andy, through cindy-shaped glasses
Today we went to the Chicago funeral of Andrew W., husband of Cindy, my dear friend and also Esme’s godmother. Here they are together at Esme’s baptism, just a short while ago in November 2006. It was a beautiful day of cold air and sharp shadows, a day of autumn-almost-but-not-quite-turned-to-winter. I remember that this photo was taken at the very end of the lengthy baptismal event, yet Cindy, in her usual mode of tireless joy and contagious enthusiasm, was drawing out her expressions of devotion for her new godbaby by insisting on a final photo shoot outdoors before we all got wearily into our warm cars to leave. Cindy began issuing urgent instructions to her husband: “Get one with Julia and Esme, then me, Julia, and Esme, then Jeff and Julia…,” and on and on. In the midst of these proceedings in which we were all unsure of where to stand, Andy cut in: “How many permutations are we going to do here? Take a picture and let’s go already.” This comment brought comic relief to everyone in the immediate area, including Cindy, who had to admit she was being a bit, well, overly thorough in her gushing. A hearty dose of Andy’s personable bluntness diffused the moment and sent me home smiling and knowing that a memorable day was in fact over, and that was o.k.
I met Cindy in 1999 when we started a master’s program together at St Vladimir’s Seminary. We were totally different in age and background. I was straight out of college and a convert to Orthodoxy while she was a seasoned career woman born into the Greek-American Orthodoxy of Chicago. I remember standing in the hall of the women’s dormitory with her when she made a remark about my shabby skirt (clearly, she didn’t understand my shabby-chic, 90s influenced aesthetic). I pretended to give her a karate kick and the seam of my skirt ripped loudly in the process. “That’s o.k.,” she said, “it completes your look.” Later she told me that she was retaliating for a comment I had made about her Swatch watch when I first met her. I was excited to see the Swatch because it was the same one I had worn in third grade, 1986, with red, yellow, and blue geometric designs, and I told her so. I hadn’t meant it as a commentary on her age or outdated style, but she took it that way. In any case, she was apparently pleased with herself for coming up with the perfect retort, and actually put her hand over her mouth to hide her guffawing at my expense. I couldn’t watch her laugh and not laugh with her, and in this mutual appreciation for a certain goofiness and permission to tease the other, I found relief from the seriousness of seminary. From then on, against the backdrop of studious males in black cassocks, our friendship felt innocently conspiratorial and fun in a necessary way. This was confirmed during a certain class in which Fr. Paul Lazor was telling us a story about a pastoral visit he made in his early years of being a priest, in which things went badly, comically awry. Although he told it with a deadpan narrative style, it was clearly intended, at least in part, to be entertaining and not merely educational. Cindy and I both caught the intended humor and convulsed with laughter, bending over in our desks, torso’s hurting, looking at each other through streaming tears. However, no one else in the classroom seemed to share our mirth. We thought that was pretty strange, and concluded that we had better stick together from there on out or else we might die of sobriety.
It is really through the lens of Cindy, if I can put it that way, that I came to know Andy, whom she married in 2001. She told me all about him during their lengthy and winding, mostly long-distance relationship that led to their marriage. Cindy was, as a single woman, strong brew, and I knew that it would take a certain kind of man, secure in himself, to marry Cindy. Andy was obviously that man, capable of fighting fire–that particular fire of Cindy’s–with a fire of his own. Most importantly, it was clear that he was decisive in his love for Cindy. That, more than anything, told me it was a true and good match, no matter what other concerns or complications. He was devoted, and would confidently tell her so, even in the face of her doubts and wavering. Anyone with any ounce of perception could have perceived, even from meeting Andy once, that any commitment of his could be backed by gold. He just had that characteristic, and it showed in his everyday mannerisms.
It occurred to me today at the funeral that even though I’ve spent a good amount of time with Andy, I really think of him primarily as Cindy’s husband, his personality in balance with hers. I knew him, for the most part, as though one degree removed– that degree being Cindy. But one time, when I was at their Bronxville condominium on a visit, he took me down to the basement of the building in order to show me his bicycle– the one he had basically hand-fashioned and tweaked to perfection. He explained its details and workings with child-like enthusiasm, and I remember feeling flattered that he thought me a worthy audience for a private showing of his bicycle, and tried my best to rise to the occasion by concentrating on the impressiveness of the way he had rigged a way to store a small, hidden tool under the narrow saddle. It really was impressive. But as usual, my mind was more interested in character analysis, and I was more occupied with taking in the scene of Andy himself, in that instant, being who he was: energetic, grounded, innocent, child-like, tactile, quick, tall, bright-eyed, good-natured. Even though I felt somewhat an impostor there in the basement with the bike, and even though a part of me felt shy in the face of so much tactile maleness, and wanted to run back to the familiar territory of Cindy, who was upstairs, I was still struck with the vividness of Andy’s personhood in that moment.
Today at the funeral, I still could not believe that Andy was dead. I saw his body in the casket, but it did not, somehow, look like him at all. Or, rather, he was nowhere to be found there in the casket, and I think I was wanting to find him– his personality–somewhere at the funeral. I realized tonight, only in retrospect, that I was unconsciously hoping to hear stories about Andy, and through stories, remember him with that same vividness I saw in the basement. What I would have loved is for everyone who knew Andy to stand up and simply tell an anecdote, many of which would surely be funny, but not necessarily. Perhaps I forgot that this is the type of thing that happens mostly at weddings. How appropriate that the funeral was in the same church where Cindy and Andy got married just a few years ago. I have no doubt that, on that occasion, Andy was quite vividly present.
I’m writing this far too late at night, with only one more day to finish packing before our move on Saturday, which means I should be getting sleep and not pushing myself to think, write, reflect, and connect every loose thread. Jenny Schroedel, who was also at the funeral, called me at 11:00 p.m. wanting to talk and process the day’s events and impressions together. She too met and knew Cindy the same year I did. There is just so much to say about Cindy and her story over the past eight years, and Andy is such a part of that story. Jenny reminded me that Andy actually drove her from Chicago to seminary in New York for the first time when she enrolled in 1999 and that they argued “about God” the entire way. Cindy showed up at the womens’ dormitory with far too many boxes to fit into her assigned room; Andy pointed out how ridiculous this was and asked if now wasn’t the time in her life when she was supposed to be giving stuff away; Cindy said no and proceeded to overload and break a shelf in her room, which Andy had to repair. Besides this story being so comedic and typical of their relationship antics, it reminds me that Andy was there from the beginning of Cindy’s great seminary journey, and he saw her through to the end of it. It’s no wonder that Cindy buried her diploma, freshly earned, in the casket with Andy. There is a sense that God really did gather Andy to himself at this specific, humanly peculiar, time, so close to Cindy’s graduation. It seems that Andy’s task on earth was closely bound with Cindy, and yet he was also simply Andy– Andrew– himself, who did many things. He was fluent in Polish and serious about cycling, to name a few. He loved Philp K. Dick, the novelist, and movies like Blade Runner, and could tell you all about it.
Like I said, it’s late, and any more reflection on this will surely meander, as it already has. Jeff found an online guest book hosted by the Chicago Tribune where friends can write a note to honor Andy. I’m posting a link here so that more people will visit and sign it, and maybe share a story about Andy:
Finally, here’s a picture of Cindy, loving as ever, holding Esme at the funeral reception. Esme is playing with Andy’s gold wedding band, which was hanging on the gold chain on Cindy’s neck.