I don’t recall the first time we met. It was the late 90’s. The internet was taking over life as we knew it. The way we communicated, shopped, and worked were all changing. There was a sense of uncertainty along with the excitement of possibility. Even the world’s oldest profession was changing. No longer do you have to have a buddy who knows a girl. You simply flipped on the computer. We then waited for a good connection after that, a few searches and clicks. There you were with a collection of potential companions just an email away. I couldn’t have known when I got that first email from his AOL account. He would be someone that would stay with me forever. We are always so worried about being accepted for who we are. We often don’t stop and think about how we impact others. Knowing Andy, he would have never imaged I would be writing about him now. He always presented himself as just an average guy, with nothing special to offer the world.
For years, we were pretty routine. Once or twice a month, I’d pop by for a few hours. Probably a bit more around the holidays. Andy was successful by my standards. He owned a small company that he had worked in from the bottom up. His boss handed the company down to him like a son. Andy was a rare find of hardworking, honest, and humble. Nice, single guy, Mercedes coupe in the garage. Good looking guy. If I had to pick a label, I guess I would say average type. He was now middle age, about 5’8” and a slim build. He saw more time on the golf course than he did in a gym. He wasn’t Brad Pitt, but you also wouldn’t kick him out of bed. He was of Swedish descent, I thought from his pale complexion. I could make him blush so easily. The red of his cheeks popping out at you like Santa Claus. Not average in the least was that mane of wild l strawberry blonde curls just starting to thin. The kind of curls that make you want to sneak in an embrace so that you can run your fingers through them. I always wanted to see photos of him in his hippie days. All the ladies must have wanted to play in those curls. I know I did. At the same time, I knew him well enough to know he probably ended up in the friend zone a lot. For him, there seemed to have been one great love. It was a great love that had led to heartbreak. When you’re afraid to try again, the difference between loneliness and being lonely often gets blurred. That’s where our relationship came in. I knew this from the first time we met. We sat and talked for three straight hours. I found it odd at first. Then I began to see how I fit in his life. He was seeking more than sex from a woman. Andy was longing for connection. He was also just really nervous the first time and was waiting for me to give permissions. You have to love a gentleman.
Our dates were always pretty much the same. We always met for three hours somewhere around 7 pm. I knew how things would go. I pop over in something sexy yet casual. He would open the door in jeans, linen button-down shirt, and casual dress shoes. We kiss and hug like old friends. After years of seeing each other. It truly was the case. We’d make our way to his modest kitchen area, where I’d put my things down on the table. I said hello to the dogs while he poured himself a Grey Goose and tonic. Then off to the sofa we went. We would spend a couple of hours catching up and simply enjoying each other’s company.
Conversations build with the relationship. At first, it’s more the superficial things of life. You know, pop culture, technology, and cars. He bought me a Tivo and taught me how to use it. Graciously allowed me to use his pool area for a photoshoot. We bonded over sweet slices of Honey Crisp apple, his favorite. Yet, another great thing I learned about in our hours together.
As our connection grew, we would talk more about family dynamics and past relationships. It didn’t take long to realize he was great at relationships. He just hadn’t dared to go out and meet anyone new. The fear of putting himself out there and being vulnerable seemed to be the main hurdle. I would sometimes make suggestions of places he could go out for an evening to meet people. I never took it much further than that. Every relationship has boundaries. You always do your best to respect that until you don’t. I wanted him as a client. At the same time, I could see he needed something more.
Then there was a night that changed everything. Not in the way you might suspect. Something matter of fact that was a seed for things to come. It was a night like any other. Music and lively conversation filled the air. We were talking about the internet and all the things that can now be done online. He told me he had found a site that let you order medication without seeing a doctor. Like most men, I figured he came across it looking for Viagra or something. Having worked at a hospital, I didn’t believe it was true. Running back to his bathroom, sure enough, he came back out with a couple of different prescription bottles. One was pain medication, the other a muscle relaxer. For a second, I found it scary that anyone could order pills so easily. A part of me still didn’t believe it. He showed me the site so I could try it. I ordered their version of something I already had in my cabinet to see if it was legit. It never occurred to me that I should have deeper concerns about him using the site.
Life merrily rolled along for the next few months. Then I noticed I wasn’t hearing from my friend as routinely. The last couple of times I saw him. I also noticed he has started to seem depressed or low energy. Rarely was he negative, but his outlook on life was changing. I wasn’t sure what was happening with him. Business seemed to be going very well. A remodel of the kitchen had just been finished. He had even bought some new furniture. Yet, there was an apparent shift in his overall mood. I noticed he kept excusing himself to the bathroom more than usual. It made me curious, so I excused myself to investigate a bit. When I got to the bathroom, I noticed not one or two but half a dozen prescription bottles from this online company. I found most of the bottles on the counter were for Soma which is a muscle relaxer. The change in demeanor was starting to make more sense. I also noticed that he had started sleeping in a guest room, which I thought was odd.
Now, this is where I could have told myself to ignore it. This is someone dear I’ve known for years. At the same time, would I be crossing a line to say something? My heart always wins, so I went back out and talked to him about the pills. I got a sense of how often he was ordering. Come to find out. They solicited you for more orders. You didn’t have to do anything but say yes to a refill! I expressed my concerns for his health. Let him know that one of the drugs sent to me wasn’t the real thing, and I wasn’t sure the whole thing was legal. He seemed surprised by my concern. Maybe he felt like no one cared at that point. He let me know I had nothing to worry about, and it was all under control. The bed in the other room is more comfortable, he explained. To be honest, I wasn’t sure at that moment what to make of it all. I just had an awful feeling about it all. I had never really even seen him drunk before. But I left that night feeling like it would all blow over and hoping for the best.
It was a few weeks later, around the time we’d typically plan a get-together. I noticed I hadn’t heard from Andy. I emailed and left messages, but no response. I thought there was a chance he took a trip to Palm Springs or Vegas to golf. It was odd not to hear anything, so I kept trying. Still no response at all. Something didn’t feel right to me. Maybe I was reading things wrong. I had to ask myself if it were my place to cross a line. At the same time. What if I was wrong? I don’t typically get involved with client’s personal lives. I didn’t want to embarrass him or myself. Something deep down told me I knew him well enough to know something was wrong. There were no family or close friends in town to check on him. I waited another day and took a drive to his house.
I arrived, and things were quiet. My heart started to race as I saw the car sitting in the garage. He hadn’t taken a road trip. I could hear the dogs barking at me. They stayed with a sitter when he left town, so I knew he was definitely home. I kept knocking and ringing the bell. I went to the backyard, and still no signs of life. Finally, the door cracked open. No pressed jeans and linen shirt with rosy cheeks. I saw a person unkept and ready to pass out onto the floor. I asked what was going on. He told me nothing as I looked around the house, messy and dark. Following him to the back guest room, I could see he hasn’t left the house in a week or more. The room he’s in has clothes and papers all over the floor. The room completely blacked out with a bedsheet. I didn’t need to ask any more questions. I know I had to take some action, even if he became angry with me.
I asked him if I could call anyone, but I knew there was no one. I checked on the dogs. He loved them more than anything, so of course, they were doing fine. It seemed he had stopped showing himself the same kind of love. I have no idea how many pills he had been taking a day with all the empty bottles. I only knew it was far more than he should be taking. I managed to get him up, and we took a walk around the block for fresh air. Even with this unusual event, he talked about his neighbors or his day like nothing was wrong. Yet, I could tell whatever he was fighting. It was winning. After he sobered up a bit, we talked about not ordering any
more of these pills and blocking the phone number so they couldn’t just call. I could tell this was serious, but I wasn’t sure how serious. I imagined employees, family, or a friend also notices the changes in him. Surely, someone in his inner circle was ready to step in and get him some help. Right?
The first thought for many might be that they’re losing a client and worrying about themselves. I felt like I was losing a friend. I was so thankful when I got a phone call a week later that I wouldn’t be seeing him for a while. Thank goodness I heard the sweet words. His family was sending him to rehab. This brought great relief, but I knew it wouldn’t be easy. Rehab is one thing. But when you get out in the world and have to deal with your demons alone, it makes the fight that much more complicated. On top of that, I knew the online pharmaceutical company wasn’t relentless. From the one order, I placed they were hounding me. Calls and emails almost weekly asking about refills. All I had to do was say yes, and two days later, they would end up at my door. I wasn’t sure how he would cut this dealer off without changing his number, which wasn’t something I had a say in. For all, I knew he wouldn’t want to see me again either. But by this time, his health was all the mattered.
I was so happy six weeks later when we got together. Andy was cleaned up, sober, and back to the guy, I knew. He seemed upbeat and looking forward to the future. It was a real turnaround from the person that could hardly open the door. I want to say this is the end of the tail. Alas, it
Is not. You see, Andy had kicked his addiction but not his demons. He still had his feelings of loneliness to conquer. I didn’t see him as often after that. I found out he had met someone. They were going places and traveling together. I was happy for him. After a month or two of dating the new woman in his life, the holidays came, and he asked me to come over. I could tell things were not the same energy as our last visit. His demeanor had changed yet again.
I wasn’t getting Christmas cheer and much as a dramatic tale centered around the girlfriend. What I found out was he hadn’t found love. He found a co-dependent relationship. He was not feeling confident enough for the real world, perhaps. He had turned to dating a stripper with drug and mental health issues of her own. She had stolen from him, tore up his house, and in general, had taken things to an unhealthy place. His new furniture had bleach thrown on it. I could tell the front door had been busted at some point. And when I went to the backroom, my heart sunk at the sight of new prescription bottles. The dogs were still at the breeder, and I didn’t know why. Those dogs were his support and sanity most days. The only thing I could do at that moment was get an ear full of the madness that had gone on the past month or so. I was speechless. Even in my unconventional world, things rarely got this out of hand. I was afraid for him. I didn’t know how to say it. She was gone, and it was over. I hoped now he would be able to get back on track.
I honestly don’t remember seeing Andy again after that. He called to tell me he was giving rehab another try. His family in Denver refused to speak to him anymore if he didn’t. So off he went for round two. I went back to my everyday routine, thinking surely the second round of rehab would help him sort it all out. I got a message from him a few weeks later. He had left rehab early and wanted to know if I wanted to stop by. It was odd to hear he left early, but he sounded happy and cheerful on the phone. I had to let him know I was out of town and I’d call him when I got back. Off and on over the next two weeks, I tried to reach him. I left messages at home and his office, but nothing. I even tried finding a family member’s number. I thought maybe he went back to the rehab facility. That would be great news. It’s hard to watch anyone go through addiction, especially when you know it’s a side effect of something deeper. Our time together over the years had brought us close as people, as friends. I felt pretty helpless. I just wanted him to be ok. I wanted to see him enjoy his beautiful life, to find love and peace in the world. I guess that’s what we want for anyone special to us.
Unfortunately, that’s not how this story ends—another week passed. I was fiddling on the laptop while lying in bed. I hear the phone ring. I could see from the caller ID it was a Denver number. I rushed to answer, thinking that Andy probably ended up staying with his family for a while to get his health together. But it was a woman’s voice. She obviously had my number from the many messages I left. I wasn’t sure what was coming next. She introduced herself, but I already knew it was his sister. I could hear her voice start to crack as she said, “ I Andy passed away.” Then there was silence. I held my breath for a
moment, not knowing what to say. I knew she had no idea who I was or the nature of our relationship. I had a million questions, but again, I asked myself about the boundaries. Did it even matter? Andy was gone. I got the basics of how and thanked her for her call. Luckily, he died in his sleep, so it was peaceful. Soma does that. It killed my mother too. Or did they know and kill themselves? It’s a question the ones left behind have to ask themselves.
I wanted to blame the people in another country that sent him the drugs. I went through all the stages of grief, especially anger. All I could see was him alone in that dark room drugging himself to death. To this day, I wonder if I could have done more. It’s played through my mind time and time again. I couldn’t let it go in some ways because that same company kept calling me to refill prescriptions monthly for another ten years. It wasn’t until recently they stopped calling. Trust me; I tried to make them stop. I had even called them murders more than once. I could see how hard it was to prevent them from contacting you. It would make me angry all over again.
I have learned a lot since then. You can’t let anyone or anything take away the beautiful moments you have with people. I don’t let the nasty side of it linger. My thoughts go to happier memories before the drugs. All the fun times we shared together. All the things we learned from each other. I know if he were still here today, we’d be even older friends. We all choose our paths. I wish ours would have been different. But I prefer to remember my friend happy and full of life. As with anyone we care about, there are always little reminders that keep them close. For me, it’s apples. Any time I’m shopping and pass the Honey Crisp apples, I think of Andy. I can see him in the kitchen pouring a Grey Goose, slicing up an apple to share, the pups running around, music playing, and the feeling of happiness.
Why am I telling you this? I think anyone who reads it will have their perception and take away. For some, it’s a sad tale of drug addiction and loss. For others, how we define our relationships and or try to medicate ourselves from them. Or a more profound meaning about how our fears can drive us to dark places. I think about our connections to people. We are often so busy looking out in the world for answers. We forget to see or appreciate the impact we can have on others. Relationships can’t be measured by time, money, or labels. I feel safe in saying Andy probably never knew what a great guy I thought he was. I’m sure he would have never imagined his presence would impact me or that I’d writing about him now. But the impact you have on others is your greatest currency. Most of us have no idea how impactful we can genuinely be or the true meaning in an exchange.