Transformed not Transmitted
I’d spent nearly a month and a half in the hospital, flat on my back, trying to recover from numerous surgeries due to the complications from being shot. One day Dr. Martin, the lead trauma surgeon who saved my life, told my mother that I needed to go home. If there was going to be a chance of my survival I needed to get out of the hospital. My healing process had slowed, he feared that I was starting to give up fighting, and he was right. Home I went, very relieved to be away from the beeping machines and frantic nurses running around every time someone coded. Loudspeakers would announce code blue and give a location where the doctors & nurses were needed most as someone, somewhere, on my floor of the hospital, was in the process of dying.
Prior to being shot I was a healthy and strong, six foot tall, seventeen year old boy. After the shooting and surgeries, my weight plummeted to a whopping ninety pounds. Looking very much like a malnourished prisoner of war it took nearly another month to start regaining some strength in my muscles that had atrophied from non use.
There was this one day I remember vividly, it was at a point during my recovery when my strength had started to regain better control of my body. It was at a point where I was able to sit up all by myself and even get up by myself and walk very slowly to the bathroom, which is across the hall from my bedroom. On the side table of my bed there was this little bell I could ring if I needed some help in any. Either my mother, sister, or my very good friend Preston Brown – if he was over that day – would come to head my call, assisting with whatever I needed. However, on this day my mother and sister had gone to the grocery store and my friend Preston wasn’t over. For the first time since my return from the hospital I was all alone in the house, completely by myself, and I was thirsty. Well what do you do when you’re thirsty, you get a drink, and that is what I’d intended to do now. Ever so slowly I got up out of bed and started down the hall towards the kitchen, using the wall, to help support my wobbly self. I made it successfully to the kitchen, opened the cabinet and retrieved a glass which I set upon the counter. Now open the fridge and grab the milk, it was your typical plastic gallon milk container which was just over half full. My right hand grasped that plastic jug, the very moment I pulled it off the shelf and had the full weight of it on my hand and arm, it fell free, crashing onto the floor. The lid popped off and milk went everywhere. Needless to say I wasn’t expecting this weakness, it came as quite the surprise.
At first I was very angry at myself, that I did not have the strength to lift a half gallon of milk. That feeling subsides quickly, now the tears had started flowing as I looked down at the milk all over my bare feet and all around the kitchen floor. As I am looking around for a towel, to clean up my mess, my mind is screaming at me no, don’t, leave it, stop, bad idea! If I had tried to get down on that floor and mop up the milk, something was going to go wrong. Feeling like a complete and utter failure, slowly I shuffled back to bed. Milk stained footprint after milk stained footprint, leaving a trail of defeat. Still thirsty, I laid down and started crying again, pleading the question out loud “why” why me, why us, what did I do to deserve this!
The reality of how weak I was, and what had happened to us, as a family, was finally starting to come into my acceptance at that “milk moment”. Prior to this happening I was in a survival mode, just doing the bare minimum that was required to exist. The embracing of the physical & emotional impacts that my body went through were dwarfed by the sheer necessity of focus required. The mundane tasks like eating and pooping – get the food in & get the food out – equaled one step forward towards a renewed life.
Now School, what about school?
I was still enrolled at American High School, as a Junior, I really did miss my classes, with each passing day friends were leaving me behind. After some inquiry on mom’s part she had found out that there was a program, a home-school program, for students who were unable to attend a traditional brick & mortar school for one reason or another.
Enter Mrs. Griggs, a home-school teacher, who worked for the public school system in Miami, Dade County and lived a short distance away in Miami Lakes, Florida. Mrs. Griggs was an elderly lady – at least I thought so from a teenage perspective – approximately sixty years old, a widow, who was refined and articulate.
When I first met Ms. Griggs I was still in the bed part of the day. I was now able to roll on my side and move my feet off the bed in order to sit up. Once I was sitting properly, walking to the bathroom or into other parts of the house wasn’t such an enormous task. Our time together lasted about three hours, three times a week, for about three months. During this time together we became friends, I would look forward to her coming over and to the lessons she would teach. Math, History, Science all allowed for me an opportunity to escape my mind and focus my attention on the task at hand. My learning ability actually improved over what it was before. I was really paying attention. Little did I know when I met Mrs. Griggs, she would teach me one of the most important lessons of my life. A lesson which created a deep vow within, one which I still carry with me today, proudly.
As time went by and summer rolled around the school year ended, and so did the weekly visits by Mrs. Griggs and our home-school classes. The following school year I was going to start going back to American High School on a part time basis to start with, we would no longer be seeing Mrs. Griggs.
It was during the last week of our time together, she announced her plan of traveling to Iowa with her mother Beverly. Mrs. Griggs mother was nearly ninety, health restrictions prevented her from flying. Beverly had recently moved in with her daughter, Mrs. Griggs, in Florida. Beverly was at the age where maintaining herself, by herself, at her home in Iowa was no longer an option. Mrs. Griggs casually asked if I might be interested in helping her drive, her mother, up to Iowa. They needed to check on the family home, pack up what they wanted to keep, and put the home on the market. Mrs. Griggs was going to pay me for my time, covering all the expenses of our trip and we would have separate hotel rooms when we stopped. . The trip was scheduled to take three or four days up and three to four days back, we would be leaving the following week. Of course I wanted to go. The chance to get out of the house and drive across the country, to a new state, appealed to me greatly. Now just to get mom to let me go. Honestly, it didn’t take much convincing, mom thought the same way I did about Mrs. Griggs. As mentioned previously, Mrs. Griggs was refined and articulate, always dressing in nice clothing. My mother also felt as I did, this teacher we had come to know, was trustworthy and reliable. Isn’t that a common stereotype of the majority of teachers we come to know and love?
Monday of the following week arrived and we were off. Mrs Griggs is behind the wheel and I’m riding shotgun (passenger seat) her elderly mother Beverly was in the back with the two Lhasa Apso dogs, a small, yappy type, lap dog. Back and forth, Mrs. Griggs & I, took turns driving North. We’d rest when tired, eat when hungry, and stop before nightfall. All and all, it was an enjoyable escapade. Mrs. Griggs and I would pass away the miles away, chatting back and forth talking about life, and what I was going to do once I was back in school. Her mother Beverly, sitting in the back, was fairly quiet during the entirety of the trip, unless a bathroom stop was needed.
It wasn’t until I retrospectively looked at this trip did I start to understand Mrs. Griggs haphazardly line of questioning concerning my sexuality or lack thereof during our trip. For me, during my childhood and up until this event, I was more interested in Bass fishing than girls. Yes I liked girls, it’s just that I really liked Bass fishing more. I lived on my very own canal, had my very own Jon Boat – an aluminum flat bottom boat – with unlimited gas for the engine. I also had just about any type of fishing lure you could imagine, plastic worms on a bait-cast outfit, was my go to favorite. Additionally, I had blanket permission to fish these very productive waters anytime I wanted. The only requirement was that I had to have my chores completed, homework done, and let mom know I was going fishing.
Each night the Griggs vehicle stopped. Each night we had to have adjoining hotel rooms, those typical hotel rooms with the little pass through door to the next room. Her reasoning for this was so the dogs could go between the two rooms as they wished. Part of my responsibility on the trip was to take the dogs out, for a walk, so they would be less likely to wet the carpeted floors during the night. I enjoyed this dog responsibility. I always have, and always will, love animals. There is a truth to animals you don’t find in most people.
It was the third evening of our trip up, a Wednesday, and we had stopped for the evening. As usual, we got two separate rooms which were adjoined by that tiny little door. I was outside walking the dogs, a normal happening after we decided to stop for the day, and I met a girl. This girl, about my age, walked along with me chatting. She was on a road trip with her mother, her brother, and her father – who was in the military. She asked if I wanted to go see a movie, there was a movie theater within walking distance, and she really wanted a break from her family. Excitedly, I agreed and we decided to reconvene in an hour. I’d have to come to her room and ask her father’s permission to go to the movies. No sweat, I’ll be there I said, venturing off back towards my hotel room. Back inside my hotel room, I unclipped the dog’s leashes, flipped on the TV, and laid down on the bed. Mrs. Griggs came into my room shortly after and asked if everything was OK? Yes, I replied, I’m just tired. She shook her head in acknowledgement of my statement, saying that it had been a long day for her as well, they were also tired.
I waited until the predetermined time of an hour had nearly passed before announcing to Mrs. Griggs that I needed to go for a walk. I informed her that my right hip was hurting, it is one of the places I had been shot. The hours of sitting, day after day, with little movement during the car ride, made the scar tissue painful. I needed to have a long walk so that the hip joint would loosen up and I would feel better. I also stated that I needed to do some thinking, and walking would help with that as well.
Both of these statements were true. However, I was mainly going for a walk with the girl to the movies, I just didn’t want her to know.
During the last couple days of driving, I had started to notice a change in the way Mrs. Griggs was treating me, there was this gradual progression from listening to telling. The teacher whom I had come to know, care about, and trust was now starting to tell me what I needed to do in my life and how I should think about things. There was this little part, inside of me, that was warning myself to be careful. I think most of us call this part intuition or awareness. I had just recently learned a huge life lesson surrounding this little voice of awareness and there was absolutely no way, I was not going to pay attention to it, ever again!
Right on schedule I showed up at the hotel room, knocked on the door, and her father answered. A big military type man you might have expected, answered the door. I stretched out my hand and introduced myself while looking him straight in the eye. I remember meeting this man for a few different reasons. Number one, my father was in the military, the Navy, and I loved and respected my dad so somewhere inside there was this feeling of connection. Number two, after the events I had been through, the feelings of a diminished self-worth person were not present; Meeting a strong man whom I had an implied connection with was empowering. Number three, this man opened the door with a No, already on his breath. After our discussion and my willingness to engage this man – toe to toe – I somehow gained respect from him and the No, slowly transformed into a Yes. Number four, it was the very first time I had ever met a girl’s parents, in order to ask permission, to take her on a date.
I don’t remember the movie we saw. I do remember that she wanted to sit in the back and had things in her mind other than watching the movie. The movie began and she slipped her hand into mine and rested her head against my left shoulder – nice I thought. A few minutes later she reached up and pulled my face towards hers and started to kiss me. All of this took me completely by surprise, here was this girl making all the moves, I hadn’t even had a girlfriend in my hometown yet. What happened next was well, let’s say, mind blowing. I would have never ever expected someone I just met to do this, I had never had it done to me before, and wow was it incredible! We didn’t stay for the whole movie, which was weird. Nevertheless, I was on cloud nine and happily content. Back at the hotel we said our goodbyes and then each went our separate ways.
Happy as a lark I entered my hotel room, closed the door and locked it. I performed my usual activities in preparation for bed and switched off the light. Now only the illumination of the TV, cast a glow of light, through the room. That small door which connected the two rooms opened, and the two Lhasa Apso dogs entered and jumped up on my bed. This was normal, the dogs were my responsibility, they slept with me in case they needed to go out sometime in the night. Mrs. Griggs would then call out a “goodnight, sleep tight” closing the small adjoining door between our two rooms. Tonight however, was different. After the door opened and the dogs came in, so did Mrs. Griggs, closing the door behind her. I was already laying down on my bed, shirt off, covers pulled up covering my waist. My first thought was that she wanted to talk about something concerning our travel the next day. Time of departure, stops, etc, it was our last day of travel prior to reaching our destination in Iowa. However, I noticed rather quickly the terry cloth bathrobe she would usually wear in the evening was replaced with a sheer nightgown and a shawl covering her bare shoulders. You could make out the silhouette of her body underneath the robe as she passed in front of the TV. She slinkily swayed herself right over to the right side of my bed, I noticed that she was wearing red lipstick.
-Is there anything I can do for you, Mrs. Griggs asked?
-No, I feel fine but I’m tired. The walk did me good, I replied.
-I can help you sleep, Mrs. Griggs suggested. Let me make you comfortable she said, sitting down on the side of my bed, near my waist.
-I’m really OK, I said.
-She reached up and gently touched my right shoulder, letting her hand side down across my chest towards the covers at my waist. Let me please take care of you, she said, it will be an experience you will never forget.
-No, I said, grabbing her hand and squeezing hard, so that she felt pain.
-Ouch that hurts, let me go, she said, pulling her hand away.
She stood up and walked away, back into her room, closing the door behind her. My heart was racing, what just happened, what was she trying to do. I mean, I know what she was trying to do, but why? She is my teacher and my elder. What was going on?
I got up and locked the door between us and propped a chair up against it. If she tried to come back in tonight, I would be ready. Needless to say that welcoming experience I had at the movie theater was now replaced by the feeling of distrust and anguish. Here again someone else I thought I was safe with, was trying to do something to me that didn’t seem right.
The next morning Thursday the mood was dim, I now just wanted to get this trip done and get back home. We didn’t speak any longer and I sat in the back with Beverly, Mrs. Griggs elderly mother and the dogs. Beverly would reach out from time to time and pat my arm or hand every so lightly, mumbling something like it’s OK and/or just smile at me. The silence in the car on that last day made the miles tick by ever so slowly and I was still mad & confused, trying to make sense of what had just happened the night before.
We reached the home in Iowa later that evening on a Thursday, just about an hour or so before dark, I quickly unloaded the car, carrying the bags up the stairs and into the individual bedrooms of the two story house. We had already stopped for dinner, which was a scheduled 4:00pm – 4:30pm stop daily. Beverly’s medication had to be taken at certain times and with food, this pharmaceutical schedule dictated when we would stop for food, each and every day.
Thankfully, now in my own room, without that stupid, adjoining door, I felt safer. Once the bed was made and I was in it, sleep came easily and restfully. Over the next day or so things got better, time has a way of doing that. Mrs, Griggs and I were on speaking terms again, however, no mention of that night was ever brought up, she never tried to move on me like that again. The original plan was to stay up in Iowa for a week. Mrs. Griggs and her mother would have ample time to decide what they wanted to keep, what they wanted to send down to Florida, and what they wanted to give away. The movers were scheduled for a week later, on a Monday. They would pack & transport furniture and personal items back to South Florida. We were scheduled to leave on Tuesday, the day after the movers left. This schedule should have given the Griggs family a little over a week to get everything completed.
Luckily, for me it was the Griggs family to complete, my assistance was not needed and the weekend was here. Interested to explore the town, I met the kids next door who were about my age, brother & sister, they showed me around. As you might expect, the small town Iowa kids wanted to know everything they could about the “Miami Vice” lifestyle, was it really like what they saw on TV? I was a big fish in a small pond instantly. Spending the next few days with the neighbors kids, we would talk about the differences in growing up while goofing off – each wishing we had the experience of the other – small town versus big city.
It seemed that every time I would return to the Griggs residence after being out and about with my new friends, things were strained between mother and daughter. I would walk in the door happy, and then instantly, I would be subjected to a shit load of negative emotions and negative talk. Mrs. Griggs would complain about her mother, she wants to take it all back. All the furniture, all her clothes, even the window drapes. My stupid mother doesn’t want to part with anything. She knew this trip up to Iowa was about closing down her house, and she is not helping. Infighting was in full swing, Beverly became alive and determined with her expectations.
That Sunday evening Mrs. Griggs caught me near the top of the stairs, as I was leaving my room, heading towards one of the upstairs bathrooms. Listen, she said. I am having problems with my mom, she is not agreeing, she wants to take everything back with her and my house cant hold it all. I need you to do something for me, OK? When she passes by the stairs just give her a push so she falls down the stairs, OK? She is old and I just can’t take it. It’s OK, you won’t get in trouble, they will expect you to do it.
What the Fuck! It seemed like it took way more time for my brain to process the information than it should have. I remember just standing there frozen, with this dumbfounded feeling, did I just hear that right? Does Mrs. Griggs want me to push her mother down the stairs?
Mrs. Griggs must have noticed that I didn’t understand or was having difficulties so she repeated herself. It’s OK, just a small push – as she made the pushing motion with her arms – you won’t get in trouble, it’s OK.
I dropped the clothes I had in my hand, to put on after my shower, and flew down the stairs. I was out the door and over to the next door neighbors house in seconds. Banging on their front door I must have scared the shit out of my friend Peter’s parents – don’t remember their names – his dad answered the door and I pushed my way in, forcing the door closed behind me. What is the matter he asked? She is crazy, she is trying to get me to kill her mother, I replied. It’s OK Peter’s father said as he motioned to Peter to come to my aid and support me. Why, why would she want me to kill her mother and why is it OK? I begged this question out loud, tears streaming down my face, uncontrolled sobbing, pleading if someone could just make it, make sense.
I need to call my mom – on the phone with my mother I spilled out what had just happened as Peter, his father, and his mother watched on and listened. After hurriedly explaining to my mom through the tears about what had happened, mom made me go through the whole event again, step by step. Unbeknownst to me at the time, my mother was making sure there were witnesses present – Peter & his family – to hear my side of what happened. A precaution so that if this dear old teacher of mine decided to carry out her plan and blame me, I would have protection.
After I finished speaking to mom, she asked to speak with Peter’s dad. She asked Peter’s dad if it was OK to spend the night at his house and would he please drive me to the airport the next day, a ticket for me would be waiting.
Back on the phone with mom, she told me that Peter’s dad said it was OK to stay at their house for the evening and that his father would take me to the airport the following morning. Mom told me not to go back to Mrs. Griggs house, to leave all my clothes and any possessions, and to stay close to someone in Peter’s family the entire evening, for my safety. Mom said she would pick me up at the airport in Miami, the following morning. No idea if that wonderfully murderous teacher of mine found someone else to kill her mom or perhaps she did it herself – who knows.
They will expect you to do it, you won’t get in trouble. This small troubling sentence plagued my consciousness for many years, causing mass amounts of introspection, and a very serious vow to be formed.
My introspective definition:
They – The police, and the public at large.
will expect – Violence breeds violence. This statement is well documented and researched as the cycle of violence hypothesis..
you – Michael Headberg, the perpetrator
to do it – A childhood history of physical abuse & traumatic experiences predisposes the survivor to violence in later years.
won’t get in trouble – Prior violent & traumatic events perpetrated upon you will be used to establish an insanity defense. Not in trouble as in jail time rather a mental hospital confinement or treatment.
Mrs. Griggs was a teacher who had a long career. I wonder, what was her main topic of education before becoming a home-school teacher? Could her statement reflect an inherent knowledge of Psychology? Did she have this planned all along? Was the friendship and trust we formed as student and teacher all a lie?
As I type this, I can imagine the anger you might feel in your heart, and sorrow you might feel in your gut. The following statement I am going to make will likely not resonate with you, then again, it might.
I am grateful for this non-violent, yet highly emotional, experience with my former home-school teacher, Mrs. Griggs.
This incident happened at the perfect time, in the perfect way, so that I might hear it and pay attention. I owned my actions and made myself safe. Afterwards, I reflected back on this happening often in my adulthood and made this self-renewing vow.
I vowed that I would never allow myself to turn into an aggressive, violent person. I will never inflict the pain on someone else that was inflicted on me. I will constantly work to transform my pain so that it is not transmitted. I will always find strength in asking for help.
Copyright © 2020 Michael Headberg, All Rights Reserved.
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