Though we'd never met before, I was just as excited as if I were meeting an old friend.
She'd read my blog post about the first artist I ever met. He was a blind man, who taught me how to see.
More than art, my friendship with Andrew led me to a path of spiritual inquiry that I continue to follow today. Andrew was my first real teacher.
Andrew was her father, she said. He raised her until she was 10 years old, when her mother took her away.
She's 20 now and looking to know more of this man whose memory still burned her heart. She heard he'd had pancreatic cancer years before. We each mourned the loss.
As fate would have it, she and I would both be in Phoenix the following month. We agreed to meet.
I knew her straight away. Her face glowed with the same beautiful energy as Andrew, both inside and out. I whispered to Andrew's ghost, "If only you could see this beautiful girl! And she's an artist just like you."
She was hungry to know about her father. I was honored to tell her.
I shared all the stories I had of that man who came into the diner where I poured coffee when I was just 17 years old. In spite of his sight being largely taken away when he was a boy, he drew beautiful desert landscapes with fields of color. We became friends, and he opened my eyes to see the world more deeply.
I cried as I spoke, overcome by sadness that Andrew was not there instead of me, telling his stories to her for himself.
And then she said that Andrew might be alive. She showed me a clue, and then another. Before we knew it we were in my car, driving like mad, to the last place she was able to trace him.
It was the last place I ever expected to find Andrew, to be honest. It was ugly, decayed, dogs growled menacingly behind weary chain link fences. "Andy," I thought, "What happened to you?"
She pointed to a grim structure that was boarded up. We peeked into the backyard, strewn with trash and overrun by weeds. We both closed our eyes in pain. But she pointed out the raised garden beds and paintings on the tree trunks and we smiled at one another, "He's been here!"
Only one neighbor would speak to us. Andrew had been there. But we were too late now. He was gone. The man told us that Andrew drank. A lot. He'd been taken away, gravely ill. I never knew Andrew to take a drink. But I knew that losing his daughter would have left him hopeless.
My own father died of drink. The fact that I was never able to say goodbye has always haunted me. I looked at my friend's beautiful daughter and vowed to give her story a different ending.
We studied the clues again and were able to piece together enough to track his family. "We may be too late," I warned her, but prayed that her story would conclude happier than mine.
I tracked down Andrew's brother on the phone, and tears came when he told me that Andrew had recovered from his ordeal and was once again thriving.
Andrew's brother was anxious to meet his niece. I gave him her number and danced in happy anticipation of a beautiful ending to this story.
But then my phone went silent. Nobody wrote.
Andrew's family embraced his daughter and closed a circle around her. They did not know me - so they shut me out. And why shouldn't they? I wasn't family. This was not my story. It was her story.
But I became obsessed with finding Andrew myself. I wanted to take Andrew to his daughter in that way I could never do with my own father. I wanted to write this ending.
But I had forgotten, it was not my story.
His brother had mentioned the area where Andrew now lived. I drove the streets frantically, asking everyone if they had seen a sight-impaired artist named Andrew.
The postman asked, "Does he walk with a cane?" Yes!
The bus driver asked, "Is he fit and suntanned?" Yes!
The neighbor asked, "Does he have long hair?" That's him!
It had been 20 years since I'd seen Andrew but I was certain that if I followed each clue I could control the outcome, I could make it happy.
But this wasn't my story. And, as it turned out, it wasn't Andrew. When I finally tracked him down, the man whose trail I had followed so obsessively turned out to be someone else. I was chasing the wrong blind man.
How many times do we chase stories that aren't ours? Do we get infatuated with things out of our control because we're so attached to the ending we want? How many times do we chase the wrong man because we're blind to the truth?
I finally let go.
I won't say it was easy. I struggled with not writing the story I wanted. But I learned to trust the truth that time would tell.
And then, the night before I left Phoenix to return home, my telephone rang. A once-familiar voice said, "Hello Crista? It's me, Andy."
We talked for hours, picking up right where we left off, as old friends do. Time fell away. My fears no longer mattered. Andrew had taught me once again how to see.
And this is my story.
To read the initial post about my friendship with Andrew that led his daughter to me,click here.
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