Michael's Story:

 Who Michael Was

          At a time when a young adult is on the threshold of his life, Michael’s life ended.  He was to begin his senior year at Texas A&M where he was very proud to be a student.  The hometown atmosphere at such a large university seemed incomparable – a place where even strangers were greeted with a “howdy”.  He knew a degree from TAMU would have great worth; he believed once an Aggie, always an Aggie.  He was there on several scholarships; including the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo, National FFA, Agricultural Engineering, Justus Smith, and Texas School Counselor Association.  He had selected Environmental Design as his field, and he was an editorial cartoonist for the Battalion.  He was a hometown boy whom had done well.  Yet, this isn’t about all his achievements; it’s about who he was as a person.  He was everyone’s friend; he never knew a stranger.  He could walk into a room of unfamiliar people and walk out having spoken to most in the room.  His room was filled with his drawings, verses to songs he was writing, and phone numbers (lots of phone numbers!)  He was intelligent, creative, artistic, and insightful.  He knew how to stir your thinking.  He had grown from the timid, reserved 6th grader into a very self-confident, easy-going adult.  His song entitled “People Who are Cocky and Don’t Have a Right to Be” attests to his belief that the world would be a better place if more people thought like him.  People should just get along and "not sweat the small stuff".  Most will remember his sense of humor, his playful side.  He loved life; he lived life.

Michael's Beliefs           

             Michael was at an age when you encourage young people to not be afraid of taking risks, to take up life’s challenges and face them head on.  We help them to feel invincible so they can conquer the world and do and be anyone or anything they want to be.  Michael had that encouragement.  As a parent you teach your child to be responsible.  Michael was “taking care of business”, as his dad use to say.  He had found a niche in school and was evaluating several graduate programs, “reviewing all his options”, as I use to say.  He was a young man with strong convictions towards family, with grave concerns about how we all would handle the terminal cancer of his uncle.  We had even discussed organ donation.  His comment was that he could donate a liver knowing he would live on in someone else and give life.  He believed in being health conscious and environmentally sound.  (He quit buying food with his roommates because they wouldn’t buy fruits and vegetables.  He would chide me for burning paper or wasting water.)  He always had strong convictions against drug use, including headache medicines, as well as smoking or chewing tobacco. 

As a College Student

            Unfortunately, our society does condone alcohol use.  It does separate out alcohol as a legal drug.  As many young people do, Michael believed alcohol would only kill if you were excessive over a period of years or if you were to drink and drive.  First of all, I will say as parents, we have been social drinkers although at this time our perspective truly has changed.  Remember alcohol was legal at 18 when we went to college.  However, we did attempt to teach responsible drinking knowing that as a college student Michael was drinking beer every now and then.  He did not party every weekend or drink to have fun.  Some people have said his death occurred because he was an inexperienced drinker.  That statement causes concern because it sounds like a justification for being a drinker.  Michael could have fun no matter where he was, whom he was with, or what he was doing.  It is different when our children no longer come home every night to kiss us goodnight.  I know from many personal situations that Michael was a responsible drinker.  From many opportunities that he could have become drunk, he chose not to become intoxicated.  He would stand with a partially full beer in his hand for a long time in order to avoid someone putting another full one in his hand, or he would hand it off to someone else.  Generally, his girlfriend and he would not both drink at the same time since she was older.  We had certainly ‘driven home’ the point about a designated driver.  We had many conversations about being “safe and smart”.

How Michael Died

            Now that I have shared some of whom my son was as a person and how he lived, I would like to tell you about how he died.  As a counselor we have targeted our efforts towards young people who appear to be vulnerable to peer pressure.  We tend to think about situations like this happening to someone with a low self-esteem, a follower, not a leader.  You need to know Michael was truly a leader amongst his peers and had been from high school on.  He would usually be the one to set the pace. 

  On Monday, Aug. 2nd, the eve of his 21st birthday, my son went with fellow students and his professor about 6:30 PM to eat and to celebrate the conclusion of a major architecture project.  Although everyone was aware of Michael turning 21 at midnight, there was no planned celebration for his birthday.  Michael was very spontaneous.  Michael initially was drinking tea with his meal and then water.  He told people he was “dehydrated” from Sunday.  He was with us at a Willie Nelson concert from 2:00-11:30 PM.  I know Michael was not dehydrated.  I am hypoglycemic and had two large containers of water.  I drank one; Michael drank the other.  At midnight upon arriving home he had milk with his birthday cake.  I know that was a way for Michael to slow down the drinking, knowing it was going to be a long night.

            At 9:00 PM his roommates and other friends joined him at (Fritzwilly’s).  At this time one-two shots were bought for him.  From 10:30-12:00 Michael and his friends were at the Dixie Chicken playing dominoes where Michael had beer from a pitcher.  Some said Michael wasn’t showing signs of being intoxicated because he wasn’t obnoxious or loud.  However, he was having difficulty playing dominoes correctly (and he grew up playing dominoes).  He also stumbled trying to go to the restroom.  At midnight his friends took him to Coupe de Ville’s to celebrate with shots for his birthday.  In a matter of 30-45 minutes Michael’s friends had bought him as many as 8-9 shots, including a free one from Coupe de Ville.  Michael had told his friends twice not to buy any more.  He knew he was feeling ill.  He felt like vomiting but couldn’t.  The sad part is Michael had so many friends who wanted to share in celebrating by buying their friend a drink.  Michael couldn’t refuse his friends’ gesture even if it meant feeling bad the next day.  Clearly, his friends all wanted to buy him a shot, wanted him to have a “good time” for his birthday, and yes, some wanted him to get drunk.  NO ONE wanted him to die.  Clearly, his friends felt they were taking care of him, making sure he got home safely.  One friend didn’t drink to be the “designated driver”.  No one thought about the lethal limit.  No one realized what or how much alcohol was in each 4 oz. shot glass.  Even if Michael was sober upon entering Coupe de Ville’s, he would be legally drunk after only one shot.  These drinks have catchy names: DWI, Liquid Cocaine, Flaming Frog’s Ass, or Bad M. F.  By the time Michael was taken home, his body began shutting down.  He no longer could move his limbs and had to be carried into the house.  His friends said he was “dead weight”.  His friends were concerned that he had not vomited to “purge” himself of any alcohol.  They did make sure he was turned over in case he vomited in his sleep.  Even though his breathing was not normal, (he was snoring); they thought he ‘d be ok.  They stayed the night in case he needed them.  On August 3rd, my call at about 7:00 am to wish him a happy birthday stirred his friends.  At 7:10 a call to 911 was made.  Michael never woke up.

            As a parent and an educator I have always felt we are each responsible for our own actions.  I have never taken away the responsibility Michael had on that night.  However, I do feel there is plenty of responsibility to be shared for these events; his parents, his friends, the establishments, including the bartender, and most certainly, society’s attitude regarding alcohol.

            Many people have said Michael died as a result of being an “inexperienced” drinker with hard liquor.  What you need to know is THIS COULD HAPPEN TO ANYONE.  If we are each individual in our size and metabolic rate, how do we know what is our lethal limit?  Are you willing to find out?

            I am here today to share this awareness so that no parent need feel the pain I feel every day for the rest of my life, so that no parent need visit their child in a morgue.  If even one young person has heard this message and taken it to heart, it has served a purpose.  I know Michael’s life was full of meaning; I want his death to not be in vain.


Our Message:

         That this can happen to anyone; everyone’s metabolism, chemistry, size, body fat is different; whether he/she has eaten or not, all make a difference.  How do we know what our lethal limit is?

         That it is not a matter of being an inexperienced drinker or not; that only rationalizes it.

         That passing out is not the same as sleeping it off.

         Abstinence is the recommendation if underage; it is illegal to drink under 21.

         That we need to get the message out re: excessive drinking, even one night can kill.  (There is a nationwide campaign against drinking and driving, “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk,”)  Now this needs to be part of the message.