September 6, 2007. A Thursday. At Riders Bar, that used to be called Dexters. You were in a dark blue shirt. You were surprised to see me there. You sang “On Again Tonight”. You told me you didn’t want me to go, but you didn’t want to keep me from reaching my dreams. You told me you loved me.
Five days later, on Tuesday, I left for boot camp.
Seventeen days later, on the 28th of September, you were taken from this world.
Today you would be turning 30.
I wonder how you would take it. You were so upset about turning 26. Well, I guess it was more the things you hadn’t accomplished by 26. Would you have accomplished them if you were still here?
It’s hard to think about this day being your birthday and not having you around to celebrate it. I keep picturing a big party in my head, with balloons, a giant red velvet birthday cake, and lots of smiling friends and family. You would pull out Ol’ Bess and sing. It would be such a fun time for everyone.
Or maybe it would really turn out like your 26th birthday, right before you left us. You, Randy, and John were playing that show at Balls n Strikes. You were drunk too early in the show, and you were so upset with the guys for asking you to get down from the stage and just enjoy your birthday. I drove you to the hotel that night because I didn’t want you to drive home. We watched some Mexicans playing soccer on tv, and you poured your aching heart out until you finally fell asleep. (Your secrets are still safe with me, love. Even death doesn’t break a promise.)
Next month will be four years since you died. Four very long years.
I’ve done a lot in the last four years that you would be so proud of. There are many things you wouldn’t be proud of, but I think you would understand better than anyone else. You once told me that you have to take the good and bad to have a good story. If that’s the case, I’m writing on hell of a story with this life.
While I was in boot camp I got picked to serve on the USS Constitution in Boston. She was built in 1797, and she’s still part of our Navy today. I had to learn her history and teach it to the public visitors in a way that was fun and interesting, so really, I was a storyteller for the Navy.
While I was there, I got a chance to sail to Panama with the Coast Guard. I didn't like climbing in the rigging at first. I grew up climbing things, but there's a big difference between falling 15 feet from a barn loft and falling 150 feet into the ocean. One of the Coast Guard girls taught me to sing to myself while I was climbing so that it would help me focus on what I was doing, rather than being nervous. Let me tell you, there is no sunset in the world like the one you watch from way up in the rigging of a sailing ship. I used to write you letters from the boat at night, telling you about my adventures even though I knew I could never mail them to you.
A big tradition in the Navy is to fly an American flag at every place you are stationed or travel to and for various special occasions. I met one guy that had flown his flag more than 50 times in his career. I know how much you love Garth and considered his birthday a national holiday. So I had a flag flown on the ship in celebration. I flew home to give it and a special certificate to your mom for her birthday.
Your mom. Oh, Andy, I could punch you in the head for not introducing us while you were still alive! Your parents are two of the most amazing people I've ever met, and I'm sad it took your death for me to meet them. Your mom is one of my very best friends, and she is a beautiful example of strength, love, and faith. Her faith after losing you was tremendous in helping me as I struggled with my own faith after losing my own babies. I wish I was closer to home, so that I could visit her and your dad more often.
Yes, you heard that right. The girl that didn't want to settle down, didn't want big responsibilities, didn't want to do anything more than live like a hobo with a guitar, a dog, and some beer. That girl had babies. I got married in 2008, but things didn't work out like we had hoped. Whoever said all you need is love was horribly wrong. In the end, I realized I had to love myself enough to not stay where I shouldn't be. So 10 months later, I was divorced. It was one of hardest things I've ever done. I still don't think I'm completely over it, even though I like to think I am.
Last summer I was pregnant with my Lilly Grace. I lost her at 11 weeks. It was the single most traumatizing night of my entire life. I still have nightmares about it. Earlier this spring I was pregnant again. I made it 5 months, and then the doctor dismissed my extremely early labor pains as growing pains. I lost my son, Brake Patton, that night in another traumatizing nightmare in yet another bathroom. I held him all evening at the ER before they finally took him away. He had my smile.
I have dreams about them. Running through huge fields on ponies with Felichia. One night they rode up and Lilly was trying to hand me a huge bouquet of beautiful flowers. Some nights I see them with friends, other babies who were taken much too soon. Every night that I see them, they are smiling, happy, healthy, and beautiful.
I had a dream recently that you were in Heaven, dancing around in your boots and loudly singing Garth's "Friends in Low Places" with a bunch of others. It was quite a sight to behold. I told Kristin about it because I knew she needed a good laugh. (Kristin is another very dear friend of yours that I've met since you died. I feel like we've been friends our whole lives, even though in reality we've only talked on Facebook and text messages.)
Maybe if anything in any of my dreams is real, you'll see my babies up there some time. Maybe you've already met them. If you do see them, kiss them for me. Tell them some of my favorite late night stories. Like your love stories about your parents. I know they would love those as much as I did. I miss them, Andy. I miss them more than I imagined I could miss anybody.
I've been thinking about home a lot lately because I've been toying with the idea of getting out of the Navy. Naturally, thinking of home makes me think of you. Those fun summer nights at Dexters. Those long nights on Randy's back porch. (Random note, "On Again Tonight" just started playing on my itunes, and it made me smile.) Those early morning text messages. Those always there when you need them Andy hugs.
And the bad nights. Oh, those bad nights.
Like the night you asked me to come to your birthday party and then didn't tell me where it was and wouldn't answer your phone. I spent that night out in the pouring rain by the old ferry. I almost totaled my truck that night, and I was so mad at you that I didn't even care. That song "Boston" by Augustana was playing when my truck left the road. Ironic how that's just where I ended up a few months later. I still can't hear that song without thinking of that night.
Like the night you asked me to come to another show at Dexters, and you ignored me the entire night. You were with that blonde girl that Randy warned you was trouble and that you should stay away from her. You wouldn't even look at me, even though you asked me to be there. A few weeks later you asked why we let you get tangled up with her. I almost punched you in the mouth.
Like the night after your jet ski accident. I wanted to come see you at the ER, but you said no. A few nights later, when I was driving you home from Dexters, you found the card and candy I got you. You got mad and threw it into the floor and stomped on it. You kept shouting that I cared too much and I needed to stop caring. You even tried to get me to stop the truck and let you walk the rest of the way to Harrison because you were so mad at me for "caring too much". I refused to stop, and I drove the rest of the way with tears in my eyes.
I used to hear a lot of bad things about you. People definitely had some sour impressions of you because of some of your really bad habits and really bad nights. Everyone has their vices and bad nights though. Whoever says otherwise is a damn fool. No matter what bad things I hear, no matter how bad you pissed me off, no matter how bad you hurt my feelings, I can't see you as the bad person some people made you out to be. When I think of all the things I learned from you, of all the love you had for everyone you met, of the dreams you yearned to reach, and especially of that late night conversation in that hotel in Ringgold, I know without a doubt that nothing can ever convince me that you are anything less than that amazing person I got to know even better that night.
I had some tshirts made for you when I was in Boston. It's one of my favorite shirts. I even had a onesie made for the baby. Everyone says that you would have loved them. I hope so.
I love that I get to share part of your story when someone asks me about it. I love that every time I get to share parts of your story, a part of you lives on. As long as we hold you in our hearts, as long as we continue to share you with others, we can continue to love you like you never left us.
One day we'll meet again, and we'll have some great stories and adventures to catch up on.
Happy Birthday, friend.