger in my life than in his.

Dan Gediman

Well, let me tell you what I recall of what happened and how I came to not be picked for the cast, et cetera. And tell me if this sounds plausible. OK.

Chris Sarson

I'm blushing already. I wish we'd picked you!

Dan Gediman

Well, you know, what can you do? This is what I recall.

So I told him what I remembered. And he thought my memory was probably right, but he wasn't sure. And by this time, I've realized it doesn't matter much anyway. And that's incredibly liberating.

Dan Gediman

Correct me if I'm wrong, nobody really went on to a major showbiz career.

Chris Sarson

Well, I think it's lovely where the kids did end up.

Dan Gediman

Chris told me about the other cast members. Most of them went on to lead a variety of perfectly ordinary lives. None are big stars. One sings with a symphony. There are teachers, doctors, musicians. One was homeless for a while, and some reported having trouble in the aftermath of their brief fame on Zoom.

Chris Sarson

They were profoundly embarrassed that they'd been on that kid's show, you know, and one guy said that it wasn't until about three or four years ago that he was able to get out and finally admit without shame that he was on the Zoom cast. So it may not have been all rosy if you'd got on the show, Dan.

Dan Gediman

OK, I understand that now. I really do. Chances are, it wouldn't have changed my life. But still, I'd take it. That special time, that attention. When all is said and done, I'd take my chances. I'd rather be a Zoom kid than just a kid. Wouldn't you?

But it's OK. I'm still in the game. I write songs now. As a matter of fact, that's me singing one of my original tunes in the background. And I'd like you to know that my tape is available by the way.

Ira Glass

The name is Dan Gediman, not Danny.

Dan Gediman's story was produced by Jay Allison as part of Jay's Life Stories series, which is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Endowment for the Arts. Coming up, a childhood of lies that may have saved a life. That's in a minute from Public Radio International when our program continues.

Act Two. Truth or Consequences.

Ira Glass

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Each week on our program, of course, we try to document every day life in these United States. Today's show, Truth and Lies at Age Ten. We've arrived at the second of our two stories, about children who lie to themselves, who lie to others, and who try to stop lying once they get to be adults. Act Two, Truth or Consequences.

Mary J. Pruka was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when she was two years old. CF is a degenerative disease that primarily affects the lungs. As your condition worsens your lungs fill with fluid and you have to do hours of respiratory therapy every day to clear out that fluid. Over time it gets so bad that you cannot clear that fluid. Essentially, you drown. Few children with CF live past the age of 18. When Mary Kay was little, understandably, nobody told her that she would die so young. When she went to the doctor, she saw how nervous her mother was. She knew it was something serious.

Mary J. Pruka

But I don't remember myself ever knowing how serious it was or knowing fully what it meant. And I don't think I asked the questions, maybe, that I needed to ask to find out. And I can only assume that maybe I didn't want to know the answers or I just-- I guess that. That I just didn't want to know the answers.

I was, I would guess, in the area of about seven years old.

Ira Glass

Truth and lies at age seven.

Mary J. Pruka

That's when I first learned that CF was a deadly disease. And I had gone off to a CF summer camp for the first time. And I was real nervous about going, but as soon as I got there I felt very comfortable. I was put into a cabin with maybe 12 other girls, and we had a leader whose name was Beth. And I immediately clicked with her, I was her shadow the entire week.

And during the camp we would have an early breakfast, and then afterwards we would go and do respiratory therapy. And at that time, I was not doing respiratory at home on a routine basis. But I noticed that some of the other children at camp needed this. They had to do this every day. And I just kind of sat back and watched. I really didn't feel like I was a participant in that, or that I had the same disease that all these other children had. And so I wasn't forced that first year to really think about why I was there.

I was very excited to go back. And my first question, when I got there, was where's Beth? She was the one who, the first year, who I palled around with and followed. Here I go. I just remember that she wasn't there. And that they told me that she had died of CF. And I thought, oh my god. You know? I have CF and nobody ever told me I was going to die. And I think a real panic set in.

My first thought was, I've got to get out of here. I've got to leave right now and go home. And I remember I just cried. I cried. I didn't tell anybody, I didn't say to anybody, I'm scared, I didn't know that people could die of CF. So it was my aunt and uncle who came and picked me up along with their kids. And they're all saying, you're a baby. Why are you crying to come home?

You know, I really think I believed that if we talked about the possibility that I would die, it could happen. Just saying the words would be enough to make it happen. So even if I got nervous about it, or I had discussions with myself about it, if I didn't verbalize it I would be safe. Or even to say it and let my mom hear it would be even worse. Because I saw that she was afraid of it and she didn't talk about it. So this must be the best way to handle it, is to just not talk about it.

I know my parents were devastated by it. I know my mom's initial reaction was that if we just stay positive and maybe not think about it, the bad won't happen. We'll just focus on today and we'll raise her like the other two children. And that was her way of handling it and not thinking about or dealing with the possibility that I might not live long. But my dad and I have never talked about it. I've tried on a number of occasions to have conversations with him about it.

And in my 20s, my CF began to progress, and I began to get worse. And I didn't see my dad very often, so I had a feeling that he didn't know this was happening. And at that point, I began to have frequent hospital stays. And I would call him and say, Dad, I'm in the hospital, for example. And he'd say, oh, OK. And I'd say, well, I'm here for IV therapy. And he'd say, OK, so what else is new? As if there's something else new when you're in the hospital. And I can remember him-- or even changing the subject to, what have your sister and brother been up to?

Ira Glass

Truth and lies at age 15.

Mary J. Pruka

Through the teenage years I think I lived in a fog, like I think a lot of teenagers do. You don't-- you just don't think about the serious life issues that you have to think about. And I think all teenagers think they're invincible. Even when you have a disease, you think you're invincible. Even though you have hard facts in front of you. So I just didn't think about it. I really was able to get away without thinking about it. I really didn't think beyond now. The right now.

Ira Glass

Truth and lies at age 18. At college, for the first time, Mary started to face up to the facts of her situation. And, as it often happens, she was forced into doing this because she faced a crisis in her own life. And what started the crisis was the fact that, for the first time in her life, she was at a place where she had to think about the future. College is about the future. And everybody around Mary Kay had a plan, a purpose, while she had nothing like that. Meanwhile she was getting sicker, having coughing fits more often, and she was starting to change in other ways.

Mary J. Pruka

But the summer before I went away to Southern Illinois University, I met my husband. And on our first dinner date-- whenever I had a dinner date, or any time I was eating a meal with friends, I had to take my pills. And there was 10 large capsules, so it wasn't anything I could hide at the table. And oftentimes, most times, I would go into the bathroom and take them, so as not to make a scene. And on our first dinner date, I remember boldly taking them out and swallowing them down, knowing that he was going to ask me what I was doing. And I think in some ways I was challenging him. Go ahead. Go ahead and ask me what this means.

And I knew this was going to be, either he was going to accept it and it would be OK. Or it was going to be like past times where no questions were asked, and I got the feeling they didn't want to know anyway, and so we didn't talk about it. And his first reaction was, what is that? And what does that mean? And what is cystic fibrosis? And then that week, he must have asked me 50 questions. And I remember thinking, my god, he's really interested. And he was probably the first person that asked the questions and I answered them. But I think I'd reached a point where I said, I'm not going to pretend this doesn't exist anymore. It's a part of me. This is who I am. And I need to start talking about it.

When I went away to SIU I felt very homesick. And I think I really begin to think, at that point, that I had met somebody who I wanted to spend all of my time with. That I was now wasting precious time that I had, being away at school, that I should be spending with him. And I was beginning to have the sense that I don't know how long I have. And I need to now-- now that I have something that I want to do-- I need to do this and I need to leave school.

But something else happened during this time. This is something that may be very minor for some people, but this was a really big deal for me, is that I got braces during this time. And for me that was a big, big step in planning for the future. Because I remember thinking-- it was a big expense-- and for me, it was the first time that I really took on an expense for myself. And I remember thinking to myself, now, am I going to die in a couple years anyway? And this is the biggest purchase I had ever made. And I thought, do I really want to get braces and invest all of this into my-- you know, into my teeth and into my looks? And how long am I really going to live anyway? And just getting-- in just making that decision and deciding to go ahead and get braces, for me, it meant that I had enough confidence in the future, even if it only meant the next five to seven years. I had to sort of weigh, well, if I live only five years, will it be worth the investment? And I thought, yeah, it's worth the investment.

My health was starting to decline. It was starting to now become something I had to think about every day. And amazingly, at that time, John decided that he was going to be the person to do my respiratory therapy every day. And in order to do respiratory therapy, the object is to loosen the secretions in my lungs. And as the disease progresses, my lungs begin to fill up with fluid every day. And if I didn't get the fluid out I couldn't breathe.

And so what he would do is he would just get behind me and start to pound on my back at the different lobes of my lungs. And that would loosen the secretions. And then by using his hands on my back, in a sort of vibration, I could then cough out the secretions. And there's nothing pretty about it. It's very disgusting. And this is just something that you can't imagine couples sharing. Or you would think if you met somebody, you would be embarrassed to involve them in, in respiratory therapy.

But when we finished doing the respiratory therapy, and I could breathe better, he felt better. And it is-- it is very intimate. We would sometimes joke about it. We were forced to spend this time together. If we had had an argument five minutes earlier, it had to be done and over with, because I needed to breathe. And so we called it our therapy. Besides being respiratory therapy, our couple therapy. And it was intimate and that it would bring us together. And we were forced to sit and do this.

We got engaged when we were both 23 years old. We had been dating now for four years. And this was a big, big step for me. Getting engaged. And we had a great wedding. I was terrified the whole day. I was just very nervous. Because this meant so much. It meant that I believed I was going to have a future. And it meant that for everybody in the room, and everybody in the church, that they believed I believed I had a future. And I wondered, how many people behind me are doubting? Are thinking I'm kidding myself? I was always afraid people thought I was kidding myself. And I even wondered, am I kidding myself? Or who am I fooling, to think that I'm going to get married today and have a whole future ahead?

I had one really bad episode at the reception. And that was, I was having increased trouble breathing around this time. And I had just begun having episodes of hemoptysis. And that is when bleeding starts in the lungs and you start to just cough up blood and choke on blood. And during the reception I was dancing and there was a bunch of people dancing. And we were actually playing a game of musical chairs and the men were all the chairs. They were getting down on one knee so the women could sit on their knee. And this was kind of happening like a musical chairs game. And just as the game was over, I had the real familiar cough. And I started to feel my chest filling with blood. And it's just a horrifying feeling of panic. And I knew what was going to happen. I had a white gown on and I just ran to the bathroom. And started coughing up blood. And so that kind of just changed the whole mood then of the day for me. Because that was-- this was the one day that I was not going to think about CF, and there it was, right in my face.

Ira Glass

Truth and lies at age 24. Mary Kay's health deteriorated. Her lungs were failing. She tried to get answers about her condition from her doctor who only told her not to worry. So ready to face the truth, she got another doctor, one who told her that she was in the final stages of the disease. It was a rather jolting dose of reality. Mary Kay told her mother that she hated her new doctor, would never see the new doctor again. This feeling didn't last. Mary Kay started to investigate more aggressive treatments for CF with her doctor.

Finally, at the age of 30, Mary Kay was in her kitchen reaching for a glass and suddenly she began choking and coughed up a bowl of blood. When doctors tried to operate, she had a stroke on the operating table. They signed her up for a lung transplant, which they only do if they think you don't have much longer to live. Mary Kay waited 13 months for a donor.

Mary J. Pruka

I remember Christmas time in December that I really began to think that this really, really might be my last Christmas. And I really had an awful Christmas. I spent the day-- I spent the day imagining next Christmas and my family not having me there. And I couldn't help imagining this picture without me. And what would it be like? And what would my family be like? And how would they handle my death.

I had finally had a conversation with my mom. And I told her that I was afraid to die. And she said, I know. And she hugged me. And that was a big moment for us. Because we had never-- she knew I was afraid, and this was our fear all along. And we had never really verbalized it. And we were just standing in my bedroom and she was helping me get dressed or something like that. And I just said, you know, this disease just might get me. I really thought I might beat it, but I don't know anymore.

And she just said, we just have to get those lungs. We just have to keep praying for those lungs. And so that's what we did. And I just-- we just hoped all the time. Every time I watched the news, I would-- it sounds really terrible-- but I would hear of an accident and I would think, you know, that's really a shame. But I wonder if they'll donate the organs. And you feel terrible thinking that way. And I remember my mom telling me that she had thoughts like that. And she felt terribly guilty after thinking that. But I spent a lot of time preoccupied with death during that time.

Ira Glass

Truth and lies at age 31. After 13 months, Mary Kay got her transplant. She said that she had never experienced before this what it was like to be healthy. She did not even know how to imagine what it was going to be like. Suddenly she could breathe. The purpose of her life was no longer simply staying alive. Now she's 33 years old. Since her transplant, she's had two children, twin girls. And though one of the central struggles of her life has been to learn to face the truth about her own disease, she says there is a time and place for lying to yourself.

Mary J. Pruka

About the age of 10, I don't think I was very honest with myself about the illness that I had. I honestly don't think I would have it differently at that point. I sometimes wonder what my life would have been like if I had been told early on that I was probably going to die at the age of, you know, in my teen years, for example. Which is, I believe, what my mother was being told at that time. I think that news in itself can be crippling. And because I wasn't feeling the effects of the disease yet, I don't believe I needed to know it then. But I have to look back and wonder if the fact that I did so well has something to do with the ignorance that I had at that time.

Ira Glass

Mary J. Pruka, she spoke with reporter Adam Davidson.

Credits.

Ira Glass

Well, our program was produced today by Julie Snyder and myself, with Alix Spiegel and Nancy Updike. [UNINTELLIGIBLE] editor, Paul Tough. Contributing editors, Jack Hitt, [? Margie Rocklin, ?] and consigliere Sarah Vowell. Production help from [? Sylvia Leemis, ?] [UNINTELLIGIBLE] [? Davenport ?], and [? Laura ?] [? Doggett ?], who interviewed Claire, the non-Chilean woman at the beginning of our broadcast.

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

Dan Gediman has asked us to mention that his CD can be purchased at 1-800-BUY-MYCD. And we would like to take a moment to point out that Mary Kay Pruka's life was saved, and she had two beautiful baby girls who are actually here in our studio today, only because somebody signed the organ donor release on the back of their driver's license. We don't usually say this kind of the thing on the show, but I would urge you to consider taking out your license right this second and signing up right now.

If you want to buy a cassette of our program, you can call us here at WBEZ in Chicago. 312-832-3380. 312-832-3380. Our email address, radio@well.com. Or you know you can listen to nearly all of our shows for free on the internet, www.thislife.org.

This American Life is distributed by Public Radio International.

[FUNDING CREDITS]

WBEZ management oversight by Torey Malatia who walks into our studio after each and every show with this request.

Dan Gediman

You're not asked this very often, I'm wondering if you could autograph your picture here.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass. Back next week with more stories of This American Life.

Announcer

PRI, Public Radio International.