Author: Tara Moylan, Pima Community College
Was Shag to blame for Andy’s death when he handed him the loaded gun and told him to pull the trigger? Or had Andy actually killed himself? These questions aimlessly float through my head. These questions don’t have a destination. Their purpose is to simply be there. Forever. I have asked myself these questions continually, agonizing over them since November 2010, when my boyfriend, Andy Mullins, died from a gunshot wound to the head. Police were unsure if the wound was self-inflicted or if foul play was involved. Shag, my best friend at the time, was there when it happened. He was being charged with aiding another to commit suicide since he gave Andy the pistol that directly resulted in his death. The death of my first true love.
Even though I was not there when Andy’s suicide happened, the pain creeps back every November like the hand of a tortuous clock. I can picture Shag’s apartment, yellow smoke stained walls, beer caps glued to the fridge, an unlocked cabinet housing his arsenal of guns for hunting. I see Shag and Andy in the smoke-hazed room, playing cards, bottles of booze and whiskey stains on the table. Like most people in that hell hole of a town, they spend their nights drinking and complaining about their lives and doing nothing to change their circumstances. The gun is on the table. Shag sports a confederate flag shirt with his beer belly showing. He has watery blue eyes, meth-head teeth and straw hair. He picks up the gun, loads it and cocks the weapon. He hands it back to Andy saying, “If you think your life is so bad why don’t you just end it?”
I remember the first time I met Andy and the profound impact he had on me. It was like a scene in a teen movie. It all started when my friend Kelly began hanging out at a house in New Minersville and could not stop talking about her new friends. I was very skeptical because the more she hung out with these “friends,” the lower her grades fell in college and the more frequently she skipped class. I reluctantly agreed to meet these people since they were all she could talk about. As we walked into the home in New Minersville, we were bombarded with cigarette smoke and our eyes had to adjust to the darkness of the dimly lit room. It was like walking into a shittier version of Goodfellas. After just a moment, I saw a shy-looking boy with a mischievous grin from across the room. He looked as if he had been fighting in the zombie apocalypse for quite some time. Bullet holes in his brown hoodie, torn up jeans and a grey shirt with a pinata on it that read, “I’d hit that.” He had hazelnut eyes, coal colored hair and an award-winning smile on his face.
I knew from that moment that it was impossible to be in a bad mood when he was around. His smile lit up any room he walked into. His smile was impossible to look away from. We talked for hours and I left the house knowing that I’d met someone special. That night I could not fall asleep. I felt excited for the possibility of something real. I could feel it deep in my heart. For the next four years, our relationship was filled with laughter, passion, love, pain, heartbreak and new beginnings. But like all things in life, it eventually came to an end. We broke up because I decided to take an Americorps position in Tucson, Arizona. But I always knew that we would end up back together. Our love had the strongest of foundations and we always came back to each other, no matter how much time had passed.
This time we did not come back together. This time he was gone and there was simply nothing I could do. I remember the day I lost him so clearly. Waking up in the morning, groggy, searching for my phone to check my messages. I have a text message from Kelly that reads, “Andy has been shot, he is in the hospital.” The pain hits like a rattlesnake bite, sharp and sudden. But the real pain and suffering will come later. Confused, I stumble out of bed and call Kelly because surely the situation is not so serious if she is texting me. She sounds scared and confused. She tells me Shag and Bologna were there when it happened. It sounds like foul play. It could have been Russian roulette. The phone calls start pouring in. No one knows what’s going on. Everyone is in shock.
The pain is getting worse, waves of hysteria and tears. My roommate helps me find a plane ticket home. I have to talk to Shag. He is the only one who can tell me what happened. The phone rings so loudly. My heart is pounding when he finally answers. I am sitting in my backyard staring at the lone Mesquite tree surrounded by rocks and dirt. How could it be so bright and warm outside when something like this has happened? Shag is barely audible. Through his tears, he tells me he’s sorry. Andy is not going to make it. There it is, this is when the venom finally has taken hold. Nothing will ever be the same again.
Grief is something that we will all have to face at some point in our lives. Death inevitably touches everyone and nobody can escape it. It is the one thing we all have in common. I didn’t think I’d be this young when a piece of my heart was ripped from my chest. This is a world where good people like Andy are taken away from you so suddenly.
Andy’s death, particularly under suspicious circumstances, left me broken, confused, and with an incomprehensible amount of crushing grief. I struggled for years to make sense of this tragedy. What really happened that night? Did Andy really want to die? Was Andy’s death inevitable? Why didn’t I know he was depressed? Why do I still feel so guilty? Questions never answered. Always met with a deafening silence. These questions weighed me down to the point where I did not know if I could pick myself back up again.
I turned to alcohol as a way to cope with my survivor’s guilt. It was a way to turn off my brain from overthinking about the ways I could have stopped this from happening. What if I hadn’t moved to Arizona? Could I have stopped this? How could I have been so selfish to move away from him? Another sip turned into another bottle until I felt like I wasn’t in control anymore. I remember nights of hysterically sobbing on my kitchen floor, just wanting this pain to stop, begging for the strength to pick myself up from off the dull, grimy tiles. Finally I did. The night before I quit drinking I realized how much alcohol consumed my actions, my thoughts, it had taken control over my life. I was crying in a Walgreens over a bottle of cheap vodka I couldn’t afford to buy for a party. I just wanted to forget, to not feel anything anymore. I somehow still managed to get black out drunk that night and make a fool of myself. Waking up the next morning, groggy and hungover, I realized that something needed to change, that the path I was on was going to lead to my death. I wanted to live for those who can’t. I looked at the wreckage and started to rebuild my life. I am still here with one life to live.
It took time to learn to cope with my sadness and loss through therapy and sobriety. I found hope again while working as a teacher’s assistant and having an influence on children. Helping these children feel just a little better was a way to honor Andy’s life and memory. I could do something for them that I couldn’t do for him. I gave them a shoulder to cry on; I gave them my love and support; I let them know that they were not alone. This helped me envision new possibilities for my future. I am now embarking on a new journey to become a nurse. I want to be there to help others during their times of great crisis. I wish I was there for Andy during the darkest moments of his life, but now I can do that every day for others.
Andy is still with me, even after eleven years. He was my best friend and first true love. I have never met anyone like him and I don’t think I ever will. You only get one Andy Mullins. I hold on to his warm smile, which melted my heart each time he looked at me. I hold on to his compassion and understanding for others. I hold on to his raw honesty. He told you how it was, without sugarcoating anything. I admired all of these features and wished I could be the same way. Though living with Andy’s death is never easy, I’ll always be grateful to have had him in my life. The circumstances surrounding his death are a burden I still carry but now I have the strength to hold them up. The pain lessens over time, those questions I used to ask myself were once a deafening roar, are now just soft whispers in my head. This prayer resonates with me when I think about Andy. I have heard at every Alcoholics Anonymous meeting I have ever been to, “Grant me the serenity to accept the thing I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.” I cannot change the past but I can be more present, more loving, more involved now. Through complete darkness, I found light; through violent chaos, I found a way to heal; through utter despair, I found peace.