I had business at NYU yesterday. I was early for my meeting and got off at Union Square. Coming out of the Subway, I looked around to orient myself and saw that I had come out by Walgreens. I was transported back to an evening in October 2005. Rooted to the spot, I saw in my mind’s eyes Andrew and I coming out of the Subway and moving toward the shelter of this same Walgreens and out of the cold drizzle. The arrangement had been to call his sister when we got on the subway at Grand Central; she would then come and meet us in Union Square. Lots of hugs when she arrived, then we made our way to The Bitter End for the IPPAZZI Band concert. It was a school night and Andrew and I left before the concert ended, in time to make the 10:20 from Grand Central.
“Can I be tired on you?” Andrew asked me before making himself comfortable with his head on my lap and his knees up to his chin. I stroked his hair all the way home while he dozed off.
An intense blast of cold air brings me back to the present. I am on 14th street, I need to get to 4th.
I imagine Andrew walking the same streets from his dorm on Third Avenue on his way to classes, to meet friends, and ultimately to meet death. Blinded by tears I bump into people as I push my way against the cold and the wind.
“Which side of the street did he walk?” I wonder.
When I get to Weinstein, my daughter’s old dorm, I stop. The continuous flow of tears blinds me to the present and the windy cold shoots memories like sharp arrows through my heart.
It was an evening in late January this year, shortly after Andrew’s transfer from Drexel. I had spoken to him on the phone earlier in the afternoon, he had sounded tired. The transfer was proving harder than any of us had anticipated, navigating the huge NYU bureaucracy would have challenged a seasoned Washington lobbyist.
“Would you like to come home for dinner?” I asked him.
“I would love to Mummy, but I can’t. I have all these Chinese characters to write,” he explained.
“Oh, it would have been nice to see you, I miss you.”
“You too,” he said.
After putting the phone down I said to myself, “Well, if he can’t come to the food, the food can go to him.”
I put a chicken in the oven, boiled a few potatoes for a pomme puree, cooked some broccoli, sauteed a few carrots with butter, lemon, salt, pepper, sugar and grated ginger, whipped some cream, made a gravy and dispatched my husband to buy an apple pie.
“We are coming,” I told him when I called him again.
“Oh Mummy…” he said. “I still have lots of work to do for tomorrow.”
“But you have still got to eat darling. Daddy and I are coming to bring you dinner, we’ll be there in forty minutes, you can keep studying until then.”
“Oh Mummy, that’s SO sweet, thank you,” he said in his sweetly appreciative, unspoiled voice.
When we got to his dorm at Lafayette he was waiting for us outside. As soon as we pulled up to the curb, he jumped in.
‘Shall we find a MacDonald’s where we can sit and you can eat?” I suggested. He tipped his head to one side and thought.
“I know,” he said after a moment. “Let’s go to the cafeteria at Weinstein.” And off we went.
The food was still warm and fragrant and he demolished it.
The cold, and people staring at me, jolts me back to the present once again. No amount of peering through the glass doors of Weinstein can show me any more than the Andrew that exists in my mind. And even if I stay and stare all day, none of the students going in and out will ever be him.
I walk on, past the deli where I bought Florentina half a gallon of milk for her mini fridge on her moving-in day, and on past the spot in Washington Square Gardens where Andrew and I had met up two days after his moving -in day in September. I had brought him the face wash he had left behind and a brand new mattress cover; afterwards we’d gone to dinner.
Further along is the place in the square were I had hoped against hope, to see Andrew again the night of the candlelight vigil, the Thursday after he died.
The flowers that we and his fellow students draped over the fence, have long gone.
I keep going and reach 4th street. Bobst Library is to my right. That’s the turn that Andrew made that night.
I stare at the treacherous building for a moment, then, head bowed, I turn left and make my way to my meeting down the road.
Andrew I am advocating for you and for students like you.
I love you.