Ten days after the start of the war in Iraq, Staff Sergeant Thom Tran crossed the border from Kuwait with his unit. Four days later, he went out on a recon mission, and came millimeters from death when an enemy bullet grazed the back of his head in a firefight. He got relatively lucky; but still, he's spent the last 15 years thinking about how that moment —and his service—have defined his life after the military.
Because for Thom, coming home after his deployment ended was not easy. " I had a real shit attitude because I'd been shot, my roommate had been killed...I was in a real bad mood all the time," he told me. "So I did what every combat veteran does. I fell into a bottle and I sat there." I talked with him about sharing those experiences with his father, who was a POW in Vietnam, and about how comedy has helped him manage his stress in the years since.
From Indie Rockers to Full-Time Caregivers
In 2010, Johnny Solomon's band, Communist Daughter, was on the rise. But behind the scenes, Johnny was struggling —he was drinking heavily, and abusing meth to the tune of $600 a week. "People see it from the outside, but it's impossible to explain from the inside of what it does to your soul," he told me about his addiction. "I did really terrible things to the people I loved." When Johnny realized it was time to get help, he called one of the people he loved most —his mom, Nancy. She paid for him to go to rehab, which helped him get clean and diagnosed him with bipolar disorder.
After Johnny got sober and went on medication, the band regrouped and continued touring and putting out albums. But last year, it was Nancy who needed help, as her health declined due to a degenerative nerve disease. So Johnny and his wife —and bandmate—Molly packed up their life in Minnesota and moved in with Nancy and her husband in San Diego.
It's a very different life from the one they were imagining at this point in their marriage, when they were hoping to start a family. And caring for Nancy has meant that their music careers have been put mostly on hold. But Johnny says there are aspects of the change that feel healthy, especially given the difficulties he experienced trying to stay sober in a touring musician's lifestyle. "I love routine," he told me. "I love it, because when things get out of control then I start to really lose control." I went to their shared home to talk with Johnny, Molly and Nancy about what their life together looks like now—and what's been hard about building it.
Johnny and Molly Solomon in the backyard of the house they share with Johnny's mom Nancy and her husband.
Sharing DNA, and Nothing Else
The consumer genomics industry has exploded in recent years. Websites like Ancestry.com and 23andMe have customer databases in the millions. But for some people, like a woman we met named Amy, the at-home DNA testing craze can bring some unexpected revelations.
In 2016, Amy spit into a tube and mailed it to Ancestry.com's DNA testing service. She'd always been interested in genealogy, so the test seemed like the perfect way to learn more about her heritage —but what she found out was that the man who raised her wasn't her biological father. "I t was this moment where time stood still and things got quiet," she says about the day she found out. "And I just sort of received, read it, and then just shut it off in a way that I've never really experienced."
After the shock wore off, Amy braced herself to talk with her mother about what she'd discovered. And as she learned more about her donor and his family, she also struggled with whether or not she wanted to be in contact with them—a decision that became even more complicated when Amy found out that her biological father is a staunch Trump supporter, while she had switched careers only months before to become a full-time Democratic campaign worker. "I t's like the universe's funny joke," she says. "'Woman gives up her life to join the Democratic resistance, and finds out she's related to a Trump-Pence supporter.'"
Lena Waithe Says Have a Dream... and a Sponsor
Writer and actor Lena Waithe moved to Los Angeles in 2006 from Chicago, right out of college. " I transferred my Blockbuster job from Chicago to LA," she told me. "I t was definitely dues-paying time. I wasn’t even paying dues yet. I was just out there figuring it out."
Lena's goal in Hollywood was to land a screenwriting gig. Growing up, she'd always loved to write—her fifth grade teacher told her she "writes the way she speaks." And she also knew that she wanted a career far outside of the corporate world that her mother worked in. "This is what hell looks like, whatever it is y'all do all day long," she remembers thinking when her mom would bring her into work as a kid.
But those office cubicle jobs were what enabled her mom to financially support Lena during those early days in California. As Lena was making a dollar or two above minimum wage and trying to land small screenwriting gigs, her mom was helping her with her bills. "I think for her it was an investment," Lena says. "She was like, Lena’s going to be somebody. I don’t understand it, but I’ll take it." That's paid off: since landing writing and acting jobs on Bones and Master of None , and creating her new show The Chi , Lena says she's been sending her mom a yearly check. "She sends a text like, 'And I thank you,'" Lena laughs. "And the emoji with the money on its eyes and tongue."
After Suicides, a Texas Veterinary Community Opens Up
"Stress is in the environment. It's that fast pace. [Veterinarians] will do a euthanasia and not stop, and they'll go right to the next case. There's no processing of it."
Suicide statistics in the veterinary profession are sobering: a 2014 CDC study found that one in six veterinarians has considered suicide, and a British study found that the suicide rate in the veterinary profession might be up to four times higher than that of the general population.
But reading the statistics and experiencing the reality of these numbers are two very different things, as the veterinary community in Dallas learned last spring. Over the course of about a month last year, three veterinary workers there—two veterinary techs, and one veterinarian—died by suicide. We went to Dallas to talk to people in the veterinary community about the stresses of their profession, how they remember their colleagues who've died, and what they're doing to take care of each other now—and to prevent more suicides from happening in the future.
We're proud to partner with the Dallas Morning News for this story. They've produced that we've included below. Dr. Kathryn Konieska at the Center for Veterinary Specialty + Emergency Care talks about what the euthanasia process entails, including the emotional toll it can take on a vet.
If you’re considering suicide, or are worried about someone who might be, please get help. We’ve compiled a list of resources . The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255 and is open 24 hours a day.