Thirty five years ago when I arrived at my dorm for freshman year of college, I found out that I had been assigned a single room in a suite of six guys. When I opened the door I was disappointed to find that one of the other five had already claimed the room. Since I was the last one to arrive, I ended up sharing a double bedroom in the suite with a guy named Andy.
Two things immediately caught my eye when I walked in: Andy had a lot of soccer posters, mainly of Juventus – this was back when being a fan of European football in the US took a lot of work – and he had brought a stereo, which in that day and age meant a small tower of components. Andy had a lot of records, which included the entire catalog of the Beatles.
Andy was a very unique person. Varsity soccer player, fanatical about running and fitness. Knew he was going to be a doctor, like his father, and challenged himself by majoring in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, because MB&B was the hardest science major. He had stores of energy and drive and singlemindedness that no one could not keep up with, certainly not me, and was incredibly demanding on himself. He was very funny and woe be upon anyone who wasn’t prepared to be the target of his biting wit. He was also deeply perceptive and in our year rooming together came to know me and understand me at levels I don’t think anyone else ever has, other than my wife. He had his quirks and we didn’t always agree on things, like keeping a car radio on one station versus constantly seeking out a better song if the one that came on wasn’t good enough. I’m certain I was no picnic to room with, we weren’t best friends and didn’t spend all our time together, but overall I’d say we became pretty tight.
During the year he added one album in particular to his record collection, the eponymous debut album of a group called Violent Femmes. I’d never heard of them until I walked in one day and heard them for the first time. I didn’t like it. But for whatever reason that music resonated with Andy, and over my strenuous objections he practically wore the record out. It was played most often whenever issues with women were bothering him, and at those times no one was going to stop him from playing it over and over and over again.
Funny thing, eventually my distaste for the Femmes eroded under that barrage of constant play. I came to the point where I tolerated it, then eventually it wasn’t bad, then I’d find myself humming along to it or mumbling the lyrics, and eventually, what do you know. I like it. A lot.
After freshman year Andy was forced to leave our residential college – I believe rusticated was the musty, bureaucratic term of art applied – because he made the mistake of going along with a friend’s stupid idea one night. So we didn’t see each other as much after that, but we stayed friends. We lived in the same house for a summer, and would occasionally go visit his parents’ house an hour away. His grandmother lived in my hometown, so we’d see each other when he visited her over Christmas break. After college we lived near each other in Brooklyn and saw each other occasionally. Then the demands of his combined MD-PhD program and my moving into Manhattan played a part in our drifting apart, as people often do.
Over the years Andy would pop up from time to time. He was in my wedding, and we saw each other at our 10th reunion. I would run into mutual friends and we’d share Andy stories, which was how I learned that one year he not only ran the New York City Marathon but managed to get up to the leaders’ pack early in the race before the pace overwhelmed him. I’m sure he was convinced he could stay with them for the entire 26.2 and disappointed not to.
I followed Andy’s career from afar, as he became a preeminent brain surgeon and medical researcher, focusing on innovative ways to use immunotherapies to treat brain tumors that cannot be cured by surgery. One day out of the blue an email popped up from Andy, who had never emailed me before. It was a picture of him in scrubs in an operating room, holding his new-born twins.
The last time I looked him up, he had been recruited by Northwestern to be the chair of neurological surgery at their med school. I sent him an email to congratulate him and catch up, and we spoke of finding a time to meet up. We didn’t get the chance, as Andy died suddenly a couple months later.
Today is Andy’s 53rd birthday. I’m playing this one 21x in a row for him.