Gifty started dating Raymond—who was sexy, intoxicating, and a preacher’s son—during the first year of grad school. Their relationship recaptures what she felt reading the words of the Song of Songs in secret as a child, relishing their sensual, forbidden pleasure. Raymond liked to host parties where he talked about ideas with his friends while they ate sumptuous foods he’d prepared. He encouraged Gifty to talk about her research. By that time, she’d trained her mice to seek the caloric reward of Ensure by pressing a button with their feet, then changed the conditions so that they sometimes get the reward, and sometimes get a painful shock. Some quickly stopped trying, others stopped slowly, and some (the addicts) couldn’t.
The memory of Gifty’s closeness with Nana leads to memories of Raymond, her first serious boyfriend. Like Nana, he thought Gifty was smart and talented and encouraged her. Her feelings for Raymond are tied up with her old religious feelings—he makes her feel the emotions behind some of the most sensual passages in the Bible. And her memories of their relationship are tied to food that is as abundant and delicious as the food of her childhood was scarce and unsatisfying. It’s symbolically important that her relationship with Raymond occurs around the same time she’s started to test her addicted mice. What Gifty craves is a 1:1 correspondence between her actions and results. She deprives her mice of this correspondence by making their rewards and punishments random. And, in any relationship, it’s impossible to have such a 1:1 correspondence. In a way, she will perform the same experiment on Raymond, sometimes disclosing her thoughts to him while hiding the facts of her life from him at others.
Gifty’s parents began to fight daily, about money, chores, and the words of Scripture. The Chin Chin Man left his parents and his country for his marriage. He missed Ghana and wanted to go back home. But America was the only home Nana and Gifty had known. Eventually, their father went home to visit family and never came back. Gifty was four. At first, Nana and Gifty’s mother would talk on the phone with her father regularly.
The Chin Chin Man’s challenging experience as an immigrant to the United States eventually breaks up Gifty’s parents’ marriage. His tale shows that not all immigrants to the promised land (in this case, America) are ultimately successful. Some decide that their home is the promised land instead and return. Because sacred words are a way that Gifty—and her family—understand themselves, it’s fitting that her parents’ fights include disagreements over scripture. The verse to which her father alludes when he talks about leaving his parents and country is Genesis 2:24. But the Chin Chin Man’s inability to stay, or even to leave his family openly and honestly, show that these words have a limited capacity, in and of themselves, to direct people’s actions.
Adult Gifty thinks about how callous her mother is, reminding herself that calluses form over wounds to protect them. She feels angry when she thinks about how the Chin Chin Man abandoned his family to fend for themselves and lied to them about coming back. But her mother never said anything bad about him and didn’t want Nana to hate him either.
Remembering the way that her father abandoned the family gives Gifty a greater sense of compassion for her mother. And her mother’s refusal to speak ill of the Chin Chin Man, or to allow her children to do so, reveals part of how Gifty developed her extreme reluctance to talk to others about her pain and suffering. She was taught, early on, that it wasn’t acceptable to complain.
The addicted mice are the most interesting to Gifty. During her mother’s second depression, she was trying to find ways to “turn on” the neurons that should have stopped the mice from their addictive behavior. She remembers another dinner with Raymond and his friends, where she described her work. They thought she was interested how people restrain themselves, not understanding that addiction changes brain chemistry so much that the mice are no longer “themselves.” Raymond’s friends connect this idea to words from King Lear. Gifty didn’t stay to wash dishes. She was upset that the others only seemed to talk and identify issues, rather than doing something to solve them.
Again, Gifty’s assertions that she went into neuroscience because it was hard, not because of her family history, are contradicted by her affection for the addicted mice, which are clearly representative of her brother’s addiction. Looping back to the beginning of the chapter, Gifty remembers a less than pleasant experience at one of Raymond’s dinner parties. Raymond, who appreciates her talents, encourages her to talk about her work. But when she does so, his friends don’t seem to understand why the work is important to Gifty, because (as she believes) they would rather talk about issues than look for solutions. Their inability to see things the way she does causes a rift between her and Raymond, and makes her distrust sharing herself with him in a truly intimate way.