Released: November 23, 2015
Deirdre Wells, Limetown survivor and Max Finlayson’s ex-wife, reveals what incited The Panic.
Transcription by /u/jaimefeu Edit
After what transpired with Dr. Max Finlayson and the subsequent media explosion, APR took the utmost precaution with the safety of the Limetown team, myself included. I was told that all further interviews will be conducted over the phone.
Gina: There’s gonna be no more travel, Lia. No personal meet ups, no bringing anyone into the studio, ok? Nothing in person, at all. We just can’t ensure everyone’s safety right now. Please don’t put this in your show. We’re all on the same team here.
That was a message from Gina Purri, APR’s Vice President, which was a rather complicated request when I was contacted by not only another Limetown survivor, but Deirdre Wells herself. The wife of Dr. Max Finlayson.
Lia: Deirdre, I’m so sorry about Max.
Deirdre: I don’t wanna use this time with you to eulogize him. He made a lot of mistakes and hurt a lot of people. The bad part shouldn’t be whitewashed just because he’s dead. I didn’t listen to his interview and I haven’t spoken to him since Limetown, but I can tell you that none of it was true.
Lia: How are you so sure?
Deirdre: Because if he’s the same person he used to be, and everybody’s the same person till the bitter end, then it was bullshit. Even with a gun to his head, it was all bullshit.
Deirdre told me that she wanted to meet. This was on a Friday, and we scheduled a more formal phone interview the following Monday, per APR’s request. Which is why that Sunday, I got on a plane and left the country to meet Deirdre in person. Max told me to change my routine, so I did. No one at APR knew of this trip, I told no one where I was going. I paid in cash, I wasn’t about to let what happened to Max happen to his wife. Or myself, for that matter.
Lia: Deirdre, when Max was on the phone, one of the last things he said was ‘Goodbye, Dorothy.’ Do you know what that means?
Deirdre: He said that? Oh.
Lia: Who’s Dorothy?
Deirdre: We’ll talk soon.
(Limetown opening theme) My name is Lia Haddock, and I’m an investigative reporter for APR. I feel like I should begin by explaining my reasoning for continuing to tell this story, as it seems that it is the loudest noise surrounding our show. I’ve spent many sleepless nights over the last few months asking myself that question and this is my answer. If I don’t tell this story, it will never be told. Someone must be held accountable for what happened. It is bigger than me, it is bigger than APR. This is why I will continue. And that is the last I will say on the matter. I met Deirdre Wells in a park somewhere outside of the United States. Listening back now, I am a little embarrassed at how overcautious I was in speaking with her, but I wanted to leave these moments in for honesty’s sake. (music begins) I was, I am, scared. And you should know that. But Deirdre was calm and patient. She gave me courage and she helped us learn more. Please, stay with us.
Deirdre: I’m sure it wasn’t easy getting here.
Lia: No, I’m very tired.
Deirdre: Your producers wanted you to do this over the phone or by Skype or something?
Deirdre: And you came here anyway.
Lia: This is personal for me. I wanna see it through.
Deirdre: Great. Then you will. I’m sure you will. (French couple heard speaking in the background) There are two reasons for why I’m talking to you.
Deirdre: First, is that Max deserved better. He just did. The second reason is that I am responsible for The Panic and everyone should know what happened.
Deirdre: But to understand that, you have to first understand the relationship between Max and me.
Lia: Ok, um, when did you first meet?
Deirdre: Ah, uh, Max and I first met at school in 1997, John’s Hopkins. I was getting my undergraduate degree in International Relations and he was getting his PhD in Molecular Psychology. I’d see him at the library all the time. I always wondered who he was, what’s the story, but we never talked. One night, junior year, my friend, Liz, took me to a party at this guy, Jack Sweeney’s house. He lived off campus and had all these German Shepherds, it was very dull. These older, nerdy guys. Max was there, and when I shook his hand, he said 'Hey, the girl from the library.’
Lia: What was he like back then?
Deirdre: Well, he fell asleep on our first date.
Lia: Wait, he fell asleep? Are you serious?
Deirdre: He took me out to this Mexican place, and he looked terrible. Not unattractive, but, you know, wrecked. He told me he’d been awake about 40 hours, working on his thesis. I asked why he didn’t just reschedule, and he shook his head and said, ‘Not with you.’ I thought that was sweet, but not 20 minutes in, during one of your typical first date silences, I look down at my margarita, and when I look back up, he’s out like a light with his elbow in the guacamole.
Lia: So what did you do?
Deirdre: I got up and left him there. (5:40)
Lia: You didn’t wake him up?
Deirdre: He needed his rest.
Lia: That’s actually kind of amazing.
Deirdre: He called me the next day and couldn’t stop apologizing, he was so embarrassed. I gave him grief, but I was charmed. There’s something very attractive about someone with a lot on their mind, isn’t there?
Lia: Sorry, I hate to interrupt, but do you mind if we walk to the other side of the park?
Deirdre: Uh, sure. (footsteps)
On the walk, Deirdre told me about her time with Max when they were at school. She looks back on those days very fondly, even now. In her words, there’s nothing like falling in love when you’re very young and very busy. The optimism was as endless as the cups of instant noodles. (6:25)
Lia: Why did Max say goodbye to Dorothy? Who-who is Dorothy?
Deirdre: I am (laughs). I hate to disappoint, but it’s not some big clue, the key to unlock all this. It’s just, a couple months after we got together, I was supposed to spend the summer in Caracas, on a research grant. I had this little goodbye party. Max got drunk and sulked in the corner all night till I-I finally went up to him and I said, you know, ‘What the hell is wrong with you? This is my last night in town.’ And he got very frazzled and very awkwardly exclaimed, ‘Are-are you gonna call, are you gonna write, are you, are you even gonna think about me?’ He was an emotional robot up to this point so, from my angle, it really came out of nowhere. And I said, ‘Of course, don’t be an idiot. You’re my Scarecrow.’ And he said, “Why the hell’s that?’ I told him, ‘Because I’ll miss you most of all.’ It just became one of those things, I guess. Nicknames, I dunno. He was my Scarecrow. I was his Dorothy.
Lia: That’s nice.
Deirdre: What are you looking at?
Lia: Do you see that man reading the newspaper?
Deirdre: Do you wanna move again?
Lia: If you don’t mind.
Deirdre and Max moved in together. That fall, he proposed on Daylight Savings because, as he told her, he wanted an extra hour of the best day of his life. Max got a job as a professor at Stamford University teaching neuro-genetics. Deirdre continued to work on her PhD in International Policy. But that all changed when Max met Oscar Totem.
Deirdre: He would come into Max’s lecture hall, and sit at the back. Of course, Max knew who he was, but had no idea what he was doing there. He asked around and no one had a clue. Max assumed it to be some kind of vetting process, so he charged ahead, gave some of the best lectures of his career. After about a month of this, Oscar got up, put something on his desk, and walked out.
Lia: What was it?
Deirdre: It was a pin that said I Have Heard the Future. He got the call the next day.
Lia: How did you feel, when Max first told you about Limetown?
Deirdre: Not great, to be honest. (laughs) We were having some problems at the time. I was working very hard on my dissertation, and that was making him very frustrated. He wanted my life to be his life, and his life to be his work. I was who Max wanted, but not who he needed. Max needed a wife who would tell him he’s brilliant and keep the crumbs out of his beard.
Lia: But he loved you, instead.
Deirdre: He did, very much. I told him I didn’t wanna go. I was on this deadline to finish my dissertation and take my final oral exam, which of course I couldn’t do while I was there. And the job that I was offered at Limetown, it, it wasn’t exactly glamorous. We fought about it for days, it was horrible. Breaking dishes, threatening lawyers, it was draining. He was so insistent that I be there, but wouldn’t tell me why. Finally, after a couple days of this, this battle, it’s 6am or something, we’re lying on the floor, both destroyed. He very calmly, very honestly, says to me, ‘I’m going to change the world, and I can’t do that without you. We’re going to Oz and I need my Dorothy.’ So I said ok.
Looking back, Deirdre told me, that’s what hurt her the most. Because even then, Max knew the potential danger, but he brought her to Limetown anyway. (music begins)
Lia: What was it like, when you first got to Limetown? (10:31)
Deirdre: The first thing we did was go to this party, like a big reception in the center of town. I thought it was all very, very weird. Lemonade and Seersucker Suits, that sort of thing. Oscar gave a speech, he was wearing the same pin that he had given to Max. I Have Heard the Future.
Lia: What does it mean?
Deirdre: Oh, it’s a reference to the New York World’s Fair in the 30s. When you went into the General Motors exhibit, they gave you a pin, same design, that said I Have Seen the Future. Oscar said his grandfather gave him one as a kid. He had these made up to look just like them, but with the word changed. Everyone was very charmed by that.
Lia: But you weren’t, I’m guessing.
Deirdre: I don’t know, it was just very disquieting to hear a man talk about shaping the future, but here we are at an ice cream social, while a-a Dixie band is playing Tennessee Waltz. What kind of future is that? Max put the pin on our fridge as a joke.
Lia: So being the wife of Max Finlayson, what was the extent of your knowledge, in terms of the experiments that would take place?
Deirdre: I knew that some people would be tested on and others wouldn’t.
Lia: The control group and the variable.
Deirdre: Right, right. But what he didn’t tell me, what no one told and of us, was that those were the only options. The wives and the husbands and the children of the people at the top, we all thought we were exempt. They made us believe that there was an experiment taking place in Limetown. Only that wasn’t true.
Lia: Limetown was the experiment.
Deirdre: And to live there was to be a subject of it. (12:11)
Lia: Were you scared when Max told you he would get the implant?
Deirdre: Of course. And he only told me hours before it was set to happen because he knew how much I’d freak. Which I did. Would his mind get wiped, would his brain explode like that movie? I, I said, there’s a whole town full of people here for this reason. Why you? And he got very huffy and slammed his hand on the kitchen table and shouted, oh what was it, oh he says, ‘Colonel Sanders ate his own fried chicken every day of his life. That’s why everybody remembers him.’
Lia: Is that true?
Deirdre: I don’t think so.
Lia: Before we continue, could I say something?
Deirdre: Oh boy, do we need to move again? Who is it this time? (laughs)
Lia: (laughs) No, not right now. Um, I’m just struck by how, I don’t know how to say this, uh, how you’re so-
Lia: (laughs) Well, I was trying to think of a more delicate word.
Deirdre: Why? That’s the right one. Truth is, I’m not normal, Lia. Of course, I won’t ever be, but I have to try. Limetown took away everything, all I have left is myself.
Lia: What do you mean by that?
Deirdre: We aren’t allowed to be the people we were before. My mother died last year, it-it took me 40 days to find out. I had my own funeral for her because I-I couldn’t go to the real one.
Lia: What did you do?
Deirdre: I played her favorite song, I cried and told her I missed her and I was sorry. And then I threw a bracelet she gave me into Lake ___ when I said goodbye. It did help, you know. I’m not going to be a zombie or a shut in or a zealot. I try to keep a routine. I watch a lot of movies, learn new things to cook, I take long walks. Parks like this. Tell myself this is still the same, I am still the same. Would it help if we just moved to your car?
Lia: No, it’s fine. I’m fine.
Deirdre: Lia, you’re not fine. And that’s ok. Let’s go to the car. (starts getting up)
Deirdre explained to me how soon after Max was implanted, more and more followed suit. There was no discernable rhyme or reason, as far as she could see, for who was chosen or why. Sometimes whole families would get it, sometimes only one.
Deirdre: It became kind of a thing. A gossip. Who got it, why they were picked. It was, don’t forget, a very small town, and those places are the same the whole world over. We kept up with the Joneses like anywhere else.
Lia: Did you hear Susan got the implant?
Deirdre: (laughs) Yes! And it sounds so silly, given everything, but that’s how it was. At first we thought those of us who didn’t get it, we were the special ones. They were the guinea pigs because they weren’t, I don’t know, smart enough or valuable enough to the project. We pitied them, really.
Lia: And when did that change?
Deirdre: Well, as more people got it, as more people began to communicate non-verbally, they began to feel like the special ones. Us without it, we were the foreigners. Or worse, the ones ruining the party. We were all being silly, it was absolutely a case of, of, what are they keeping from us. There were these memos that went out around work, very, like, politically correct, I guess. In the Interest of a Productive and Inclusive Environment, All Work Related Communication Must Be Done Verbally. Verbally underlined a bunch of times, but you can’t stop people from playing with their new toys, you know? For some people, talking became like a nuisance. I was out to dinner with Max one night, the waiter must have thought we both had the implant because he’s just standing, staring at Max and me. Finally, I say, ‘Yes?’ and he lets out a sigh and rattles off the specials, like so annoyed to be repeating himself.
Lia: That must have been incredibly frustrating.
Deirdre: Right. The people without it, we felt like the have nots. So we naturally began to stick together. In a closed environment, it’s what happens, it’s inevitable. So I thought, ok, this is seriously affecting people. What can I do? So I made an active effort to listen, to talk to people experiencing this, this very sudden and profound loneliness and remind them that they’re not alone.
Lia: Why did you feel compelled to do that?
Deirdre: I don’t know. Max had blinders on, in terms of the human toll. My emotional robot, right? On his quest to change the world, if Max was going to hurt people, I could try and patch them up. I thought, ‘Maybe that’s my purpose. Maybe that’s why I’m here.’ And people responded. Informally, we called ourselves The Old School. It started as a, a joke, but over time it got very serious. Not the name, of course, but the idea that we were different. We were a group. There was this guy, Spence Harrison, he was an admin in the pharmaceuticals building and ran the checkout for the supplements. Before he came to Limetown, he was the kind of guy who did voter registration in his spare time. A true champion of the cause, whatever the cause may be. And in Limetown, it was The Old School. When he first came to Limetown, he volunteered as an EMT with a woman named Alex. They got very close very fast, but after she got the tech, she left him for someone else who had it. I think that really fueled his, you know, he had a jealous streak. He petitioned Oscar Totem. Why can’t we have the tech? Why isn’t it a choice?
Lia: But as someone with a background in science, didn’t he understand the need for a control group?
Deirdre: Of course! Logically, you can ask that now, but the mentality at the time… I went through a Planet of the Apes phase a couple years ago. I know, who goes through a Planet of the Apes phase. I’m boring, so sue me. (laughs) And on one of the director’s commentaries, he talked about when they were on lunch, all the different primates sat together. The chimps sat with the chimps and the gorillas with the gorillas. A bunch of guys in costume. But why? Who knows. These things build. Over time it turned some very rational people very, very bitter. For me, The Old School was like group therapy. For Spence, it was a union.
Lia: How were things with Max, when all this was going on?
Deirdre: Isolating. He was in the club. You know what it’s like, you’re out to dinner, telling a story, and your boyfriend can’t take his eyes up from his phone.
Lia: I heard that’s called phubbing. Like phone snubbing.
Deirdre: That’s very stupid.
Deirdre: So imagine that, only magnified a hundred times over. You are trying to communicate with someone who is in constant communication with dozens of others. And you can’t be let in. Look, Max loved the tech. He loved that he had it, he loved that he was the one that gave it to others, but for me, what could I say? What, what can I? I was lonely, I was idle. I drank, I drank at work. I was angry at Max. I came there to be his confidant and I wasn’t. I couldn’t be. So I told him I wanted it.
Lia: The tech.
Deirdre: For the first time, since the second we met, he was a stranger. I told him I loved him, but I didn’t recognize him and it was breaking my heart. I-I told him he brought me there because he needed me and we were in this together. I said, ‘Please give me the implant.’
Lia: I couldn’t help but notice the scar above your ear earlier.
Deirdre: Yeah. It went on for a little while, I would plead my case to Max that I should have it, too. He would say no. Eventually, I stopped asking. But one night, Max came home, he was frantic. Something was really off. He told me, ‘First thing tomorrow, you’re getting the tech.’ It didn’t feel right, but it was what I’d been fighting for. I told him I had to think about it, and he grabbed me by the shoulders, hard, ‘No, you’re getting it.’ The next night, we snuck out of the house, very late. We walked through the middle of town in these overcoats and big hats like we were sneaking through a rainy film noir. Eyes. That’s all I felt, eyes. Eyes, I-I still don’t know how Max and Oscar managed to keep it from everyone with the tech. They had gotten good at it by that point, I guess. The procedure usually requires five people on deck, but when we got to the lab, it was just the two of them. It had to be a secret, I didn’t want to lose the trust I built. And Max didn’t, either. He recognized the benefit and knew there’d be an uproar if anyone found out. We just, we had no idea how much.
Lia: What made Max change his mind?
Deirdre: For us, I thought.
Lia: You don’t think that anymore?
Deirdre: Of course not.
Lia: Why is that? (silence) Deirdre?
Deirdre: It was hard. Things with Max were just so-
Lia: Just so what?
Deirdre: I’m sure Max explained to you how it worked.
Lia: Yes, about the implant and the supplement. (22:18)
Deirdre: The implant sent out and received the raw material, and the supplement was what shaped it. At least, in theory.
Lia: It didn’t work?
Deirdre: It could express what you’re thinking in a way that words express what you’re thinking, but not why you are thinking them.
Lia: The emotional component. When I spoke with the Reverend, he talked about this, with the pigs.
Deirdre: Start there, then. A pig has an implant, and so do you. You’re late to feed it, so when you get to the pen, you can tell that it’s angry. Now, what if you could ask it, ‘Pig, why are you angry?’ And if it could use the supplement the way that we can, it would say ‘Because you haven’t fed me.’ So you pour out some slop, and all is right with the world.
Lia: But we aren’t pigs. We don’t always know why we feel what we do.
Deirdre: Your husband has the implant and so do you. He comes home late one night, you ask him why he’s angry, and he tells you he’s just hungry. Maybe he transmits the thought of a hamburger to really send the point home.
Lia: But you have no idea if that’s really why.
Deirdre: Either way, you choose to believe him. So it’s a little while later, and dinner’s done. You’re clearing the plates, and he wants to know why you can’t stop thinking about breaking one. So you tell him it’s just because you’re sick of looking at them and if we were in the real world, we could just buy new ones. And he chooses to believe you, too. Now, it’s one in the morning and you’ve just had sex. You’ve both stopped asking about all the other names you think about while it happens, you’ve adjusted to that. He wants to know why you’re so lonely and you wanna know why he’s so bored. But it’s so late and you’re both so tired, that all you can tell each other is Limetown.
Lia: So what did you do?
Deirdre: We couldn’t tell anyone I had the tech, so we had to keep up appearances, but we shut down. Cut out the good along with the bad. We stopped talking, stopped trying to love each other. So, that’s where we were. And then we shared something I thought would make everything better. But that’s exactly when it went to hell.
Lia: The Panic.
Deirdre: I was in this café, Daddy-O’s. I was with Spence and some of the other Old School. Max and I tried to put ourselves on different schedules. I usually wasn’t there so late. But he walked in, and saw me when I was at the counter. We caught eyes, and there was something about who he was right then. Standing there with his hands in his pockets, so familiar. And it all came back. Why he was mine and I was his, I could hear him so clearly, ‘Hello, Dorothy.’ And I was thinking, ‘I was right, Scarecrow. I miss you more than anything.’ And we smiled and I started to cry. And for a second, I thought things would be ok. I wasn’t supposed to have the tech. I was at a table full of people, Spence knew. He saw the whole thing and understood what it was. He grabbed me by the hair, I wore it in this way so you couldn’t see the scar, but he pulled it back. I begged Spence to understand. I didn’t want to lose The Old School. They were helping me just as much as I was them. But I didn’t wanna lose Max, either, I tried to hold on to all of it. That was reckless. And that night, he called an emergency town forum. Spence threatened to strike, he said none of The Old School would continue working until they got the tech. And the people that had it were trying to explain, like, ‘You don’t want this. It isn’t worth it.’ But no one would listen, and I-I was this smoking gun, I guess. It didn’t take long to turn violent. Someone saw two people communicating, or at least so they thought, and threw a chair at them, I-I think is how it started. A big fight broke out, and soon there were riots in the streets, looting. In the morning, we learned that Spence and a bunch of The Old School went into his lab and destroyed the stockpiles of the supplement. It was distributed daily, so no one had any on reserve.
Lia: Why would they do that?
Deirdre: They wanted everyone to feel it. The horror, the confusion. They wanted the tech to hurt us as much as it hurt them. Late that first night, we all received a message from The Man We Were All There For. In spite of all the madness, all the noise, his voice came through. It was the first time I’d heard it. He was telling us to become calm. That was the only way to resist, we must become calm. It was… The Reverend talked about the emotional transfer, which is real. But, it was more than that. It was so intimate, like I’d known him my entire life. And that being with him meant everything would be ok. And for a little while, that worked. But as the supplement wore off, we crashed and crashed hard. The noise was too much, I was vomiting, constantly blacking out. There was nothing we could do. That night, The Old School formed a mob. Doors were kicked in, people were pulled out and beaten. At some point, two men broke into our house. Max put up a little fight, but we were so far gone by then. They dragged us to the center of town, the same little spot we had that first picnic. The Old School had forced the whole town there. Oscar was tied to a stake, his face was bloody and he had been crying. I remember Spence, pinned to the street by some of the others in The Old School. You could see this was beyond him, that it had gone too far, this terror he had built. A woman named Helen Mueller was on a megaphone. She told us that we must all feel death. Oscar must die so that we all will die, over and over again. She asked Oscar if he had any last words. Oscar just screamed, babbling about the future. And then they lit the pyre. I couldn’t watch. The last thing that hit me was the smell. When I came to, I was lying on the ground and there were armed men in all black Kevlar suits swarming the town, pouring out of the houses, the lab, the diner. Like ants. Someone pulled me off the ground by my hair and held a scanner to my head. It beeped twice. He said something like, ‘Keeper.’ And threw me back down. And then I heard his voice. The Man. Before I saw him being escorted away, he said, ‘Don’t be afraid.’ But he wasn’t very convincing this time. And then I heard this sound and I blacked out for real.
Lia: I, uh, I have a lot of questions. But can you tell me who The Man was?
Deirdre: You said earlier that I seemed ok. And there are days when that is true. The days I don’t think I see Max in a crowd, and can go an hour without looking behind my shoulder. Days when I read in the park, try not to smoke. I make dinner and worry about things that don’t matter. Bills, the news. I wait. Maybe I’ll be made happy by some small something, like the smell of new laundry or a-a hand on my back. One of those little reminders that life can be kind. Joy isn’t a memory. Some nights I can even fall asleep without Ambien. But those are the days I don’t think about what happened. I need to remember Limetown and still be able to fall asleep. That’s when I’ll be ok. (sighs) Ok. He was your uncle.
Deirdre: Emil. He was The Man We Were All There For. But you already knew that, didn’t you?
Lia: What are you saying?
Deirdre: You’re part of this, and you always have been. I’m very sorry for that, but I have to go now. I have nothing more to tell you. (car door opens)
Lia: Wait, Deirdre, you-
Deirdre: Don’t let it break you. They’ll kill you if they want to kill you. But if not, don’t destroy yourself all the same. That’s the only fight you have. (car door slams shut) (silence)
(music begins) Then Deirdre Wells was gone. And I was alone. On my flight home, I tried to forget the horrific details leading up to The Panic, a distinctly human tragedy informed by the perils of science. Instead, I attempted to recall every detail of my estranged uncle. Every reference made in passing by my parents, every image captured prior to him not being part of our lives. His connection to Limetown had always anchored me to the story, but the truth was that Limetown had been anchored to him. Built on top of him. How long have I known? Always? The last few hours? I tell myself that I’m not sure. I go to my attic and I look through my things from high school. What am I looking for? I’ll know when I see it. Then I see it. My scarf that I left at home when I went to college, I pull it from the box and stuck to the outside of it is a pin. It reads I Have Heard the Future. I ask myself what else I might be missing. And I’m not sure of anything anymore. (music ends) (closing music – The Tennessee Waltz)
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