“Officer, our son is missing. We have no clue where he could be. He hasn’t contacted us in over seven months…..When we last talked to him? Um, it was maybe last September. Yeah it was a few weeks into his first semester at college….He is enrolled in a college out in Philadelphia. But the last time we checked they told us he hadn’t enrolled for the second semester. They said he just up and left a few months into the semester….No, we didn’t call them until a month ago….What? No, we just thought he didn’t call because he never really was much of a talker. We knew he’d call when he felt like it. He’s a quiet boy…..Ok officer, thank you for your help. Please keep us informed on any developments. Good night sir.”
Philip walked over to his wife, silently and slowly, as she hung up the phone in the kitchen. This is the demeanor he’d become accustomed to over the past several months. He rarely uttered a complete sentence, his feet seemed to drag miles behind him as he walked, and his wife would have to plead with him to pull himself together enough to go to work.
Philip was a lawyer working mostly in and near the capital. He lived with his wife, Evelyn, in a large furnished house. Together they conceived two sons. One of which they named Daniel who was also a lawyer in his father’s practice and the other named Andrew. Andrew was younger and the less traditional of the brothers. He was viewed to have no direction in life and just went with the flow. This is why when he came home from school one day and told his parents he wanted to go to college they joyously rejoiced at the news. They offered to help in whatever financial way he needed and to help get him into the best of colleges.
They were proud of Andrew, very proud indeed. They bought him a brand new car, doubled the amount of money in his bank account, and paid the rent on his apartment near the campus. He had gotten accepted to a college in Philadelphia and started classes in the fall.
Around mid September Philip received a call at his office from Andrew. It was Andrew informing his father that he was moving into a smaller apartment not too far from his current dwelling. His friend needed a roommate and the rent was much cheaper than his present apartment. Philip told his son that it wasn’t the money that mattered, but Andrew told him that he just thought living with his friend would be more beneficial and that he also wanted to start paying for the apartment himself. Philip admired his son’s independent statement and growth. Before getting off the phone told his son he loved him and that he was proud, he also told him to call if he needed anything.
This was the last time Andrew had talked to his family. Over the next month Andrew had moved into the new apartment with his friend Mark. What Andrew didn’t mention to his parents was that he and Mark didn’t plan to stay much longer in Philadelphia. Andrew knew that he wouldn’t last long in this city before he had even gotten there. His plan all along was to use this as a way to get some money together, which his parents had plenty of to supply him with, and go down to New Orleans. This place had always caught his eye from an early age. The blues of the south seemed to touch his soul and Andrew longed to become part of the culture.
Andrew had met Mark in the park one day. Mark was playing harmonica up against a tree in the shade. His face was darkened from spending many hours in the sun. Now the tree’s shadow only deepened its shade. The power of his notes entranced Andrew to walk over to him. Mark nodded a greeting as Andrew unslung his guitar from his back. Andrew had never been great with the instrument, but he felt compelled to try to play along. The song that came from his strings was unlike anything he had ever heard before. It was as if the sound of Mark’s harmonica had enchanted Andrew’s fingers to sing from his heart in an unnatural way.
After this day Mark and Andrew seemed inseparable. They did nothing but talk about music and the blues. Everyone who passed by their apartment would hear the sounds of the blues no matter what time it was. During this time the two young men came up with a plan to move to New Orleans and try to make a name for their selves in the blues scene. Andrew withdrew all the money from his bank account, filled up his tank with gas, and the two of them drove off to Louisiana.
Within a hundred miles of their goal the car putted to a stop in the middle of nowhere. There was no gas station for miles around and neither of their cell phones had service. After sitting against the car in the southern sun for a few hours they realized it was no use to sit there waiting for help. They hadn’t seen a soul for hours here, or for that matter not a soul for God knows how long while they were still driving. The only thing to do now was to walk.
“I guess we gotta start sometime, hey Andy?” teased Mark.
“Yeah, we gotta start being traveling blues men sometime I guess. Damn it’s hot, why’d we drive down here again?”
Mark answered, “Oh stop your complaining. Think of all the people in hell right now. This is nothing compared to their suffering. Just keep your mind on all the women we’ll be taking to bed with us when we make it and all the booze we could ever want.”
Andrew and Mark had walked well through twilight and grew fatigued. They decided to stop for the night near a drooping tree on the side of the road. Even though the stars were as numerous as the sands of time, little light was thrown on the two travelers. Since visibility was unattainable till morning Andrew decided to sleep against the sagging tree until the sun came up.
“Mark, you gonna nod off? You look beat.”
“Naw, I don’t think it’d be a good idea for both us to sleep at once. How ‘bout we take shifts? You sleep first and I’ll wake you up in say ‘bout two hours or so.”
“Ok, suit yourself. What you so scared of anyway?”
“Just getting a weird feeling in my head s’all, I guess. Thinking back on stories I’ve heard in books ‘bout southern nights on the road. Devils, crossroads, and such.”
“You damned fool. Mark, that’s all just made up to discourage traveling by foot.” Andrew laughed drearily. “Well have fun keeping your eyes open pal. If you see Casper out there don’t wake me up.”
The sun had risen and the land was full of light once again. A crow landed on a branch above where Andrew was sleeping. A leaf let go of its branch from where the crow perched and landed on Andrews face. Slowly Andrew awoke from the tickling leaf.
“Mark….Mark! Where you hiding at?” Andrew frantically yelled into the morning light. “Mark! MARK!”
Mark was nowhere to be found. As Andrew looked around where their camp had been setup he noticed that there wasn’t much left. There were dimly glowing embers from the fire, a few cans of beans and corn strewn out of a bag and…
“My money! Where’s my money?” Furiously Andrew tore open his bag looking for his money.
After a few minutes it set in. All that talking about crossroads and devils. Mark had stolen his money and almost everything Andrew had. Mark must have taken what he wanted, then walked off into the night. All that was left was some food and Andrew’s guitar.
What could he do now; he was all alone in the middle of the southern whereabouts of nowhere? He now had no money, no hope, and didn’t know direction was north.
“Damn it Mark. I thought we were like brothers. I thought we had the same dream. I guess I was wrong.”
Andrew hadn’t walked more than a quarter mile before he came upon an intersecting road. He sat in the shade of a tree playing his guitar while he contemplated which road to take. Within a few minutes a black car drove up to him. It was freshly waxed and didn’t show a sign of it having traveled at all down the dirt road it came from. The license plate read N9-I9S9. Andrew didn’t notice this though, he was too caught up in the fact that someone had found him. The car door opened and a deep voice said “Get in kid.”
“Thank you, sir. My name is Andrew. Can you bring me to the nearest town, my is car broke….”
“Don’t worry kid I can drive you wherever you’d like. Stay with me and I’ll take care of you.”
A few weeks later Andrew found himself in yet another gutter one afternoon. Sometimes he woke up in a dumpster, sometimes in an alley amidst other downtrodden souls. Today it was a gutter on a busy street. Andrew tried lifting himself upright, but he seemed lost for strength and fell back upon the ground.
“Sir, could you help me up. I can seem to…?” But the man hurried off, seemingly scared.
“Ma’am, please can you call someone for me? I think my leg may be hurt.”
“Sorry son, here’s a dollar.” The woman also hurried off after she dropped a dollar at his feet. As she walked on down the sidewalk Andrew noticed she had drawn a cross over herself.
“What the hell? Why don’t people help a person in need?” Andrew had asked this question many times over his troubled times in New Orleans.
The man who picked him up in the shinny black car that day took him to the city. Once there, he had set Andrew up with a gig at some small out of the way bar. Andrew was grateful and played his heart out every night to a place the had the bare minimal of patrons. “I guess this is a start,” Andrew always said to himself for confidence. But in doing this night after night only making tips Andrew saw no way out. He started spending the little amount of money he was making on strong liquor. He’d occasionally go to a joint and hook up with one of the dancers.
This whole time his heart kept getting darker and darker to the world. He couldn’t understand how one could be so unfortunate while at the same time he was trying to just follow a dream.
“Maybe we’re not all supposed to make anything of ourselves.” Andrew mumbled to himself, “Maybe people like me are alive to show other people what not to do with themselves.”
Just then a man walked passed Andrew on the street. The man turned back around and came up to him. This man wasn’t dressed in the nicest of clothes, and he wasn’t the cleanest shaven of the mass, but he was the only one to come up to Andrew.
“Are you ok, man?” The man asked.
“No, I can’t really move my left leg. And I can’t seem to lift myself up to well.”
“Let me help you up. By the way my name is Sam.”
Sam helped Andrew get on his feet and walked him down the street to a little café on the corner. When they sat down the two men ate and talked about their lives. Andrew talked more than Sam did. He told him all about what he’d been going through and how he lost his dreams. As the conversation went along Andrew seemed to regain some of his strength and for the first time in awhile Andrew had a smile on his face.
After their conversation Sam gave Andrew a proposition.
“Andy, is it alright if I call you Andy? Good. Andy, I would like to help you get back on your feet. But I don’t know if that’s the best thing for you.”
“What do you mean Sam?”
“I’m saying that what you seem to need is a family not a fresh start. You told me that you left to follow your dreams. But those dreams brought you here, brought you to the streets. I’m giving you two options. The first option is to come stay at my place while you get up some money and get yourself together. The second option is to go back home. Go home to your family; you know they must miss you. I’m sure they’re scared.”
“Sam, what are you getting at? My family doesn’t care about me, they were too glad when I left for college to care about me. I’m not going back I can’t, I have nothing there for me.”
“Andrew, you don’t really think that. I’m not gonna rush you into a decision. I’ll let you come around and see me when you’re ready.”
Sam stood up and pushed in his chair. Andrew looked blankly out the window in disgust. Before Sam walked away he placed some change by Andrew’s right hand, and a scrap of paper, with his address on it, next to his left hand. Then he walked out of the café and down the street.
After Sam was out of sight Andrew looked down and saw what Sam had left. He thought to himself, “What’s this gonna buy me, a stick of gum?”
Andrew left the café and looked at the paper. 15 Morgan Avenue Apt 18. Andrew decided he’d stop by and see what Sam was really getting at back at the café.
Andrew walked up to the apartment but hesitated. He turned his head as if to walk away and saw a payphone across the street. Andrew felt the change he’d been playing with in his hand and felt compelled to walk over to the phone. Slowly Andrew picked up the receiver, but placed it back on its hanger. He sat down on a bench next to the phone and for a few minutes stared at the clouds in the afternoon sky.
As tears started to trickle down his cheeks Andrew stood back up and picked up the phone. One by one he dropped the coins into the machine and punched in a familiar number. He’d been dialing it incompletely on many drunken occasion. This time he was able to hit that final number; 7. There was a faint noise on the other end of the line