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Writing inspired by my daughter's death


My daughter's suicide
Carl Djerassi Scientist
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On July 4th 1978... July 4th the holiday... she came over to me. We were sitting by my swimming pool and had a wonderful conversation. Talked about all kinds of things. We’d taken a wonderful skiing trip together, she and I. A cross country skiing trip that... earlier that year in the spring. And the following evening as I came home, I had this panicky phone call from my son in law reading me my daughter’s suicide note, but her suicide note said, I’ve... I’ve gone into the woods to kill myself. And... but he didn’t know where she went. Well, he asked would I help him? Well, of course... I mean what... what can you do? You know, you’re talking about wild forest and there was no evidence... We, of course, called the police immediately and we thought notify a radio station or something because if someone finds her then... we assumed that she would be taking pills. If you can find her in time you could do something, and we did not find her body for... for days. And, of course, at that point did not know whether she’d really killed herself. My wife, that was the first time we really spoke again. We really were not on... I mean she was not on speaking terms with me. She actually went... I couldn’t believe that because she’s a highly educated kind of person. Even went to a sort of a medium who told her that she was communicating with my daughter and she is, in fact, alive somewhere. I mean I just could roll my eyes, but what could I do about it?

My son was in Argentina filming and was notified and immediately started flying back from Buenos Aires. And I was at home four days after that, and it was already dusk. It was very dark and I was in the kitchen. I have, sort of, a small kitchenette. Well, kitchen is the wrong word. It’s such an elegant house but so small, and I stood preparing some food and seeing the main door, which is all glass, and suddenly I saw a shadowy figure there. And, you know, I had this unbelievable thing that my daughter has appeared, and then I saw it was a man. I went.... it was the ranch manager of Neil Young and he said... you know, they all of course knew about it and tried to help. He said, I think I saw the tracks of Pamela’s car. Pamela went away with her car so her car couldn’t be found. That’s why we thought police and so on could find it because, you know, it was... if they could locate the car you could find the body. And he said he thought he saw tracks in the meadow there and the only reason we’d always overlooked it because, only because the sun had been shining sort of way and you could see them and... but he said he didn’t have the courage to go there. So I quickly called my son in law who’s on the other side. On the side where these tracks were of the ranch and he, the physician, said he couldn’t do it. I mean not that he didn’t want to. He couldn’t. I should do it. So I, you know, drove as far as I could to that place and then started hobbling on my stiff leg alone. So then I saw that car in the distance in... under a tree and then I saw my daughter and already her bloated face. She was dead, of course. She’d committed suicide in the car.

So by that time I’d notified the police and I could already see the blinking light of the ambulance, and I couldn’t open the... I didn’t want to open the door. They then did this. And when we cremated her... decided to distribute her ashes, which is illegal in California strangely enough. You can only do in the ocean but I said, screw the law because that... Pamela and I had discovered once a wonderful waterfall on our property, very hidden and I said that’s where I would like to buried. That’s where I would like my ashes to be thrown. I’m not a believer in burial and promise you’ll do that. Never thinking that I would be spreading the... spreading the ashes of my daughter there, and that’s where we did them. It was... what is even more amazing... well, as a result of it I was her... I was the executor... I was, had appointed been... in her will I was the executor, not her husband, of her property, and I donated all this into this foundation establishing an artists' colony, and that’s really how the artists' colony started there. And eventually gave most of the land that I owned also to that artist colony.

Austrian-American Carl Djerassi (1923-2015) was best known for his work on the synthesis of the steroid cortisone and then of a progesterone derivative that was the basis of the first contraceptive pill. He wrote a number of books, plays and poems, in the process inventing a new genre, 'science-in-fiction', illustrated by the novel 'Cantor's Dilemma' which explores ethics in science.

Listeners: Tamara Tracz

Tamara Tracz is a writer and filmmaker based in London.

Tags: Pamela Djerassi

Duration: 5 minutes, 31 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008