The Patricia Griffin Tribute
By Rock Tennie
March 1st 2020
Last August, I wrote a tribute about a girl I had a crush on in the 8th Grade who died. Six months later, her family discovered the tribute. Their response was…incredible.
Last year, on August 18th 2019…I woke up on my birthday and was compelled to write about a girl I had a crush on in the 8th grade. Patricia Kay Griffin. It was inexplicable. She was never my “official” girlfriend. I hadn’t seen her since before 2005, and I don’t think I watched or listened to anything that would trigger my memories of her…but over the years, all too often, this girl comes to mind.
Patricia died in 2008. I didn’t find out till years later when my thoughts and curiosity prompted me to do a search. Sadly, I found her obituary. She was only 21 when she passed and I think that’s what I hate the most, aside from her being one of the good ones, a kind-hearted loving person. She was so young. It’s impossible to see her and not feel inspired, energized, encouraged to get up off my ass and do something with my life. I loved her. It’s just one of those things.
So, on my birthday. I wrote this essay – “Remembering Patricia Griffin.”
I poured out most of my memories of her. How we first met. The embarrassing blunders. The truth about what she meant to me. The truth about what I “thought” had happened to her. That was six months ago.
Then, a few weeks ago. On a busy Tuesday night in the middle of February, I was multi-tasking on a number of projects when I just happened to check my G-mail and saw two new messages with the name “Patricia” in the heading.
I confess, at first glance, I was ready to ignore them because I know a literary agent named Patricia and thought it was referring to another rejection to a query letter I sent.
These e-mails were from Patricia Griffin’s family. Nothing on earth could have possibly prepared me for it. Honestly, it scared the crap out of me at first. With my luck, I half expected the messages to go the route of, “HOW DARE YOU! This essay was completely disrespectful and I demand that you take it down right now!”
I clicked on the first message. It was from her uncle. He sent this picture and in short, he wrote: “My family stumbled on your blog and your story about Patti. Thank you for your kind words. It warmed my heart. You have a gift of words, and we are all so flattered you would share your thoughts about how great she was with the world. Your words made me very happy to know that even in her absence, she was able to affect you as well as she did with all of us in her presence.”
I was completely floored. I swear I’m not the crying type, but my eyes welled up.
I clicked on the second message. It was from Patricia’s cousin, Ms. Julie, who actually now works in the same middle school where I first met Patti. In short, she wrote: “Your blog was 100% on the money for everyone who met, knew and loved that sweet girl. So, thank you for your transparency, your braveness to confess things most of us would never, and to hold tight to precious memories alot of people pay millions to suppress. The smile that crossed my heart as you described her sweet presence and how she touched your life and changed it. (Indescribable) I would pass her while she waited for the bus on my way to work each day and I’d stop and we’d chat for a bit. (always smiling, always kind, always honest) They just don’t make them like her anymore and if you are fortunate enough to find friends like her you hold them that much closer because you know the true value they are.”
More than that…Ms. Julie told me the truth about what had happened to Patricia. Up until this moment, what I was told by friends back home was that Patricia was stopped at a red-light and a drunk driver had swerved into her lane, which killed her. The truth…Man…the truth was much more difficult to swallow.
According to Ms. Julie, “Patti had come home from school for the weekend. She had celebrated her 21st birthday with her mom and family before returning to school with a friend that Sunday evening, Patti was driving. She was traveling down a dark 2 lane road in Barrow county when she was hit head on by a young man who was in fact drunk and traveling in excess of 120 MPH as he ran from cops in a car he had stolen. Reports were that she died on impact (dash cam shows differently).”
I got those messages on Tuesday night…I wished it was a gym night. I don’t want to get too off topic, but I believe some people are wired to either run on positive energy or negative energy. If you were raised properly with supportive loving family and friends, chances are, you run on positive encouragement, people telling you, “You can do it! We believe in you! You got this”.
Then there are people like me who run on things like, “Ain’t nobody thinking about you. You stupid, Rock. When you get out from under our roof, then you can do whatever you want. We’re the parent, you the child. He a wanna-be white boy! You’re going to fail! You can’t win. You’re ugly! You’re too fat! I don’t want to work with him! He creeps me out!”
When I was 17, I came close to going down a route that would have led me straight to jail or dropping out of school but my Drama teacher was probably the first adult to listen to my rage and encourage me with these words:
“Rock, I see so much potential in you. I’m sorry you had such a horrible summer. But instead of letting yourself get defeated by those negative influences, you should use them as motivation to succeed.”
The rest is history. Since then, my battery, my furnace, the combustion to my engine has always run full steam on negative energy, things like doubt, insults, accusations, hatred, anger, rivalry, and revenge. All of it has made me stronger, wiser, taking me farther. Even when I read the Bible and tried to re-wire myself, I found that things like positive energy were nice, but they just made me complacent, demotivating me from really giving it my all. Not to mention, sometimes it’s difficult to tell when a compliment is genuinely what a person believes or if they’re just saying things to make you feel good.
I don’t think this makes me sad or a bad person. Just astute, having the ability to turn a situation to my advantage. I think it’s because positive energy is so fleeting. It needs to be constant or else the effects will wear off after a day or two. As opposed to negative energy that could carry for weeks, if not months. This may not be the same for everyone.
Jesus says to forgive and I do. But just because a person forgives, relinquishing hatred in my heart, it doesn’t erase the result of what has happened. It took a few days to breathe the fire out of my lungs and forgive Patricia’s killer…but she’s still dead. That doesn’t make me feel good. It’s not a positive thing. I wish she was still alive, but she’s not. Forgive me…I’m trying to use tact here. Because I know Patricia’s family will likely read this and I don’t want to open those wounds. You know what, I’ll move on.
The next day…I got more messages from Patricia’s family. I think these were the heaviest, because one was from Patti’s mother. As an author, I’d like to think I’m pretty good about putting myself in another person’s shoes, feeling as they would feel, empathizing and understanding the gravity of their emotions. But I confess…there’s no way I could possibly understand the extent of a mother who lost her daughter in such a way.
This picture was the last taken of Patricia featuring her mother. It was the day before she died. Again, I’m trying to be very mindful of her mother here because I don’t want to be disrespectful…Patricia’s mother conveyed, “I wanted to thank you for loving my daughter so much that you remember her still so many years later. It was wonderful to read how she touched your life. She was truly a special person and is my angel now.”
She also sent me a link to an article related to Patricia’s death. I honestly didn’t want to share this link, because to me…he’s insignificant. He doesn’t deserve to be written or have a place in my memory. But it seemed important to the family for me to know the details. So I’m choosing to honor that. What you’ll read…there is a great deal of injustice behind her death. It’s hard not to get angry.
When I responded to Patricia’s Mother…I’m not entirely sure if I was being my true self. I hate that uncertainty. I hate holding back. I hate masking my words in a cloud of professionalism, even if my words are true. I’d rather convey them straight from the heart with no filter. But this is the mother who I suspect has already gone through so much. I tried to imagine what or how she’d like me to respond. So that’s how I responded, choosing to also include my faith in God.
That was rough. Even now as I write this, I imagine her reading this essay and wonder what she thinks, how she feels, would she appreciate this, or be disappointed.
The last message I got was from Patricia’s grandmother. And her tone, seemed to be a bit more uplifting and joyous. She found me on Facebook and added me as a friend. Sending me this picture, taken the Christmas Eve before she died in the following March.
Ms. Dee wrote: “I just wanted you to know that reading your memories of Patti made me know what I’ve always believed to be true, Patti was loved by so many and loved so many during her short time on earth. Our grief continues and will never fade. Our lives will never be the same, a great part will always be missing. Well, Sweetie, I just wanted to let you know we, Patti’s family saw your words and they deeply touched us. Feel free to contact me if you’d like…”
When I checked WordPress, I saw that my essay about Patricia had been visited over 300 times in one day. It was remarkable. Ms. Dee called me Sweetie and it made me smile.
This whole experience. It’s been amazing. I feel like I finally accomplished something worthwhile with my writing. I prayed and thanked God for the experience, for the encouragement. It was nice for a change. Haha, because truth be told…since I entered my 30s, when I’m introduced to people I’ve stopped telling them that I’m an author and an essayist.
It’s happened twice now. Once, during a visit to my Dad when he was introducing me to a parishioner at church. I was like, “Hi, I’m Rock. I work for a research company in Tampa, Florida.”
My dad was like, “And…”
“Oh yeah. And I’m a writer. I write books and essays.”
And just a couple of weeks ago. My boss, an attorney, was introducing me to a financial client and I was like, “Hi, I’m Rock. I do video production work for the law firm.”
My boss literally said the same thing, “And…”
“Oh yeah! I’m also a writer. I write my own books and essays.”
Once upon a time, writing was something I wanted to use to make a fortune off of. But after eight long sacrificial years of pursuing that route…I realized that the simple art of writing to my heart’s content without a publisher, agent, or the stupid trends in my head dictating what I should write…that’s priceless. That’s freedom. It’s what I enjoy the most in this life so I really don’t like giving people I interact with on a daily basis or in a familial sense, the opportunity to fuck with that.
I don’t what Patricia’s family was like to her when she was alive. In high school, I always wondered if Patricia was happy, if she had someone like friends or family to talk to. Upon speaking with her cousin, uncle, mother and grandmother, I’m glad Patricia had them. They all seem really cool and supportive. I have no doubt they loved her deeply. Kinda makes me wish I could trade my life for hers just so they could have Patricia back.
Sorry if this post seems more about me than Patricia. It’s just a lot’s going on right now. It’s difficult to separate this experience from the big picture of what’s happened/happening to me. So before I get too carried away. I’ll stop it here. To Patricia’s friends and family, I embrace you. Had I known she passed when she did, I would have been there.
Alright. I’ll share one last thing. Something to make you smile, that I don’t think I included in last memoir about her. The hardest I ever heard Patricia laugh. Haha, of course it came at my expense and it’s kind of embarrassing.
In 8th grade homeroom, back then I had this huge afro. I was always picking it out to keep it nice and event, think the 70s Temptations. So, one day while I was chatting it up with her and Bethany, picking my fro as I usually do. Something came flying out of my hair. I was like, “huh. That’s weird…” And just kept picking.
But Patti looked over and…she saw a dead fly. And man, she just burst out laughing. She was like, “Reggie! That came out of your afro.”
“Na-uh. That fly was already there!”
“Reggie, I’m telling you that came out of your hair! HAHAHAHA!”
As reality sank in that she wasn’t lying, I had that Charlie Brown look on my face. As embarrassing (and disgusting) as it was, I couldn’t help but smile because she was laughing so much, her face was turning red and she teared up. That’s the hardest I ever heard her laugh. A good memory.