OK, so let's begin today's program with a story about a 25-year-old reporter, namely me at 25. This clip that I'm about to play you was on an NPR program called Let's Hear It, though I have to say, I think the 25-year-old me would find this intro that I'm doing right now to the story to be kind of mumbly and understated. Here's how 25-year-old me kicked off his story.
And now, true-to-life adventure stories.
Yeah, I had flair. That's how I talked back then on the radio.
Today's adventure story began this way. I was sitting outside the office of Betty Bird. She's one of the producers of this radio program, and she's blind.
OK, I'm just going to stop the tape right there. I have so much to say about this, but I'm just going to let this play for a minute or two first. Stay with me here. OK, I'm outside Betty Bird's office.
And I overheard her tell this story. She was walking down the street. She was with a friend. And some woman, a complete stranger, walks up to the two of them, catches up to the two of them. And this stranger says to Betty--
Well, how did you lose your sight? And I said, I don't usually share that with anybody except friends. And she said, well, I just want to know. I just want to know. When did you lose your sight, and how did it happen? And I said, well, I don't really care to discuss that with strangers.
And she said, well, I don't know why. You certainly don't have a very Christian attitude. You should be grateful. I've given money to the blind. You should be grateful. I said, you've never given any money to me, lady, and crossed the street to get away from her.
Now, when I heard this story, I got really excited. And that's because the woman who I've been involved with for the past three years-- her name is Cary LaCheen-- has these sorts of experiences with strangers on the street.
Sorry, I just can't help myself. I have to pause this again. Could there be a more awkward way to say "my girlfriend" than "the woman I've been involved with for the past three years"? Anyway, my girlfriend, Cary-- who's not blind, by the way.
She's only got one full arm. Her left arm stops at the elbow. And complete strangers have approached her on the street to ask her what happened to her arm. So I didn't say anything about Cary to Betty at the time. I was just eavesdropping. But I did go home and tell Cary about Betty's story. And her response was--
Shock and excitement of recognition. I've been pretty isolated from other people who are disabled, for a number of complicated reasons, but I just have never been in a position to really trade those stories with anybody or to hear that other people had the same experience that I did.
So I decided to try to capture stories like this, true-to-life adventures with strangers approaching disabled people on the street, for other disabled people and for able-bodied people to hear. I talked to five people, including Cary and Betty. Here's Donna Vino.
And this one is a series of personal stories, all of them, I'd say, pretty good, told by great, funny talkers. Me, jumping in now and then with narration to point out some bigger lessons that we're supposed to draw from the stories. Playing this for my girlfriend this week-- excuse me-- playing this for the woman I've been involved with for the last year and a half, she had this reaction, which was like, it's clear what you're trying to make and who you want to be, but you're not doing it right.
And I think that's really a good way to put it. I was vaguely stumbling on my way to making the radio show that you are listening to right this second, where people come on and tell personal stories. But at 25, all the moves I make are really clunky. I'm trying so hard. Near the end of the story, when I try to point out some bigger idea from the story, it could not be more didactic.
Now, if you're an able-bodied person listening to this, I don't want to leave you now with fear somehow or leave you scared that you'll say the wrong thing to some disabled person. Here are three general rules that you can follow. Number one, you shouldn't offer help to someone unless they actually look like they need help. And in that case, you should go up to them and you should ask them first if they want your help.
It's really crazy that I thought that it would be necessary to say this after, at that point, 11 minutes of stories where non-disabled people walk up to people with disabilities and make complete jackasses of themselves. Though I have to say, I was surprised, listening back to this recording, how good the interviews are. That part of it I had down.
And also, by my sheer desire to entertain. This story was the kickoff to a series of stories about awkward encounters between people with disabilities and non-disabled people. And in my sign-off to the story, you can hear a little bit of how I sound today, yes, but also a little bit of the teenage magician that I had been not that long before this.
This is Ira Glass. I'll be back next week with more true-to-life adventure stories. Music, maestro. Next week, we hear true-to-life adventure stories from dinner parties.
People tend to--
OK, then there's a clip from next week's story, and then--
Tales of embarrassment and inappropriate behavior by able-bodied people, next week on this public radio program.
This version of the story ran a month before my 25th birthday, and then another version, minus the organ music, ran on All Things Considered a month after that birthday. At that point, I was not a beginner in radio. I'd been doing radio for six years. And at the time, I really wondered if I ever was going to get it.
I was a freelancer, and I was so slow at making radio stories that, to earn money, I also worked as a temp secretary. And I would hear the NPR reporters that I admired the most cranking out these perfect little gems of stories in a day or two. And it was like they had some, I don't know, superpower that was somehow unavailable to me, no matter how hard I tried.
At 25, I was still figuring a lot of things out. And I bring this up today because this fall marks the 25th anniversary of our program, This American Life. And rather than spend an hour looking back, it seemed more interesting to do a show about what it means to be 25. Not what it means for a radio show to be 25, because who cares, but what it means for a person to be 25.
It's such a particular age. You're an adult, but you're new enough to it that it still can feel like you have a long way to go to turn yourself into the person you want to be.
So today on our show, we've collected a bunch of stories about all kinds of 25-year-olds-- some of them struggling, some of them focused and accomplished and not struggling at all, and then a couple who are somewhere in between. From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Stay with us.
Act One: 25 vs. 19
Act One, 29 Versus 19. So our first story in today's program is reported by one of the youngest people on our staff, Noor Gill, who was 25 when she applied for her job here. She is now 26. Hi, Noor.
So Noor, before you get to the person who you're doing your story about, just take a second and remind older people what it is like to be the young, least experienced person in some workplace.
I think it's like, it's scary because you're trying to prove to people that you're not an idiot, but then you think you're an idiot, too. So it's just, it's hard. You worry about the smallest things, like stupid things, like how I would send an email, or like how I'm sitting in my chair. I think you worry about how your coworkers are going to see you. And then you start to realize that no one even cares. I've definitely shown up late, and it made no difference.
Like nobody was paying attention at all.
Everyone else is so busy, no one pays attention. But that's a good thing. Once I realized that, I didn't feel as stressed about every little thing.
OK, so the story that you put together, that people will hear now, it's about somebody who is 25 in the same kind of position that you're in, except in a job where the stakes are higher, right?
Yeah, way higher.
All right. Well, take it from here.
I came across a profile in The New York Times this summer about a 25-year-old who had a job that seemed very consequential, way more consequential than any I've had. She was a scientist working at the biotech company Regeneron, part of the team racing to find a treatment for COVID, where actual people's lives are on the line. And I remember thinking, she's only 25? How'd she even get that job? Her name is Stephanie Giordano. I wasn't the only person who saw the article and reached out.
Yeah, it was like teachers from high school, teachers from college, every single one of my ex-boyfriends' moms.
Oh that's funny.
Why do you think the boyfriends' moms?
Not to brag-- no, I'm just saying that-- I won Best to Bring Home to Mom and Dad in high school.
That's a category?
That was a superlative in my yearbook. Moms love me. But I'm polite.
Stephanie's nice to talk to. She laughs a lot, and she's funny. She has some pink in her hair. Working on a project like this wasn't some huge goal she'd set out for herself. She loved science, but she loves a lot of other stuff, too.
Back in January, she was living in New York City with her roommate and commuting to the suburbs for work at Regeneron's headquarters. And it was then that COVID first became a part of her life, much earlier than for most of us in the US, and long before there were many confirmed cases or anything closed down. She first heard about it at work and didn't think too much of it.
I guess it was like early, mid-January when it became a topic of conversation in the lab, not really in my social spheres or with anyone outside of the lab. Honestly in the beginning, it was just sort of chatting. It was like, let's just keep an eye on it and see how it spreads. It was really just a side idea at the time. And then it got really intense.
Regeneron has thousands of employees working on all sorts of things. Stephanie happened to sit right between the two people in her department who were spearheading the COVID project. Kristen, the lead, sat next to her.
And then right behind me was Vincenzo, who was also on the rapid response team.
The rapid response team wasn't working on a vaccine. They were making a drug to treat people who got COVID and help them recover. The idea was to make a cocktail of different antibodies to neutralize the virus.
Kristen and Vincenzo were talking about the plan constantly across Stephanie's desk, and Stephanie couldn't help but overhear. But she was busy with her own assignments, until one night-- this was still back in January, early in the outbreak-- when she was getting ready to take the 5:30 shuttle bus to her train back to the city. She saw Kristen and Vincenzo were in for another late night, and offered to stay back and help.
I saw if another set of hands were there, it meant that they can go home at 8:00 PM instead of 9:30 PM. At that point, I didn't realize that one day would probably be a lot longer than just one day of taking the later shuttle.
Raising your hand to be the one who stays late? This is something we know how to do at 25. I'm very familiar with this move. Within a few days, Stephanie had dropped all her other projects and was working full-time on the COVID treatment. Her team's project was to come up with a way to quickly screen which antibodies actually worked against the virus.
As part of that project, Stephanie's assignment was to make what she calls a virus-like particle, a fake version of the coronavirus that could infect cells. It came down to testing hundreds of different recipes, getting the conditions exactly right. She was working long hours, lots of weekends as the team rushed to get the project in place. Her job was slowly becoming her entire life.
At some point in February, months before anyone was wearing masks, before COVID was even officially a pandemic, she started to get nervous riding the packed train every day to work. So in March, she moved from her apartment in Manhattan to a temporary place near Regeneron's headquarters and threw herself fully into the project.
I was so excited. Yeah, it was just like a pretty huge undertaking. It was a little sad. I felt really weird leaving the city. I felt weird.
I couldn't see anyone. So I didn't see my boyfriend for like almost two months. And it felt really-- it felt really hard to prioritize what, at the time, was just my job, just putting my job before a lot of things that I normally prioritize. But I just knew that in my heart, that this was going to be something much more important.
After that, every day she'd wake up in her empty Airbnb, drive the seven minutes it took to get to the lab, spent hours each day alone in that lab that had to be kept dark, staring into a microscope. She'd stay there until around 10:00 or later, only to drive back and do it all over again.
It was just really lonely. I hadn't ever lived alone without any roommates before, so that was really weird. It was really quiet.
Was there a day or a week that it was just so lonely that you thought maybe you couldn't do this anymore?
I just remember being up at 1:30 in the morning, and the TV in the bedroom-- I didn't really know how to use the remote because I never really watched it. And I just turned it on, and it was on PBS. And it was LCD Soundsystem's live recording from like 2012, and it just made me incredibly sad.
And then they played the song "All My Friends," which is just this song about no matter what, at the end of the day, whatever happens, you have the people in your life, and they're always going to be with you. Here I was in this apartment alone, doing God knows what. I haven't seen anyone I love or care about, and I don't know the next time that I will. And I was just watching. I just started hysterically crying, which is really dramatic, but I think that was probably the lowest moment.
Meanwhile, outside of Stephanie's Airbnb and the lab, things were turning for the worst. Hospitals in New York worried about having enough PPE. The schools, restaurants, and bars started shutting down. There was one moment during those first few intense months of work that stood out to Stephanie. It was when she finally got one of the first key steps in the experiment to work.
She was testing to see if her virus-like particles, the fake viruses, were infecting cells and acting like the real thing. To do this, she designed an experiment that would cause cells to glow green if they were infected. She spent days trying to get the conditions right. And then one day--
Oh, my god. I was on the Zeiss, one of our microscopes here. And you can scan the whole plate, and it's like 3,000 images. And I just remember it hit like 1,500, and I saw green. And I was like [GASPS]. And I just ran out of the room and found my boss. And I was like, I think it worked.
How did your boss react?
I think everyone else was like, yeah, it works. Of course, it works. But for me, I was like, but it worked when I did it.
When you're new and not used to things going right, even getting the smallest thing to work out can feel huge. Getting those cells to light up green was just a tiny step in a thousand other steps that ultimately worked out. Regeneron started testing their antibody cocktail in June. It was one of the treatments President Trump got back in October, and it was just approved to be used in emergencies by the FDA last month. It's not a cure-all, but the treatment has been shown to help some high-risk patients.
Do you ever feel like-- this is going to be a sports analogy-- but like you're a rookie who played a couple innings on a team that won the World Series? Do you ever feel like that?
Oh, yeah, absolutely. Yeah, that's actually a really good way to put it. I guess, to stick with the sports analogy, a lot of the time in big meetings and stuff, I would be on the sidelines, listening in. And even if it was data I helped generate, I'd still be like, wow, who put that together? That looks amazing.
You're so modest, Stephanie.
I wish I could be like-- I think I can fluctuate between thinking I am a god-- not really, but being like, wow, I look awesome. I'm doing awesome. I got a 401(k).
Yeah, that's better than me.
And then I'm like, oh, I'm just a regular idiot, just trying to figure [INAUDIBLE].
Do you think this is going to be the biggest thing you'll ever do in your life?
It's kind of sad to think of it like that, but I can't imagine anything else being as impactful. Hopefully, it doesn't end here.
So it's not all downhill from here?
It might be. Maybe I have a quarter-life crisis and let myself go. I don't know. But I hope not. I'm hopeful about it.
She told me she knows she isn't some super genius. A lot of scientists could have done what she did. She just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
Noor Gill is the production fellow of our show.
Act Two: Buy Like a Butterfly
Act Two, Buy Like A Butterfly. So we turn next to another 25-year-old who's already achieved some things in her life-- in fact, achieved at a level that most of us never get to, even when we're older. Her name is Claressa Shields, and she has won two Olympic gold medals in women's boxing. And in addition to that, all kinds of other championship titles, and belts, and accolades.
But this year, this year at 25, her big accomplishment was different. With boxing shut down for COVID, she bought a house. She bought a house on the outskirts of her hometown, Flint, Michigan.
Sue Jaye Johnson has known Claressa for almost a decade. She made a radio story about Claressa with the documentary series Radio Diaries, and then produced a film about her called T-Rex, Her Fight for Gold. She got in touch again with Claressa to ask about this latest achievement.
Sue Jaye Johnson
The idea of Claressa owning a house is wild to me, because I've known her since she was 16. I met her at a boxing tournament in 2011. I was photographing and interviewing the women who were competing to be on the first-ever Olympic team for women's boxing. It was Claressa's first adult tournament, and she made heads turn.
Sue Jaye Johnson
She was faster and stronger than any other boxer, but what really caught my attention was this determined look in her eyes. That, and the way she thumped her chest when she won, like she was already the greatest. Claressa's one of my favorite people. It's been a privilege to have a front row seat on her life all these years, including this new chapter.
Ever since she was 16, she told me she wanted two things-- a gold medal-- she got her first one a year later-- and a house, a safe place for her and her family.
Sue Jaye Johnson
She gave me a little tour of it on FaceTime.
So here we are at my house. This is my fireplace here. On top of my fireplace I have, of course, my TV. Then I have the 2020 Barbie doll of the year.
That's my smoke detector. I haven't changed the batteries.
Sue Jaye Johnson
It's nice. Not massive, but big. Brick and gray vinyl siding with generous windows, a two-car garage. It's got three bedrooms. A Jacuzzi in the master bathroom, which was a big selling point. She says when she first saw the living room, she thought she'd need three or four couches to fill the space. There's also a pool in the back that she says can fit about 20 people, and a yard. In the dining room, a long, welcoming table set for eight. And at the head of it, a hint of her royalty.
The queen chair is down there. That's my chair. All the other chairs don't even have the studded diamonds. That one does.
Sue Jaye Johnson
You have a chair studded with real diamonds?
Why not, Sue?
Sue Jaye Johnson
Because you have a throne. I don't know. Who thinks of that?
It's only two chairs. It's only two chairs, so it didn't cost that much. And then we come over here where I have my trophy case, which I only got one more drawer to fill.
Turning 25, the most exciting thing that I've done is buy my house. I'm like a big person with numbers. So 25-- 2 plus 5 is 7, and 7 is my favorite number. So I knew that something special would happen at 25 in my life, but I just didn't see me buying a house. It all just kind of just happened. I just feel like it's the opposite of what I grew up in.
Sue Jaye Johnson
Claressa never had a solid home for very long growing up. She lived at something like a dozen addresses before she was 17, had to deal with all kinds of abuse and deprivation. And it started early. She was moved out of her mom's place when she was five.
And I lived with my grandmother to the age of nine. And all this time I spent away from my younger brothers and my sisters. Also, too, moving back in with my mom abusing alcohol. And moved out from with my mom and moved in with my coach, Jason. That was my decision.
Sue Jaye Johnson
Jason and his wife, Mickey. Claressa calls her Mama Mickey. That was when she was 17, the first time she had her own bed, her own room. She was there a little more than a year, then started living on her own. Lived in Colorado for a couple years, in Florida for a couple more. Always rented, so now, having an entire house of her own, it's a big deal.
And I have to say, I've had some great moments in my life, as I am a two-time Olympic gold medalist, and nine-time world champion, and three division world champion faster than any other male boxer in history-- any other boxer in history, period.
But when I got the keys to my house, it was this overwhelming feeling of joy and internal happiness of knowing that I'll never be homeless ever again in my life. I'll never have to worry about where I'm going to live. My family, if they need somewhere to come stay, if I can't find them somewhere to stay, I always have an extra room for them. And it just gave me this whole sense of just like, you really grown now.
I have a therapist now, just to help me deal with the stress of not being able to fight.
Sue Jaye Johnson
All of her fights were cancelled this year because of coronavirus. She says it's been really hard on her.
Because I'm used to fighting all the time, and being on TV, and always being on the go. And it's like having to deal with all the trolls on Instagram and Twitter, and just deal with life in general, and how to express my emotions not with anger, and not with tears, and not sink into depression. Depression has got too hard to deal with by myself, so that's 25-year-old decisions, putting yourself in therapy. Yeah.
I couldn't imagine me at 17 owning a house. It just wouldn't work out. I would throw parties all the time. [LAUGHS]
Sue Jaye Johnson
To paraphrase Corinthians, when Claressa was a kid, she had the dreams of a kid. She told me when she was 16 that she wanted to have 10 children by the age of 26, not factoring in the difficult math of that or how 10 pregnancies might affect her boxing career. She laughs about that now, but the spirit of that dream has stayed with her-- surrounding herself with family, being a protector.
And slowly, the details became more realistic. She thought winning the gold medals would lead to a bunch of endorsement deals and that she could buy a house not just for herself, but for her mom, preferably somewhere other than Flint, which can be pretty rough. But the endorsements didn't materialize. So she made the transition from the amateurs to the pros, started earning a steady living as a boxer. And she thought she could at least convince her family to move away with her, which is why it was surprising to me that she wound up with a house in Flint.
Sue Jaye Johnson
I remember the goal that you had was to get out of Flint.
Sue Jaye Johnson
That was one of the reasons why you wanted to get the gold medal, so that you and your family could get out of Flint, is you wouldn't have to live there.
I just know I wanted a better life for myself. I wanted to be more financially stable. I wanted to have food, a bed. So I don't really think it was not being in Flint. I think it was more of like, I just don't want to be poor.
Sue Jaye Johnson
And what about getting your family out? You used to talk a lot about getting your family out of Flint, like keep them safe.
Over time, I've also tried that. When I moved to Florida, my younger brother moved with me. But my younger sister and my mother wouldn't come. It was like, all right, so now I'm just in Florida with none of my family, except my little brother. Can y'all be quiet a little bit?
Sue Jaye Johnson
While we were talking, four of Claressa's nieces were huddled together on the big, gray sectional sofa in the living room. Her nieces and nephews are over a lot these days, playing video games, jumping in the pool. She's strict with them sometimes when the house gets messy. She makes her nephew, Fat Daddy, do the vacuuming.
But she likes having them all there. And there aren't 10 of them, there are 11. She's filled her house with a bevy of kids like she wanted, just not in the way she expected, which is true generally for her at the moment. The life she has now with the house in Flint? It's not what she imagined, but it fits all her needs and desires. It's what boxers do. They respond to what's thrown at them, and they adjust.
But she says, this isn't the end. She still has big dreams. In fact, she just announced that she signed a multi-year deal to be a mixed martial arts fighter, where the money is better for women. She wants to buy a second house, a mansion in Vegas.
Sue Jaye Johnson. She's a writer and filmmaker. Her film T-Rex, about Claressa's journey to the Olympics, you can find at PBS.org. Coming up, a woman at 25 who decides, after years of saying no to her parents about something, to try it their way for once. That's in a minute from Chicago Public Radio when our program continues.
Act Three: The Rest of His Life
It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Today's program, 25. To commemorate our 25th year on the air, we have stories today about people, human beings, who were created the same year as our program. We have stories of 25-year-olds.
And I just want to note, before we go to the next story, that the one other thing that we have done to mark our 25th year is that we set up a web page with a list of favorite episodes from over the years. It has the very easy to remember address, thisamericanlife.org/25years. And if you go there, you'll see a mix of audience favorites, but also some deep cuts I bet you have never heard or you probably don't remember if you did hear.
My personal suggestion among those, OK, is the show called "I am From the Private Sector and I'm Here to Help," where Nancy Updike takes you into this world of not the American military, but the private contractors who worked alongside the military in Baghdad in 2004. And the episode is part-- I don't know-- like The Office or Veep, and part a war. There are lots of other shows in addition to that one ready for your holiday listening while you're cooking, or shopping online, or whatever. Anyway, thisamericanlife.org/25years.
And with that, we have arrived at Act Three of our show-- Act Three, The Rest of His Life. So some of us here at the radio show read this essay back in June that really got to us that Mitchell S. Jackson wrote about a 25-year-old. The essay's about Ahmaud Arbery, who was 25 when he was pursued by three white men in Georgia and shot to death while out for a run. The essay was published in Runner's World magazine. And as you'll hear, it leans into the running parts of things just a little bit, but it's also so much more than that.
Mitchell talked to Ahmaud's closest friends and his family members to create a portrait of Ahmaud Arbery that is really unlike anything else we had seen about him. We asked Mitchell to adapt a version of his essay for our program today. Here he is.
Mitchell S. Jackson
Ahmaud Arbery, by all accounts, loved to run. But he wasn't, by his own account, a runner. There's no evidence of Maud training for 10Ks, or full or half marathons, or obsessing over his miles or PR times, but he loved it. Maud would run in a white T-shirt and khaki shorts. He'd run shirtless in basketball shorts. He'd run in a tank top and hoop shoes. As his day-one homeboy, Keem, sums it, he could run in anything.
When Keem was home from college, he and Maud would cruise to one end of the longest-spanning bridge in all of Georgia. They'd do some warm-up stretching and jaunt back and forth across it, a distance of just under 3 miles. The pair would keep a steady pace. But sometimes, Keem says, Maud would push him.
On February 23 of this year, Maud went out for a run. The location of this run was a subdivision in Glynn County called Satilla Shores. It's a neighborhood of waterfront properties, of upper and middle-class families, of retired folk and fresh transplants. No one can know for sure the route he took before reaching Satilla Shores, but he'd set off from his home. So that means there's a good chance that on his run, he passed homes flying a Confederate flag or the "Don't Tread on Me" Gadsden flag, and hella homes warning "No Trespassing."
On February 23 when Maud went jogging, he was dressed in light-colored low-top Nikes, a white T-shirt, and khaki cargo shorts. Maud, who was 25 years old, jogged alone.
Maud's family home in Brunswick, the one where he lived at the time he was killed, is a mere 2 miles from Satailla Shores. But in meaningful ways, it's almost another country. Matter of fact, the poverty rate of what young Black residents call The Wick is a staggering 38%.
The Wick is where Ahmaud Marquez Arbery was born on May 8, 1994. He was the third beloved child of Wanda Cooper-Jones and Marcus Arbery, Sr. Their working-class family included his older brother Marcus Buck, Jr., and sister Jasmine. The family called Ahmaud, Quez, a shortened version of his middle name, while his friends called him Maud.
Maud had a slight gap in his front teeth and dark skin forever burnished by hours outside. When Maud was in middle school, the family moved to a small, white house on Boykin Ridge Drive, where Maud continued to share a room with his brother. Per his big bro, Buck, Maud was the slob.
In high school, Maud landed a gig at the local McDonald's. He did it to keep some scratch in his pocket, but also to help his mother, who often worked two jobs. Some days, Maud's homeboy, Keem, would swoop in from work and wheel them to the Golden Isles YMCA. They would hoop or work out for six or seven hours straight before bopping over to the Glynn Place Mall for the fries and wing combo at American Deli, and heading right back for beaucoup hours more of playing and training. Back then, Maud favored slim jeans, bright-colored polos and rugbys, and kept his hair shorn low with the crispiest of edge-ups.
Maud played football from the peewee league through high school, and ended up an undersized varsity linebacker. But he was also a team captain who led his Brunswick High School Pirates in pre-game chants. Though never cock-diesel strong, Maud owned a super-hearted fearlessness on the field and often astonished his coaches with big hits, and his senior year, made the storied Florida-Georgia War of the Border all-star game.
Not to mention, this was South Georgia football, so Maud competed in a league that produced pros and played before some of the biggest high school football crowds in the country. Before he was an all-star, though, Maud tore his ACL and meniscus in a JV game. While a less dedicated player might have given up, he committed to a laborious rehab. His junior year, he wore a leg brace, a hindrance that diminished his chance of playing in college.
Like Maud, I was a passionate high school athlete. My sport was hoop. Like Maud, no major college program offered me a scholarship. Both Maud and me attended small schools in our home state. Maud quit after a year and returned to Brunswick and his mother's home. I, too, quit my first community college. But unlike Maud, there was no need to return home to my mother's cramped apartment, as I was living there all the while.
The year after he graduated, Maud was arrested for carrying a gun and sentenced to five years of probation, which he violated by shoplifting. A few years after I graduated high school, I was arrested with drugs and a gun, and sentenced to 16 months in an Oregon state prison.
At 25, Maud was a runner who had every reason to believe his life had more miles ahead of him than behind him. At 25, I enrolled in the first of two graduate writing programs. Today, Maud-- dear God, why-- is dead. And I, by grace, am a writer-professor hurtling toward middle age.
At 1:04 PM on February 23, a security camera shows 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery wandering up a sunny patch of narrow road and stopping on the lawn of a sand-colored, under-construction bungalow addressed 220 Satilla Drive. Maybe he wondered what the skeleton of beams, and sheetrock, and piping, and wire would look like when it was finished. Maybe he imagined a family who could afford to live in a place so close to the water.
What we know for sure is that while inside, Maud touched none of the construction materials laying about. We also know that Maud wasn't the first person whose curiosity urged them into the site. Security cameras recorded a white couple one evening, a pair of white boys one day, and on four occasions, what appears to be the same person-- a slim, young Black man with wild natural hair and tattoos on his shoulders and arms. The homeowner will confirm that nothing was ever stolen or damaged during any of the visits.
At 1:07 PM, a neighbor spying on Maud called 911. There's a guy in the house right now, he told the dispatcher, and went on to describe Maud-- Black guy, white T-shirt. The dispatcher replied, I just need to know what he was doing wrong.
The caller watched Maud leave the site. He's running down the street, he said to the dispatcher. Maud jogged past the house located a few doors down of another neighbor, Gregory McMichael, an ex-cop that had once had his power to arrest stripped for failing to attend use-of-force training.
Gregory and his son, Travis McMichael, armed themselves, the son with a shotgun and the father with a .357, and hopped in a white Ford pickup truck. From his front yard, William "Roddie" Bryan saw his neighbors hounding Maud, jumped in his pickup, and joined the chase. Maud ran and doubled back to elude the McMichaels, maybe recalling all the times he'd juked a would-be tackler on the field, only to find himself facing down Bryan's pickup. The elder McMichael, Gregory, climbed into the bed of his son's truck, the one with the Confederate decal toolbox, armed with his .357.
He called 911. There's a Black male running down the street, Gregory told dispatch. Maud fled for minutes that must have felt like an eon.
He found himself running toward a red-faced Travis McMichael who stood inside the door of his truck with his shotgun aimed. Maud zagged one way, then the other. Stop right there, damn it. Stop, shouted Gregory. Maud crossed in front of the hood of the truck where Travis headed him off and shot him in no more than a heartbeat.
The buckshot hit Maud in the chest, puncturing his right lung, ribs, and sternum. And yet somehow, he wrestled with Travis for the shotgun. And yet somehow, he managed to punch at him, fighting for what he must have sensed was the rest of his life. Travis fired his shotgun a second time, grazing Maud's hand. He fired a third point-blank shot, this time piercing Maud in his upper chest.
Shotgun in hand, Travis backed away, watched Maud collapse, and made not the slightest effort to tend him. Per the police report, his father, still clutching his revolver, ran to where Maud lay face down, blood leaking out of his wounds, rolled him on his back, and checked for weapons that he, nor no one else, found.
Glynn County police sirened onto Satilla Drive within seconds of the slaying. They cordoned the scene and investigated. They questioned the McMichaels, Gregory's hands bloody from rolling Maud onto his back. They also questioned William Bryan. And in an act that is, itself, another violence, they let all three go about their merry way as free men for almost three months.
But before those squad cars reached the scene, Travis McMichael, per Brian's statement to investigators in May, called the 25-year-old whose life he'd just ceased for jogging a fucking N-word.
Ask yourself, who deserves to run? Who has the right? Ask yourself, who's a runner? What do they look like? Ask yourself, where do they live, and where do they run? And where can't they live, and where can't they run? Ask, what are the sanctions for asserting their right to live and run or, goddamn-you-me, to even exist in the world? Then question that, too.
The NAACP once defined lynching as a death in which, one, there was evidence that a person was killed; two, the death was illegal; and three, a group of at least three actors participated in the killing. On February 23, 2020, a Black man out for a run was lynched in Glynn County, Georgia. He was 25 years young. His name was Ahmaud Marquez Arbery, called Quez by his beloveds, and Maud by most others.
And what I want you to know about Maud is that he had a gift for impressions and a special knack for mimicking Martin Lawrence. And what I want you to know about Maud is that he was fond of sweets and requested his mother's fudge cake for the birthday parties he often shared with his big sister. That he signed the cards he bought for his mother, "Baby Boy." That he jammed his pinky hooping in high school, and instead of getting it treated like his sister Jasmine advised, he let it heal on its own, forever bent.
What I want you to know about Maud is that the love of his short life, Shenice, told me he sometimes recorded their conversations so he could listen to her voice when they were apart. What you should know about Maud is that he adored his nephews, Marcus III and Micah Arbery, that when they were upset as babies, he'd take them for long walks in their stroller until they calmed.
What you should know about Maud is that when a college friend asked his big sister which parent she'd call first if ever in serious trouble, she said, neither, that she'd call him. What I want you to know about Maud is that he was an avid connoisseur of the McChicken sandwich with cheese. You should know that Maud dreamed of a career as an electrician and of owning a construction company.
You should know that he told his boys that he wanted them all to buy a huge plot of land, build houses on it, and live in a gated community with their families. You should know that Maud never flew on a plane, but wanderlusted for trips to Jamaica, Africa, Japan.
What you must know about Maud is that when Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael, and William "Roddie" Bryan stalked and killed him less than three months shy of his 26th birthday, he left behind his mother, Wanda, his father, Marcus Sr., his brother, Buck, his sister, Jasmine, his maternal grandmother, Ella, his nephews, 6 uncles, 10 aunts, a host of cousins, all of whom are unimaginably, irrevocably, incontrovertibly poorer from his absence.
Ahmaud Marquez Arbery was more than a viral video. He was more than a hashtag or a name on a list of tragic victims. He was more than a headline, or an op-ed, or a news package, or the news cycle. He was more than a retweet or shared post. He, doubtless, was more than our likes, or emoji tears, or hearts, or praying hands. He was more than an RIP T-shirt or placard.
He, for damn sure, was more than the latest reason for your liberal white friends' ephemeral outrage. He was more than a rally or a march. He was more than a symbol, more than a movement, more than a cause. He was loved.
Mitchell S. Jackson. The full essay that he wrote about Ahmaud Arbery, you can read online. It was in Runner's World. He's a poet, a fiction writer. His latest book is a memoir. It is called Survival Math, Notes on an All-American Family.
The McMichaels and William Bryan have been indicted on nine charges each, including malice murder and four counts of felony murder. All three men have pleaded not guilty.
Act Four: Bachelorette in Arlington
Act Four, Bachelorette in Arlington. Linah Mohammad turned 25 this July in maybe the last place that she expected to be-- back at her parents' house in Texas. She had fought hard to get out of that home. Her parents are Palestinian with traditional values.
And of the four kids in her family, Linah is the only one to move out before getting married. And without getting married, she moved away to pursue a career. Being independent is very important to her. But then COVID hit. Linah explains what happened.
After two months in lockdown alone, I thought I was doing OK. But when I did a story for my job at The Washington Post where I admitted to a former prisoner, who was kept in solitary confinement in Iran, that I was losing my mind, and did he have any advice on how I could cope, my boss gently suggested that maybe moving home to Texas, back in with my parents, was the way to go. It was a hard decision to make.
To my surprise, being home was actually fun. I forgot how much my parents act like a comedy duo. They make fun of each other. When my dad, who I call Baba, misplaces his tools, he'll start yelling and gesturing wildly. Mama will start mimicking him until he realizes how ridiculous he looks and laughs.
I'm their only child who grew up in both Jordan and the US, so the one thing they're in alliance on is making fun of how American I am. This was the good side of being home. The bad side? I was immediately reminded of all the ways my parents felt responsible for directing my life.
Mama interrupted a work Zoom meeting to tell me to make my bed and "Walik mshan ALLAH, ratby hal mazbaleh!" which means, please, for the sake of God, clean this dumpster. We also get into screaming matches about how I don't pray enough, which is a funny thing to scream about. And always, we fight about the fact that I am not yet married. I'd be fixing my hijab in the kitchen, and she'd sneak up behind me. Linah, if you wear it high like that, your hairline will recede, and you'll end up alone. What? I'm only trying to help.
In her eyes, I should have gotten married by at least 23. And now I was about to turn 25, which sent Mama into panic mode. 25. For many Arab women like me, turning 25 feels like the cutoff age for eligibility, especially if you come from a lower class family, which I do. I grew up hearing about that age and fearing it.
At 25, you start getting called A'anis, which means spinster. Mama will say, do you think you're still young? Of course, I'm still young. To which she'll respond, "Elly kaddek Endhom O'rr wlad," which means, other girls your age have so many kids, it's uncountable.
The thing is, they act like I don't want to get married, but I do. I want to find someone. In fact, I always imagined I'd be married by now. I just didn't want to do it the way my parents expected-- a traditional arranged marriage.
I thought it would happen naturally. It hasn't. I even almost got married when I was 19, but that was a disaster. Since then, I've tried my way. I've dated in college. I've also used Tinder, Bumble, Minder, which is the Muslim Tinder, and Muzmatch, an unfortunately-named Muslim dating app. It has not worked.
One guy really understood the Arab side of me, but couldn't speak English. Another was so funny, but looked down on women who swore. The guy I was engaged to was charming, but so controlling that he was adamantly opposed to me interviewing men, which is hard when you're a journalist. After all that, I was still alone.
So a few weeks before my 25th birthday, when Mama got a call, seemingly out of the blue, about an eligible boy, I did something I'd never done before. I said, OK, I'll meet him, partly to please her and get her off my back and partly because I realized, if I was so bad at choosing for myself, who's to say my parents couldn't do better? So I agreed to a traditional setup. Our mothers arranged for our first date, with both sets of parents, in my family's living room.
Mama helped me get ready. As I was getting dressed, she reminded me of all the things I couldn't do. Don't you dare tell him that you have PCOS. That's Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. It could make him worried you can't have kids. Don't bring up that you're taking antidepressants, have anxiety, or that you go to therapy, or that you were married-- it was technically just an engagement-- or that you've ever dated before. If he asks about any of this, change the subject.
My date arrived. He was actually kind of cute in person, but it was awkward. Our parents were on a date with us. Though it became a rare glimpse into what my parents are like on dates. Mama, it turns out, is an oversharer, and Baba is super chill.
On these living-room dates, I shouldn't be the one asking the questions, because it's considered the man's job to initiate all conversation. But the guy isn't saying anything, so Baba jumped in, acting like my stand-in. He knows what I'm looking for in a guy, so all his questions were secretly related to my dealbreakers, like I want to be with someone who speaks Arabic. Baba started grilling him. How good is your Arabic? Can you read and write? His mom answered for him. Of course, he can.
Suddenly, the two parents were battling it out. Baba said, can you recite Quran? His mother jumped in. Yes, and his voice is so beautiful. The guy interrupted her. Actually, I can't. I burst out laughing.
I was on the fence. This man wouldn't even make eye contact with me. OK, so he's a shy guy. That means I'd have to drastically tone myself down. But then when he told Baba that, for his job, he can live and work anywhere, I got excited. Other guys had always expected me to give up my career and follow theirs. With this guy, I could keep my job and he could tag along. So what if we have nothing else in common?
But then his mom started talking to me. I was telling her about my life in DC, blah, blah, blah, when she cut me off and said, yeah, I saw that in the ad. My mind just completely stopped. The ad?
I tried not to show her that I was clearly surprised, but in my head I was like, what the fuck is this woman talking about? What ad? I thought someone just happened to suggest to our mothers that we meet. But there was an ad? Mama, who clearly heard this, too, acted like she didn't. They changed the subject, but by the time we got to coffee, it was all I could think about.
As soon as they left, Mama explained it wasn't her who put the ad out. It was a friend. But Mama left it up and kept it from me because she thought I'd hate it. I found the ad. I hate it.
It starts with a line of pink emoji flowers-- an emoji I would never use, by the way. Then it reads, "25-year-old Palestinian. Born in Jordan, living in the US since 2012. Studied here. Beautiful, fair skin, blue eyes, veiled, beautiful. [ARABIC]. Blessed be the most gracious. There is no power except in Allah. She got married without sexual relations." That's referring to the engagement I broke off. "Her request is a highly educated young man. Contact me for the mother's number. Serious inquiries only."
Everything about it makes me cringe-- the fact it exists, the details it includes. My eyes aren't even blue. I don't like what they're selling-- my white skin? my lack of sexual relations? It doesn't include anything about me that I'm proud of or anything that actually mattered. The ad lays out so plainly the enormous gap between who I am and who I would need to be to match with someone in my community. The description of this Linah is so far from me, it kind of hurts to read.
Looking at the ad, I realized I'm probably not going to find the partner I want, someone who's in between two worlds in the ways I am, in the ways I want to keep being. It feels so final. I am 25, and there is no one for me.
But for what it's worth, if I were to rewrite the ad, here's what it would say. Linah, 25, wants to become a foreign correspondent. Loves finding and making stories. She's religious in her own way. She fasts, but doesn't pray. She reads the Quran daily, but has smoked weed before. She has PCOS, goes to therapy, has been depressed, has had anxiety, has a mustache and a beard, will not relocate for a man's career, will not erase herself for your approval. Worries this means she will end up alone.
Linah Mohammad. She's a producer of the daily Washington Post podcast Post Reports. You can find her-- yes, right now-- on Bumble.
This song that you're hearing right now, by 25-year-old Robbie Groat, was written for our program today, performed by the Philadelphia band The Districts with Katherine Lample.
Our program was produced today by Sean Cole and Diane Wu. The people who put together today's show includes Bim Adewunmi, Elna Baker, Susan Burton, Ben Calhoun, Dana Chivvis, Aviva de Kornfeld, Noor Gill, Damien Graef, Chana Joffe-Walt, Miki Meek, Lina Misitzis, Stowe Nelson, Katherine Rae Mondo, Ben Phelan, Nadia Reiman, Robyn Semien, Lilly Sullivan, Christopher Swetala, and Matt Tierney.
Our managing editor is Sarah Abdurrahman. Senior editor is David Kestenbaum. Our executive editor is Emanuele Berry. Special thanks to Lisa Pollak, Eli Hager, Chen Ying, Jing Wang, Zeyi Yang, Oliver Whang, Penina Beede, Julian Brizzi, Jeremy Willis, Gina Grotelueschen, Joe Richman, Tony Householder, Jasmine and Becca Canziani, Alex Might, Rasha Zamamiri, Alex Lee, Katrina Montanez, and DaLyah Jones.
Quick reminder about the web page that we have set up with favorite episodes from our 25 years on the air. There are little blurbs from me explaining what is so special about each of the shows. The website address, so easy to remember, you could probably say it along with me right now, right? thisamericanlife.org/25years. Those are the numbers 2 and 5 in there.
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. Torey Malatia. You know, when he was 25, he was at Woodstock. But all the smoke in the air from all that weed-- Torey was not used to that at all. He kept falling asleep. And while the bands played, he'd wake up now and then to say--
Can y'all be quiet a little bit?
I'm Ira Glass, back next week with more true to-life-adventure stories. Hit it, maestro.