Transcript

401:

Parent Trap
Transcript

Originally aired 02.19.2010

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Prologue.

Ira Glass

Dave was in his late 20s, and it would not be accurate to say that he was living at home with his parents, but only because half the time he was staying at his sister's house. He was playing in a band, doing some writing, not making much money, and his parents were worried. And one day he was hanging out with his mom.

Dave Hill

We were coming home from going ice skating together, which right there you can see that out. To be fair, I like ice skating. I'm a quarter Canadian.

Ira Glass

Wait, wait, wait. You can see what? What does that show that you went ice skating with your mom?

Dave Hill

Well, most guys, after a certain age, wouldn't go regularly ice skating with their mom to like [? organ ?] sessions where you're skating arm in arm around. I mean this is the sort of stuff I would do with my mom, like pretty regularly.

Ira Glass

So they pull into the driveway. Dave's mom tells him there's going to be a benefit for this retirement home for nuns and priests. His mom's an old school Catholic who goes to mass every day. And she says it's going to be at a hotel in downtown Cleveland. They live in Cleveland. And Maureen McGovern, who sang the theme to The Poseidon Adventure back in the '70s was going to be the entertainment.

Dave Hill

And she's like, so I'm getting tickets. So let me know if you want to go. And I said, no, I don't want to go. And then, so she just said, OK, well just let me know then. She's like, because I have to get the tickets in the next couple of weeks. And I figured, I didn't give it any thought, but then it kept coming up over and over. Like, let me know, the benefit's coming up and I need to buy tickets. So are you going to go? And I said, no. And she said, all right, well I need to know by next week if you're going to go. And this just went on and on for a couple of weeks.

This was a big thing. My mom kept saying like, and there will be nuns and priests there. Like they're going to get some of the old nuns and priests from the retirement place out. You can walk up and touch them and stuff. I don't know why she made that a selling point.

Ira Glass

Maybe that was a selling point for her. Maybe she likes nuns and priests.

Dave Hill

She does.

Ira Glass

And she knows some of the old ones from back in the day.

Dave Hill

Oh yeah, she's super into nuns and priests.

Ira Glass

And these weren't just the regular nuns and priests that she see's everyday on the ball field. These are some of the older players. You have the cards, you know, but you never see out of the stadium anymore.

Dave Hill

Yeah, exactly. It was like the fantasy league. Like Father Mackey from St. Anne's in 1952.

So there's a lot of that going on. And then, somewhere along the line, my mom brings up the fact that a priest that used to teach at my high school when I was there, Father Dennis, was recovering from two heart attacks. And so she's like, you know, I ran into Father Dennis up at church. And I was telling him about the benefit. And he was really into it. Yeah, I bet he would like to come to this benefit also. Why don't you bring him? And I was like, I'm not going. And she's like, well, I already told him you were going to call.

Ira Glass

So Dave realizes he's trapped. Checkmate. He's going to have to at least call Father Dennis.

Ira Glass

And Father Dennis, was he just like another teacher at the school or was he somebody who you especially liked?

Dave Hill

I liked him. Yeah, I mean I knew him. He ran the choir. Yeah, I thought he was a great guy. He loaned me his guitar. He played guitar. So it wasn't like we had kept in touch or anything. You know, I had fond memories of him. But I hadn't seen him in years.

Ira Glass

So he gets Father Dennis on the phone and they agree that Dave is going to pick him up and they'll attend the event together.

Comes the big day, it goes exactly as you might imagine a lunchtime fundraiser for retired nuns and priests in a hotel in downtown Cleveland with Maureen McGovern singing usually goes. Now there were a couple of wild card moments to the day that I'll run through quickly for you.

First, Dave runs into a friend at the event from grade school-- now gay-- whose Dave mom is convinced that they should set up with one of Dave's sisters, even though Dave tries to keep explaining to her that Guy is gay.

Dave Hill

And she thinks that I'm being mean, insulting him by calling him gay. I'm like, no, he's a gay man. That's fine. And just explain to me why it's not going to work out?

Ira Glass

Second, the luncheon buffet turns out to be mostly fried foods. None of which can be eaten by Father Dennis, who's still recovering from his two heart attacks and requested a special low fat meal. Though Dave's mom has come prepared for this.

Dave Hill

She sort of like, looks around real quickly and then reaches under the table. And she snuck in a bag of bread and like sandwich meats thinking that we could just make some sandwiches for him at the table. And I'm just horrified.

Ira Glass

Father Dennis tells her very politely, thanks, but no. He doesn't want a sandwich. And eventually the waiters do arrange for him to get some sort of meal. At their table are some very old people, Dave's parents, Dave, and Father Dennis.

There's no drinking, which Dave says might have really helped things. And after a while, Dave and Father Dennis have run out of small talk.

Dave Hill

So it's getting quiet and we're sitting next to each other. At some point, Father Dennis turns to me and he's sort of like, you know, I don't know. Normally I understand why I'm somewhere. If I'm invited somewhere I know why. But I guess I don't know. I don't know why I'm here. I'm really confused. I don't feel any connection to this. And I was just like, what? What do you mean? I thought you wanted to be here. I thought that was the whole thing. That's why I'm here. I thought you wanted to be here.

And he says, no. Your mother told me that you wanted to be here and that you really wanted me to go. So I thought that I should do it for you and your mom. And we're just sitting there, like oh gosh. We've been just duped by what I thought was a really nice lady.

My mother just tricked us into this.

Ira Glass

Did you ask your mom afterwards about the whole thing?

Dave Hill

Yeah.

Ira Glass

And did she explain what she was hoping was going to happen once she got you and Father Dennis together?

Dave Hill

No, she just kept saying like, oh, I just thought it would be a really nice time for you. For both of you. She was very invasive about it. And I confronted her saying, do you think like that I'm going to hang out with his priest and then I'm going to want to become a priest? And she's like, no.

She wouldn't admit to that, and that's maybe--

Ira Glass

But you think that's what it might be? Like in the back of her mind she's just like, maybe you're single, you're in your late 20s. Maybe you should be a priest?

Dave Hill

Maybe. Or at least have some sort of like priestly influence. I think there was like a bigger thing, but she'll never tell me.

Ira Glass

Dave says this was par for the course. His mom often mystified him. And a certain amount of her parenting, of any parenting really, is putting your kids into situations you know are going to be good for them whether they like it or not. Or even, whether they understand it.

Dave Hill

There's been a number of things over the years that I just could not wrap my head around why she was making me do it. And I really thought she was torturing me.

Ira Glass

Like what?

Dave Hill

She made me take typing lessons that I could not fathom why. I was like 13-years-old, 14-years-old. It just seemed just random, like here's something that I'll hate. I'll just make him do it. And like, now, literally like it didn't even hit me until like the last few years when I realized that a huge part of everyday for me, I'm typing all the time. I remember seeing that one day and be like, oh my God. That's why she made me endure that horrible summer of typing lessons. Literally, 20 years later I figured it out why she did that to me.

Ira Glass

From WBEZ Chicago it's This American Life distributed by Public Radio International. I'm Ira Glass.

Today on our show, The Parent Trap, stories of parents doing their best to be good parents and do right by their kids by putting the kids into situation that they believe will be helpful. Our show in two acts today. Act one, Letter Day Saint. David Segal has the story of a mom doing something that you would expect and hope a mom would do, give her kid a little advice. Act two, The Opposite of Tarzan. We are very, very excited to have a brand new story from the amazing team that does the show Radiolab. This is a story about interspecies parenting. Stay with us.

Act One. Letter Day Saint.

Ira Glass

Act 1, Letter Day Saint.

Sometimes a parent can do something kind of extraordinary, really above and beyond what most people do with the best of intentions, just looking out for their kid. And do I even need to say that they can have all kinds of unintended consequences. David Segal has this example.

David Segal

In 1991, Elizabeth Gee was dying of cancer. And as she thought about the time she had left to live, she worried about her only child, Rebecca. Then 16 years old. And she discussed her worries with her husband.

Gordon Gee

She just looked at me one night. I mean, she was hooked up with all of this stuff.

David Segal

This is Gordon Gee.

Gordon Gee

And she just looked at me. She said, you know, I really feel that I need to continue to be an influence on Rebecca's life and continue to be part of her life. She knew she was terminal. She knew that she only had about a month to live. And she made this discrimination that she was going to write letters to her daughter.

David Segal

Specifically, birthday letters. The plan she told Gordon was this. She would write letters that he would send to Rebecca, one per year, every year, on December 4, Rebecca's birthday. The letters would be sealed and for Rebecca's eye's only. There were 13 of them. Each tailored for a specific birthday. Plus a letter for the day of Rebecca's wedding. Rebecca didn't know any of this until the first letter, which she read the day she turned 17.

To a daughter reeling from the loss of her mother, it was the ultimate birthday present.

Rebecca

She said in one of my first letters that these were a way to connect to her. That all I had to do to connect to her was to open a letter. And then she would be there.

David Segal

One of the early letters arrived on a birthday at college, when she was feeling particularly isolated.

Rebecca

And this letter said basically, you will never be alone. You will never be alone. You will always have me. And I just remember feeling this incredible feeling of peace. It almost felt like getting a letter from someone who was alive.

David Segal

It happened the same way every year. Gordon, a college president for most of his professional life, now at Ohio State University, would overnight a sealed envelope, adding a brief card of his own. And every year, Rebecca went through a birthday letter ritual.

Rebecca

Usually sometime in the afternoon before dinner I'd sit down and open it and read Dad's note. Feel the page, look at her signature. Usually it'd be the first thing. And think, gosh, that's just so amazing that she's gone and I'm looking at her signature and it's saying I love you. And then I'd read through it.

David Segal

Each letter was about 2,000 typed words on thick white paper signed by hand, "You're the sweetest girl in the world. Or just, "Love forever, Mommy."

Elizabeth told Gordon that she wanted to describe the world as she saw it, and as Rebecca would see it as a young woman. And she does so in the letters with a mix of pep talks, moral instruction, autobiography, and parental affection. Often she focuses on what was happening to her on the age Rebecca would be when she opened each letter.

So when Rebecca turned 21, Elizabeth described a dress she owned when she was 21. Quote, "You would not believe what I wore. A black fake fur suit with a pink top and the plastic ping pong earrings. Everyone thought it was fashionable, but I laugh when I think of it."

A lot of the letters are advice on how to live. Quote, "Most children benefit from the simulation of daycare," she writes. Urging Rebecca not to give up her career when she has children. Quote, "You are not a uni-dimensional person. Under that balance, you will be frustrated."

And her mother had high expectations. In one letter she asks her daughter, "Are you contemplating a dissertation? Interviewing with scientific laboratories or NASA? Traveling to excited places?" Rebecca pushed herself to meet those expectations.

In college when her friends were out drinking, she stayed in and studied. Other kids might have found this all a little too heavy, Rebecca found it inspiring.

Rebecca

For example, when I decided I didn't have the confidence to go to medical school and I wasn't going to do it, the letter that year basically said, you need to find ethical expression in your work.

David Segal

She ended up going to medical school.

Rebecca

There was just no way I could have become a banker in the setting of these letters. I mean not that bankers don't have ethical expression, but for most of college, I think I had this enormous sense of purpose that I had a responsibility to do something meaningful. Both to me and to other people.

David Segal

As galvanizing as these letters could be, they could also be upsetting. The first person to fully appreciate how upsetting they were was her father. He was the one who dealt with the fall out. He saw that keeping his promise to his wife meant causing his daughter emotional distress. And on her birthday.

Gordon Gee

It was as if I could predict the sunrising. Rebecca would get the letters and then, I'd receive either that night or the next morning, a very tearful telephone call about how much she missed her mom. And I'd have these prolonged telephone calls.

David Segal

What sort of things would you talk about?

Gordon Gee

Well, I mean, she'd just say she's sad. You know, very sad. I wish my mother had been able to live. And been able to be here for me when I needed her. And been able to go shopping with me and all the kinds of things that I think any young woman would love to have her mother do. And you can imagine, that was very difficult for me.

David Segal

Toward the end of her college years, the letters were difficult for Rebecca for another reason. One of her mother's regular theme, actually you could say it was the dominant theme, was religious faith. The Gee's are Mormons and to her mother, staying close to the church was essential.

Rebecca

The most important thing for her was that I be a Mormon woman in the way that she wanted me to be. Which was a woman that went to the temple. A woman who married a Mormon man. A woman who believed all of the Mormon theology.

David Segal

By the time Rebecca was a senior in college, she was moving away from the church. So she worried a lot about disappointing her mother, who in the letters was constantly imploring her to stay. Quote, "You must always have the goal of going to the temple. For there you receive great gifts. It is in the temple that we are joined in eternal bonds and powers that will unite us in the world's beyond."

In another letter she wrote, "You will make good life choices. I know you will. But no matter your choice, never lose sight of the temple for me, please."

Rebecca

By age 21, after a few years of getting these letters and going through a process where I realized this right not going to be in my life, sometimes I would feel angry. And I remember at age 21 thinking, man, do I have to open up this one this year? This is tough. I don't want to do it. And my friend saying, well, why don't you wait? We'll go out to dinner. Maybe open it up tomorrow. And I felt guilty. And I remember feeling like if I didn't open it up I would really disappoint her. And yet, then I open it up and it's all about, I hope you marry a Mormon man and I hope you go to the temple. And if you don't go to the temple, you won't go to heaven. You're not going to see me. And I'm not doing it. And that's a pretty hard thing to hear on your birthday.

David Segal

Gordon was devout, but he could listen to Rebecca's reasons for leaving the church and came to accept them. Her mother couldn't do that. And in the three-way conversation that is part of any relationship of child, mother, and father, the voice of Rebecca's mother always spoke the loudest. It might seem strange that the deceased parent had the most sway, but her mother's opinion was fixed. There's no arguing with her. That haunted Rebecca. And while Gordon found himself reassuring his daughter, the comforts he offered were always trumped by Rebecca's memory of her mother.

Gordon Gee

It's difficult to compete with a dead spouse or in this sense, a dead mother. Because I'm here and I have all of the frailties of who I am. And over time, obviously her mother became very iconic. In many ways, very perfect. And clearly, could do no wrong. And I mean I never did say this to her, although I've joked with her a couple times. You know, who am I, chopped liver?

David Segal

Because the letters were written exclusively for Rebecca, Gordon thought it was inappropriate to ask too many questions about them. For the same reason, Rebecca never volunteered to share them. Father and daughter were just following a set of instructions. As outdated and as trying as those instructions were.

Over the years, as he dealt with his daughter's anguish, Gordon tossed out some hints the perhaps it was a bad idea for him to lob these annual grief bombs into her life.

Gordon Gee

I did on several occasions, I just said, you know, you have to remember that your mother was very ill. And that she loved you very much. But I'm not quite certain how healthy this is to have these letters and I said that to her directly. And I've said that to her on several occasions. And because it was very hard on me. It would really break my heart when I would hear her be so sad.

David Segal

But Rebecca never seemed to pick up on her father's hints, or his misgivings. As painful as the letters were, she felt as though she had no choice but to read them carefully. So Gordon sent them all, though he was conflicted about it enough that he actually delegated the FedExing part to his secretary.

All of this letter related dread culminated with Rebecca's wedding, which happened in 2006 in an Episcopal church. But Rebecca and Gordon suspected the letter Elizabeth wrote for Rebecca's wedding would contain her longest course yet on the importance of marrying in a Mormon temple. Which is why both father and daughter told me they were secretly relieved when the letter, which Gordon's secretary says she sent, vanished in the FedEx system.

Rebecca

I remember thinking, if there is one for my wedding, I definitely don't want to open it on my wedding day. Because I really want my wedding day to be happy. And I don't want to sit, I don't want to cry. That day in particular, didn't want the letter to be a part of it.

David Segal

Because all the birthday letters had been sent, the wedding letter would have been the final letter in the series.

David Segal

Was there part of you when the letters ran out that felt relief?

Gordon Gee

Yeah, I think so. I think that without a doubt, it was an opportunity to move on. On the other level, this was the last kind of visible written, tangible connection that she had with her mother.

David Segal

It's almost like another death?

Gordon Gee

Right. And I think it was to her in many ways.

David Segal

But it was also a new beginning. For the first time, Rebecca began living a life that wasn't shadowed by a looming reminder of her mother's unmet hopes. Rebecca had become a physician. And she married a doctor named Allan Moore, whom she had met in residency. It was a very happy marriage and it ended tragically, a mere 18 months after it started when the couple was hit by an SUV while riding a Vespa.

Rebecca was severely injured and Allan was killed. For the second time in her life, Rebecca was forced to cope with a devastating loss. But this time was different. She spent her months of physical rehab contemplating and writing about her memories of Allan.

Rebecca

And I remember thinking to myself, this is how it should be when you grieve for someone. You should remember the beautiful times, the things you shared. You should celebrate that person, but you shouldn't be dragged back into the grave with them every year. Why did she do this to me?

David Segal

Rebecca says a year and a half after her husband's death, she feels like she's farther along in her grieving for him than she was 10 years after her mother died.

Rebecca

I mourned my husband's loss, Allan's loss. I love him, but I'm moving on with my life as he would want me to. I think to have letters from him for my birthdays or a yearly, would make it harder for me to move on.

David Segal

At the same time, the letters her mother sent were so essential in forming the person that Rebecca became, it's hard for her to imagine growing up without them.

Rebecca

In the end, would I have wanted a life without these? I can't say that because they made me feel incredibly loved. They made me know how much she valued her time on this earth with me. I got to hear that. I got to hear that after she died.

David Segal

Recently, Rebecca has started to grasp the hardships the letters imposed on her dad. And she thinks it would've been better if she had shared the letters with her father in real time, even if that went against her mother's wishes. This surely wasn't Elizabeth's intention, but when she wrote those letter, she left behind the bricks for a wall that kept her husband and her daughter apart, at least when the subject came to Elizabeth. Along with instructions that made discussing that wall very difficult. It was a plan that neither Rebecca nor Gordon ever consented to. And now, very gingerly, the wall is being dismantled.

A months ago Rebecca sent her Dad a copy of one of the letters from her 24th birthday. Much of which is about Gordon's strengths as a dad. She has yet to share any of the others. And during our interview, Gordon joked that he was a little jealous that I got to read the letters before he did.

But a dying wish has a momentum all its own. And though the letters are now locked in a safe in Gordon's home, he still hasn't looked at them. And Rebecca still hasn't asked him to.

Ira Glass

David Segal is a reporter for the New York Times.

[MUSIC- "PAGES OF MY LETTERS" BY KERI NOBLE]

Coming up, a set of parents like any others trying to impress their values on their child. Though in this case it's tricky because the child is not in their same species. That's in a minute from Chicago Public Radio and Public Radio International when our program continues.

Act Two. Opposite Of Tarzan.

Ira Glass

It's This American Life, I'm Ira Glass.

Each week on our program of course, we choose a theme, bring you different kinds of stories on that theme. Today's show, Parent Trap, we have stories of parents doing their best to be conscientious loving parents, accidentally setting traps for their kids or themselves along the way. We've arrived at act 2 of our show. Act 2, The Opposite of Tarzan.

The parents in this next story do a lot of things that are really just amazing. They actually reach outside their own species into a different species, adopt a baby, raise it, love it, without really thinking through the consequences. Which turn out to be big. Here are the hosts of Radiolab, Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, and the story this baby, Lucy.

Jad Abumrad

So let's just start at the beginning. Who is Lucy?

Robert Krulwich

Lucy is a chimpanzee that actually, this was found out later, born to a circus entertainer. Born in their camp.

Jad Abumrad

What country are we in?

Robert Krulwich

In the US. They traveled up and down the East Coast, the [UNINTELLIGIBLE] Chimp Arc Show, something like that. They were very popular.

We heard about Lucy from Charles Siebert, he's a reporter. And he tells the tale of a chimpanzee. She was a chimpanzee born-- do you know Jad?

Jad Abumrad

1964.

Robert Krulwich

This is an early version of a chimp raised entirely in a human environment.

Jad Abumrad

One of the earliest. But it's not the kind of story that you may have heard before, where the chimp grows up with humans and then actually ends up mauling the humans.

Robert Krulwich

This is much more complex than that.

Jad Abumrad

And Charles, himself, first bumped into the tale in this really old, obscure memoir.

Charles Siebert

Long out of print.

Jad Abumrad

Yeah, what's the name of the book?

Robert Krulwich

Do you actually have it with you?

Charles Siebert

Hold on. It's called Lucy- Growing Up Human: A Chimpanzee Daughter in a Psychotherapist's Family by Maurice K. Temerlin.

Jad Abumrad

Maurice K. Temerlin, he is the psychotherapist.

Charles Siebert

He's a psychotherapist.

Jad Abumrad

And he's also the dad in this story. And his wife, Jane, who's a social worker, she's the mom. Now the thing to know was that, especially for Maurice Temerlin, this was more than just adopting a baby champ. This was an experiment. He wanted to know, given the right upbringing, how human could Lucy he become?

Charles Siebert

What he says early on in this book, "Would she learn to love us and perhaps--

David Garland

--have other human emotions as well? Would she be well-behaved, rebellious.

Charles Siebert

Intelligent or stupid?

David Garland

What about sex?

Jad Abumrad

Maurice Temerlin actually died in 1989, but these are his words read by radio host, David Garland.

David Garland

Would she mother her offspring? Could she learn to talk? How intelligent might she be?

Jad Abumrad

And so how did they her?

Robert Krulwich

He says that he and his wife, Jane, made all the arrangements. Went and got the chimp--

David Garland

--from the day the infant was born.

Robert Krulwich

The mother was anesthetized.

David Garland

In the early morning of her second day, Jane fed the mother a Coca-Cola, which had been spiked with phencyclidine, a drug which puts chimpanzees into a deep, pleasant sleep.

Jad Abumrad

And the baby was taken away.

David Garland

Jane named her Lucy and brought her home on a commercial airline, carried in a bassinet, her face covered with a lacy blanket. We were blissfully unaware of the complexities we were creating on the day Lucy came home.

Robert Krulwich

So the baby was a day or two old?

Charles Siebert

Just two days old.

Robert Krulwich

So it wasn't weened?

Charles Siebert

No, and that was part of the experiment.

Robert Krulwich

They bottle feed her.

Charles Siebert

Yeah.

David Garland

She quickly learned to hold her own bottle. At two months, her eyes would focus. At three months, she was trying to climb out of her crib to go to people. And at six months, she was pretty mobile on all four limbs.

Jad Abumrad

The memoir goes on. By the time she was about a year old--

David Garland

She was eating at the table with us.

Jad Abumrad

Forks, spoons, knives.

David Garland

She would see us using silverware and immediately dos o herself.

Jad Abumrad

She began to dress herself in skirts.

David Garland

Shw would often grab my hand, pull me to my feet and beg me to chase her. Always looking back to see that Daddy was not too far behind.

Charles Siebert

You know, he really went at this with this sort of full bore earnestness. You know, when he calls her his darling daughter--

David Garland

I took great pride in my daughter's achievements.

Charles Siebert

He does feel like a real parent to Lucy.

David Garland

She was so responsive to being looked at, held, and stroked.

Charles Siebert

But he's also, make no mistake, treating this as a very intense cutting edge experiment.

Jad Abumrad

The next phase of the experiment, which occupies a good deal of the book, involve one of those talents that we thought used to only be limited to us: language.

Roger Fouts

OK.

Jad Abumrad

Can you introduce yourself, please?

Roger Fouts

OK, my name is Roger Fouts. I'm a professor of psychology and I've worked with chimpanzees since 1967.

Jad Abumrad

Roger Fouts was called in by Maurice Temerlin to address one of the crucial questions of the experiment.

David Garland

Could she learn to talk?

Roger Fouts

Right.

Jad Abumrad

And at the time, he was the guy. He had just been part of a team that had proven for the first time the chimps could use sign language to communicate. So his job with Lucy was to teach her how to sign.

Roger Fouts

And I think I came into her life when she was-- as I remember, it was 1970. I think it was four or five. She was four or five years old.

David Garland

Roger taught her signs for airplane, baby doll, ball, banana, barrette, berry, bird.

Roger Fouts

Yeah, so I was sort of like--

David Garland

Blanket.

Roger Fouts

--the tutor friend, babysitter that would come over for a few hours each day and spend some time just playing with Lucy. I would work on signs.

David Garland

Cat.

Roger Fouts

We'd read books together, or we'd go for walks. I would chat with her basically.

David Garland

Cry. Dirty.

Jad Abumrad

And he says that Lucy--

David Garland

Enough.

Jad Abumrad

Just sort of--

Roger Fouts

Picked it up.

Jad Abumrad

Picked it all up.

Roger Fouts

It was like a game.

Charles Siebert

She learned some 250 signs. And the big question is, OK, so is it me or mimicry, or are they able to spontaneously create words and put some together in a new original way? And there's been a lot of anecdotal evidence that in fact, Lucy did spontaneously create words.

David Garland

In a later session, when shown a piece of watermelon, Lucy tasted it and she called it candy drink. When shown an onion before Roger good teach her the ASL sign for onion, Lucy volunteered--

Roger Fouts

Cry hurt food.

Jad Abumrad

Wow.

Roger Fouts

She would also lie to me.

Jad Abumrad

Really?

Roger Fouts

Yes.

Jad Abumrad

And lying we should also say is another one of those things that people used to think only we do.

Roger Fouts

During one of my sessions I came in and she had a potty accident. She had been potty trained, but sometimes she didn't always make it. And I was upset because I was now faced with having to clean it up. And so I said, who's is that? And she said, Sue.

Jad Abumrad

Who's Sue?

Roger Fouts

Sue was one of my students that would come in and spend time with Lucy too. I said, no, Sue's not here.

Jad Abumrad

She blamed it on Sue.

Roger Fouts

Finally she fessed up and yeah, said Lucy. And sorry.

Jad Abumrad

Sue?

Sue

Yes

Jad Abumrad

This is Sue.

Sue

Sue Savage [UNINTELLIGIBLE].

Jad Abumrad

The grad student of yours who says she didn't actually see that like take place.

Sue

Yes, well I wasn't there.

Jad Abumrad

But she told us that when she met Lucy, she was blown away by the incongruity of it all. Like for instance, every time she would walk in the house, Lucy would just--

Sue

Walk casually into the kitchen and search through the cupboard for the kind a tea she wanted that day, and put some water in a kettle and put it on the stove and make us tea. But it was the casualness with which she did it, the kind of air about it that yes, I'm making tea, and I would like you to have some too. Because tea is what we do. When we meet new people, we have tea.

Jad Abumrad

Wow.

David Garland

Lucy her developed an awareness of our emotions. If Jane is distressed--

David Segal

Temerlin's wife.

David Garland

--Lucy notices it immediately and attempts to comfort her by putting her arm about her, grooming her or kissing her.

If Jane is sick, Lucy would exhibit tender protectiveness toward her. Bringing her food, sharing her own food.

Jad Abumrad

As we get to this next part, this is sort of the midpoint of the memoir. It's useful to sort of remember a basic fact of biology. Speciation happens when you've got one group of creatures that gets divided into two, and then these two groups evolve away from one another. And eventually they get so far away from each other that they can't have babies.

Charles Siebert

And nature makes sure that they can't have babies by making one species basically undesirable to the other. You look across, you're a baboon. You look across at a chimp and you go, eh.

Jad Abumrad

Yeah, you're only sexually attracted to your own kind. That is essentially what a species is.

This isn't something you're supposed to be able to learn or unlearn.

Charles Siebert

This is just the way it is.

Jad Abumrad

Yeah, which brings us to some troubling passages in the book. Beginning really on page 105.

Can you read it?

Charles Siebert

Yeah.

Jad Abumrad

And we should warn that this next minute and a half contains s sexual reference.

Charles Siebert

One afternoon around 5 o'clock, Jane and I were sitting in the living room when we observed this sequence of behavior.

David Garland

Lucy left the living room and went to the kitchen, opened a cabinet, and took from it a glass. Opened a different cabinet and brought out a--

Charles Siebert

Bottle of gin.

Jad Abumrad

Gin?

Charles Siebert

Yeah. She loved gin and tonics.

Jad Abumrad

That's actually not the important part. It's what happens next.

She takes her gin and goes back to the living room, sits on the couch, and there's really no other way to say this. She starts to masturbate. But even that's not the important part. It's actually the very next moment. That a boundary that took proximity six million years to establish dissolves. Mr. Temerlin sees Lucy doing this and he thinks, hmm, this? This is a perfect experimental moment. So he runs off to the mall.

Charles Siebert

Buys a copy of Plagirl magazine and brings it back to her.

Robert Krulwich

Because it's full of naked guys?

Charles Siebert

Yep. And Lucy would masturbate to these centerfolds.

Sue

I was not a part of that. I was never there when Lucy looked at the porno.

Jad Abumrad

But Sue says that she was there for what happened next.

Sue

Yes. I was there when she was introduced to her first adult male chimpanzee.

Jad Abumrad

Had Lucy ever seen another chimpanzee before?

Sue

Never seen another chimpanzee from the moment of birth.

Jad Abumrad

Wow.

She says they brought this male chimp in

Sue

To see if Lucy was attracted to chimpanzee males.

Jad Abumrad

And was she?

Sue

Well, the male chimpanzee would sit there with his hand held out toward her and she was very frightened. And she tried to move away.

Jad Abumrad

It was then, says sue, that she realized that in every way that mattered, Lucy was no longer a chimp. She was stranded.

Sue

Right in between this great divide that I knew was there between humans and non-humans. And I did not know how to negotiate this. There is no category in our language, except a mythical one for something that's not human and not animal.

Jad Abumrad

Insofar as this was an experiment, Maurice Temerlin wrote about it as a kind of triumph. Human nurture conquers chimpanzee nature. But slowly, over time, nature reasserted itself. As Lucy grew, became five, and then seven, and then nine--

David Garland

10 going on 11--

Jad Abumrad

She became strong says Charles. Really strong.

Charles Siebert

They had by this time, rigged up an entire portion of the house for this very strong willful animal. Behind bars, padded rooms so you can bounce--

Robert Krulwich

Behind bars? They built a cage inside the house?

Charles Siebert

In their house.

Jad Abumrad

To which defeats the entire purpose of the whole thing.

Charles Siebert

That's right.

Robert Krulwich

Was she destroying things?

Charles Siebert

Oh God, she was tearing the house to sheds.

David Garland

Lucy was into everything. She could take a normal living room and turn it into pure chaos in less than five minutes.

Now that she's grown and is five to seven times stronger than I am, she could tear us apart, literally.

Charles Siebert

It was more and more challenging and time-consuming and upsetting to the extent that he and his wife finally said, all right, we can't do this anymore. This is too much.

Jad Abumrad

Experiment over.

The memoir ends with a big fat question, what will happen to Lucy? On the final page, Maurice Temerlin says, well, we know we can't keep her, but we don't know what to do. The end.

David Garland

I was raised in the romantic tradition and I like books to have happy endings. If they don't have happy endings, they should have tragic endings. I hate books which have no ending, like this one.

Janice Carter

Hi.

Ira Glass

Hi, is this Janice?

Janice Carter

Yes it is.

Ira Glass

This is Janice Carter. Not only does she know the ending of the story, she's actually the key player in it.

Janice Carter

Yeah, I hope we have a decent conversation because the lines here are really terrible.

Jad Abumrad

It took us a really long time to find Janice Cater. She lives in a remote part of Gambia in Western Africa. And that'll become relevant in a second.

Robert Krulwich

How did you meet Lucy?

Janice Carter

I met her through one of my part time jobs that I had to put myself through grad school, was to clean Lucy's cage. That's how I met her. I cleaned up after her.

Jad Abumrad

In fact, Janice says, she was one of the few people who could actually handle Lucy when she was out of her cage.

Janice Carter

Besides the Temerlins because she had been quite difficult with previous caretakers.

Robert Krulwich

Was that because you were stronger than the predecessor caretakers or you were cleverer?

Janice Carter

Well, I think it was probably more timing. I think that the time that I entered Lucy's, she was looking something outside of that sphere of mom and dad. And I was a friend.

Jad Abumrad

In any case, Janice ended up being in Lucy's life at the exact moment when the Temerlin's finally decided what they were going to do with Lucy.

Janice Carter

They visited a number of--

Jad Abumrad

It's 1977. They had just spent a year traveling around the world, looking at different options: zoos, research labs, chimp retirement homes, which were these facilities that were springing up to house chimps like Lucy, who'd been raised by humans or in the circus. But every place they visited she says, was just too depressing for them. Too cage-like, for this being that they essentially considered their daughter. And so the decision they came to was that the best way to honor Lucy, the best way to really make her happy was to simply let her go in the wild. And they asked Janice to help them do it.

Jad Abumrad

Did you have any idea or any experience of what you were getting yourself into?

Janice Carter

Zero. I didn't have a clue.

Jad Abumrad

So after a 22 hour flight, Janice, the Temerlins, and Lucy arrive in Dakar, Senegal.

Janice Carter

I remember arriving really early in the morning and how hot it was even early in the morning.

Jad Abumrad

Compared to Oklahoma, this was just different.

Janice Carter

Lots of insects and mosquitoes and high, high, high humidity. It was the rainy season.

Jad Abumrad

After they landed, she says they piled into a car.

Janice Carter

And crossed the Gambia River.

Jad Abumrad

And then made their way to a nature reserve.

Janice Carter

A nature reserve.

Jad Abumrad

Which was basically just a bunch of big cages.

Janice Carter

Really large enclosures there--

Jad Abumrad

Sitting right outside in the jungle. So they get there, coax Lucy into one of these cases, say their goodbyes for the night, and they leave her to spend her very first night alone outdoors.

After a few weeks, Maurice and Jane Temerlin decided to leave. And the plan was that Janice, for just a little while, would stay behind. To help Lucy with the transition.

Janice Carter

She started to lose her hair and get skin infections. I wasn't happy being there either. I hated it.

Jad Abumrad

How long did you think you would be staying there?

Janice Carter

Three weeks.

Jad Abumrad

Three weeks. Wow. And so were saying that Janice Carter has actually never left.

Janice Carter

At the end of those three weeks, there was just no way that I could leave Lucy.

Jad Abumrad

The weeks turn into months, and then into a year. And still, Lucy's stressed out. She's not eating, her hair is falling out. And by this point, a whole nother group of chimps shows up at this nature reserve. These were former captives like Lucy, and they start to deteriorate as well. So Janice decides what she needs to do is change locations. So she takes Lucy and all these other chimps to this abandoned island that she'd found.

Janice Carter

It's a long narrow island.

Jad Abumrad

This is in the Gambia River.

Janice Carter

It's a mile wide at its widest point. Very thick screen forest.

Robert Krulwich

And the idea here was that you would release them and they would be able to do whatever in the island and learn how to climb trees, and learn how to forage, and learn how to establish relationships with each other? Was that the notion?

Janice Carter

Yeah, in a nutshell. And you would think that if you gave them freedom, they would just jump for joy and that's the last chapter of the book.

Jad Abumrad

But it's not what happened. She says that when Lucy and the other chimps got to the island and she let them loose, they clung to her. During the day she'd walk them around the island and point out of them, here are the fruits you should be eating. These are the leaves you should be eating. They weren't interested in any of that stuff.

Janice Carter

Oh no.

David Segal

They were actually more interested in her stuff. Which was what they were used to.

Janice Carter

I had human objects and tools that I needed for my own survival and they wanted to use them. Like when I would cook or brush my teeth or take a bath, or anything that I wanted to do, they wanted to be doing it with me.

Jad Abumrad

Janice figured the only way this was going to work is if she could somehow keep the chimps away from her and her tools. And so here's where she does something really radical.

She had run into a couple of British army officers who were passing through the Gambi on some kind of wilderness training thing. And she somehow convinced them to build her a cage, a giant metal industrial cage. Then to fly it over to her island.

Janice Carter

In a helicopter.

Jad Abumrad

And drop it thunk, right in the center. The thing about this cage is that it wasn't for the chimps. It was for her.

Janice Carter

Yes.

Robert Krulwich

You lived in a cage?

Janice Carter

I lived in a cage. Yes.

Robert Krulwich

Wow.

Jad Abumrad

And in the beginning she says, her cage didn't even have a roof.

Janice Carter

No. In the rainy season it rained on me.

Jad Abumrad

The only thing above her head was this fine wire mesh to keep the chimps out.

Janice Carter

The chimps all wanted to be inside with me. When I said, no, then they would climb on top of the cage and sleep out in the open on the wire on top right above me. Every time there was any sound in the night of a hyena or anything, they would immediately squeal and defecate and urinate right on top of me.

Jad Abumrad

Oh God.

Robert Krulwich

Really?

Janice Carter

Then I put [UNINTELLIGIBLE] on the roof. But then they started dancing on the [UNINTELLIGIBLE]. They really liked the sound that it made. So they were all day long busy dancing. It sounds funny and it was at times. But it distracted them from being chimps.

Jad Abumrad

After about a year, says Janice, most of the chimps lost interest in her. Because they couldn't get her tools. She was stuck in a cage. They gave up. They stopped hanging around her and they'd just wonder off into the forest and forage for themselves.

Janice Carter

Yet Lucy did stay behind. Due to the obvious reasons, I think she was different than all the rest of the chimps.

Jad Abumrad

And so Janice and Lucy entered into a kind of sign language battle of wills.

Janice Carter

If I came out of the tent to look to see if they were all gone, there she was right there looking really forlorn at me and using sign language to tell me to come out to be with her.

Jad Abumrad

But Janice would sign to Lucy, no Lucy, go.

Janice Carter

Go.

Jad Abumrad

Lucy would then sign back, no, Janice come.

Janice Carter

No, Lucy go.

Jad Abumrad

No Janice come.

Janice Carter

Lucy go.

Jad Abumrad

And this went on and on.

Janice Carter

I tried and I tried and I tried and I tried.

Jad Abumrad

But Lucy wouldn't move. She would just stand there, waiting for Janice to help her.

Janice Carter

Sometimes I would stay inside the tent all day long and I would try to ignore her, ignore that she was there. Thinking that if I ignored her, then she'd go off with the others. But that didn't work. And if I did look at her, then she would sign that she was hurt. She would use the sign for hurt.

Jad Abumrad

Meanwhile, she wasn't foraging for herself. She was getting thinner.

Janice Carter

And I tried everything and really, really knocked myself out trying to do things for her. And I just started to think maybe she never was going to do it. And we would argue about it. I ate everything. I was eating ants, I was eating the sticky [? latex ?] and figs. I was doing everyhing that I was trying really nauseating to do just so that she will watch me do it and think, wow, if she's doing it, then I'm going to do it too. And she wouldn't do it. She'd just turn her head away. And I honestly thought at one point that she would rather starve to death than have to work for her food. I was losing hope.

Ira Glass

But incredibly, Janice kept at this for years. She'd have to toss Lucy some food, some of her's, just to keep Lucy from starving. But she kept at it.

And then, one evening, after a really, really long day--

David Segal

Oh, what a drag of a day.

Jad Abumrad

Janice and Lucy are walking through the forest and they both stop because they're so beat. And crash.

Janice Carter

And we just, we fell asleep.

Jad Abumrad

On the ground together.

Janice Carter

And when I woke up, Lucy was actually holding my hand. And she had a leaf.

Robert Krulwich

She's holding out a leaf?

Janice Carter

Yes. She reached out and she offered it to me. And then I offered it to her. And she ate it. It was a miracle. It was an absolute miracle.

Robert Krulwich

And after that says Janice--

Janice Carter

She was turned.

Charles Siebert

And actually, from that moment on Lucy did start to make the effort and go off?

Jad Abumrad

And be a chimp?

Charles Siebert

And be a chimp?

Jad Abumrad

That's Charles Siebert again.

Charles Siebert

And it was not too long after that that Janice went away and--

Jad Abumrad

Left the island?

Charles Siebert

Yeah.

Ira Glass

Janice says she'd periodically circle in a boat just to keep an eye on Lucy. But she says she never, not once, set foot on that island. At least not for a year. Then one day she decided to go back.

Janice Carter

This day is the first day that I went actually on the island.

Ira Glass

She pulled her boat up to the tip of the island where there's just a little clearing and she parked. And as she did, Lucy and the other chimps who had heard the boat, came out of the forest and into the clearing. And Lucy and her walked toward each other.

Janice Carter

And I took with me some of Lucy's possession that had been important to her, like her mirror. And she used to like to draw and books, just to see how she responded to it.

Ira Glass

And what did she do?

Janice Carter

Well she looked at the things. She looked at the book. She looked at herself in the mirror and she signed to herself in the mirror. Then all of a sudden she grabbed me. I mean really grabbed me. One arm circled all the way around me and she sort of held me really, really tight. It really made me breathless and I started crying. She started begin these soft little pants. And I'm still pretty certain what she was saying to me was it's OK. You know, it's all OK now.

Jad Abumrad

At that moment, somebody in Janice's boat snapped a picture of her and Lucy hugging. It's a picture that Charles Siebert printed in his book. And it's one of those images that when you see it, I don't know why, it just haunts you.

Lucy has their head against Janice's chest and Janice has her arms around Lucy.

Charles Siebert

It's one of the more fraught moments. You have to just look at the picture. I mean it sort of made me want to write the book. Something about the complexity and the invertedness of that picture.

Janice Carter

After that, the other chimps had started to go. And she wanted to go with them. And she got up and she didn't turn back to look at me. She just kept walking. She wanted to go with the other chimps and she did.

Jad Abumrad

A year later, Janice went back to visit Lucy again. But when she got there, this time Lucy was gone.

Janice Carter

And I went to all the different places looking to see if we could find anything. And we did. We found her body.

Jad Abumrad

She was lying right near the place where Janice's cage had been, just a skeleton.

Janice Carter

Her skull and her hands and her feet were separated from the rest of her skeleton.

Robert Krulwich

So how did you know that that was her body?

David Segal

She had a split between her front teeth and she was very long. And there was nobody else missing.

Jad Abumrad

And maybe the saddest, strangest thing was that--

Janice Carter

We didn't find any signs of her skin or hair.

Jad Abumrad

It appeared that Lucy had been skinned.

Charles Siebert

And no one knows actually what happened. But because the hands were taken, which poachers do, they thought one of the conjectures which makes it really unbelievably tragic is that they think that Lucy, always the first to approach humans, just sort of guilelessly approached poachers, not knowing that they were that. And that they just took advantage of their unwitting and over eager prey. But that was Lucy's end.

Janice Carter

The scenario that I have developed to cope with her death is that a fisherman or someone, some local person that just happened to pull up next to the land and was going to take a break or [UNINTELLIGIBLE PHRASE] or do something. And because she always felt confidence around humans, she probably approached the person. Perhaps she surprised the person and just on reflexes, defense, she was probably shot. I've got no other explanation.

Ira Glass

Janice Carter still lives in Gambia. It's then when she realized that the chimps there would never have a chance to survive unless their human neighbors understood that might be a good thing. So these days she spends a lot of her time teaching people in Gambia about chimps, to convince them about the importance of protecting the chimps habitat.

Charles Siebert's latest book, all about the midway point between animals and humans is The Wauchula Woods Accord.

Radiolab is a production of New York's Public radio station WNYC, distributed around the country by NPR. If you go to the Radiolab website this week, you can see that eerie photo that they talked about with Janice Carter and Lucy embracing. Radiolab.org.

I just want to put a personal plug in here. If you're already not downloading the free podcast of Radiolab that comes out every two weeks, you are missing the most adventurous, enjoyable news show in public radio. Thanks to the Radiolab hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich. And to Lulu Miller who did some of the production work on this story.

[MUSIC- "I CAN'T MAKE IT ALONE" BY LOU RAWLS]

Credits.

Ira Glass

Well our program was produced today by Robyn Semien and myself with Alex Blumberg, Jane Feltes, Lisa Pollak, Sarah Koenig, Alissa Shipp and Nancy Updike. Our senior producer's Julie Snyder with production help from Brian Reed. Seth Lind is our production manager. Emily Condon's our office manager. Our music consultant is Jessica Hopper.

A program note. That interview that I did with Dave Hill at the top of today's show about his mom was recorded about three weeks ago. Last week, his mom, Bernadette Hill, though everybody called her Bunny, died at the age of 80. Dave has been on our show and around our office a lot lately. He wrote the song about the Erie Canal in last week's show. And our thoughts are with him and with his family.

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

This American Life is distributed by Public Radio International. WBEZ management oversight for our program by our boss, Mr. Tory Malatia, who hears himself here in the credits each week next to the funders and the thank you's and all our names. And he just doesn't understand why.

David Hill

I don't know. Normally, I understand why I'm somewhere. I know why. But I guess I don't know, I don't know why I'm here.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass, back next week with more stories of this American Life.