I sat down wanting to write about early Christmas with JC’s folks, but the only thing that’s on my mind right now is my friend Andy.
He killed himself on Wednesday.
People keep asking me if I have any other details. I know, from experience, that I don’t want any. I’ve lost one other friend to suicide, back when I was in college, and I knew enough about how she did it that it fed my nightmares for years. I’m glad I don’t know that about Andy.
I would like to know a few things. I’d like to know if he left any information about why, but I also sort of know. He almost did it several years ago, and he called the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. He told me that the counselor he talked to saved his life, and that he was glad he’d called. “It was stupid to even consider it,” he said. “I’m glad I didn’t do it.”
I told him I was also glad he didn’t do it. And that I was proud of him for calling and for getting past a dark time and moving on and being strong.
I would like to know if he ever finished this really fun novel he was writing. I read a draft of it years ago. It reminded me of Carl Hiaasen, but grittier. He wasn’t quite done with it, though, and I wanted to know what happened. He had an amazing voice, and many of his life stories were stranger than fiction.
I’d like to know what art we’re missing because he’s missing.
And now, I’m disappointed and angry. I’m glad that I got to know him. I’ve been thinking a ton about what I learned from him. He was an incredibly generous person, with an amazing sense of humor and a warmth that could fill a room. I wrote about him a few years ago, when I stopped on my way through the town where he was living to say hi. Everything I said then is still true. He seemed to be doing pretty well recently–making art, taking lots of photos, traveling a bit, spending time with fun people. But one thing I know about depression is that it’s not about what’s actually going on in your life. It’s about what you feel around it. Or don’t feel. It’s about everything but reality.
What’s crazy is that I was actually thinking about Andy on Wednesday. I was taking a picture of Silas, and I thought how very Andy-esque it was. Not that I’ll ever be as amazing as the man himself, but as I was shooting, I was thinking about a series of shoots that Andy and I did together involving children. He always was putting these soft focus things in the foreground. I learned so much about depth of field from watching him work.
The light on Silas’ face as he was working on his LEGOs also reminded me of some of our shoots, and how Andy was so daring in his use of light and so perceptive of its presence.
On one of my favorite shoots, we had a TON of kids there, and we were just trying to keep things under control. We got 35 usable shots in a day, which was a surprisingly high number. We had a great time because Andy kept it fun. He knew how to talk to the kids and really play with them. One of the best “out takes” happened when he spotted the way the sunlight hit the staircase. He asked two of the girls to sit there and have a conversation. Those shots came out incredibly gorgeous, mostly because he could read the light. Those girls glowed.
Part of me hopes that, somewhere, somehow, Andy knows how angry I am at him, if only because my anger shows the depth of my love for him. And part of me hopes that he’ll never know.
I think mental illness must be the worst kind, because it’s so hard to separate what a person does from who they are. The brain can get sick and out of balance, just like any other organ, as a friend wrote to me in the immediate aftermath of Andy’s death. And that’s true. But to believe in free will and also to try to reconcile that with the actions of a damaged brain, is a tricky thing. I’ve had more experience with that than most people, and it’s still hard.
I often would post my photos to Facebook with a tag to Andy, saying how he’d taught me something I had used in them. I didn’t even have a chance to pull these off the camera before I heard that he was gone.
Andy, where ever you are, I’m holding you in the light. The foreground is awfully blurry.