On Wednesday, April 20 at 12:20 pm, someone tried to murder me in my office. He used a knife and had the advantage of planning, strength, size, and a hyper-focused ferocity. In my attempt to debrief myself and answer that age-old question, And what have we learned? I discovered that words matter, so first, some definitions.
FIRST RESPONDERS: For me, these include three very kind and brave ladies in the office next door, one of whom not only called 911 as I cried out during the attack but also took the time to yell back, “The police are on the way!” loud enough for both my assailant and myself to hear. I think her response figured into his stab-and-getaway algorithm. These three witnesses seem otherworldly now, like the three Fates of Greek Mythology as they never saw nor were they seen throughout the attack, yet they never hesitated to witness and, more importantly, to act in saving my life. They didn't allow any normal concern about their own safety to slow them from taking action.
TRAINING FILMS: I would list every violent movie I've ever seen where the underdog (that's me!) doesn't give up but keeps going as long as he can. My wife doesn't care for these films, but I don't see much help coming from Downton Abbey and the like. My would-be assassin had the advantage of having the knife, but I think I've seen more Mad Max movies.
TRIGGERS: Don't freaking ask me for a tissue. My would-be assassin and fake client did. Like any other counselor out there, I said, “Sure,” and as I turned to get it, he quietly followed me in without my realizing it. With my attention on getting his tissue he struck, stabbing me overhand in the neck as if a heavy stone had fallen on me. I spun around and looked in his eyes and let me tell you, I've never seen such focused ferocity. His having brought a knife, his waiting for me, and his clever opening (now known as the “Tissue Gambit”) was all forgotten as I realized, He is intent on killing me.
I know some of you city slickers back east think all us westerners are used to these kinds of doings but so far (now 68 years old), it has been my experience that people caught in the midst of a bad act usually avoid eye contact, maybe even look sheepish before mumbling something about being sorry. No such luck. Not my guy. He remained focused on the job at hand, and so we fought after the first stabbing until I got a couple more including another to the other side of my neck, the left side, down and toward the lungs and heart.
He later added the big overhand move that went through my left hand and, really, my fault in a way, as I hadn't kept up with my Aikido lessons. I can hear my Sensei now, “Blend! For Christ's sake, can you blend?” I really didn't do any blending.
Looking at my bloody body on the floor, I think, figured into my guy's escape algorithm, and he understandably concluded, Mission accomplished! No way this dude is making it. He dropped his arms and calmly walked to the door and stepped into the hallway. I got up and watched him walking down my long hallway leading to the exits. I have to say he did an excellent impression of the prison movie scene where they stab-stab-stab, and then walk away in such a manner their body says, “Crime? There was a crime? I certainly didn't see anything.”
Don't freaking ask me for a tissue.
He remained calm as he left the building. I know this how, exactly? Well, I followed him of course, wanting to get a license plate number for the police. (I'm a very responsible person.) My last two counseling clients, still chatting after their last session, didn't notice a thing even as he walked past them only two steps away. They sure did notice me as I exited the building. Blood is, after all, Mother Nature's exclamation point. “Hello! Look at me!”
These clients, my Second First Responders, were great. One followed my assailant with his phone out and started making a movie that is now titled Evidence. The other client kindly walked me back inside through a Slip-N-Slide of blood, my blood, on the tiled entryway, thinking maybe I might want to sit down a minute. As a First Responder, he was unfailingly polite and inquired with a concierge-like tone, “Would you like an ambulance?”
As I pondered his polite inquiry, my first thought was to call my wife and tell her to come and get my office dog Bella who was safe but very scared on the other side of an inner office door. I now realize most people wouldn't ask a man, whose blood trail didn't exactly need a Sherlock to follow, “Would you like an ambulance?” But the reader should know that I was this man's therapist and he knew that I knew a thing or two about life's big picture. If I said the dog needed a ride home, well then, he certainly would call the wife, let her know I can't come to the phone right now because I'd been stabbed and, please, can you come get the dog? Priorities.
My Third First Responders showed up within a minute of my sitting down at my office's reception desk. These first responders were two policemen who, I have to say, were the kindest and most gentle souls you can imagine. They said reassuring stuff. Don't ask me what, just stuff, not really words, as I clearly recall, more like healing murmurations that were incredibly soothing.
Someone professional was on it, and I was now officially off the clock. You have to understand here that nearly getting murdered is exhausting work, much more fatiguing than actually getting murdered. As I floated along on their murmurations, they made a systematic search for wounds, a procedure otherwise known as “Where's all this blood coming from?”
My Second First Responder was flagging down still more police, he then pointed at my guy and said, “That's the guy! That's the guy!” The Third First Responders were pros. They knew what they were doing, you know. Knew when to listen to me, when to ignore me. For them, just as for Guy Stabby, this was not their first rodeo.
As a First Responder, he was unfailingly polite and inquired with a concierge-like tone, “Would you like an ambulance?”
My Fourth First Responders, the EMTs showed up next, and forgive me dear reader, but I remember them least of all. I know they got me on a wheely thing and then it was up and into my ride, and like the policemen, they seemed to know what they were doing. I was still off the clock. Sorry EMT guys and thank you for knowing the way to the hospital, for not needing me to call out directions, and for not playing the wrong music.
I will say this: next time you (or someone you like) gets stabbed, do yourself a favor and let the pros drive you to the hospital. Don't have someone use their car to drive you. Not only will your car not need the deepest steam cleaning ever, you also don't have to bother with signing in at the ER.
My fifth wave of First Responders was made up of the team of medical professionals at the ER. The EMTs had called ahead, booked me a reservation, and let me tell you, it was the closest I'm ever going to get to feeling like a rock star arriving for his Grammy.
The paparazzi, also known as CT techs, took scads of pictures, as I posed in my new look, “naked and bloody.”
There must have been at least ten people in the ER's trauma unit waiting, waiting, waiting to get their hands on me. (And a very handsy group they were!) At least two doctors, four nurses, various techs, and one guy whose main job was wielding super scissors.
Now I know that my wife of 28 years loves me dearly but never EVER, even in her most passionate moments, has she gotten my clothes off that quickly. Just as the Stabby Guy who'd gotten the party started had attacked too quickly for me to have time to get afraid, Super Scissors Guy had gotten my clothes off too quickly for me to feel embarrassed. It actually felt kind of relaxing, even though I was naked to enough of the community to catch an indecent exposure charge. Bless them all, no one called the cops.
You have to understand here that nearly getting murdered is exhausting work, much more fatiguing than actually getting murdered.
Did I say ten medical professionals? Gross undercount. There was an unending stream of supporting actors who wheeled me places, hooked me up to equipment, and, all in all, found me endlessly delightful and entertaining. I see now how rock stars, billionaires, and many world leaders get so drunk on the intoxication of their entourage's attention. Best drug ever. Totally made the multiple stabbings seem, if not worth it, at least balanced in a bad attention/good attention scale. I will say it took a lot of good attention to find the balance to Mr. Stabby.
My Sixth First Responder was the perfect woman who plays my wife in this drama. Her visible effort (I was watching) to suppress her impulse to burst into tears as she transitioned into the Spartan wife sternly holding it together as her eyes said, “Come home with your shield or on it.” I know, I know, some psychotherapists will tell you repression is a bad thing but, in this case, her repressing her impulse to cry freed me from the feeling of needing to take care of her. Selfish of me to think so, I know, but I'm the star on this trauma unit stage.
I see now how rock stars, billionaires, and many world leaders get so drunk on the intoxication of their entourage's attention.
My Seventh First Responder was a longtime colleague. He came, identified himself by name and occupation, and although he said he was, and I quote, “a probation officer,” what the ER staff heard was that he was my probation officer. Quick on seeing the misunderstanding, he did nothing to correct their misimpression, thus positioning himself as my major rival in my six-hour set headlining my comedy act at the Reno ER Comedy Club. Seeing my naked and bloodied state, dude busted out his phone to take pics. They're somewhere on the dark web right now.
At this point it might seem a bit self-absorbed to complain about anything, but I must say no one, and I mean no one removed any of the blood caked on my body. I know, what with saving lives and stuff, the ER staff was busy but still, c'mon people!
Among the medical professionals in the sixth wave of First Responders was the last doctor of the day. When he was done, I still looked like an extra from The Walking Dead with my dried rivulets and schmears of blood on my, well, my everything, but he did begin the clean-up process by stitching up my defensive hand wound and thereby pushing a lot of actual me-meat back into my hand where it belonged.
Seeing my naked and bloodied state, dude busted out his phone to take pics.
My doctor stitched away, making small talk, pausing for what would have been a great YouTube “Skin Stitcher” episode to teach suturing a wound, you know, next time. It seemed, at the time, kind of an important skill to learn. Four staples into my neck later I was free (FREE!) to shuffle off into the parking lot, a fierce grip on some oversized shorts, a needed consideration in case “my” federal probation officer was in the mood for any last minute practical jokes.
ABOUT MY NECK: In recent years I'd included some regular rowing into my COVID at-home fitness program. It's really strengthened my upper body, especially my back and yes, the back of my neck. Between the workouts and the swelling courtesy of Mr. Stabby, I'd come to resemble nothing so much as an upright cobra, neck flared to attack. Hiss.
What awaited me in the hours then days following my comedy set as “star of my local ER” was a self-renewing sea of First Responders called friends, who issued reams of blank checks in the form of, “If you need anything, I mean anything, just let me know.”
“Soup,” was the first thing I could squeak out. “Soup would be nice.”
My first victim, I mean, friend said, “Soup? I can do soup. What kind do you want?”
“I don't care, just one of your favorites.”
He went out, bought some pho, delivered it, and we had a really nice visit. My vegetarian wife, upon discovering the soup was vegan, fell upon it as if she'd been neglecting herself and not eating. From then on, whenever I got the “whatever you need, just let me know” thing we all say, I just piped up, “Soup. I'd really like some vegetarian soup.”
We ate a lot of soup. Happily. Soup became that shining star in the east that wise men still follow. The soup was, and is, now days in, a lifesaver.
Coming in dead last, in terms of First Responders, was myself. Yes, I'd been good from the beginning at denying the damage, compartmentalizing both the emotional and the physical pain. But later, as the hours passed, I began a new behavior and started, on Sunday, April 24, journaling my story, hoping to get to the place where I can have my story instead of it having me. I think it's working. Following my attempted murder, my hometown seems to have taken both me and my wife into its embrace. So many First Responders, right?
Between the workouts and the swelling courtesy of Mr. Stabby, I'd come to resemble nothing so much as an upright cobra, neck flared to attack.
This morning as I write this, I watched another attempted murder outside my window. Usually deer, like us a social species, like to browse their way through the brush just beyond my split-rail fence. They're normally very calming to watch. This morning I glanced up to see a doe racing at breakneck speed up the hill just beyond that same fence. I kept watching after she disappeared, and sure enough, another 30 seconds after she'd disappeared, he showed up.
Her would-be murderer, a very healthy coyote was racing up the same stretch she'd taken as he was to close the date on his next dinner. Some 150 yards above us all, on the same steep hill, like the three Fates in my own story, stood a three-some of does looking around, watching for danger after seeing one of their own running for her life.
When they caught a glimpse of the predator racing below them, they took off at speed in the opposite direction, disappearing over the nearby ridge. Every deer for herself! Run for your lives! Witnesses, yes, but no First Responders in their society.
[Note for the children: 30 minutes later a hungry and very tired coyote made his way back into my view and so, no darlings, no deer were harmed in the making of my story. As Temple Grandin might say, “Nature is cruel. We don't have to be.”]
As a Marriage and Family Therapist with a decades-long forensic practice I have learned that in crime, as in dating, we are all easily deceived by those among us who certainly look human, but in fact are merely human shaped objects. Harsh? Not as harsh as a knife to the throat, a subject I'm now intimately familiar with. But if you believe as I do that love cements the bonds between us, then you have to be aware that not all human-shaped objects have the ability to give and receive love.
They too, like the rest of us, were born this way. My own attacker, both during his ferocious and unprovoked attack and his calm attempt at a getaway, betrayed in his eyes and manner a complete absence of guilt, remorse, or compassion. I don't hate him any more than I hate coyotes—I'm just glad we humans have evolved a more deeply committed sense of community.
Soup became that shining star in the east that wise men still follow.
So, here it is, the takeaway from my attempted murder. Be wise and learn from me. When someone tries to murder you in your office,
Don't give up! You're still alive.
Take the ambulance. You'll not regret it.
Ask for soup, vegetarian if you think of it.
Lastly, a note on those horrible people, you know who they are, the ones who are so kind and so loving that just looking at them makes you cry? Let them do so. Your now expert trauma recovery professional recommends it. I should have known the universe had something awful for me that day after seeing the day's reading from the Tao. It was the last bit of Verse 67 (translated by Jonathan Starr) and it read,
Love vanquishes all attackers,
It is impregnable in defense
When Heaven wants to protect someone
Does it send an army?
No, it protects him with love.