High Winds, Hail—Where Is He Spending the Night
The night before there’d been tornado and hail warnings as we had sat in our rental car on Central Avenue five car lengths down from the main door to the Rescue Mission watching a homeless man gather up his belongings at the far end of the building. He rolled a shopping cart through the pouring rain towards us, past the main door, to another doorway recessed into the wall. He parked his shopping cart there, out of sight, walked back, away from us, and pulled two office chairs on wheels, one loaded with bags and clothes, to the alcove. Once set up, he stepped out, held his hand up as if gripping a microphone, and sang, the concrete sidewalk his stage, the bleak, empty asphalt street his audience.
“If he’s not here by now, he’s not coming,” I told Ansley.
“I’m waiting until 11:00.”
We’d been lucky that afternoon to meet the helpful director of the Rescue Mission who informed us that they closed and locked the door at 11:00 p.m.; if one of the men missed a night, he could not return for four weeks. Andrew usually arrived at 10:00, which was just after the mandatory church service. I’d laughed when I’d heard this; it was reassuring; he was being his old self—making the best of the situation. “He leaves early every morning, wearing his work clothes,” the director said, “and never returns before 10:00. We think he’s working two jobs, one construction, one painting.”
We strained our eyes through the water-streaked window. A man holding a newspaper over his head sloshed across the street, up onto the sidewalk. I was ready to jump out. Flicked on the head lights. Shielding his eyes from the beams with the newspaper, he knocked on the door of the Rescue Mission. Not tall enough.
I wanted to leave. No way he was coming this late.
“I am waiting until 11:00.”
I closed my eyes, let Ansley be the lookout, the wipers whipping back and forth, the air-conditioner on, the rain battering the car.
Where was he spending the night? Under a bridge? In the apartment of someone he’d befriended? We worried and wondered as we drove back to our hotel at 11:30, the rain turning to hail—hailstones bouncing off the windshield.
We walked into the swank lobby, passed the bar, took the elevator up six flights.
Guilt swarmed over me. Was he sleeping under a bridge as cars and trucks sped by overhead on I-4 and the wind and hail ravaged the area? And did this mean he would be banned from staying at the mission for four weeks? While I lay in a dark, quiet, safe room, on a big, soft bed with a comforter and puffy pillows, my arm around Ansley’s waist, thinking of the files of Andrew’s papers I’d sorted through the day before our flight, including the security guard questionnaire which had the question, “Is there anyone you love who you would give your life for?” And Andrew’s answer: “Yes, my father.”
He Marches On
We pass the construction site. We’re walking fast up the incline. I’m an arm’s length behind. He whips around, pushes my shoulder, knocks me back. His eyes burn into mine. “Get lost! Go fuck yourself. Kill yourself! I don’t care.” He turns and walks on.
"We want to help you, Andrew. Why don’t we stop in one of these restaurants and have a steak dinner … . Where are you staying now? We waited and waited outside the Rescue Mission in the damn tornado last night and you never came back … . Where’re you going to stay tonight? We’d like to set you up in a motel … .”
I am talking to his back.
“I don’t know you.”
“OK Andrew, how many times do you walk down a sidewalk and someone says they want to help you?
His shoulders tighten; his stride is off. Maybe I’m getting to him. He whips around, pushes my shoulder again, not hard. He’s right on top of me. What’s that? He has a new scar. A scar above his right eyebrow. Finger length. A line of raised skin. It worries me. He takes a step away, glaring at me. “Get lost. Leave me alone.”
I’d like to go back to Ansley. I’d like to yell out, “Go to hell Andrew!” But I cannot stop here.
Across the railroad tracks.
Out toward the homeless shelters. On our right, the solid impersonal authoritarian wall of the Orlando Court House, four or five stories, one long, vast concrete building with no windows. No doors. No people. A wall. Third Reichian. We walk along it, down an empty, twenty-foot-wide concrete sidewalk. No tall buildings to our left now to block the wind. It slashes into us.
I tell Andrew again how we waited in the car by the Mission the night before. I want to know where he stayed, but I don’t ask.
He takes a left. We’re walking straight into the wind. “We haven’t gone this way,” I say.
We’re moving fast down a wide concrete sidewalk in front of a nondescript glass-and-concrete office building. No cars. No pedestrians. No office workers going in or out of the building.
He stops. Turns. “I ought to hit you. I ought to knock the shit out of you but I’m not going to.”
We stare into each other’s eyes. He’s inches away. I get a close-up look at the scar above his right eye. I hold my ground. “Andrew, you’re not a Marine at war anymore. You’re a civilian. It’s time to realize that violence is not the answer.”
Fights. He doesn’t mind a fight. Early in his Marine career, back from his first tour in Iraq, he was still naïve about soldiers being targeted by locals. His head was shaved. He was tall, fit, hardened. He looked military all over. On leave from 29 Stumps one weekend, in mufti, he was in a bar and mentioned to the guy beside him that he missed his younger sister and looked forward to seeing her soon at her graduation from high school. A local smart ass overheard this. Surrounded by his buddies, he made a comment. Big Mistake. He had another beer and a shot, walked out, got in his car, drove off alone. Andrew followed, forced him off the side of the road, pulled him out of the car. The police came. Andrew told them what had happened, and that he was a Marine just back from Iraq. They peeled the local boy up off the ground. Yes, the beaten man said, Andrew had told the truth. No, he didn’t want to press charges.
But then later, there was some trouble. The police had given Andrew a traffic violation ticket. The beaten man had changed his mind, was charging Andrew with assault and battery. Andrew had to go to court. He needed a lawyer. He explained to us what had happened. I lectured him. “You could have seriously injured this man. You could go to prison for this sort of thing.”
“Oh Dad, he shouldn’t have talked that way about Eliza. I went into a rage. I don’t even remember it.”
He was a bundle of nerves. He was jumpy.
He was back from being shot at. Back from seeing friends blown away. Back from picking up body parts. Back from having to decide when to pull the trigger, which one of these bastards is trying to kill me, which one is fighting for me?
We resume walking toward Central. “Pull out your wallet, Andrew.” I could see it in his back pocket, thick and on an angle, as he always had it. “Pull out your wallet. Let’s compare your veteran’s card with my license and see if we don’t have the same name.” He continues walking, fast. “You probably don’t have a wallet,” I say peevishly.
“I’m going into the ’hood now,” he says confidently, like his old self. “You don’t want to go,” he adds, sounding for the first time as if he is talking to me.
“How about you?”
"I know how to handle myself. You don’t.”
He stops. Sets rucksack on the ground. I think of the Marine backpack in the attic. I see it, the desert camouflage pattern. I can feel it, the coarseness of the canvas. Last fall, on a camping trip with the sixth grade, I had used it in Andrew’s honor. As I swung it into the belly of the school bus along with the kid’s bags, I’d thought of Andrew ducking low under whoop-whoop-whooping blades and tossing it into the belly of the helicopter about to transport him to Iraq’s northwestern border with Syria, where he was stationed for six weeks of guard duty: sixteen hours on, eight off, day after day. Heat: 125 degrees. No showers. Sores, rashes, raw spots all over. Lost thirty pounds. That was the trip that had elicited the phone call. It had been a Sunday afternoon. June 22, 2008. Andrew’s birthday. He was turning twenty-four. He said he was preparing for a new mission. He couldn’t say where. But he wouldn’t be able to call. It’d be four weeks, six weeks. Depended. We might read about it. There was that lag time on the telephone. Long pauses. He didn’t say it. But he was telling me he might not make it back. He was saying goodbye. He ended with, “I love you.”
And now he’s here beside me on the sidewalk in America. He pulls off his orange work vest. He crosses his arms behind his back and snatches off two sweatshirts in one motion, leaving a T-shirt. His baggy pants hang down, red-checkered boxers showing. He slips the orange vest back over his head, ties the bottom string in a bow.
“This is it, Andrew. I’ve got to go back to your mother.” I didn’t think to tell him—“Pull up your T-shirt Andrew!” That’s what I should’ve said. When he was taking off his sweatshirt. I should’ve grabbed him, pulled it up myself: “There it is, the tattoo! Dee Dee—your grandmother. And her death date!” What would have happened? Would he have broken down? In a movie, he would have. The earlier narrative would’ve been developed with plenty of flashbacks showing his close relationship to his grandmother—that would be the one thing, the catalyst, that would break him. He would give up, throw his arms around me.
But here, on this sidewalk, in this desolate area, the wind blowing his T-shirt up to where I am shocked and worried to see his pronounced ribs, he sets his hard hat on his head, stuffs the sweatshirts in the rucksack.
“ This is it, Andrew. Stop playing this game.”
“I don’t know you.”
He walks away from me toward the construction site in the distance. There’s a page-wire fence on his right, and one on his left, each topped off with concertina wire. He ambles down the narrowing chute. He stops, takes a quick look over his shoulder—sees me watching him—and marches on.
Patriotism, Reverence, Remembrance
I cross the street. There’s a large rock with a plaque on it: “PATRIOTISM REVERENCE REMEMBRANCE” is the title, and below it: “The Battle of Seattle was fought on this ground. January 26—1856.”
And now it looks and smells like a losing battleground, carcasses strewn, splayed—lying on sides, lying on backs, curled up—across the grass, the sickly-sweet scent of marijuana wafting over the dead-still bodies. Many with army jackets. Military gear—camouflage backpacks. Caps with Veteran written across the front pulled down over their eyes. One thousand, I’m thinking, of the 12,500 homeless living on the streets or in shelters in the Seattle/King’s Country area, approximately 1,000 are veterans.
I look closely at this one, at that, saving the long, lanky one at the edge of the park for last. I approach, awkwardly walking down the hill towards him. He has pulled his cap over his face. I circle him, from a distance. I am the only erect, upright figure in this one-acre park. I feel the eyes of others on me—watching me curiously.
There’s no movement.
“Andrew?” I say, a little louder, leaning down.
He pulls off his cap. A boy. Years younger than Andrew. He looks at me, face expressionless.
“I’m sorry. Excuse me. I thought you were my son.”
Back at the hotel, there is a line at the elevator. It’s out of order. No problem, I’ll use the stairs. Eight flights. Good exercise. Can’t find them. Ask a bellhop. They’re locked. To keep out the homeless.
Sunday, I search all day and night.
Monday, Memorial Day—up at dawn. Flight in afternoon. Walk the streets for two hours.
On the promenade, nearing The Frankfurter, the homeless vet with the blanket over his lap is wheeling into position. I have a system now. I reach into my hip-pack, pull out four quarters, look up, ready to hand them to him. The blanket slips off. I’m slapped with the reality of it. No legs. He registers my shock. I bend down to pick up the blanket. “I got it. Thank you,” he says, leaning down. I hand him the quarters. “God bless you, God bless you,” he says, grinning, looking me in the eye.
At the ferry, I jog up the steps to the two homeless men seated at their usual station, leaning up against the building. Give each four quarters. They recognize me, look me in the eye, “Thank you, man. Thank you. Every little bit helps.” This is it. I’m leaving. I make the rounds, engaging in small talk with the most familiar men and women, giving out quarters.
Pack up. On time. By myself. No Andrew. Got to get to the light rail. Westlake Station. No Andrew. Then the airport. All this way, I keep thinking. All this way and no Andrew.
At midnight I walk into our kitchen. Ansley is at the counter. “Andrew just called.” 9:00 in Seattle. Her cell phone rings. It’s Paddy. 10:00 in Denver. He’s set up a conference call with Andrew, Eliza and us. He’s bought Andrew a flight home for Wednesday. He’s being forceful. Andrew is backing off. Eliza tells Paddy to hang up. She and Ansley talk to Andrew.
“Where is he?” I ask Ansley in a hushed voice. “Where is he calling from?”
No answer. Eliza, in Denver, hears me. “He’s calling from the soup kitchen, Dad.”
“What soup kitchen? What’s the address?”
“What difference does it make?” Ansley says to me.
“I want to know.”
She asks Andrew.
“It’s on Sixth Avenue, near the park,” I hear him say.
One block up from where I’d been patrolling that morning.
We’re to pick him up at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshal Airport early Wednesday morning. I’ll have to miss school. That’s all right. I’ll do a thorough review for the exams on Tuesday and be back in the classroom on Thursday to give the exams while Andrew is home relaxing, safe on the farm.
Receiving Body Blows, Punches, Hard, Precise, Fast
He’s ten feet ahead of me. We set off down Manor Road. There’s no shoulder; he’s walking too far out in the road. Cars whip up behind us. Some slow, drivers staring. Some fly by, not giving us much room.
We pass the entrance to the old Ives farm, then start down the hill.
I’m talking. Trying to convince Andrew to turn back. More aggressive this time. He’s holding his gray, speckled rug mat and his faded blue duffle bag up on his right shoulder. I grab it for a split second, yank it—he whips around, leaps at me, elbows high. I step back. He looks me in the eye, laughs, turns and continues, too far out in the road.
A siren wails in the distance. I’d heard Ansley tell them not to use a siren! It’s coming closer. It’s headed up Manor Road. Here it is, a house-sized fire engine booming up the hill towards us. Andrew doesn’t even glance at it. He keeps marching. He can’t see me. I pull my shirt off, wave it over my head with my left hand while pointing with my right at Andrew. The siren is silenced. The fire engine passes, stops, turns into the Ives entrance, backs out and then drives past us.
Walking full speed, I keep waving the shirt. Another siren is coming from behind. I look back; it’s a big red EMS truck. The driver spots me, turns the siren off.
The fire engine pulls over at the bottom of the hill. Everyone gets out. Six or so. The EMS truck passes us and pulls up behind the fire engine; four hop out. A woman in uniform leads a phalanx towards us. “Which of you needs to be examined? Which of you needs help?”
I realize I look just as crazy—waving a flannel shirt, white hair flying, frayed and faded-T-shirt, old baggy khakis, red bandana hanging out back pocket—as Andrew.
“He needs help!” I call out. “He has PTSD. He’s homeless. We have him home and want him to stay. He’s dehydrated, not making sense. He hasn’t eaten or had anything to drink in twenty-four hours.”
Andrew slows, bends down to their level, says a word or two. They have their hands down, fully extended, by their sides. He laces through them as if this is a perfectly normal occasion while each of them asks, “Can’t we help you?”
He’s through the phalanx. He’s past the EMS truck and is alongside the cab of the fire engine. He’s headed out. Down Manor Road for three-quarters of a mile, take a right on the Jarrettsville Pike, stay on it for five miles as it turns into Dulaney Valley Road, and in another few miles it crosses over Interstate 695 where he can catch a ride on a truck headed out to anywhere in America.
“He needs to be examined,” I yell. “He’s hallucinating. He thinks he’s Todd from Wyoming.” He’s through them; he’s in front of the fire engine and has a clear shot to head out to the Baltimore Beltway, where he could take a left, stick out his thumb and catch a ride to Interstate 95 and down the East Coast, or take a right, and head for Interstate 70 and west, leaving us forever.
I run towards Andrew. He sprints away. I dive, whipping my arms around his chest, trying to take him down. He shoots his arm up around my neck, flips me over his shoulder, throws me down on my side on the asphalt. My head hits. Cracks against the asphalt. Right shoulder and rib cage whack against the asphalt. I’m out.
I come to. Don’t know where I am, what’s going on. He’s on top of me. We roll into the weeds and ditch, up against the far bank. Can’t believe how helpless I am. I’m a kid. I’ve lost control of my body. A wave has picked up; it’s pummeling me, twirling me around and around, mashing me against the gravelly bottom. I’m receiving body blows, punches, hard, precise, fast, over and over in the same spot, on the right side of my chest. Drowning in the weeds, I wrestle against his fast-pumping arms. This is it. My time is up. Then he’s up and dancing around in the middle of the road waving his hands and I’m up, dizzy, out of it, staggering around, searching for my glasses in the ditch.
No one is helping. They are all standing back, aghast, watching, as if they’ve been ordered not to step forward, not to become involved. I feel their eyes on me. Andrew yells, “You saw it! He assaulted me!” The EMS crew is keeping away, standing beside their truck. The firemen are standing by the cab of their truck. Lines of cars are forming. I search in the ditch, everything’s blurry—why doesn’t someone help? A police car, a Baltimore County cruiser, lights flashing, siren wailing, winds its way through the lower line of cars and pulls in front of them. My glasses! Grab them out of the weeds. Scene comes into focus. Policeman steps out of cruiser. Andrew and I now in the middle of a circus.
I talk to the officer. Tell him that Andrew threw me down on the pavement, punched me. Andrew yells, “He assaulted me.” He turns to the EMS crew. “You saw it! He assaulted me!”
The officer seems to be listening to me. I don’t push the concept of Andrew assaulting me. The EMS crew remains silent. They saw me attempt to tackle him. I tell the officer he can’t let Andrew go. I explain about the homelessness.
Explain about searching for Andrew in Seattle. Inform him of Andrew’s two tours in Iraq, that he has PTSD, that he is a paranoid-schizophrenic. The officer is listening. Tells me he’s a Marine vet; he understands.
Another squad car arrives, lights blinking, siren wailing.
This officer is a higher rank. He waves me away. The two interview Andrew.
Ansley arrives! She rushes straight into their circle. She has the plastic box with the cell phone Andrew has just bought. “You need this. Here, you need this,” she says, handing him the plastic box. “Call us, Andrew,” she says. “Call us.” She explains to the police that we’re trying to help Andrew, we’ve just picked him up at the airport, we want him to stay on the farm and recuperate, we live half a mile up the road. They extend their arms, keeping her away from Andrew. The first officer is pulling on a pair of plastic gloves. What the hell are they for? Then he’s patting Andrew down, gingerly, carefully. Andrew is facing away from me. He is cooperating. He has his hands on the trunk of the car, just like in the movies. Ansley is asking Andrew if he needs any money. She opens her wallet, pulls out all the cash, holds it out, tells him to take it. He stares at it for a second, turns away. “Andrew, don’t you need some money? Take the money!”
The officer is standing between Ansley and Andrew, not touching either, holding up both hands. Ansley walks directly towards Andrew. “Ma’am,” they’re telling her. “It’s dangerous standing out here in the road.”
“He’s my son. I want to talk to my son.” She doesn’t back down.
“We’re sorry ma’am, you’ll have to step over here.”
They are gently holding her back; they’re saying it’s too dangerous for him to be walking along the road. I step back into the fray. They say he has his rights. Andrew is quiet. I push it. The officer of higher rank reaches into his pocket and now he pulls on a pair of rubber gloves. He’s homeless. He’s dehydrated. He’s hallucinating. He hasn’t eaten in twenty-four hours. I don’t repeat that he is a “danger to society,” I don’t assert that he’d thrown me on the asphalt, punched and battered me. I can’t do it. Have a spinning, whirling sensation. They are going to take Andrew away. They are going to put him in the back of the cruiser and drive off. This is unbelievable. I move towards Andrew. The higher ranked officer steps in front of me.
Ansley is not crying; she is not hysterical. I’ve never seen her look this way. She is stunned; she is staring at the scene; she is in shock. Her face is blank, devoid of expression, without color.
Now I can’t see Andrew. I don’t know what Andrew’s doing. I don’t know what these policemen are doing or the fire engine crew is doing or the EMS people are doing or what I’m doing. I’m a skinny, white-haired guy standing in the middle of this three-ring circus, people out of their cars gawking at us, and everything is whirling around. They repeat that he has his rights. They load him into the back seat of the squad car. I stand there, in the surreal moment, frozen, wooden—and watch as the car proceeds down the hill, through the bottleneck of vehicles and gaping bystanders, my son in the back, taking him not to the police station, not to a psychiatric ward, not to a VA emergency room, but astonishingly, unbelievably, like an Uber driver, this policeman is taking Andrew wherever he wants to go in the county. Off the cruiser goes, Andrew’s shoulders and head stationary, framed in the back window, Andrew becoming smaller, Andrew disappearing, Andrew compliant, cooperative and under the control of the policeman. Will he turn and look back? Then the car is out of sight.
ANDREW IN HIS YOUTH:
Gentle, Kind . . . Inquisitive, Philosophic
After he’d returned from his second tour in Iraq, he had completely renounced his upbringing. At that time, we’d had no idea that the flight path of his life would go into such a downward spiral. This could not happen to our son—we’d find a solution. This was a stage. Ansley and I had weathered many stages raising our three children. Hang on, and one day, though in a different form, Andrew as he was in his youth, Andrew as he was in my early days of fatherhood—would be back:
Gentle, kind—sitting with knees crossed by the woodstove, holding Tidbit, our miniature daschhund, in his lap, sipping hot chocolate, discussing the upcoming afternoon’s farm work with Dee Dee as full, puffy flakes of snow slant down outside.
Industrious, hard-working—develops a good system and sticks with it. Even as a pre-teen he’s slow-is-smooth, smooth-is-fast, contrasting with his father’s fast-is-faster, faster-is-fastest. On his grandmother’s farm, at a young age, he’s pushing the wheelbarrow to the woodpile, filling it, unloading it onto the back porch and neatly stacking the pieces. He’s proud of his work for Dee Dee. They’re a team.
Perseverant, focused—he’s assigned to cover me, “Fancy Feet Can’t Be Beat,” during our evening soccer game in the mud, in the snow, on the ice, with Paddy and the boys. “I’m like glue and will stick to you,” he calls out, and he does.
Exhausted, depleted—he’s given everything he has on the ten-degree snowy evening on our pond; he, Paddy and I have played ice hockey till we can’t make another move, and he skates to the pond’s edge, turns, throws his arms up, and laughingly flops back, body sinking into the snow, arms waving, making a perfect snow angel.
Nervous about doing anything new, wanting to remain attached to mother or father—he’s tense, hands in a death grip on the handle bars of his new birthday bike, back stiff, bike tilting to the right, tilting to the left, “Dad, Dad, don’t let loose,” picking up speed as I jog alongside on the Gunpowder Trail, my hands lightly over his, the bike hopping and bouncing, the handle bars jiggling, and we’re picking up speed, “Dad, Dad!”—I’m releasing my hands from his, “Dad, Dad!” I can’t keep this up, can’t continue running while holding my arms in this protective circle around him. I drop my hands as he takes off, leaving me.
Inquisitive, philosophic—he’s also ready to quick-draw and shoot. (Fast, he has extremely fast hands. Beats me to the draw every time.) Blossom—kind and gentle pony of his youth—tacked up, ready to go, is standing before him. He’s in chaps, cowboy hat—a handsome Stetson given by godfather Rob Deford, cowboy boots, cap gun in holster. Standing behind him, gripping him around his rib cage, counting, one—he flexes his legs, two—he flexes his legs, three—he pushes off, I lift up, and he’s in the tack, ready to ride miles and miles cross-country, shooting his cap-guns at outlaws and bandits, asking: “How big is the universe? What is infinity? Daddy, when you look up into the sky, and you don’t see an end to it, does it really go on forever? And time? How about that? When did time start? When will it end?” We cluck to our mounts, squeeze with our legs—and we are in the present, absolutely, totally, in the bull’s eye of time, thinking of nothing but what we’re doing—galloping down twisty paths in the woods, jumping every log we can find, wading into deep rivers (the current up to his boots: “Dad, this is just like in the movies,”) lengthening our grip on the reins, freeing our horse and pony of all restraint, freeing ourselves, and letting them gallop full tilt, “Dad! Dad!”
Independent thinker, loves to seize the serendipitous moment—on vacation, at his grandfather Pop Pop’s in Orlando, I’m standing at the bathroom sink, having just lathered up for a relaxed, late-morning shave. In he comes in his pajamas, four feet tall, not saying a word. Picks up the can of shaving cream, gives it a shake, pushes the nozzle and out comes enough cream for three shaves. He applies it to his “beard,” and it is everywhere, up his nose, over his ears, down his neck, gobs of it over his cheekbones right up to the sockets of his eyes. Eyebrows raised ever so slightly, chin up, he reaches over, nonchalantly, as if this is something he does every morning, takes my razor and has a good shave.
You Need to Live Your Life!
I’m up late. It’s 1:15 a.m. Have had a few drinks. Ansley is asleep. I’m in the barn. Patting the horses. I’m outside the barn staring at the gate through which Andrew and I have ridden hundreds of times. I’m seeing Andrew. All ages.
Young, lower school age, on his pony Blossom. Then, middle school age, pushing a wheelbarrow load of wood. Splitting wood. Conferring with Dee Dee on the next task.
Older, carrying a glass of red wine. Laughing. Out on the pavilion forty feet away. Carousing with his Boys’ Latin classmates and friends.
Later, back from the Marines. He has my old weight-lifting bench set up in the garage. Each afternoon when I return from teaching, he’s bare chested, lifting huge amounts, his neck and shoulders thickening. I ask him to go for a walk. Ask if he’d like to go for a ride. Ask if he’d help split some wood. “No, I’m good.” He’s smoking pot as he lifts—I neglected to say that. He’s smoking pot and he has music blasting. It starts to spin and repeat itself. I’m spinning. I’m drunk. I haven’t been this drunk in years. It’s a strange drunk; I can be lost in it, and then, if I focus, I can pull myself out. Got to work this out of my system. Can’t go to bed like this; will feel horrible in the morning. Hop on the stationary bike. Pedal. Pedal hard. Burning off the scotch. Burning off the fury. My mother—Mom, Dee Dee to Andrew, is suddenly, shockingly, right in front of me, an arm’s length away, strong, healthy, forceful, her eyes like a hawk’s piercing into mine.
—You did everything you could, she says
—You sent him to the best school
—You helped him with his studies
—You worked with him on his papers and projects
—You practiced soccer, basketball, lacrosse, baseball with him
—You had that one summer of playing tennis with him every afternoon
—You went to every one of his cross-country meets
—You took him on long rides he loved. Remember crossing the rivers on Blossom, the water above her belly, the rushing water at his knees. How he loved it
—You taught him to ski
—You taught him to drive.
—You took him to the AA meetings
—You took him on that week-long college trip
—You supported him in the Marines
No Guilt, Patrick!
You need to live your life, Patrick! Go on, live your life!
SANTA ANA POLICE STATION:
“You Should Get a Bigger Sign.”
Ansley and Eliza arrive. We drive up past Bernalillo to the Santa Anna reservation, then to the police station.
Eliza has already been here, has seen the video. First, we meet the policeman who had helped Eliza and Paddy two days before. Then, Chief Candelaria comes out. She has a full belt of weapons around her waist and is wearing a bullet proof vest. Everyone here is wearing a bullet proof vest. Polite and considerate, she brings us into her office. She pulls the video up on her computer.
There’s Andrew, standing tall, gaunt but strong, frame backpack on. He has his thumbs in the straps crossing his chest. REI backpack. Sleeping bag in blue bag tied to top of the frame. Below that, tent in green bag. Baseball cap. Brown Carhart wool hat over cap. Black long pants. He looks into the camera. Holds both hands out.
— What am I doing wrong?
— You’re trespassing on private property.
— I didn’t know this was private property.
— It is. It’s an Indian reservation.
— OK, I just passed a sign saying this was a reservation, but I didn’t see anything about not being able to walk through here.
— Well, you can’t. This is private property.
— I thought I was getting some funny looks walking along there. He nods to the long straight road he’d just come up. He shrugs his shoulders at the absurdity of the situation.
— You should get a bigger sign, he says, looking down at them. His voice is smooth. He is remaining calm under this pressure. I am rooting for him. There is background noise in the station. We can’t hear everything. Ansley, on my right, further away from the computer, strains to hear.
— Where are you going?
— I’m just going up there, he points ahead, back from where I came from. He takes a step forward.
— Wait a minute. Do you have ID?
— What’s going on? You have your lights on. He looks up at the roof of the car. I’m not doing anything wrong. Just let me keep going.
— You’re on Indian lands. They may not like you walking on their lands. What’s your name?
— D. Smith.
— What’s in that wallet in your back pocket?
— I have some receipts and some cash. Listen, he looks from his height down at the black policeman. I feel like I’m being harassed. You’re not white. He turns and looks at the Native American policeman who is now out of video range but must be beside the car. You’re not white. I’m being harassed.
— We need to see your wallet. Drop your backpack or we’ll arrest you.
— I’ve been cooperative. I’m being racially profiled because I’m Caucasian.
— Drop the backpack.
He pulls the backpack off his shoulders, bends forward, sets it down. Stands straight and glares at them.
They move toward him, one on either side. He stands with his hands by his sides, looks at one, then the other and Bam! The little ball on the red line is only three-quarters of the way across the bottom of the screen when she halts it. Andrew is frozen on the screen. We’re stunned, staring at it and Zap!—the screen is blank.
My Son’s Destination for the Day.
2:04 p.m.—One of the detectives texts a photo: There my son is. He is leaning against his backpack. The backpack is positioned against the bag containing the sleeping bag and the bag containing the tent. He is seated, leaning back, his long legs arched, on a huge concrete structure. He is on the platform that swings out and curves to the left. To his right, there’s a smooth ledge. He is relaxed. My son has reached his destination for the day. He is gazing out over shrubs with yellow blossoms that ring this structure, over faded green shrubs and thousands of acres of sandy, gritty soil and low, wiry bushes, over trees and houses a mile down, still in the foothills, to the urban sprawl of Albuquerque. It is one of the most peaceful photographs I’ve ever seen, and my son has been walking—with three detectives trailing him—all day to get there. He has no extra weight, no fat. He has streamlined his life. He is there, in the moment. I am not here, in the moment. I am there, with him, wanting, trying to be, in his moment.
Late that afternoon, I get a message. It’s Glenn: He’s not your typical homeless person wandering the streets. He’s … what’s the word… well-prepared organized likes to camp. He’s a survivalist that’s the word. My guys following don’t have sleeping bags. He’s gone from Menaul up to Tramway. This is a long distance. My guys are getting tired. They don’t have camping equipment.
I text: Yes that’s my son I used to run with him training for cross country and he can run all day I used to hike through the Adirondack mountains with him and he can hike all day stay with him Glenn
Late that evening, Paddy arrives. I’m a little worried about Paddy keeping up this pace. He’s been up since 4:30—two surgeries at Children’s Hospital, worked at his main office, jumped in his car and made the 450-mile trip in record-breaking time. In our hotel room, he calls Glenn.
Glenn: He’s in the mountains now. In the middle of nowhere. It’s getting dark. He’s going to have to stay up there. We could let him stay there overnight and come back in the morning.
Paddy: No Glenn, you’re not going to leave my brother in the mountains. You’re going to stay with him. I don’t care how cold it is, how tired your men are. You say you have three men on him now. Do you really need three men and yourself—that’s four? You don’t want to do it, tell me. I’ll go up there myself and do it. Dad and I can go up there …
Friday—7:00 a.m. Glenn: We’ve lost him.
Colliding, Spinning, Whirling Vortex of a Nightmare
Paddy looks up. I wave. He runs to the car. The Crisis Intervention SUV is crossing the lot, Andrew in the back, closely followed by the cruiser. Paddy jumps in. We leave from a different exit, following six car lengths back.
My backpack containing binoculars, flannel shirt, fleece vest, maps, pad, pen, extra bandana is behind me. I’m wearing a baseball cap. I’m ready to track him on foot all night. We’d thought they’d release him at the hospital and I’d fall in behind him with Paddy following both of us in the car, but now I picture Paddy and I hiking side-by-side down the Bosque Trail attempting to talk to him.
We’re locked on the two police cruisers, at a discreet distance. Texts are popping up on our phones:
What are you doing … .
Come back to the hotel … .
Leave Andrew alone … .
You’re just going to make it worse … .
I zap my phone off. We make an extra loop around the roundabout on Indian Road so they don’t get suspicious, but this puts us too far back. We fall one light behind, lose them.
We pass a road to the Bosque Way. Pass another. Then, there’s a major road. Take it to trail. Park. We walk fast, river on left, woods on right, calling—Andrew, Andrew.
Paddy rushes off the path into the woods. Andrew, Andrew.
—No Paddy, no, that could be dangerous.
Paddy is back on the trail. Dad, you go this way. I’ll go that.
We separate, walk and call, finally return to the car.
Back at the hotel we expect a soothing, empathetic welcome, hugs, drinks, dinner, an easing of tension as during our other Andrew searches, but this time is different. We receive extreme criticism for stalking the police along with a lecture on how unrealistic our entire plan had been. We are told the situation is hopeless. There is nothing we can do. We have to let it go.
Ansley: Never again. We are never doing this again.
Paddy and I stare at each other, wide-eyed. We are in shock. The beer and wine goes to my head. I snap back. Lose my temper. Suddenly, there Paddy and I are by ourselves. We are swirling. I’ve had a steak. Paddy couldn’t eat. His steak is untouched.
Paddy pushes his plate away. I have a straight scotch. He gets up, goes off, to the bathroom I suppose. I stand, step outside for some fresh air, and keep going. The nightmare of it: the horrible experience, then this evisceration upon returning.
I pull my backpack over my shoulders, cross to the other side of Menaul. I’m looking down and swinging my arms and eating up the distance. Uphill. I am Andrew. I’m channeling Andrew, imagining being Andrew. I’m marching Marine double time. It’s cold. Button flannel shirt, zip up vest. I’m going to head up into the foothills and sleep there, that’s what I’ll do.
Soon they’ll wonder where I am. Eliza will look at the map on her phone where she has been “tracking” me this week when I’ve gone off-course, and they’ll drive up behind me, “Dad, Dad, are you all right? Get in.” They’ll apologize for the rough treatment they’d given Paddy and me, and take me back to the hotel. But maybe not. Maybe I’ll just hike up into the foothills and sleep under a bridge. I know this is ridiculous, I know it’s silly, but I’m a Marine in forced-march mode. I’m turning off the phone so they can’t track me, cars are shooting by, neon signs of car lots and massage parlors and fast food chains blink on both sides. The scotch is releasing me. Letting my emotions flow. The tears are gushing. I’m shuddering or am I shivering? I do know I am talking to myself:
I’m calling out. It is all colliding, spinning, whirling into a vortex. Images: Andrew in handcuffs. Andrew on the bench looking up and cussing at me. Andrew peacefully washing his feet in the Rio Grande.
What is he doing with his life? Why is he doing this?
I’ll discover it—I’ll go into the foothills. I’m feeling it … it is freedom. Absolute freedom. Like being a Buddhist monk. It is his Zen—he is just being. He’s doing walking meditation. And he has no one to bother him. No responsibilities. No need to conform to American middle-class mores. He is a survivalist, a mountain man, Woody Guthrie’s old-time hobo swinging up onto the floor of a train car.
This land is your land and this land is my land …
As I went walking that ribbon of highway
I saw above me that endless skyway
Saw below me that golden valley
This land was made for you and me
I ease up on the tears thinking I have it figured out only to suddenly project images on the screen of my mind of what he could be: Courtroom lawyer. A wily, persuasive, imaginative courtroom lawyer. A loving husband and caring father. He could be meeting Eliza’s boyfriend Jeremy. Slapping him on the back, taking him out for a drink. He could be stepping into a pair of skis without having skied in twenty years, and outskiing us all—that way he used to fly without effort from the top of one mogul to the next, no goggles, parka unzipped, ear covers of his sheepskin-lined WWI fighter pilot hat flapping.
He could have the house he always wanted. The wife. The children. A good job without pressure. Such as the one driving the bus in Palm Springs. He had good looks, athleticism, incredible speaking ability—what a trial lawyer he could be!
And now he’s walking down the Bosque Trail. Retreating from the neighborhood where he was caught in an ambush. Headed west. While I am headed up Menaul, away from my hotel where I was caught in an ambush. Headed east.
Have gone a couple of miles. Going a little nuts. Pass homeless man setting up big cardboard box as a tent. He looks at me, another homeless man. I feel homeless. I am homeless. Pass other homeless who stare knowingly at me.
Turn phone back on. Stop, call Rob—Andrew’s godfather. Tell him the impossibility of the situation. He listens. I can feel him listening with intensity.
—Go back, Patrick. You have to go back and hug your wife. (I’ll always remember those words.) Go back now.
Hang up. Better. Continue walking. No more double time. Am weakening.
Urinate behind a bush as headlight beams slash across my chest. Who cares? Don’t wait at intersections. Walk straight through. Who gives a damn? Drivers slow, stop, stare. Legs are getting wobbly.