I’ve written a lot about my son Andrew, my oldest son, the one most like myself, and the one most like my father. His life has been spectacular and tragic all at the same time. Very much like my own life when I think about it.
When Andrew was a senior in high school, he was selected to be part of the Macy’s Great American Marching Band. Two students from each state were selected through an audition process. (Andrew is a fantastic drummer, guitarist, vocalist.) Students from across the nation marched in the famous Thanksgiving Day parade. He had just turned 18, and was excited to return to New York City where he had been for the first time the previous spring on a school trip. This time he was going alone, playing the drums in a famous parade, and would be with students from across the country. On that trip to New York City, Andrew met Katy.
During their week in the Macy’s band, they were inseparable. Katy was from Montana. He told us all about Katy when he returned home, but we didn’t make too much of the situation. After all, they lived over 1,000 miles apart. As the months passed, Andrew and Katy remained close. It’s a different day and age. A thousand miles isn’t as far as it used to be. They talked on the phone daily. They chatted on Facebook. They Skyped. They cooked up a plan for Katy to visit us the following summer. I didn’t think it would happen. What parents would send their daughter off for a month to stay with a family they have never met?
Katy and Andrew were persistent. They talked to us. They talked to Katy’s parents. They had us talk to each other. Before we knew it, the plans were set. Katy would be staying with us for a month. She would sleep in the girls’ room. We made plans to have another “daughter” for a few weeks. Katy even scheduled several college visits for her trip. We were beginning to see what these two had planned. They were attempting to bridge that thousand mile gap.
I was apprehensive to say the least about having Katy under our roof for an extended period of time. How well did these two even know each other? What if their feelings changed the moment they saw each other again? What if we were creating a month-long problem?
The moment Katy stepped into the airport, I knew that I was wrong to have worried. Katy and Andrew ran towards each other with huge smiles. They looked and looked at each other as if they were seeing a mirage that might disappear at any moment. There was no reason to worry. Katy was everything Andrew had told us she would be. She melted right into our household routine. She was kind, helpful, funny, and lovely. There were tears all around as we drove her to the airport at the end of her visit.
Katy and Andrew’s long distance relationship continued to grow. The following winter, Andrew spent most of his college break in Montana. Once again, the following summer she spent time with our family. When the school year began, the distance would be bridged somewhat. Katy was transferring to a school within driving distance of our home. I was so excited to have her (my other daughter) closer to our family. We talked about holidays and plans to have her spend time at our home during school breaks.
Suddenly, it was over. Andrew was away at school, and so was Katy. To this day, I don’t know what happened. One weekend Andrew came home from school, and he was a wreck. Katy had ended their relationship. She cut off all contact. He didn’t know why, or that is what he told me at the time. I’ll never forget my then 20-year-old son pulling me into the bathroom to talk. I sat in a chair, and he sat on the edge of the tub with tears streaming down his face. “I don’t know what to do, Mom. It feels like I have lost my best friend. I don’t know who to talk to about this pain. SHE is who I told about my problems, and now she’s gone.” Seeing his pain, understanding his pain, was horrible. We both sat there and cried. What words can soothe the pain of losing your best friend?
Over two years have gone by now. Andrew crashed, faltered, failed, and hit rock bottom during those two years. He dropped out of college. His entire appearance changed. His demeanor went from happy-go-lucky to oftentimes belligerent. He had lost his best friend. Many times during those two years when I would try to reach the Andrew I knew still lived inside of him, he would remind me. “I have lost my best friend. What is my reason for going on each day, Mom?” He once told me that if he didn’t know how much I loved him and how much it would hurt his family, he would not still be here. By here, I knew that he meant that he had wanted his life to end. It scared the hell out of me, because yes, I knew that pain. Thank God for the strength of the love he felt for his family.
They say time heals all wounds, but I know that isn’t true. Some wounds never heal. Time simply teaches us how to push aside the immediacy of the pain. Time teaches us how to cope with the disability of loss. Andrew is moving forward. He is moving on. He is learning to redirect his focus away from the pain. Sometimes he smiles now, and the smile actually reaches his eyes. He is now 23 and back in school. There has not been another relationship in his life.
I have spent the past several Sundays cleaning, organizing, sorting, and throwing out 23 years of “boy stuff.” Last Sunday, I concentrated on the room in the basement where Andrew keeps his drum set and where he practiced guitar. Along with about 500 CD’s, scraps of paper with guitar chords and lyrics, I found something else. There were several boxes, neatly wrapped in paper, with the Andrew and Katy letters. Alongside the letters were other keepsakes. In the midst of the chaos of the music room, were these mementoes neatly tucked away and preserved. An antique dresser stands in the corner of the room, and I cleared a spot in a drawer to save them all. I didn’t read them. I didn’t look through them…as much as I wanted to! (It about killed me!)
As I continued to clean, I found the handwritten eulogy Andrew had given at his grandpa’s funeral. I remembered how eloquent and heartfelt his words had been that day. My dad would have been proud. I sat down in a chair to read it once again, and when I opened the folded pieces of paper, I found something else. It was a letter to Katy. Andrew had written it, but never sent it. Maybe he doesn’t even know where she is now after several years. This time, I couldn’t resist. Why was it tucked in with the eulogy? Would this letter explain Andrew’s tormented past several years? I opened the letter and began to read.
As I read, the tears began to stream down my face. It was absolutely, stunningly beautiful. He thanked her for loving him. He thanked her for her friendship. He apologized for perhaps not giving their love and friendship enough thought or enough value. He apologized for taking things for granted. He reminisced about happy times. He told her that he loved her. He said that he still misses her, that a part of himself will always be missing without her. His closing words were, “If I’m ever lucky enough to be sitting across the table from you again in this life, you won’t have to steal my fries. I would gladly give you every single one.”
After reading the letter, I walked upstairs to where T was watching football. I sat down in a chair across from him and tried to speak, but I couldn’t stop crying. I just said, “Andy and Katy.” T knew that as I had been cleaning that day, I had been finding the things Andrew had kept. He knew that I wasn’t looking at them, but instead was tucking them safely away. He looked at me as I sat there crying, and asked me what I had found. I told him about the letter, about reading it, and about how much our son had loved this girl. T listened, as he always does. He rolled his eyes a bit at my reaction, but he didn’t make me feel stupid. He just listened.
I sat there sniffling and trying to collect myself. I looked out the window at the bare trees and the windy November day. God, how I hate November. I looked around the room at our stuff, the stuff of a family. I missed the boys. I missed my dad. I missed my grandparents. I hate losing things that I hold dear. I hate change. I hate loss. I sat there thinking about all of those things, and I turned to Todd and said, “Sometimes life is just so hard.” He replied, “No, MOST times life is hard.” I sat there a little longer pondering his words, and I realized that he is right. Life is hard.
Later that evening, I called my son Andrew. No, I didn’t tell him. I didn’t even mention Katy. I told him that I had cleaned the music room and that I had saved his things in the bottom drawer of the dresser. We talked about a project that he was working on for school. We talked about soul music, his recent fascination. If it were possible for words to be a hug, if it were possible to send peace and strength through a telephone, then that’s what I tried to do. I told him that I love him, was proud of him, couldn’t wait to see him at Thanksgiving.
Last night Andrew called me and said, “Mom, things are getting back on track with us, aren’t they?” I said, US? What do you mean? He acknowledged how difficult the past couple of years have been, but that he was feeling so much better about everything now. He and I, who had never had conflict, had weathered a tough time.
I said, “Sometimes, some people in your life know you so well that they can see into your heart. I think that you didn’t really want me looking. I didn’t want you looking, either, and we both resented the fact that we could see it anyway.”
He laughed and said, “No shit!” Oh, how I love my son. 🙂