At times, it can be hard to relate. But a missed connection could be a chance for redemption. James tries to connect with his brother killed in the Vietnam War; Mustapha’s journey from Ghana to the US is full of long-distance connections; and after her mastectomy, Musu-kulla reconnects to the dating world. Three storytellers, three interpretations of MISSED CONNECTIONS, hosted by Wes Hazard.
JIM GRIFFIN: There was a large man in uniform standing
on my front porch.
"Your son, specialist four Thomas Brinsley Griffin Jr.,
is missing in Vietnam."
MUSU-KULLA MASSAQUOI: I knew things weren't okay
because her eyes were red and tears began to well
as soon as she stepped in the exam room.
MUSTAPHA ABDULAI: I was wondering,
was this was a good idea?
Maybe I should go to the authorities and tell them
to put me back on the next flight and bring me home.
WES HAZARD: Tonight's theme is "Missed Connections."
The text message that arrived just a few minutes too late.
That good friend from childhood that you just
gradually lost track of.
That time you really needed someone to be there for you,
and they just weren't.
These are the kinds of experiences that we end up
thinking about our entire lives
and wondering how things could have been different
if we had recognized the opportunity for what it was.
If we had just seized the moment,
if we had realized that that would be the last time
we'd ever see that person.
So many of our greatest stories are born out of moments
just like these.
Which is why with tonight's theme of "Missed Connections,"
we are thrilled to bring you a group of tellers
who are going to dig into experiences just like that.
GRIFFIN: My name is Jim Griffin and I grew up in
the Dorchester section of Boston, Massachusetts,
and I was the sixth out of seven children,
came from a neighborhood where everyone had a large family
and small family in my neighborhood was five kids.
I still live in the Boston area.
I'm still very close with my family who also
lives in the Boston area, and I work for a large
financial firm in downtown Boston.
What are some of your earliest memories
of growing up as a kid in Dorchester?
There were a ton of kids in the neighborhood 'cause
everyone had a minimum of five kids in the family
and we ran around like a wild pack of dogs
and we were always in trouble-- not major trouble.
We weren't criminals, we were just pests.
And that's what I remember most, is the camaraderie and...
there was no such thing as a helicopter parent in those days.
It was, "Get out of the house,
and don't come back till the street lights are on."
And so we were out all the time.
And we had to invent our own games most of the time,
and that's what we did.
HAZARD: So obviously your story is deeply personal
and I'm just wondering what was the most difficult
part about writing and sharing it?
The most difficult part for me in the beginning
was boiling it down.
I... when I tell the story, it takes 25 minutes.
And then the second most difficult part
was trying to recite the story without crying.
And the first week,
I didn't think I was going to be able to do it
I didn't think I was going to be able to get on stage
and actually tell the story, but I kept practicing
and eventually it worked its way out.
And obviously this is an event that you experienced
first as a child and then, you know,
you... it's been with you ever since then.
I'm wondering why now, what feels right about
this time to be sharing your story?
I think it's a story that needs to be told.
I think it's a story about...
life is made up of missed connections.
sometimes the missed connection benefits you
and sometimes it doesn't.
And I think this is one where I had a couple
of hits and misses and then it connected and changed my life.
In the summer of 1967,
while I was playing Little League baseball,
my brother Tommy went off to Vietnam.
He was 19 years old.
He was assigned to the Army Postal Unit,
and back home we thought that that meant
he had a desk job and that he'd be safe.
Six months later, as I was watching
the evening news with my brothers,
the doorbell rang.
When I answered it, there was a large man in uniform
standing on my front porch.
He leaned over to me and he said,
"Son, is your mother at home?"
Now, I was 11 years old.
Having a man in uniform on the front porch
didn't mean anything to me.
I just yelled out, "Ma, someone's at the door."
When my mother came to the door, she immediately started to cry.
The house went into a tizzy.
My dad came home from his night job.
My older brothers and sisters cried,
aunts and uncles came by the house.
Over the next couple of days,
friends and neighbors came by the house.
Some people dropped off food,
and I was able to read the telegram that
the officer left my mother.
It said, "The secretary of the Army has asked
"me to express his deep regrets.
"Your son, specialist four Thomas Brinsley Griffin Jr.,
"is missing in Vietnam.
"He was last seen as a passenger on a military aircraft
that crashed and burned for unknown reasons."
After I read that I realized my brother wasn't coming home.
After we buried my brother,
my mother would sometimes say aloud,
"I wonder what he was doing on an aircraft."
She said she never worried about him
because he had a desk job.
Flash forward 15 years.
I'm hanging at my local bar room with my younger brother
and one of the guys comes up to us and says
he met a guy that was delivering something to his work
who claimed my brother took his place
on a helicopter that went down in Vietnam.
He couldn't give me the guy's name,
he didn't know where the guy worked,
so I just filed that story away.
There was no follow up.
My mother died in December of 1985,
and she never knew the circumstances
around my brother's death.
Flash forward another 15 years, it's the late '90s.
My father says one night,
"I'd really like to know what happened to your brother."
And I promised him I'd find out.
I figured I have the story from the bar room
and I'll do a quick internet search
and I'll have an answer in about two days.
I spent a big chunk of the next two years
in various chat rooms and Vietnam veteran websites
and came up with nothing.
I remembered my mother had a photograph of my brother
with three guys in Vietnam,
and she had written their names and their home states
on the back of the picture.
I found it and started randomly calling people
with those names in those states
and I came up with nothing.
My dad died in October of 2004,
and I wasn't able to keep my promise.
And I stopped searching soon after that,
but every once in a while,
I'd type my brother's name into Google and the first hit
would always be the Vietnam Memorial
in Washington, D.C.,
and after that, local and state monument sites.
Seven years after my dad died, October 2011,
I was sitting at my desk at work
and I typed my brother's name into Google.
First hit was the wall in D.C.
The second hit was a website called Military Friends Network
and there was a posting on it that was two years old
that said, "Thomas Griffin took my place
"on a postal helicopter that went down in Vietnam.
"Not one day has gone by in the last 40 years
where I haven't thought about him."
And it was signed, "Respectfully, Doug."
My eyes popped out of my head.
Oh my God, this is the guy from the bar room story.
I had to find him.
I wrote emails, I sent letters, I made phone calls,
and I left voicemails, and I got nothing in response.
And I was so dejected because I was sure now that Doug
had died in the two years between the time he posted
and the time I read it.
Yet a week later while I was driving home
from my office in downtown Boston,
my cell phone rang, and when I answered it,
the voice said, "Is this Jim?"
I said, "Yes." He said, "This is Doug."
I almost drove up on the sidewalk.
He apologized for not calling me sooner,
but he had been on a business trip to Boston.
He had actually been working
right down the street from my office.
He got very emotional and he told me,
"I've never spoken to anyone about this in 40 years,
not even to my wife."
He told me that he met my brother when my brother came
in country in July of 1967.
He said they became very close
and they worked together in the postal unit.
He said in late December 1967,
Doug was scheduled to go on R&R to Hawaii
and my brother asked if he could take his place
on the postal helicopter runs.
Doug ran it by the commanding officer
and everyone signed off, and Doug went off to Hawaii.
He said when he came back, my brother was dead.
He told me that he stayed in the service for 20 years
after the Vietnam War ended,
and he worked all over the country and he met all
sorts of people and he couldn't remember one of them.
But he said, "I'll always remember your brother."
He even remembered my brother's birthday, October 24.
When he said that I had to pull my car over and dry my eyes.
I thanked him for getting back in touch with me
and asked if we could stay in touch,
and he said he would like that.
And after that day, I never spoke to Doug again.
I've never met him in person.
But every Christmas, every New Year,
every Memorial Day, every Veteran's Day,
and every October 24,
I get an email from him.
And I respond the same way he responds to me,
"One of the great highlights of my life
is getting in touch with you."
I couldn't keep that promise to my dad,
but getting in touch with Doug allowed me to reach out
and touch my brother one last time.
And my brother's memory lives on
outside of my family
because of Doug and his family.
And because of that, I'll always be grateful.
MASSAQUOI: I'm Musu-Kulla Massaquoi.
I am a first-generation Sierra Leonean American.
I am a mom of three
and a freelance model.
I'm also a breast cancer survivor
who has made it a point
to start an organization called Listen to Your Body,
where I speak to other survivors in hopes to encourage them
to live their life to their fullest.
And if you have a story, share your story
and know that there are other people that you
are helping within sharing.
HAZARD: And I understand, you know, in fashion,
so much of the job is projecting confidence
and owning the runway.
And I'm wondering what have you found
to be the differences between
the kind of confidence it takes to be successful
in that and the different kind of confidence that it takes
to be on a storytelling stage
and share something that's so personal
and potentially vulnerable?
(chuckles): Well, not having to speak,
it's really easy, super easy,
and then having to be on the stage and speak to people,
that's where the nerves come in, where it's like, okay,
I have to... okay, I'm gonna tell something,
I'm going to say something, am I gonna remember my words?
And sometimes you forget your words,
but it feels so rewarding to be able to tell the stories
that I've been telling.
This is just another level,
its evolution from, you know,
where I was to-- where I am right now.
And the story that you're sharing with us this evening,
what would you most want the audience
and the viewers to take away from it?
To have faith in yourself, to know that
there is somebody out there for everybody,
that loving yourself is the most important thing
and then the love that you deserve,
and the love that you, you know, that you want
and that you need will come to you.
I was the muse of several
amazing clothing designers in Boston.
I was the right size and shape for their garments
and I felt like a doll when they'd dress me.
I'd get a charge and bring their clothes to life,
ripping every runway I stepped my feet on
with grace and poise.
And when they moved, I followed
to places like Connecticut,
New York, Philadelphia,
up and down the east coast doing things I never imagined.
Each experience was amazing.
I did print work, videos,
commercials, and I thought that it would stop
when I had children, but it didn't.
Some incorporated my children.
When I turned 30ish,
during a routine physical seeing my internist,
I explained to her that I had been feeling
sharp pains in my breasts.
They felt like they were engorged with milk.
So she examined me and then she sent me
for several other exams with no findings.
But then she called me back into her office
a few days before Thanksgiving.
I knew things weren't okay because her eyes were red
and tears began to well
as soon as she stepped in the exam room.
She told me that I had cancer in my right breast
and everything after that was drowned out
with loud ringing in my ears.
She sent me to see some specialists
and I decided to have a mastectomy
because I didn't want it in or on me anymore.
It served its purpose as a source of nourishment,
sex appeal, and pleasure.
So, although I had become comfortable
with who I am and how I look,
being single and dating with scars
was a challenge for me.
I struggled with relationship for fear of rejection,
putting too much weight on what I'd lost.
So my friends and even my therapist
said that I shouldn't share that information so soon.
But I wanted to be upfront and honest.
So I dated with hesitation,
not knowing what I wanted
and settling for whatever.
Five to six years into having the scar,
I immersed myself into my children,
work, and things that I was passionate about.
I remember my children just got
sick and tired of me being under them.
We were watching "Despicable Me Two" once
and I started to sniffle when the main characters
were at the wedding altar.
My children went in on me and they said that
you really need to get out, get a life.
And just as I did,
I was diagnosed with cancer in my left breast.
I became fearful and doubtful all over again.
But I knew deep down that God had me.
So sometime during my healing process,
I received a friend request from a guy.
I scrolled up and down his page
and I accepted because he looked familiar.
We message from time to time
until he asked me out,
and me wanting to think for him rather than
allowing him to think for himself,
I said, "You don't want to go out with me.
I'm a breast cancer survivor."
To which he responded,
"I commend you for being a strong woman."
Not what I was expecting.
Followed by, "Without you, nothing is fantastic."
"You have the strength for more than just yourself.
I'm going to need you to rub off on me."
His lines were good, although he says they weren't lines.
I said yes, we hung out,
and he was sweet and very handsome.
Something about him felt comfortable and familiar
and at the time I was clueless to the rules of engagement,
so I might have gotten a little too comfortable with him.
But not once did I feel less than in his presence.
So my final reconstructive surgery time came
and I was terrified all over again.
And I had a strong woman moment.
Rather than push him away, like I had done several other men,
I invited him over.
I remember I was wearing my favorite ankara lapa--
that's the African cloth that you wear like a beach wrap.
And I prepared him for what I was about to do.
And in a take-me-or-leave-me moment--
more like take me, you better not leave me--
I dropped my lapa,
exposing my scarred,
He looked at me and said,
"Is that all?" and smiled.
And then he hugged me
and all of my fears fell at my feet.
I felt so safe
in his arms in that moment.
And then I started to think, "I like this guy."
No, no, no, I actually
really like this dude and he knows it.
So here I am,
nine years after my diagnosis
and I realized that my breasts
aren't the only thing that define me as a woman.
And learning to love, honor, and respect myself,
I'm learning to accept and reciprocate
love, honor, and respect.
ABDULAI: My name is Mustapha Abdulai.
I grew up in Ghana
and moved to the U.S. for graduate studies.
I currently live in Framingham, Massachusetts,
and I work as the director for
adults residential services
at the Guild for Human Services.
What have you learned from storytelling so far?
ABDULAI: Storytelling, it allows you
to project your inner self,
it allows you to connect with other people
because you come to realize that
your story is somehow connected to other people's stories.
And for me, that's when I said
when it comes to stories, to their telling,
you never walk alone.
I'm just wondering what your upbringing in Ghana--
how that prepared you for the challenges
that you face here in America?
For me, it was always about hard work,
that you were taught to work hard and to survive.
And so when I think about myself
and my... whatever I've gone through,
I always believe that no matter how difficult
the road is, that there will always be a light
at the end of the tunnel.
And those are things that I think growing up
and looking around my surroundings
and whenever I get opportunity that I count myself either
as fortunate, I count it as a blessing,
and I try to make the best out of it.
It was a bittersweet feeling, sitting at the airport in Ghana
waiting to board a flight to Washington D.C.
Even though my original destination
should be Boston, Massachusetts,
for graduate studies.
I was accompanied by a large family.
Everyone was excited and you could see
it was a son of the soil.
Their own was heading to the U.S.
I was anxious and I was thrilled at the same time.
But, to be frank, I was more worried
than anything else because my uncle, who was supposed to...
who lives in Massachusetts, who was supposed to host me,
have stopped picking up my calls.
Three days to this, to this day
and I have no place to live.
I'm about getting on the flight
and I'm not sure where I was going to stay.
My brother came up with this idea that
he had some friends, he believes they live
in maybe New York, in Virginia.
He wasn't even sure,
but he managed to convince me
to get onto the flight to Washington D.C.,
while he goes to negotiate to see if they could find
a place or they could accommodate me.
And I kept wondering, I was anxious.
I kept going to the bathroom because I wasn't sure
what was going to happen next.
I kept asking myself, "What if?"
What if the people that he's gonna...
he could not reach them or they will not pick up his call
or his negotiation fails,
what if they don't have the capacity to host
another person in their house?
And I only have $200 on me, given to me by my godmother.
The flight landed.
I have not heard from my brother,
and there was no way to call him.
I sat at the airport for close to eight hours.
And while I sit, I look in the face of every Black person
or person of color--
hoping they know me or I know them
or we have some kind of connection
so they could bring me home.
I was wondering, was this a good idea?
Maybe I should go to the authorities and tell them
to put me back on the next flight and bring me home.
But I also kept wondering... that would be so disappointing.
I cannot feel such... my family.
Everyone who was looking up to me,
hoping that this is a dream.
They were so excited for me.
So I sat at the airport.
I was so famished, I was so hungry,
at some point I thought of,
maybe I should take my money and buy something,
but I was-- this is my life
and I didn't want to spend that money.
And the worst part of it, it was so hidden in a point
that I literally have to go half naked
if I want to reach that money, so it was just not an idea.
I sat down for a while, I dozed off, on and off
and literally would open an eye and, of course,
keep looking at people-- if someone ever knew me.
At one point in time I dozed off for a little while
and woke up and saw a gentleman with a placard
with the name, "Mustapha," written on it.
Obviously my brother's plan worked, at this point.
But I heard a gentleman shouting, Mufasa, Mufasa,
Mufasa, even though he was holding a placard with Mustapha.
But hey, I couldn't be angry with him.
All I could do was just be excited and wave.
He walked up to me and he introduced himself
as Adae and we spoke for a while and he said
the host family had sent him to pick me up.
So he just closed from work and then he arrived.
He picked me up, we drove for about an hour,
and then we go to Haymarket, Virginia.
I was given food and you can imagine,
I shoved everything down my throat
like I had just been released from prison.
I had a conversation with the head of the home,
Uncle Philip, and he was such a firm believer in education.
He was so excited to see that
I'd been able to get a scholarship
even though it was 80%,
and of course I only had $200 in my pocket.
He was worried that if I head to Boston,
I could become homeless unless a miracle happens.
He would leave for work and come back and wondered
what could be done at this point.
And I got so anxious every day
because I was wondering whether a plan will come up.
One day he comes back and says, you know what,
I know a family that lives in Massachusetts,
but I haven't spoken to them for like four years.
And he didn't even know where to find their phone number
or any way to contact them.
Until at the point in time he kept going through his stuff
and then he found an old diary
that had a phone number in there.
He called a few times and he leaves voice messages.
And at one point he got someone on the phone
and they arrange a time to talk,
and they talk about the entire situation,
the need that I have.
It took a while to convince them,
but this family decided
to have me come live with them.
It was such a blessing.
The good part of it was that the family lived
in the same town as my school.
So it was, it was like a double do.
It was a jackpot for me.
The joy of my face was just, like, you can't imagine.
It was time to go to Boston and it's,
it's a 15-hour journey from Virginia to Boston,
but I could care less, I was just moved
by sheer determination, I was so excited to arrive.
I arrived at South Station in Boston
and was met by these two elderly women.
They were laughing, giggling,
they were smiling, walking towards me,
so excited to see me.
But I looked at them and was like,
was I supposed to smile back?
I was more confused, they were identical twins.
I could barely tell one from the other.
I moved into their home.
We live together, it was so beautiful.
We shared moments.
Of course these sisters had their own fights,
they had their own misunderstanding,
and I had to be as neutral as I could be
because I was the only one in their home.
Someday I sit down and it's like...
I came to America to study peace and conflict studies
and it was as if my practicum was handed to me from day one.
In Ghana, family is all about blood.
But for me, it's not just blood,
it's the people that you connect with,
and these women became part of my family.
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