IT WAS EXACTLY 5 YEARS AGO TODAY
That my phone rang, showing an unfamiliar number in New Mexico. Since our son lived in Albuquerque I figured I should answer it, but immediately I felt trepidation. He had long suffered from bouts of severe depression. The first time he faced that terrifying, unfathomable, bottomless black hole, years ago, he fashioned a noose to end the suffocation and pain, because I guess you feel there is no other way out.
But having gone through that first time, looking the monster in the eye and somehow surviving, he, like so many, learned that with lots of strength, determination and guts, you could live another day, a brighter day. But we could never be sure there wouldn’t come a tsunami he couldn’t stay on top of.
This special CURIOUS CITY is meant as an exposition and tribute to the person he was. He deserves that. But I thought some background might be necessary for those unfamiliar with the story. I wrote a CC column right after his death: https://smdp.com/2017/10/04/hardest-column-i-could-ever-write/
WHEN THE VOICE
On the phone five years ago announced he was calling from the Albuquerque Police Dept. I of course froze, with a few seconds of hope that it was an arrest (in need of bail), or even a non-critical hospitalization. No such luck. I was told he had been murdered, in his own home, the day before.
I’m not trying to be sensational. Just trying to authentically give a backdrop to what the last five years have been for us (me, his stepmom since Chris was 12 Dian, and half sister since birth Nicole – a different journey for each of us). Any parent getting that call about a child, even an adult child, goes down a similar path of shock, disbelief, horror and pain. Those lessen with time, but the grief never goes away. Not for the rest of your life.
IT MAY SOUND STRANGE
But given that he was gone, it was a relief to know he didn’t take his own life, that had become so painful, moment to moment, that he could no longer take it. Yes, we would prefer the murderer be caught (the APD has been completely overloaded, but also incompetent, and prevented us from speaking with anyone higher up than a detective) so solving this case doesn’t look likely now. And it wouldn’t bring him back, would it?
There are, sadly, way too many families in this insanely gun-soaked country who have had to travel a similar path.
But this column is meant to mostly memorialize Chris Andrews, and because his mental health struggles kept him distant from us most of the time towards the end, a lot of it was revealed to us by going through his papers and at the moving memorial service held just a few days later, in Albuquerque.
I ADMIT TO SOME PARENTAL MISSTEPS
That probably drove him farther away. Turns out that as far left as I think I am, I raised two kids who think I’m way too conservative.
We battled over his getting treatment for his mental health, and finding the right meds that I saw made life so much easier for so many friends of mine. But he was generally opposed to pharmaceuticals, and felt finding “the right drug” for your depression was medical experimentation, resulting in drugs that “made you a zombie” and could deliver suicidal thoughts. He had a very close friend who had a terrible time, nearly fatal, and another who did commit suicide. I have now come to see that there is a lot to be said for his approach.
He could name the drugs and quote you the stats of the studies. But his vast knowledge of so many subjects was, as so many friends recounted, beyond most people. He obviously loved to learn and was a voracious reader (lots of nonfiction in his library, and a lot of Phillip K. Dick), but he also loved to argue and wanted to have the facts on his side.
I was (needlessly) concerned that he flamed out in college, at UC Santa Cruz. Loved the redwoods and the banana slugs, the pristine bike trails and the town, not so much the classroom. As a Literature major, he took History of Jazz, Nuclear Weapons Arms Control, The Creative Process and Race and Ethnicity.
All his teachers lamented his lukewarm dedication to completing the work but all praised his exceptional writing ability… except one. A TA. Who probably couldn’t write her way out of a wastebasket. Chris was a close cousin of Mark Twain and I think got some genetic benefit. But I now see that he didn’t really need a degree.
From his evaluations: “A writer of considerable talent…” – “Numerous nuggets of wit and wisdom…” – “A fine and fluid review of a concert tour…” – “Considerable range in his writing voice…” – “Handled finicky subject with wit and wisdom…” – “Supple prose and mature insight…” – and he participated “with wit and dialogue” in a Readers’ Theater performance on “The Brain Under the Influence of Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll.” That’s my boy.
He kept talking about continuing at Cabrillo Community College and finally enrolled for two semesters. Another interesting assortment of subjects: American Justice, Physical Anthro, Rhetoric and Composition, Art of the Americas, Music in Film, Administration of Justice, Studies of Literary Types, American Political Thought, Hiking (PE), Studies of Literary Types, Music Lab, Language of Films, and some math. OK, so –
ACADEMIC ACCOMPLISHMENTS: SPOTTY
But at every job he was highly valued. Until a depression would hit and he couldn’t get out of bed or even call in sick. He lost so many jobs that way. And relationships. He spent his last six years alone and content with his two feline buddies, Huck and Scooter. He was proud of Scooter for being able to climb anywhere despite losing half of both his back legs. They were the ones who signaled his demise: their heartbroken, inconsolable howling led the neighbors to call the police.
When his sister was born he moved back to an LA he didn’t like much, to be near her. He was Assistant Manager at Ben & Jerry’s on Main Street (we got lots of leftovers!), and later became a top movie maven who went by “Dutch” at Vidiots, and got a glowing recommendation letter from the two founders, Patricia and Cathy.
HE LOVED NATURE
And especially riding his bikes. For several years in northern CA he didn’t own a car (later became a Subaru man, all in). Twice he took long falls off a mountain trail (one resulting in a permanent tweak in one collar bone – maybe a 50’ fall, straight down the mountain – and then he had to hike out, carrying his bike!), and he was hit by a car twice. One of those was more serious and in pre-Internet days he found a lawyer in San Francisco who specialized in such cases. He won and got a few thousand.
He raced competitively, professionally, and was determined to never lose, even among friends. And we heard so many funny stories about that from his friends at his NM memorial, one in Santa Monica, and also one in his beloved Santa Cruz area. No one… could remember him ever losing, even a “race you to the river.” And many times he was giving away 10 years or more. One friend said he thought he had accomplished the impossible when he saw the finish line just ahead and no sign of Chris… until he came crashing out of the woods, off road, and won.
For a guy who showed no early signs of it, he wound up being an air-tight money manager. He covered the entire mortgage on his adobe-style home for the last five or six years after he split with his girlfriend, and probably paid her off to have a quit claim and full title to the house. When we looked over his books he had every bill paid to date, or even six months in advance. All recorded neatly.
That wasn’t the only pleasant surprise. As I wrote in 2017, the memorial for him, organized by his best friend Aaron on two days’ notice, drew 60 people, some from far away, even CA.
I think the best thing is to draw quotes from that column.
“His community was large and loving. An extraordinary, spiritual tribe.” “Aged 20s to 70s, but there were also quite a few little kids running around who adored him. (He was 48.) Art collectors and cooks, teachers and political consultants, real estate investors and organic food specialists, film producers and fine woodworkers, marijuana farmers and restaurant owners, philanthropists and spiritual healers, gay and straight, black and white and brown, schizophrenic and depressed, and a friend who lectures across the country on quantum physics.” “That evening was one of the very best events of my entire life. Nothing could turn back the clock and give him back to us, but we did discover the Chris we never knew existed, universally loved and praised so eloquently by so many that it was like a rebirth for us.” (All were) “focusing on a lightness and cherished spirit rather than sadness, as so many recounted stories or just told what he meant to them.”
“EVERYONE AT THE MEMORIAL
Spoke about his ever-present smile and infectious, spritely spirit. They all knew he suffered from depression and they took inspiration that he could be so cheerful and reach out to others, when he often wasn’t feeling it himself. I had three different people come up to me that night and look me in the eye and say, Christopher saved my life. (I get chills just mentioning that.) Through his unceasing efforts to be there for people and support and encourage them in their darkest times.” “Spread some ashes in his beloved Sandia Mountains that tower over Albuquerque. The sky was incredible at that moment, and a full double rainbow emerged on the way back into town. On different days we were confronted with a coyote and a roadrunner, not usually seen on the city streets. But this Christopher was a powerful shaman.”
But the simple tribute Christopher may have liked the most came from our dear friend Tom Linton – He tread lightly upon the Earth.
Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 36 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at email@example.com