Wednesday, August 15, 2018

This is Andy.

A year ago I posted this on Facebook, thinking it would always be there. Spoiler alert: it's not. So I wanted to repost, not out of vanity or anything, but because this is still important and maybe a whole new set of people will read it. 

This is my friend, Andy. I want to tell you about him.

Andy I were born 3 days apart in Winter Park Hospital. We were there at the same time, but we didn’t really meet each other until 14 years later.

We formally met when we were freshmen in high school band. He played the baritone/euphonium, and he was really good at it. One time, he, and I, and my best girl friend wanted to do a trio together for a band competition. Trios for baritone, clarinet, and flute don’t exist, so his parents had one written just for us. It was a weird and silly piece of music, but I still remember it to this day, and we won with it. We spent a lot of sweaty terrible times together at band camp during Florida summers, learning marching drills. He was so good at band. Andy was good at a lot of things, like music, skateboarding, making full outfits and wallets out of duct tape, and reading scriptures. He was terrible at dancing.

Andy was the first boy I ever slow-danced with. It was at a Sadie Hawkins dance our freshman year. It was incredibly awkward, as all first dances should be (and given the one-foot-plus height difference between us), and because it was outdoors in Florida, pretty sweaty and uncomfortable. But I remember thinking how sweet he was, and remembering that it was important I remember the first time I ever danced with a boy. I’m glad I have this memory, even though he wasn’t the boy I wanted to dance with. He was a great partner. We danced many more times together over the next 4 years.

Andy was TALL--he was always like, 6’4” which is pretty tall for a teenage boy. He was gangly and thin, and he used to wear knee socks with our school uniforms. As we got older, he used to wear our black fingerless marching gloves just for fun. He was a nerd--we all were. One time before school, we got in trouble for listening to Phantom of the Opera on my Walkman (but like, did you HEAR Sarah Brightman hit that high note??). Andy was passionate about music, marching band, and Latin. He loved Latin so much that our senior year, he bought a monk’s robe off the internet and wore it when he studied Latin because it made him feel more connected to it.

Andy was, absolutely, wholly, unequivocally a Christian. He didn’t just have faith--he had faith. Andy was the kid who no matter where we went, on a spring break trip with friends or on a band competition out of town, would lead us in Bible study or prayer. He was the band’s chaplain. You can get away with this kind of stuff at a Christian high school. One time, my friends came over and he wouldn’t let any of us ravenous 17 year olds eat before he had blessed the food. He was like the Gandalf of our friend group--it always felt like he had one foot in a world the rest of us couldn’t explain. Our senior year, we had to take a “spiritual gifts aptitude test,” to help us discern what to do once we left high school. He and I were the only two in our class who placed first with “prophecy.”  He used to have detailed dreams about heaven. That’s just who he was. Andy made faith, God, and the Bible seem real and relatable. And he was never snobby about it, and never evangelical to the point that you felt he was shoving it down your throat. Andy exemplified what it meant to be a man after God’s own heart.

All that being said, he was also not a saint. He used to draw cartoons of teachers and people we didn’t like and pass them to me in between classes. One time, we had a joint Bible class and couldn’t stand the teacher, so we sat next to each other and shared Bushido Shoshinshu, since obviously learning to become Samurai was a much better use of our time. He teased people, and talked about people behind their backs. Andy was a human teenage boy.

Aside from the awkward horrible slow dance, my favorite memory of Andy is when, this one time, me and my group of friends were wandering around our high school and wanted to go into a field that was separated off by a chain link fence. We hopped the fence. Of course, this was no great thing for my guy friends (all of whom were pretty tall) but it was more problematic for the height-challenged girls. Once I reached the top of the fence, I chickened out and didn’t want to come down. Andy held out his arms and told me to jump. I did, and he caught me. Granted, we almost toppled over, but he totally did catch me, just like he said he would. I like to think about this memory--it was so short, just a couple of seconds between the top of the fence, and him helping me to the ground, but I trusted, unequivocally, that he’d catch me.

We had a masquerade dance our sophomore year, and because he obviously wasn’t tall enough, Andy rented a top hat to go with his costume. The whole night, when you looked around the room, all you could see was this top hat bobbing around, more or less in time with the music.

We took a spring break trip to Cocoa Beach, our group of 8 friends and an assortment of parents (and our band teacher, because again, you can get away with this at a small Christian school). It was absolutely the best time I’ve possibly ever had in my life. I cherish the memories about that trip--the crappy food, and the fact that I was worried because my parents had just sold my childhood home and we didn’t have a new house to move into, and the smell of banana lip gloss, and moonlight walks down the beach. I think about these times, too.

Andy had epilepsy. It was bad--to the point where, when the rest of us were getting our driver’s licenses and studying the manuals, Andy couldn’t because he hadn’t been seizure-free long enough. I saw him have a seizure a couple of times. We also had an epileptic dog, so I kind of knew what to do and expect, but nothing really prepares you for that, especially when you’re a kid.

Andy was sensitive, especially for a teenage boy. He could be lewd and silly, but he was soft-spoken most of the time, and gentle. He liked to paint and draw--mostly the beach. He had a quiet way of talking to you, and he’d look you right in the eye and not break eye contact, so you knew he was really listening. And sometimes he’d just sit there and not say anything, because he was thinking about what to say. It’s so rare to find people who think before they speak, especially 16 year old boys.

He also had the silliest laugh. He was a tall guy, but when he laughed really hard, his laugh just disappeared. He’d just sit there with his face crinkled and turning pink and his shoulders shaking. And occasionally, he’d let out this ridiculously, disproportionately high squeak of a laugh. It was ridiculous, and contagious.

Andy died on the first day of our senior year. He went swimming in a lake, and had a seizure. He was underwater for almost 7 minutes before they brought him up and at that point, it was too late. This was on our school’s annual retreat, from which my parents let me stay home because it was full of weirdo religious stuff that made me, a non-demonstrative Catholic, uncomfortable. I was in Walmart with my mom when I started getting texts that something had happened. I had plans to go shopping with my other friend later in the day, but those were canceled in lieu of a trip to the hospital. He was on life support, but he was already gone. I went and saw him. I couldn’t stomach it for long--I didn’t want to remember him like that. He always so big and happy and smiling, and had such a big presence and I didn’t want to remember him looking like that. My other friends stayed longer. I still have no regrets.

I, and all our friends, spoke at his funeral. I have the notes in my clarinet case, still. We played music at the funeral, too, and I lost it halfway through “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” when I saw his baritone sitting in an empty chair, and realized it’d be silent forever.

One of our friends went to Target and bought three lockets, one for each of the girls in our friend group. She put his picture inside them. One time, a little girl (the younger sister of one of the kids in band) asked to see what was inside. When I showed her, she asked, “Is he a prince?” Yeah, kind of.

We decorated his locker, which was next to mine. Flowers smell terrible, overly sweet if they’re left outside too long. He was studying Psalm 16 when he died, and John Chapter 15 was one of his favorite verses. We used markers, some permanent, some not, to write notes to him. We put a Bible in it. The school eventually put up a permanent memorial plaque on it. I think all of that stuff is still inside, though (this is what I’ve been told by people who’ve actually visited our high school since...I cannot do this).

To this day, I visit the cemetery. It’s very close to my house, and most of our friends have grown up, gotten married, moved away, etc. so I feel like I need to go and keep things up and make sure it’s not overgrown or anything. Nothing makes me feel 17 again like visiting his grave, which is the saddest thing. I don’t keep in touch with any of our guy friends, really, and only occasionally with the girls. I don’t labor under the delusion that he and I would still be friends, but I do wonder what he’d be like 11 years later, and how we’d all be different. He’s 17 forever, and that’s tragic. He never saw smartphones, Twitter, the entire Marvel movie franchise...I do miss him.

I’m sharing all of this because I do not want Andy, his memories, his stories, to go “gentle into that good night.” I want him to remain alive in memory. I want to remember his life, and I want others to remember it, too. If you read this, thank you. If you knew Andy, too, please comment or share with your own memories. If you didn’t know him, share anyway.

Remember, when you complain about your slow metabolism or gray hairs, ageing is a privilege not everyone receives. Be kind to teenagers, even if they dress weird and are too loud. Sometimes the most churlish ones are going through pain you can’t imagine, pain no kid should go through. Seek God out--He’s alive and waiting. Tell the people you love that you love them. Cherish moments. Remember people, not things. Share stories, especially about people who aren’t here anymore. They live on through us, even though the stories seem silly and small and insignificant. They aren’t. They hold the hearts of the people we love, the people who’ve gone before us.

Requiescat in pace, my friend.

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