On Moving On

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Remember 9/11? 

Of course you do. 

12 years ago next week. 

9/11 was also the only day my brother ever spent at my parents new house. 

Time goes on, and we forget things. Last weekend helped my family to remember. 


I was back home at my parents' house in Iowa over Labor Day weekend. 

There was a reason for the trip - my parents will be moving before too long, and it's finally time to get rid of all of the "treasures" my brother and I accumulated in the '80s and '90s. (Primarily, a massive Star Wars collection. More on that below.) 

I should probably start this story a little earlier, though - just to provide some background. 


There were three of us growing up - each 4 years apart. I'm the oldest, my brother Andy was 4 years younger than me, and my sister Leah was 4 years younger than Andy.

Andy was born in 1979, with a heart defect - his only had 2 chambers. 


And as you can probably imagine, this had a cascading negative effect on his physical development in general. His body wasn't ever getting fully oxygenated blood, so he was small, and weak. 

His early life was a series of surgeries... heart surgeries, back surgeries, leg surgeries. He was a regular at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. His body was criss-crossed with deep scars by the time he was 5. 

It took a ton of effort for Andy to learn to walk unassisted, but he managed. In retrospect, he managed a lot

Mos Eisley Dry Goods

But because he was pretty frail physically, Andy naturally gravitated to low-impact activities... video games, collecting, movies. And because he was so much fun to be around, I was there, too. We probably watched the "Star Wars" movies two hundred times on VHS over the years.

Around 1995, Andy and I found rec.arts.sf.starwars.collecting, and started buying and selling Star Wars stuff on the internet. 

(With our Performa 550 Macintosh, Netscape Navigator, and a 14.4bps modem. This was the Nineties, after all.) 

Our goal wasn't to make a ton of money... it was to acquire one decent example of every Star Wars figure, and finish off the collection we hadn't looked at in 10 years. 

We called ourselves "Mos Eisley Dry Goods". It was awesome. We found a community of like-minded Star Wars fans on r.a.s.s.c, and managed to fund our acquisitions - and then some. 

This was before eBay existed, so we ran auctions in text format - no pictures, just vivid descriptions. We'd receive bids via email, and every day we'd update the auction items with "going once!" "twice!" "SOLD!" 

There were new Star Wars movies coming out, there were new Star Wars toys on the shelves, and everyone was coming back to the galaxy far, far away that we loved so much. 

1996 was a rough year for Andy... he had a major surgery to connect his inferior vena cava to one of his pulmonary arteries. The idea was that more of his blood would be oxygenated... and after an extended, painful recovery, over several months in Rochester, it worked.

Mos Eisley Dry Goods gave Andy and I something to do during those long months in Rochester. And our collection was really becoming something to see. 

And with a lucky break, Andy found the "crown jewel" of the collection - the one figure he'd always wanted. "Yak Face" was never available in the U.S. - but we hosted a foreign exchange student from Germany, who remembered it from his childhood, and had his mom ship it over as a Christmas gift. 

Moving On, in Part

By 1999, I was in law school, and Andy headed off to college. And we lost some interest in our Star Wars business, for 3 reasons. 

First off, neither of us lived at home, so the collection was out of sight, out of mind. 

Secondly, the internet (and eBay in particular) had changed the collectibles business, forever. Prior to the web's breakout year of 1995, Andy and I would never even know a particular SW figure existed unless we physically saw it. 

And in our corner of Iowa, that didn't happen often. We hit all the collectibles stores and thrift shops, just in case. 

With Netscape, it became possible to look up photos of every figure -- and if you watched r.a.s.s.c. close enough, someone might sell you one. But those rare figures were still hard to come by. It took effort, and the effort of searching made the acquisition worthwhile.

With eBay, it suddenly became apparent that almost nothing was truly "rare" - if you wanted a particular figure, 10 people had it for sale at any given time, and the market was essentially perfect. 

Now, the only obstacle to collecting every SW figure was money -- and what fun was that?

Finally, The Phantom Menace absolutely stunk, and we knew it. 

Moving On, in Total


By the spring of 2001, everything was digital. We were scanning photos, ripping CDs, and sharing music on Napster. 

Mom and Dad were building a new house on the golf course, and it was going to be great for Andy... there was a floor-to-ceiling built-in display shelf in his huge walk-in closet, that we'd custom designed for the collection. 

By 2001, we were all connected, all the time, with cable internet. Andy, Leah and I were more or less in constant contact through Microsoft Messenger and AOL IM and Trillian. 

In May, I had just finished my first final of my last semester of law school, Andy was wrapping his junior year at Buena Vista college, and Leah was finishing her junior year in high school.

Andy IMed me that he wasn't feeling well at all.  His health hadn't been great - he'd been diagnosed with protein losing enteropathy, and he now needed to inject Heparin every day. I assumed he'd pushed it too hard the night before, and told him to hit the fluids. He didn't get better, and my mom was off to Storm Lake to pick him up. 

Later that day, as I was proofing my 90-page final for Sports Law, an AIM ticker popped up. It was Leah.

LEAH: matt this is serious
LEAH: i talked to mom
LEAH: we need to get to rochester right away

We chatted for a bit. Andy and mom hadn't even stopped in Mason City. It was bad enough to go straight to Rochester, and they were very worried. 

I called my dad. He'd talked to the doctors. Andy's one heart valve was seriously compromised, and now posed a major threat. He needed a heart transplant, immediately. 

Dad was headed to Rochester. If I could get there today, I should - and pick up Leah on the way. 

I went to the law school, dropped off my huge memo, and with the professors' consent, dropped every single one of my remaining classes. (Fortunately, I'd earned 12 credits one summer, so I was already qualified to graduate.)

We got to Rochester at about 10 PM. Andy was sitting up in a chair, watching TV. We talked. I don't remember what we said. 

And then we went to the hotel. Mom stayed behind.

At around 2 AM, she called. Something was wrong, and Andy was dying. 

The next two days were a bit of a blur. Andy was unconscious and intubated, and a flurry of doctors were applying lifesaving measures. Epinephrine (adrenalin) on a constant drip. Albumin. Anything to get the blood pressure up. 

I slept in his room, near his ventilator, to breathe the same air he did. While I could.  

After a week, the primary pediatric cardiologist took us into a conference room to assess the damage. His valve had given way, and he'd had no blood pressure for a while. Not long enough to kill him outright, but long enough. 

His kidneys were damaged, perhaps irreparably. His intestines were damaged. While there was no way of knowing, his brain was probably damaged. 

So we waited. And we watched the BP readings, and the O2 readings. And we balanced the drips on his IV. His face was alternately bloated and emaciated. He had a bedsore on his back that went all the way to his spinal column. The kid could take some punishment. 

And weeks passed. I went to Chicago to start my lawyer job, and to start my bar exam prep. I drove back to Rochester every few days. 

Mom and Dad and Leah moved into the new house. 

And one day in June, Andy woke up. 

And mentally, he was fine. We talked about the Cubs, we talked about how Episode II was definitely going to be better - I told him all the spoilers I could. 

His pain was being managed, but it wasn't great. No one wants morphine for that long. 

I took the bar in July, and in August, Andy was transported back to Mason City. I had the month off, and headed home. We watched the Cubs collapse. 

By September, he was stable enough to consider going home. He wasn't likely to get better, but he'd be more comfortable, and he could still be monitored. 

His big moving day was set for Tuesday, the 11th. 

I was in Chicago, on my way to work, when the second plane hit. We were on the Southport Brown Line platform when we heard that a 3rd plane had hit the Pentagon, and a 4th crashed in Pennsylvania. We headed back to the apartment. 

Walking home, I called my dad. "Hi!", he said. "What's up!" His voice was WAY too chipper. 

I asked if he was watching TV. "No - we've got about 20 nurses in the room, and we're headed home!"

"You might want to turn the TV on."
"What channel?"
"All of them."

Andy spent one night at the new house. He wasn't comfortable, and the next morning he asked if he could go back to the hospital. 

By the next week, he was airlifted back to Rochester. 

On October 6, 2001, Andy died.

The Things We Leave Behind

Andy never actually spent a night in the room Mom and Dad had prepared for him. That room was upstairs, which wasn't going to happen. 

In fact, I'm not sure he's ever physically been in that room at all. But the room had been designed for him, and you can feel him in there. His furniture. His posters. His clothes. His Star Wars collection. 

I never bothered to set the collection up for "display" in those floor-to-ceiling shelves. It was a holding area. 

It's 12 years later, and everything has changed. 
I'm married, and we have a 7-year-old boy and live in Chicago. 
Leah is married and lives in London. 

Not a whole lot has changed in that room. 

But my parents are thinking about moving south, and this summer, they decided that it was time to go through Andy's things. 

Last weekend, we started. 

Anything with real value goes to eBay. 
The furniture, and anything with minor value, goes to the garage sale. 
Everything else goes to the trash. 

It's remarkable how much a person's possessions can tell you about their life. Things that you'd always known, but somehow forgot... or just stopped thinking about. 

Andy was born in 1979, was a child in the Eighties, went to high school from 1994-1998, and went to college until his death at age 22, in 2001. His room is a time capsule of our life together.

Star Wars toys. 
Michael Jordan "Rare Air". 
1989 Topps. 
"Where the Sidewalk Ends". 
Kirby Puckett's autograph.

My Mom and I went through the clothes. 
My boy is almost as big as Andy was when he died. He took the Cubs hats.

The baseball cards and comic books go to the rummage sale. A buck a box, or free to a good home.

I packed up the Star Wars collection. 
It goes on eBay this week, piece by piece. Mos Eisley Dry Goods' final act. 
Monday afternoon, my wife found the "Diebold Jr." safe where Andy had kept his most prized possessions. 

Did I know the combination? 
You bet I did. 

Andy's TWA frequent flier card. 
A Ryne Sandberg 1983 Topps rookie card. 
A 1979 coin proof set. 

And our father's buckskin wallet, filled with his childhood keepsakes, like an official "Dragnet" deputy card. 

For a moment, it felt like Andy was still here. One day not too long ago, he locked that safe for the last time.

And on Monday, a little boy he never had the chance to meet opened it. 

That safe is under my son's nightstand now, to be filled with his treasures. 

And Yak Face is going on MY closet shelf.


2 comments :

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