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A little while back, a tunnel was discovered in Toronto. A secret tunnel. Basically. A conservation official was walking through a rooted ravine in the city and stumbled upon this thing. It was described as sophisticated by police tall enough to stand in, 33ft long with support beams, a plywood ceiling and walls, water resistant lighting, a generator and sump pump to pump out groundwater. And at the end of the tunnel, two little rooms were still under construction. Intriguingly, nailed to a wall was a rosary and a plastic red poppy. Canadians used the poppy to commemorate fallen soldiers on Remembrance Day up there. Here in the States, all this got a little bit of coverage, but in Canada, it was big news. No one knows who dug the 30 foot long tunnel near the site of this year's Pan American Games.


In Toronto, a bizarre tunnel found near one of the venues for the upcoming Pan Am Games has sparked fears of.


An imminent terror attack.


Rarely has a dirt tunnel received so much attention.


No one knows why it was created. Do you think someone told their kid to dig to China? And the kid actually tried?


It's not just the sophistication that police say is troubling, but the lack of suspects or a motive. When something unexplained like this happens, of course people go nuts speculating about what it could be. That's actually what our program is about today. In this case, the media pondered whether the tunnel would be used to plant a bomb at the upcoming Pan Am Games nearby. The Pan Am Games are like an Olympics for North and south and Central America. Or maybe somebody was going to build a meth lab in the tunnel, or an operation to grow marijuana. Or they would use the tunnel to hide foreign athletes from the Pan Am Games who might want to stay in Canada illegally. On Twitter, it was hashtag terror tunnel. But the truth of what was going on in that tunnel and what its purpose was was nothing like any of that and the way the canadian police figured it out. Okay, first of all, can I say sometimes one is reminded of what a very different country Canada is from the United States. As part of the manhunt for whoever built the tunnel, a policeman tweeted, if you build a tunnel near the Rexall center in Toronto, give us a call.


Okay? The Toronto police pointed out that it is not illegal to dig a hole. Apparently no law was broken from the start. They said they saw no evidence of terrorism and they did not want to jump to conclusions. For instance, here's an exchange between then Toronto Deputy chief Mark Saunders and reporters after he showed him a photo of that rosary and plastic poppy.


This was found inside the actual tunnel itself. And it was nailed on the wall.


What does that tell you?


That tells me that this was nailed inside the tunnel, on the wall.


The police basically went on tv and showed pictures of the stuff that they found in the tunnel. A ladder and the generator and the sump pump. And they asked the public, this jug, anybody's memory, anybody know anything about this stuff? And that turned out to be exactly the right move. Because watching that coverage was a guy named Boko Merrick. He sees that ladder.


And I said to myself, they look exactly like Mike's stepladder. And I bet you any money this is mine.


I bet you any money this is mine.


And then when I saw pump, I said, oh, my steplare and sampam. But I couldn't believe. I couldn't believe, like, I couldn't believe myself. I couldn't sleep. I was thinking about that he couldn't.


Sleep because he knew who he'd given the stuff to. Bob is a contractor. And he lent that stuff to one of his favorite employees. This young guy, just 22, Elton. What was Elton doing? I come to think that Elton had been asking to borrow a lot of tools lately.


Give us a simi or shovel for pick. For another shovel, another tool. So many tools. I just would say, okay, if you need, take it.


Boco loves Elton. He loves that. Elton's a great worker. He loves that. Unlike other young people Bob's worked with in the past, apparently Elton always wants to learn. Asks lots of questions.


What do you do when you do the roof? How you connect this? How you put joist hangers? What is distance between in that? Can I do this instead of that? Is this going to carry this support? Unbelievable. And I joke with everybody. If everybody asks me, who is that guy? This is my adapted song always I used to sell. This is my adapted son. Okay? So I would lend him any tools he wanted.


So morning, after, he sees the police pointing to a photo of his ladder and sum pump on television. He goes to pick up Elton to bring him to work. Like always. Elton gets in the truck.


He brought two coffees for me and him. I said, elton, tell me one thing. That sum pump. I didn't even ask full question. He said, boko, yes, I did. Oh, my God.


Boko went to the authorities and made sure that Elton would not get arrested or go to prison for this. And then he turned him in. The police talked to Elton, satisfied themselves that Elton was not a terrorist or an evil criminal mastermind, but just some guy. And they let him go. They didn't even give him a fine, though they did suggest that he not dig more tunnels. Canada. So who is Elton? Why'd he do it? Why go to the trouble? Well, Elton has not given many interviews, though he did allow one reporter named Nick Kohler to spend a couple days with him and his family to write this long story about them in McClain's magazine. And Nick was able to tell us a lot about Elton. Elton turned down our request for an interview. Elton lives maybe two minutes from the ravine and woods where the tunnel was found, in a kind of rough neighborhood in public housing. Nick says both of his parents are from Jamaica.


He lives with two sisters, an older sister and a younger sister, and they all live with their mother.


Elton's the quiet kid in the family, Nick says. Everybody else is a big talker.


And I think in particular his older sister, Anora. She has a lot of ideas about how Elton should be living his life. And she's not shy about kind of sharing that with him. She's a big fan of self help books. And so I think Elton is often in the position of listening to life talks, as they put it, advice, advice. And Elton found refuge ever since he was a kid, in the ravine.


In the ravine, there were no life talks. And from the time he was little, Elton was this introspective kid who loved to build, to take machines apart and put them back together. He fixed up old lawn mowers, he built clubhouses. And like he said in a short interview that Nick recorded for a video that McLean's magazine made, he'd go to the ravine.


Okay, what I used to do in ravine when I was a kid is run around, play hide and go seek. We'd play like, apple war. We'll go fishing. But I started my first tunnel probably when I was in elementary school. I'll just go in the creek, walk around. And this was something on my mind. I wanted to do it. A clubhouse. I had five or six attempts, and I think the 6th one was the hugest one that you guys found.


I've heard him call it sort of the future of clubhouses.


Again, here's Nick.


The treehouse of the future. That it's underground. Because one of the fundamental things he wanted from this was that it be secret. It was his secret place that he could go and just relax and be alone.


They're not always alone. A friend helped Elton dig the tunnel and build it. Excavating, he thinks, two dumb trucks of dirt by hand. And once it was done, they would go there together, watch movies, listen to music, barbecue.




I did this because something I always wanted to be doing. But I know, like, I should have grown out of it. And I knew that, okay, if I build a tunnel, it came from childhood reasons. But at the same time, if I build it, who knows? I could probably hang out there, turn that childhood dream into, like, a man cave, a bunker, whatever. You call this a place to go hang out. And if there's something to happen, like a natural disaster, if something were to happen, I could go there. If there's a blackout, turn on a jitter, charge my phone, even make a small meal down there. Just to bring back up to my house.


Back when we go to the tunnel. The sisters did not know exactly what he was doing. But they knew something was up. For months while I was digging the thing, he would come home just covered in dirt, tracking dirt everywhere. Anora thought he was building some kind of underground house. And grilled him about it, but he wouldn't say. His other sister, Tracy Ann, found the rosary actually sitting at a bus stop. And gave it to Elton to protect him.


As soon as she gave it to me, like an hour later, I was ready down there. I nailed it up. Every day after that day, every day where I would go there, I would sometimes make a prayer. Not every day. Some days I'll forget. But sometimes I'll remember to have a little prayer. Just so I'm safe. And it's a peace of mind. Yeah.


The reality of Elton's tunnel. It was so different from what people thought it was. When it was first discovered by police. I think what that's about is I think when we encounter something inexplicable or mysterious, our imaginations, we are such hacks. You know, we go to the most standard stock seen in a hundred tv shows version of what something probably is. Like, oh, it's a terrorist attack. Oh, it's drug dealers. When the reality of what this tunnel really was, it was this dreamy guy who just wanted a place to get away from his sisters and be alone for a little while. It's so much smaller, but so much less predictable and way more interesting. Well, today on our program, what's going on in there? We have stories where people think that they know exactly what is going on in situations of various kinds. And we get inside and find out just how much more interesting the reality of all of it is. From WBeC Chicago, it's this american life. I'm Ira Glass. Stay with us. Story is about a teenager in a situation where everybody in her life thought they knew exactly what was going on with her and what she should do.


It seemed so clear to everybody else, and she would not do it. This teenager met a producer from public radio station WNYC, producer named Courtney Stein. At the time, Courtney was working on a project called Radio Rookies. And the teenager. Her name is Rainey. She was 17 years old at the time. She applied to be in the radio rookies program. She wanted to make a radio story, and she wanted to talk about how she had been in an abusive relationship for a long time and was trying to figure out why she stayed in it for so long. And Courtney, the radio producer, was not sure that Rainey was ready to tell that story. It just seemed so soon. But Rainey wanted to, and the school principal thought it would be a good idea because it would give Rainey a reason to come to school, which, at the time, she needed. So Courtney said, okay, this is all a few years back. Today shows a rerun. Here's Rainey back then.


You're recording?


Yes, she's recording. I'm recording. Tell me this is live recording coming from West Brooklyn's community AC office. I started reporting the story in the fall of 2013. This is radio rookie Lorraine, reporting live. I hadn't really been going to school for over two and a half years, so I transferred to an alternative high school for kids who dropped out but are trying to come back and graduate. We all have assigned counselors. We call them acs. Okay, so I'm here with my own AC, Elizabeth. They check in with us every day. So, how have I been as a student? Lorraine. When I first started, Lorraine was only a name on my roster because she would never come to school. And now she's here every day. She's doing what she needs to do. And she's a potential June graduate. Definite June graduate. Clear that. Gotta clear that one up since I never came to school, when I first transferred here, Elizabeth only knew me by my school id picture. So my first impression of you, I saw your picture. I saw a little girl in size with a black eye. So I thought to myself, what's going on?


I said, did you get into a fight? And you said, no, but you were, huh? It's a long story. You'll get to know me. I had a black eye. For the whole first week, I thought people were thinking that I got beat up by a girl or something, that I'm soft, do the dance. Nicole's my best friend, but I call her my stepsister because my mom and her dad used to date. We all live together, kind of like a family. I'm the only one who calls her Nicole. Everyone else calls her by her nickname. My name's Nikki Boombox. But no, I'm sorry. She was with me when I first met. I don't want to use his actual name. What should his name be in my story? Doodoo face. I'm going to call him Tony. The guy who became my first serious boyfriend. I met him the summer after 8th grade. By the time we started dating, I was 14 and he was 21. Six years, six months and six days older than me. Six. Six. Way more in the beginning. It's creepy, right? Nicole remembers when we met him. But in the beginning, don't get me wrong, he fooled me, too.


He fooled all of us. I really thought he was actually really good. I was like, oh, my God, he's really nice. I would never expect him to actually ever lay a hand on you. So what do you think drew me to him in the first place? Like, what made me start liking him? His looks. Can't deny the fact that he's older. He's short with tan skin, big pretty eyes, and an italian schnaz. He has tattoos and a clean cut beard. When you think of that arrogant guy that all the girls want, that's Tony. He walks with confidence, dresses flashy and wears big chains. But he also made you feel like you were special, like you were wanted. He was actually putting some effort into it. He would text you back. He would pick you up from the school. He didn't even try to kiss you the first time you hung out. The poems, the song, the rap he made on Facebook. He made a video of it. Yeah. The lyrics went something like, don't worry, baby, it doesn't matter about the age. Back then, Nicole took a video of me watching it. I really couldn't stop smiling.


Or as Nicole would say, cheesing od. You're cheesing od. I've never seen you cheese like that. When we first got together, he liked that I was smart and young and pretty. He wanted to shape me into his perfect wifey before I got to the age where he says girls become whores. I was getting 90s when I started the 9th grade. I would show him my report card, but he didn't pay it any mind. He just saw high school as a place for guys to bag girls. He didn't tell me to skip school. He just punished me when I went. He'd ignore me after I came back or show up at school and flirt with girls in front of me. So I just hung out with him in his room all day instead of going to class. I didn't want to think I was cheating. I wasn't even talking to Nicole. Everything you thought was just about him. Like you just completely stopped caring about everything. And he really had that control over you. How did I look back then? You look like a ghost. Completely dead. Skinny as hell. You still look good, don't get me wrong.


But you still had that dead look in your face, like you weren't happy at all. He was verbally abusive way before he became physically abusive. He talked to me so nasty that I could feel it. The bruises clear up, but the words stick with you and they change how you act. He would tell me, you're boring. You're awkward. You're the weirdest of the weird. You'll never fit in anywhere. And I believed him. I didn't feel like I belonged anywhere. I didn't talk to anyone anymore, including my mom. I lied to her about how old he was and started coming home late or not at all.


I was liver and I wanted you home.


This is my mom. She used to be a drug addict, but she's been clean for ten years now. She's pretty ditzy and forgetful, but she's definitely there for me. What were you doing then?


Worrying. Cursing. Yelling.


At me.


At you, at him.


Try punishing me. Taking my things away.


Punishment? Taking your things away didn't matter.


Nothing she did worked because I wouldn't let it. She knew I was the only one that could stop myself from seeing him. The first time he hit me was because I was looking through his facebook. I caught him messaging his ex, so he slapped me across the face. He was yelling at me, telling me to get out. It escalated from there. Then one night, two years into our relationship, we went to his friend's birthday, and he got really drunk. I went to sleep at his place and woke up to him pouring water on my face and dragging me out of bed by my hair. He was yelling and calling me names like a dirty whore and a slut and a piece of trash. He slapped me and grabbed things from around the room like lighters and medicine bottles and threw them at me. He was screaming that he hopes my mom dies. I had choke marks on my neck, but he wasn't really choking me to cut off oxygen. It was more like choking me to grab me and throw me around. After he did that, I went over to Nicole's. My mom showed up there and started freaking out and crying when she saw me.


So I walked down the block to my friend Steven's house.


Came, and then I seen you. And once I seen you, I just felt bad. Then you started crying, and you told me you didn't see it yet, so brought you in my bathroom, and I made you look, and you didn't want to look at it, so I told you we weren't leaving until you looked at it.


When I looked in the mirror, I saw a face covered in tears. Red and swollen, with blue marks on my cheeks, under my eyes, on my neck, and on my arms. I just couldn't believe I was looking at my own reflection.


When he hit you. I wanted to have him arrested. But you wouldn't let me.


My mom promised me she wouldn't call the police, but it was a trick because she knew my brother would.


They came, they tried to talk to you, but you wouldn't give him up.


I saw the cop car outside, so I hid in the bathroom. The cop stood outside the door and kept asking me if I got hit. He was like, just say yeah. That's all you have to say. I said no. So they didn't press charges? You guys filed a report or something? What did you guys do?


No, they wouldn't let us file his report. We tried to any which way, get him for something, and we couldn't. Because you were over 16. There's no proof that he was having sex with you before that age. So I couldn't have him arrested. They told me I needed to go to the DA, so I called the DA. And they didn't want to be bothered with it because it was consensual, which isn't the law. The law is that he's an adult and he shouldn't have been having sex with you. That's the law. And he should have went to jail.


After that happened, he and I didn't talk for a week. Then he showed up at my school. He had this really sad face on. He brought me a burger. He doesn't know how to say sorry, so I guess the whole act was kind of like an apology. We walked around the neighborhood for a couple of hours. He played one of those toy vending machine games with the arm. And he got me a baby blanket with a dog head and tail. It wasn't much, but the look on his face was just so sad that. I don't know, it convinced me to go back. He was overly nice at first. Extra big smiles, longer kisses. But then he started talking about how you got to put your girl in her place. He kept accusing me of cheating on him, and I just had enough. So after two months, we finally broke up, and I moved back in with my mom. How do you feel since I came back?


Oh, so relieved that I have my baby back.


I'm so done with it. I'm just, like, free. Like, birds wings and a cage. I feel like. I just feel like it feels good not to feel bad.


Thank God. Thank God.


This is Nicole again. I still hate him.


I'll always hate him.


He'll be the one I would kill. I'll keep his boxes on, but cut him up into little pieces, put some in a body bag, dump him down in the ocean. And just smile. Smile and just smiley. Dexter is gone. We got to get rid of these monsters. I'm just telling you. And I'm gonna be the one. I'm gonna be Dexter. She's confessing murder. Actually, just because this is recorded. I'm kidding. Anyway, it. So I'm looking through my old diary. I mean, I had, like, diary entries from, like, the very, very beginning. A star means we got into an argument. Heart means it was a good day. The circle means he ignored me the whole day. Good things about breaking up with Tony. I get to hang out with Nicole and get to go back to school. Bad things about breaking up with Tony. I'm alone. I feel like I just need someone to distract me, to take my mind off things. And I don't have anyone now. Even on Christmas. My mom was at her boyfriend's house, so I was on my own. I was just in my bed looking at Facebook. Tony posted the status saying how Christmas will never be the same.


He obviously meant that for me, since it was our anniversary. My heart stopped for a second. When he's in my life, I don't know, it's the one thing that just gets me going. Like, really gets me going. I just wanted him to understand that he was wrong about everything he accused me of. So I decided to write it all in a letter. I included a playlist with an even number of fu songs and I miss you songs and a weird little purple rock I got from the Museum of Natural History. We started talking, but only over Facebook. I wanted to keep my distance for a couple of weeks. We went back and forth. He wasn't being pushy. He was actually being really sweet. So I agreed to see him, and I ended up staying the night.


This is Courtney Rainey's radio rookies producer. Rainey was working on her story with me for about a month before she disappeared. She stopped returning my texts at Christmas. Time when school started again in January, Rainey wasn't there. Then a few weeks into the semester, her english teacher Erin emailed me. Rainey was back. I met her after school and set her up to record a diary. I'm just going to put it on hold. You don't have to do anything. You can even just put in your pocket.


Okay. Just press play when I want to record. Or is it recording? Ready. Okay. I will be back. All classrooms have teachers. I don't think supposed to be in this room, but I'm going to be in here anyway. So I've obviously got back with my ex. I've been on the lookout for abusive behavior to see if he's going to revert back to his old ways. I mean, at first he was how you'd expect. Sweet, gentle, nice, caring, all those things. But I've noticed some behavior that I don't like. About a week, two or three weeks ago, he told me to shut up in a nasty way. It's not that big of a deal, but I felt like it was a sign that the pattern might reemerge. I mean, he. He's rough just by nature. I don't think that's abusive, though. I think that's just how he is. But at times, I don't really like it. I know that in a lot of ways he's a really bad person, but I know that he could be a good person. No one's all bad. We slip back into our old routine of me never going home or going to school.


Almost immediately, he became slowly more disrespectful and then violent again. I was surprised because I really hoped it was going to be different this time. I remember being 13 and just being like, I just want to be 17 when I'm 17. That's going to be the perfect age to just. And I get to 17 and it's like, wow, this is what 17 looks like. That's what my 17 looks like.


Rainey barely showed up to school for the rest of the year. She was supposed to graduate, but didn't. From the beginning, Rainey told me she wanted to tell this story so she could try to understand herself and figure out why she was ever with him. She said that if she understood, that might help her leave. So over the course of the next year, Rainey would reemerge for a day or two, go to school, record a bit, and then be gone again. I insisted that if we were going to keep producing this story together, that she meet with someone from an organization called day one. They work with young survivors of intimate partner violence.


I messed up already. I'm too nervous for this.


I brought her to meet with their community educator, Sarah Gonzalez.


Okay, so my first question is, what are the signs of teen dating abuse? So what's extremely common in teen relationships is the forced absence from school. Right? So if I'm forcing you to be absent from school, I'm affecting your grades, which will then affect how you graduate, if you graduate or when you graduate. That's actually exactly what happened to me. It's funny you brought that up. I should be a senior now, and I'm still not graduating. So I am usually looked at as someone who could be considered a strong female. I don't let guys mess with me. I don't put up with stuff like that. But then somehow I'm in this relationship and I allow myself to get stepped over. The only thing that I would change in that is the allowed part. Right. People, even with good intentions, unintentionally blame victims or survivors, right? So we say things like, if that person just had self esteem, it would be okay. What that tells someone is that it's your fault because you don't have the esteem to leave. When that's not really the case. On average, it takes seven to nine times for someone to leave.


So just because someone went back doesn't mean that they're never going to leave. I mean, every time we get into a fight and things start getting really bad, I'm just sitting there like, you should be leaving right now. You need to get your stuff. You need to get out the door. You need to go home. And I never do it. Every single time. And every single time, I blame myself because I have feet. I can walk if I want to, but I don't. Have you ever asked yourself the other question, like, what makes me stay or what keeps me here? I mean, I do. And I don't understand the answer because it doesn't make sense why being happy 5% of the time makes you stay. You do love your partners, right? And so a lot of times what you really want is just for the abuse to stop, but you still want to be with your partner. I mean, we have happy times. We'll cuddle and laugh. Sometimes even cooks or makes us tea. You can say, okay, I should be leaving. And if you don't, it's just like today wasn't the day that I would leave.


As opposed to blaming yourself, because then that might keep you there a little longer. Like, okay, it didn't happen today, but it can happen tomorrow. What are you doing with your life? I know you're at that boy's house. My assigned counselor has been leaving me voice notes. I never even listened to them. So don't shut down because you're with this boy. We already spoke about this. The weather was bad. You don't do snow. I know all your excuses in the book, but right now the weather is better. So you should have been here today. So obviously if I don't see you later, that means it's not good, okay? So call me or show up. Bye. When the news cycle started, I told him I had to go back to school. And I even five minutes later, he held me down and started sucking on my neck. I was like, get off, babe, you're hurting me. He didn't do it for very long, but he did it hard enough to leave a huge dark purple mark. I guess he was trying to mark his territory. When you haven't gone to school in a really long time and you come in with a hickey, that looks bad.


I tried to cover it up. I felt like my teacher is going to look at me so disappointed. Testing, testing. Courtney. Courtney? Hello? School just ended about 15 minutes ago, and today is the first day I've been in school for at least the past month. Not something I'm very proud of. I'm sure you're thinking, who the hell stays with someone like him for this long? Believe me, I get it. I think I'm an idiot. I don't know what makes me stay. I mean, one time I was trying to leave and he took my sweater into the bathroom and peed on it. He spit in my face in front of company more than once. There are some things he's done to me that are just so embarrassing. I've never told anyone. I don't want people to look at me and say, you allowed him to do that to you and you're still with him. So I just shut down and don't talk to anybody, including Nicole. This is what she thinks of the situation. I feel like basically, you don't leave. It's because that when you come home, there's really no one here. She means that my mom works a lot and spends weekends at her boyfriend's, so she's not always home.


Personally, you really have nobody. I feel like that's the real reason, because you're used to that environment, always being with him every day. I know it's hard for you always say it's hard for you to make new friends. Meanwhile, it's really not that hard? I mean, I didn't have that much of a hard time making friends when I was younger. I wasn't like that. I don't know when it changed or how it changed, because you shut down your whole confidence. It's hard to come back when you don't talk to anyone. Like, you haven't talked to or interacted with a person in how long, and you expect to interact with new people. Yo. Hello. Hi. What are you doing? Are you drunk? You promise? Nah, man. Because you talking like you're twisted. Why are you laughing? Are you laughing because I'm an idiot. I'll think about all the stuff he's done to me. What? And just be like, I hate him. I hate him. What? I hate him. What are you talking about? You're going to put him on nothing? I'm going to stab you in the face, not chew. All right, bye. I feel like he doesn't take you serious.


He doesn't take you like, you don't. You don't scare him. I think this wouldn't have happened with someone my own age. I mean, Tony was the first guy I was ever seriously with. I didn't know anything, really, about being in a relationship, so I trusted him on how he thought things should be. In the beginning, I was always worried that he would break up with me. I remember the first time he did. I was just shivering, literally shaking. I didn't know how to be without him. I can't believe that I've been with him for five years now. That's over a quarter of my life. The first 50% of my life, I was probably my pants. And my mom was on drugs, so I blocked a lot of it out. Then I was that for the next five years, then I have this. I'm wasting my life. I see. Yep. So, another diary?




It's just come to a point where I'm pretty much unhappy all the time. I can't do this much longer. I get told all day, every day that I'm an evil monster. And men's are the one that made the Marizano bridge. This lost me. That's what he says to me. Women are evil, and if you're born with a vagina, you deserve to suffer. He yells at me and tells me that I'm not learning because I don't agree. How would I agree that I need to be punished just because I was born? The longer I live with him, the more angry I get. He won't let me express my emotions. He won't let me cry. He won't let me yell. Some girl kept coming around. She would not leave him alone. I wanted to beat her up, but then she started telling me what was actually going on, that she'd been seeing him on and off for the past two years. This isn't the first time he's cheated on me. But she's the youngest. She just turned 15, and Tony's 25. Now. He's doing the same things to her that he did with me. I always felt like I needed this huge epiphany or something crazy big to happen to end the cycle.


But something just broke inside me. A switch turned off, and that was. I'm done with him. All right, mom. I want you to be as truthful as possible. And don't think I'm gonna get mad at you for anything you say. I haven't really been home since I got together with Tony. I haven't had a chance for my mom to baby me. I feel like I missed out on that for a lot of my life, actually. What did you say when I said me and him were breaking up this time?


I said, thank God.


Did you believe me?


I prayed so, yeah, I wanted to believe you. Yes, absolutely.


Are you wetting your truth down? Maybe just a little bit, because I got mad at you last time you said that.


Yeah, you did get mad at me the last time I said that.


Last time you said. How did you say? Oh, I said that we were broken up. And you said, for how long this time? In two weeks, you're going to be back together? Something like that. Is that how you really felt?


Well, that's how it's been. Basically. The longest you've broken up so far is six months.


Do you think my relationship with him is like a drug or like an addiction?




It's like putting you.


Yes, I do. I think it's a drug that you can't seem to stop. You know it's no good for you, and you want it. You want to caress it, you want to hold it. You want to be in your body, to be next to your body. You want to suck in every minute, thinking it's life, and then when it's over, you feel that it's not.


Does my behavior remind you of in any way of your own?


Absolutely. Just like me, only mine was with the drugs, and I couldn't stay away.


Do you think I was in any way more susceptible to being in an abusive relationship because of how life was growing up?


I actually didn't see that coming. But I do see, as a caretaker, you want to take care of a man, and I'm kind of the same way.


You also kind of take care of pop up like he's your child more than you take care of me like I'm your child. Pop up is my grandpa.


You're not a child anymore.


If this could record my face. Yeah. So I don't know if there's anything else I'm supposed to ask you.


I'm glad you're not with him now.


So am I.


And I love you with all my heart, all of my heart, all of my being and all my body, and I don't want to see with him. I really don't. I hope you can find somebody, a better somebody that you deserve. Someone that deserves you.


So before I end this recording, do you believe this is the last time?


From your lips to God's ears, yes, I'm going to believe. Definitely. Power and prayer.


All right, I guess we'll end on that note.


When we first broadcast the story back in 2015, we did get a hold of the ex boyfriend, Tony, and we asked him for an interview, which he did not want to do. We told him what was in the story. He sent back a short response saying that many of her claims were inaccurate, but he did not specify which ones. He also said that in a couple cases, she left things out. Rainey never got back together with him. She graduated high school, moved out of state, went to college, got a master's in economics, and is working today. Rainey's story was produced in partnership with radio rookies at WNYC with Courtney Stein, Andrew Mambo and Kari Pitkin. They have a podcast where you can check out more of their stories. You can find out slash shows slash rookies coming up. Getting a chance for the first time to really, truly find out what somebody's been thinking of you all these years. That's in a minute from Chicago bubble radio, when our program continues. Just american life from Ira glass. Today on our program, what's going on in there? Stories where we go into situations where people think they know what's going on and we find out what's really happening.


We've arrived at act two of our program, act two, RSV Pa. Back when Larry was 20, for his whole life, he'd wondered what was going on in there with his own father. Larry's dad immigrated from Fujian province to America before Larry was born. Came here with nothing. Worked 15 hours a day at a chinese takeout restaurant that he owned. Solari never saw him much, let alone talk to him. Larry's parents never tried to teach him Chinese. Solari only speaks English. His dad only speaks Chinese, which Larry says is something that happens in the fujinese community. Some of his friends can't talk to their parents either. And in Larry's case, he has always wondered what was going on in his dad's head. Bianca Gaver has a story.


Larry's dad spoke two dialects of Chinese, Fujinese and Mandarin. Larry could barely tell the difference between the two. Larry's mom spoke to him in English. She felt that since he lived in America, learning English was his first priority, and she assumed that he'd just pick up Chinese. He didn't. So without anybody meaning for it to happen, Larry wound up completely unable to speak to his dad. They've never had a single conversation.


I can't even hold eye contact with him. It's just so hard. It was so awkward. It's like when you're on the subway and you think you saw someone that you know take a quick glance, you meet eyes and you look away as quick as you look away, because it's awkward.


Larry's dad worked so late, sometimes Larry would go days without seeing him. And even when they did have a rare chunk of time together, it wasn't exactly quality father son time. It was actually the opposite.


Especially if we're, like, having dinner together or something and my mom's not home. He'll calm me down and I'll sit at the table, and we'll just both be picking at the food, not saying a word.


And then it would be complete silence the entire time you guys are eating?


Yeah, definitely.


Can you list off the things that he would say to you that you could understand?


It really just came down to whether I was, one healthy or two, hungry. And if I was not hungry and if I was healthy, then I was. Goodbye. It was definitely upsetting, especially growing up. But I think it got to a point where I just didn't really register that feeling anymore. I just started feeling nothing for him. When I would see him, he would just be basically a wall to me, just like a third wall, and just like I'd walk right past him.


When Larry was eight, his little brother was born, and his parents sent his brother to chinese school. And as he grew up, his brother could talk to his dad. The two of them got along great. Larry would watch the two of them making jokes with each other, laughing, smiling. Before that, he said he didn't even know his dad could laugh. And Larry's feelings shifted. He remembers thinking, oh, I was the testing ground. I was a mistake. He figured that his dad realized his blunder not teaching Larry chinese, and made up for it with his little brother, which was great for them, except he didn't make much of an effort to fix his relationship with Larry.


I just really just felt angry towards him. I just felt like just strong resentment because in my head I thought that, you know, he definitely does not love me. And so I'm not going to care about who this person is.


When Larry was 14, the construction business that Larry's family owned in China took off. It was making more money than the takeout restaurant. So Larry's dad moved back to China in order to send more money home. He wrote Larry a letter to say goodbye.


So it's about six pages long. On the left side it's the Chinese, and on the right side it's the English that my aunt translated.


Larry got the letter after his dad had already gone. Here are some excerpts read by Larry.


Son, I remember the days after you were born. I was thankful because your arrival brought me a brilliant outlook in life. When I wrote this letter, I struggled tremendously. However, it is a father's duty to mentor his son. I cannot communicate with you. Time flies. In the blink of an eye, I will turn 40 years old. In another two or three years, you will leave mom and I to attend college. Learn the necessary skills, be independent. Sorting and organizing your books to keeping your desk clean will leave a good and lasting impression on others. Before you go to school every morning, remember to eat something. Do not pressure yourself. As long as you are unafraid of working hard, there will be a path for you. I cannot speak English, and I've been able to support my family all these years. So relax and do your best. Thank God for giving me the courage to write this letter to my oldest son. I believe deeply that to gain anything, we must surrender something. Conversely, anything that you surrender, you must gain something back. Pardon for my sharing. Ba I read it through the first time and by the end of it, I'm really crying.


It just really hit me hard because that was the first time I ever said I love you. Every line just made me start crying over again.


So this is like one moment where you realize everything you thought was totally wrong.


Yeah. I felt so guilty because it was basically my fault for not understanding that this is actually how he feels.


Some part of you like, why didn't you tell me this earlier?


No, because my dad's main focus was making sure we have a place to live and we have food. In my head. I envision my dad working, like 14 hours a day. Standing by, just hot oil cooking and lugging around boxes and stuff like that. So when I put it into perspective, I realized he bears a lot more burden than I do. Than I will ever bear.


What Larry saw in the letter was his dad had been thinking about him. All this time, he had been noticing him and worrying about him. So Larry gets this amazing letter that totally changes how he sees his father. And he never writes him back. Remember, he was 14 in middle school. Wasn't mature enough to know how to respond. But he decided he'd study Chinese someday. So he could finally talk to his dad. He started taking classes in college, but he's still not fluent. Six years later, he still never had a real conversation with his dad. If he couldn't do it in Chinese, he figured it'd be the same as it always was. But a few months ago, he started writing a letter. To finally respond to the letter his dad sent. Years ago, we hired a translator to turn the letter into Chinese. And our translator coached Larry on how to read it. We recorded Larry reading the letter and edited the sound so it would all be perfect. The plan was to get Larry's dad on the phone from China, play him the recording of the letter, and then they'd talk. With the translator's help.


Larry was excited to finally get a sense of who his father was, where he came from, what he thought about, and that's what we did.




Okay, Larry, you want to just. We got Larry's dad on the phone and played the recording for him. For the first time, his dad heard his son speak in a language he could understand. Here's what his dad heard. And here's the english translation read by Larry.


Dear Ba. When I think about our house when I was a kid, I think about mom cooking greens and soy sauce chicken. I think about the whole family yelling at each other over the dinner table. Typical Fujinese. It's so loud. And then I think about you reading a book on the couch, totally silent. Sometimes mom would come up to me and say, go spend some time with dad. I remember saying, there's no point. We can't even speak to each other. She'd say, just try it. But I just shrugged and went back to my room. Then I got your letter. I've read it countless times since high school. I treasure it and read it. Sometimes when I feel down about myself. It makes me feel better about myself, about family. But the most important thing about the letter was that for the first time, I felt like you were speaking directly to me. And I was so surprised by how emotional you were. And when I read that letter, I thought, here's someone I care about, I appreciate, and I want to get to know better. I had so many questions for you at first. What your childhood was like.


What would you do for fun? Who were your friends? Did you know you were going to be working in a chinese takeout restaurant for two decades? Did you enjoy it? Did it mean anything to you? But then I realized that everything I thought about you my whole life was completely wrong. And I felt guilty that I never tried to get to know you. I'm so sorry. But it's not too late. Now that I know a little more about who you are, I want you to know who I am, where I live, where I like to go, who my friends are, what I like to do, what instruments I play. I'm learning trainings now in school. Hopefully one day we can actually talk about all these things for real, face to face. Till then, I'm happy to simply know how much we care about each other. I love you. Ba aini. Larry.




Says with me.


Thank you.


So what's your reaction? Nati fai ing shujamna. I'm quite touched you didn't wambugo. I haven't quite caught up to my own emotions at this moment. I feel this is the most you've ever talked to me. Yeah. So is there anything that you've wanted to ask me about my life? Yeah. In terms of planning for your life. I care about whether you have a girlfriend or not. You start to get worried when you're getting to the. Might have your own plans, but I worry about those things. Larry, you're on. I don't have a girlfriend right now, but besides that, I just wanted to know, was there anything in the letter that surprised you? Once I listened to your letter, I felt a sense of contentment. I feel I will, from this moment on, always look at you differently. You're no longer a child, no longer a boy. And I just feel very relieved that you can express these things with me through the letter. When did you realize you couldn't talk to me? Where you realized that you couldn't communicate with your son? There are moments where your mom wasn't around. And all I could figure out with you is whether you're hungry or not.


And if you are, I'll give you food. But anything beyond that was impossible. And those are very painful moments. And I also hope that you don't have to make choices like this between your family and your work, I hope you have a happy family, that you will have a different life than what I did. See, Gang Yi Ho chuji. The jati sound. Papa Jiang. Yeah. I mean, I understand everything that you did, for what you did. I don't think you're any less, any less of a father gender joy. Well, thank you. Thank you, my little boy, for saying this, but I do feel regretful and guilty as a father, as a husband, for not be able to take care of the family. It's okay now. I love you. And we're here. I just waited a really long time to say that. What's that? What are you thinking? Well, you're just like me. I'm not very good at expressing. I like to hold my feelings, my thoughts to myself. And maybe that's something we can work on together. We would tell each other more. We would tell each other sooner how we feel, what we think.


Yeah. I definitely look forward to building our relationship, just learning more. I am thousands of miles away from my son, but I feel like I'm sitting next to him for the first time.


At this point, everyone in the room is crying. Larry, me, my producer, even the translator. Larry and his dad text regularly now. Larry's Chinese is now good enough where he can understand most of what his dad says, and he can put the rest into a translation app. I read their texts, and it's not deep. It's just normal. Before all this, Larry thought he'd feel closer to his dad if they talked about who his dad's friends were when he was young, what his dreams were. But their texts are the dumb, small things you text with anyone you love. Larry's dad reminds him to buy his mom a present for Mother's Day and complains that his little brother is ignoring his text. He tells Larry to be careful walking home late at night. Larry texts, school is good. Weather's starting to cool down. His dad asks him how his new job is. And finally, make sure to take care of yourself and eat more food. Larry sent him a thumbs up emoji.


Bianca Gaver. She's a filmmaker and the host of the Constellation Price podcast from Believer magazine. A few years back, Bianca made a few videos for our program that are a lot like this story about Larry. It was this project that we did called videos for you, and the idea was that Bianca would help somebody say something that they were having trouble saying to a friend or a family member by making a video to help them say it. These are really fun to watch. You can see them at our website, LARRY since we first heard this story, he has gotten into radio also. He is a producer at NPR's throughline podcast. What a Dave's program was produced by Hannah Joffie Walt with Zoe Chase, Sean Cole, Stephanie Boo, Mickey Meek, Jonathan Medhivar, Brian Reed, Robin Simeon, Alyssa Shippen, Nancy Updyke. Our editor for Today's show, Joel Level. Julie Snyder was an editorial consultant on this show. Production up from Lily Sullivan. Additional production help on today's rerun from James Bender II, Michael Comete, Catherine Raymondo Stone Nelson, Safia Riddle and Matt Tierney. Research help today from Julie Beer, Michelle Harris and Christopher Chitala. Music help today from Damien Gray from Rob Gettis.


Our website,, where you can watch those videos Bianca made or stream our archive of over 800 episodes for absolutely free. This american life is delivered to public radio stations by PRX, the Public Radio exchange. Thanks as always to our program's co founder, Mr. Tori Malatea. You know, at his job these days running Rhode island public radio, he is always asking the tough questions. No detail is too small for him.


What do you do when you do the roof? How you connect this? How you put joist hangers? What is distance between in that? Can I do this instead of that?


Her glass back next week with more stories of this american life.