I interviewed Andy Looze in Minneapolis, MN, on April 26, 2016. A performance artist who worked at a co-op at the time, Andy was 26 years old when we spoke.
I think it’s helpful to provide context. It doesn’t exist in a vacuum, right? My dad, despite being a physician and all of that, is an alcoholic. He hasn’t admitted it himself. My mom has been in denial of it. My sister kind of waffles back and forth. He was extremely absent from my life in a major way, and had a traumatic brain injury when I was seven years old.
Things in my family, at that point, really shifted, and I think I was too young to really recognize what was going on. But there was a definite absence of my dad for a while—not physically, but in this emotional way. My mom was always the fixer in the family. It reached a certain point when my dad lost his job when I was eleven years old, where my mom also became quite absent as well. My dad and my mom were both coping with what I would call, at this point, depression.
At that point, I had no idea what it was. I’d think, “Why aren’t you getting out of bed? Why am I not getting picked up from basketball practice?” I felt forgotten in a lot of ways. There was one instance in my childhood when my dad was unemployed, before we moved to Eau Claire, where I was going to go lie on the couch and watch TV. My dad usually took that spot on the couch, and that was his domain of sorts. He wasn’t there, so I just took the opportunity to hang out. I stuck my hand between the cushions and I found a loaded gun. I was like, “What the fuck?” I remember having this gut reaction of anger and fear, but not knowing why.
It happened on one or two more occasions where this handgun was in the couch. I confronted my dad about it. I was like, “Why is your gun in the couch?”
He just said, “I was polishing it.”
For an eleven-year-old, you don't know how to react to something like that. In hindsight, I’m like, “Oh, I get it. You were probably planning on shooting yourself. Or someone else. Or something.” There’s no logical reason as to why. Never brought this up again. However, it has very much stuck out as this core memory of mine.
Then, Eau Claire just felt like a fucking shit show. I went to a great school. I played on the tennis team. I played in the jazz band. I had a high school experience that a lot of people would probably have dreamed of having, externally. However, I was always having panic attacks. I was terrified of not being perfect. My sister was not going to school, and I was having to communicate with her teachers to make sure that she was getting the homework that she needed because she was in bed for months at a time, not leaving her room. My parents were putting all of their energy into that, and I was the one scrambling around.
I remember reaching this point after my sister went off to college, feeling suddenly so exposed. Like, “Oh my god, that huge part of the family dynamic is not here anymore. The person who was screaming at the dinner table threatening to kill everyone is suddenly out of the picture.” I’m like, “Now my parents are suddenly paying attention to me.”
I recall, in my junior year, starting to get really, really depressed, and feeling like I couldn’t manage anything. I would go to school and then have a panic attack in the middle of math class. Fucking calculus. And then [I would] feel completely devastated because I didn’t understand it, and I remember going into my car that I had, and I just drove home. I just left school.
Prior to that, though, a friend of mine had run into me in the hallway. He was known as being a hugger. He just hugged everyone, and it was never in this way that felt bad or like he was encroaching on your space. He was just a very comforting person who had a really big energy. He gave me this huge hug because he noticed I was not doing well.
I bolted. I went home and I grabbed a knife from the kitchen. My mom wasn’t home. No one was home. I was like, “Okay, I’m just going to stab myself hundreds of times until I die.” That was my thinking.
I tried calling my mom. I was just panicking, panicking, panicking. She didn’t answer. Somehow, some way, I calmed myself down enough to realize, “This isn’t actually going to help me. I don’t think I want to die. I think I’m just panicking.” It felt like I’ve lived in fear a lot, of not being able to understand things, of not being able to do things right.
When I reach a point where I’m terrified of not knowing how to put the pieces together, that’s often when I face that ‘I should just die’ feeling. And that death should happen of my own accord.
At some point, I discovered alcohol. It felt like a saving grace for me. I was drunk with friends every weekend, and then it turned into senior year of drinking by myself all the time. Every night. [I was] leaving people house’s early to go home and get drunk. It was interesting because I got booze from friends, but I also pilfered from my parents’ liquor cabinet. I started noticing that my dad was doing pretty much the same thing I was doing, and we were both taking clandestine swigs from the same bottle at different times of day. My mom was wondering where all this alcohol was going, and she just blamed it on my dad, not realizing that I was doing it, as well.
It was bad. It was pretty bad. I don’t know how the hell I managed to function, necessarily. I wasn’t drunk during the day or at school, but it was every night for a long time. I started cutting myself. There was something about it that felt like a release. It didn’t feel like I wanted to kill myself in those instances. I felt like I had this inability to cry, and it was something that allowed me to cry.
My parents, I have no idea if they knew about that. I think later they did, but not in that particular instance. My friend found out. She told the guidance counselor. I had to go talk to a guidance counselor who was very concerned about me. It felt like such a blur. “Yeah, great… awesome. I don’t care.”
They needed people, at the end of senior year, to write graduation speeches. I was on honor roll. They were like, we really need more honor students to be trying out for this. So I wrote a speech, and my whole plan was to read this speech and then shoot myself on the stage. I was so enamored with this idea. Of course, I didn’t get it because it was the most depressing speech ever. It was like, “Meh, we’re all going to hell. Who gives a flying fuck about anything?” Clearly, I was depressed and just didn’t really know what was going on.
I dabbled with medications from a physician: Prozac, Lexapro, Zoloft. You name it. Effexor, Wellbutrin—all of them, all of those SSRIs. At the end of the summer, I ended up not moving with my parents to Madison for the last summer before college, but I moved in with a mentor of mine who was my former English teacher in high school. That was a really great experience to get away from my family, who felt like they didn’t know me at all.
I recall her asking me at one point, “Why are you dating guys?”
I was like, “I don't know.” The best answer I could come up with was, “I think I’m certainly not straight, but I don't know what I am.”
I think that’s when I started really digging into this identity crisis of mine that I had been having since I was very little, always feeling more like the dude. Even from when I was like three years old, just preferring the boy toys in the kid’s meal or whatever. After experiencing these three months living with somebody who I felt really saw who I was, I went to college.
It was really difficult to start out. With my feelings of, “I don't know what I’m doing. This is terrifying,” I was just a complete mess. I went into mechanical engineering, not really understanding that that wasn’t my passion at all. I was just good at math and science in high school, so why not? And, “Since you’re female, they’ll want more of you. People like you, so it’s easier to get in,” to an extent. But I failed out of physics. I got a zero on a test, which is like… I don't know how anybody gets a zero on a test, but I somehow got a zero, even actually trying. I’ve kept it because it’s so funny. Then I was failing out of math, so I pursued other things, like English, theater, and art, which were really great for me.
However, in the midst of all of this, I was getting to know different people. I met someone who was the first trans person I’d ever met. I’ll call him “Mike.” We became best friends, and we were kind of inseparable to the extent of people thinking we were dating. Looking back, I think he had a bit of a complex about being the only trans person. Anytime there was any other trans person in his presence, he would kind of get all huffy. In hindsight, I noticed that, but not at the moment. He was from Madison, so we went down to Madison together over breaks, and over the summer, I got to know a lot of his friends.
But it really turned sour. Hurt people hurt people. [There are these] dynamics where people who are nineteen years old don’t know what is hurtful to other people. It was this vortex of people being manipulative and weird to this extent where I was iced out, which I think really hurt me in a major way. [I felt] completely isolated in a town where I knew no one.
I was very depressed. Mike and I had plans to live with each other for the next school year, and I was feeling an incredible amount of trepidation around it. I also recall that summer starting to feel like, “Fuck, I wish I didn’t have my tits anymore, but I feel like I can’t talk to Mike about it because he’ll get mad,” so it was something that I just kept keeping to myself. I was like, “I don’t want tits, but I don't know what that means. Does that mean I’m trans?”
I think I was so afraid of actually naming trans-ness as a possibility because of this very not supportive person who was kind of my best friend, or at least I thought so. We had sort of made reparations at the end of the summer, just between him and I, but I was sort of shut out of everybody else’s life, which was very, very painful. One of these people whom I had really fallen in love with—or at least I thought that’s what it was—just fucking broke my heart. We didn’t know how to talk about it, they were moving to the east coast for school, and I could tell that he didn’t want anything to do with me. But I was so desperate.
Things started spiraling downward even after Mike and I had sort of made things feel okay between us. We moved in with each other. It got fucked up.
School was hard. I joined this student activist collective that was stressing the shit out of me. I was dealing with being trans and not knowing how to come out. I remember going to Target and buying the smallest sports bras ever to just make the tits disappear.
Mike and I had kind of stopped talking to each other. This was 2010, in the springtime. I started having those feelings of like, “I just want to die. I could just jump off this bridge. I could just run into this car when I’m on my bike. I can make it look like an accident.”
I felt very alone. In a way that, looking back on it, wasn’t true. But when you’re living in the vortex of your own brain, it’s like, “No one cares about me. I’m a terrible person.”
I was on and off medication throughout this whole college experience, and I finally decided, “I think I’m going to go back to my doctor and see if I can get on something, because this is starting to freak me out a little bit.” She was out sick, and there was a nurse practitioner who was filling in for her whom I’d never met before. She put me back on Prozac. I have no idea if that was a good choice or not, but I started noticing that my energy was just ramping up. I was feeling kind of manic.
The things that Mike and I had done to each other were just so horrible. I think, on my end especially, I just felt like he didn’t care about me anymore. I started doing some terrible shit where I locked him out of the apartment on purpose, wouldn’t let him in. He made a whole pot of coffee, and I dumped it out in front of him. Why the fuck did I do that? Probably because I wasn’t feeling cared for. I felt like our friendship was dwindling, and I didn’t know how to express it. I didn’t know how to make a change to make it better. I could have moved out. Easy, right? No, I’m going to live through this terrible situation and be abusive and not recognize where it’s coming from.
Looking back on it, it’s like, “Oh yeah, I understand,” but in the midst of it, I was so angry all the time, avoidant, and stoned out of my mind. Or drunk as hell.
However, after taking this Prozac medication that this woman had prescribed for me, I started having these extreme panic attacks again, where I wasn’t able to breathe and I would start hyperventilating as I was preparing to go to class. [I would] have to go back into my room, turn on Titanic, and watch it for the three hundredth time. I could always calm down. It was just like, “Okay, Celine Dion, great.” Then I’d fall asleep. I’d wake up and be like, “Okay, I made it through that horrible experience.”
I started filming myself and keeping these little diary entries. Then, anytime I’d have a panic attack, I’d document it in the midst of having one. It was horrifying.
I recall coming back from class one day and wanting to stab myself a hundred times, but I didn’t. But it always felt very close.
Then, I don't know what the fuck happened. None of it felt premeditated, I don’t remember what I had been doing that day. I do remember being really upset, crying a thousand tears, filming myself crying, filming myself cutting myself, and calming down, probably sleeping through the afternoon. It’s evening now. Mike is home. I haven’t seen him in ages. We weren’t talking. I went to the refrigerator and I got a glass of orange juice. I drank the orange juice. I went back to the kitchen and got a glass of water, and then I went back to my room.
I had kept all of the failed pill bottle experiments from the doctors over the past couple of years. I dumped them out on my bed. I made a very pristinely counted grid of pills. I don't know how many it was. It was a mixture of all of those, and then I just took them by the handful and swallowed them. I don’t think I understood at all in the moment what would happen. I think I just really wanted to escape because I was feeling so horrible all the time. It feels like the psychotic break when you’re like, “I didn’t really plan it. I don’t really know what the outcome’s going to be.”
I texted ten people: “The world is a cruel place.” Something to that effect. One of these people who I texted was Mike, who was in the other room as this was happening. I remember lying on the ground. He came in and he’s like, “Are you okay?”
I said, “I just swallowed a whole bunch of pills.”
He’s like, “Okay, I’m going to get help.”
Next thing I know, there’s four paramedic people in the room or something. At least, it seems like four. I’m not really coherent. I have no idea how much time has passed. My memory tells me that I did not resist, that I walked on my own with the help of someone on one arm and someone on the other. I got to the door to leave the apartment, I slipped on my Vans slip-on shoes, and I heard Mike yell from the kitchen, “I’m sorry.” My memory tells me that I got into the ambulance by myself. I have no idea, but somehow, I feel like I got into the ambulance—not the back door—there was a side door that I got into.
I don’t remember the ambulance ride. I remember getting to the hospital, lying down, seeing ceiling tiles and them telling me, “We have to transport you to another medical center. We do not have what we need here to help you.” I don’t remember that transit at all. I remember another set of ceiling tiles that were different, so I knew I was somewhere else.
My sister lived in Minneapolis and she came, which felt surprising, to an extent. But it’s family, I guess. We don’t have a bad relationship, but I think I felt so isolated and alone, and it was like, “Oh, what are you doing here?” I remember swallowing a whole bunch of this charcoal goop shit to absorb all the toxins of the pills. I remember laughing a lot, being in this delirious state. My sister’s crying, and I’m laughing. What a weird scenario.
A friend of mine came. There must have been a lot of time that had gone by. It might have been the next day. She brought me a Shasta cola or something. I was like, “What the fuck is this?” But I drank it and I was really happy. I was joking about it. Apparently I was in the ICU. I had no idea. I stayed there, I think, for seventy-two hours. There wasn’t any mention of a hold that happened, like a psychiatric hold.
My parents came and my dad sort of stood off in the corner, didn’t talk to me at all. He was just there and then he left because he had to drive all the way back to Madison and go to work. But my mom stayed. I have no fucking clue how my mom watched all of this happen without a tear in her eye. She’s the fixer. Got to make sure everything is under control. She stayed in a hotel nearby, and she signed paperwork that let me out of there. My pupils were dilated for almost two weeks from the Benadryl, and I had to wear sunglasses all the time. I had this involuntary shake that would happen.
I got back to my apartment, and I walked in and all of Mike’s stuff was just gone. I was like, “Uhh… oh.” My mom didn’t really know because she’d only been there once and didn’t really know my stuff or Mike’s stuff. I was like, “Mike’s stuff is gone,” and then I opened the fridge. Completely empty. Nothing in there. There was a note that said, “Dear Loozes, you were not robbed. Love, Mike,” or something, and it had his phone number.
I was like, “Okay, I guess that means Mike is out of my life.” That’s jarring. In the moment, I didn’t really take into account or understand the pain I had caused him, as well, prior to this attempt. I was bitter. I was angry. I was horrifically sad. I felt guilty. I felt all of these things, and then I had to bake this fucking cake.
I had to bake this cake for this geology class I was in. I was in Geology and Cinema, where we looked at geologic disasters and how they didn’t make sense in film and prove why. We had to do a project, and I decided, why doesn’t my group and I essentially just meet and bake this cake that represents the sedimentary layers of the Mississippi bedrock and Mississippi River? My mom helped me bake this fucking cake. We went to the store, got all the ingredients, and baked this goddamn cake. I had these horrific cuts on my arms that I wasn’t covering because I was like, “I don't know. Whatever.”
This all happened, I think, on a Tuesday. I missed maybe a little bit of class and was back in class on the next Monday. I brought this cake to class and I cut it with the knife I had cut myself with. Masochistic me. I did this presentation. Got an A. Asked for an extension in a couple of other classes. It was like nothing ever happened. There’s this daunting thing that’s happening in your world, yet you’re working in this system where you just have to work through it. It felt like I was floating through the last bit of the year where I wasn’t actually doing anything.
I didn’t live in my apartment for the rest of that time. It was too weird to be there. I moved in with a friend of mine who had this magical place: a one-bedroom with a beautiful loft. She made a little room for me. She was the kindest person I could have ever asked for. She was the most understanding. I learned that she had been through some horrific things herself. She had a lot of PTSD from some really horrible things, and she was like, “Welcome to my home.” She had a little corner in her room that she dedicated to keeping messy because she was so neurotic about making sure things were orderly. She was like, “Just please don’t touch that corner. I need it to remain that way for myself.” She was so good at naming her boundaries. I couldn’t have asked for a better person to live with after such an experience.
I don't know. I’m sort of in awe at times when I tell this story, because I don’t turn that rock over very often. There are certain people in my life who do know about it. It’s relevant to me, but it doesn’t feel relevant to tell other people unless it’s necessary. Not because I have shame around it. Not because I don’t want to burden someone with my crazy, dramatic story. But I feel like I’ve grown enough to be aware of when it feels relevant to share and when it feels like it’s a useful thing to share. It took a few years to figure that out. Now it feels more like this sort of faded chapter that’s like, “Ah, I got through that. Holy fuck. Thank you, self.”
The urge to die still creeps up. In August of 2014, my best friend, and the manager at the hardware store that I worked at, she died by suicide. Getting through that experience of losing someone to suicide kind of overturned my own rock again, and I was just like, “God. I mean suicide feels kind of inevitable sometimes.” Kind of not. But if we live in a society that really doesn’t work in honoring people’s feelings, that essentially creates a lot of broken families; that creates classism, racism, horrible disparities. We live in a society that basically feeds on that and supports that just in the way that it is. Suicide does feel inevitable when you look at it from this really big standpoint.
Floyd, my coworker and friend, lived a really intensely abusive life. She was going to go visit her family in Missouri, and then everybody assumed she was in Missouri, but she never had left. She didn’t show up to work, and I had this inkling midday. I was like, “Oh, she’s dead. I know.” Lo and behold, I find out later that night that she had died.
Grieving suicide feels much different than grieving a more natural death or even an accident. Especially when you’ve been to that point yourself where you just want to be done. You kind of understand. That winter, I quit that job. I was like, “I can’t be here. There’s too many memories here.” We went to The Seward Café across the street and drank every day after work and had a really good time. I ended up being that person that showed up there and sat at the bar drinking by myself. I went home and drank. I was just a fucking drunk for a long time.
I decided, after just a year of grieving that, to quit. I was like, “I can’t drink anymore. It has caused too much pain in my life. It is my escape route. When I am drinking in excess, it usually means I’m covering something up that I’m not dealing with.” I made that choice in August of last year and I’ve been sober ever since. I’m still in the early, baby stages of it, and it’s daunting as hell some days. But I will never regret that choice.
I think, “Will I ever consider suicide again? Will I ever drink again? Are these questions that I don’t have a clear answer for?” Because that urge to die does arrive at times when I’m in periods of deep stress that I’m not addressing. That desire to drink arises when I’m in a state of crisis and I feel like I’m covering things up again that I don’t want to deal with.
They feel very hand in hand. I think, just like AA, it’s one day at a time, right? It’s always one day at a time, and I’m not about to say, “I’m never going down that path again.” I think that would be kind of an asinine statement to make, because I don't know what's going to happen today. I don't know what will happen tomorrow or a year from now. How can I ever commit to saying, “I’m going to be sober for a year. I’m going to be suicide thought-free for a year?” That’s insane. Once you’ve been there, your body remembers that. Your body remembers how it reacted to feeling suicidal. It takes a long time to learn how to be like, “Okay, thank you. I’ll set that aside,” but who knows?
Des: You documented all of these things—the panic attacks and hurting yourself. What did you do with that? Or why do you think you did it? Were you just being a nerdy artist?
Andy: Oh god! I don’t know. I never have watched them again. I held onto them for a really long time on my computer, and then I was like, “I’m going to delete them.” Never did. I put them on an external hard drive that I have somewhere. For some reason, it’s really challenging for me to get rid of. I’m like a hoarder. And, as an artist in some weird regard, and especially as a writer and as a storyteller, I like to hold onto things. It’s really hard to let go of even the most terrible moments of my life, even in physical documentation.
I’m sure, if I ever stumbled across them again, that I probably wouldn’t touch them still. They’re steeping or something. Or maybe it’s just something that, at the right time, I’ll be able to get rid of. I think that’s another part of loss or anything about realizing anything about yourself. Just like it’s important to go through that phase of, “I’m a white, able-bodied, queer-identified whatever.” You’re not going to arrive where you want to be until you go through that weird ass shit. I have let go of that part of myself that was that weird, perfect-sounding activist, and at some point, maybe I’ll let go of that horrible series of videos that I made of myself.
I don’t ever film myself otherwise. I did for a very short period of time, when I first started taking testosterone. Then I was like, “Everyone else already does this.” YouTube is saturated with this stuff. I don’t think I had anything to add to the conversation, and the way that I was doing it felt like I was trying to fit that mold of how these people are talking about their trans experiences. I was like, “That’s not mine.” I sensed that lack of authenticity even in myself for me to realize that that’s not how I do shit.
Des: How does your trans experience fit into this story?
Andy: I think I felt so alone when that was happening. I came out very soon after my attempt.
Des: How old were you?
Andy: I was twenty. I went through some weird name stumbles, let’s just say that. I was dating someone who was quite supportive. I got my first binder and I was so ecstatic. It was so great. It was great to live in this queer bubble [of people] who get it and support you. It’s wonderful. But I think there were all these extra hurdles of navigating the world as a trans person when people don’t really understand what it is. I think it’s changed an incredible amount even in the six years that I’ve been out, but when you’re binding, not taking hormones, and not really sure how to introduce yourself with your new name, that is also incredibly isolating.
I remember going to a gay bar in St. Paul on my twenty-first birthday and introducing myself with my new name. This lady said to me, “That’s not your real name, right?”
I’m like, “Goddamn it! I’m never going to be validated.” I think her name was like fuckin’ Shirley or something. Fuck you, Shirley. I don’t give a fuck about you.
My attempt really taught me a lot, actually, about when I sweep things under the rug that I’m not addressing. I think another part of the story that’s also relevant: after getting out of the hospital, I met with a new psychiatrist who decided that I was bipolar and I started taking Abilify, which was a huge nightmare, and a mess in and of itself.
But this diagnosis culture, I think, is not helping anyone. For me, mood fluctuation, depression, and feeling manic—or whatever words people want to use for it—it’s just how I react to different stimuli in life. My life experience and how I grew up as a kid, how I learned how to react to certain things as a child, how I did or did not receive the care that I needed as a kid, and the defense mechanisms that we put up for ourselves, those are all of the things that often inform what ends up getting diagnosed as something later. I’m sure you’ve heard this and think about it. My god. It’s a huge fucking problem. I get so mad about it.
I think there’s some things that I’ve learned where popping a pill can be helpful at times when it’s unmanageable, but I don’t think a pill is forever. I think there is a certain strength within all of our bodies. For some folks, some of those things you can learn about yourself, and recognize enough to move through it without medication.
I had a really great patch of time where I wasn’t on anything, recently, since getting sober. But I had a pretty traumatic experience in which I severed ties with an abusive housemate. Different person. He was grappling with [his] diagnosis, and the swirl of shit that existed in that realm was unmanageable with me grieving someone’s loss, someone’s death. It turned into this panic attack thing, more like a panic disorder. It was strange because I didn’t ever feel like, “Ahhh!” but I was hyperventilating all the time, and I was getting itchy. I felt like I couldn’t be in my body.
I felt like, “I need to make a choice here. It’s unmanageable to live in my body. Maybe medication will be a good choice.” So, I did make a choice to take an extremely low dose of gabapentin, with an allergy medication because I would burst into hives every day, and I’m like, “This isn’t sustainable for me.” It took my operating at a twelve of feeling spastic and hyperventilating, and took it down a notch so I felt more able to function.
I think I’m learning to treat medication, not as the answer to everything I need, but as this, “Okay, I’m going to commit to this. Probably for six months to a year. But do other things in my life, like make sure I’m really on top of finding a sponsor for AA, and practicing meditation a little bit more, in whatever way. Even just taking a moment to sit the fuck still.”
I think this is one of the first times in my life where I’ve understood what self-care really means for me. I think there’s this self-care jargon out there that feels really… “I had a hard day. My self-care is drinking and hanging with friends.” That’s not my self-care. Is that really self-care?
Now, understanding myself a little bit better, [I’m able] to say crying at home alone and watching Netflix for four days in a row isn’t actually self-care for me. That’s actually avoiding self-care. Self-care is more an engagement in who I am and what I’m doing. This is a dynamic thing. This is something that has movement. This isn’t something that I can just expect to happen for me, I guess. I think that’s something that’s been really beautiful, even in the last year for me, of recognizing how powerful individuals are at being responsible for their own health and well-being and safety.
It’s hard but it feels very enlivening. I have all the tools I need. I can do these things. There’s possibility. Being able to see how these horrific things have led me to here, I can’t say I regret that stuff, right? Because it happened. It’s part of me, and I’m grateful for the wisdom I have gained from such deep abysses of horrible things.
Andy: My neighbor, after Floyd passed away, asked me the craziest question. It was like, “Do you think suicide is wrong? Or do you think she’s going to burn in hell?” It was something that was putting my moral perspective of suicide on the line and putting it in this weird space of, if I disagree with you, this could turn into a weird fight. If I agree with you, I might be lying. It was the weirdest thing, where it feels similar to somebody asking, “Do you ever regret it?”
It’s like, “Well, how could I be where I am now? That would completely alter why we’re even talking about this in the first place, right?”
Des: I feel like I want to dig in a little bit more about Floyd.
Andy: Floyd was the manager at the hardware store where I worked at. She was a butch dyke, she had just sold her motorcycle. She was super pissed about it. She was surly as fuck. Like, rolled her own cigarettes. Usually put some weed in there. And drank Hamm’s like it was water. She was stout and couldn’t have been taller than 5’3”. God. Very funny person and just always joking. Always making comments about her tits being these fucking boulders that were sagging. She’d say, “I’d chop my tits off like you, but I got to keep them for the ladies.” She’d say things like, “All I do is drink whiskey and chase women.”
She was kind of joking because she was also extremely depressed. Her former wife had left her for a trans guy. She was completely devastated by it. It happened five years prior, and she just hated every trans person. She told me this story later. She’s like, “When you were hired on, I was terrified. I was like, ‘I have to deal with a fucking tranny.’ So I talked to my friend, Linda, and Linda told me to calm down about it. And look, we’re best friends now!”
She started out with some rough language around trans stuff, and over time, she turned into one of the most heartfelt allies that I’ve ever had. Where we would be out at a bar and someone was just giving me shit about being a “he/she,” and she would just step in with the most theatrical-almost, “Well, actually I don't know if you knew this, but that’s an inappropriate way of describing someone.” Just such a fucking ham all the time.
I remember times when we were sitting in her very dilapidated, about-to-be foreclosed on house that had no walls inside. Just telling me how much she wanted to die and how she wanted to hang. No one would miss her.
The only thing I could say to her in those moments was, “I hope you don’t do it tonight.” I never said anything to her, like, “Don’t do it. You can’t. I would miss you so much.” I mean, that’s not going to be helpful. There was this sort of inevitable feeling all the time of, “When is it going to happen?”
She grew up in Missouri. Her parents were physically abusive. She ran away from home when she was thirteen and was working for herself all the time. She got into construction. She was always angry about feeling like she wasn’t ever supported; that being a lower-class, white hick, essentially, she was the lowest of society and there was never any support system for her. She resented people and things for that. She was kind of radical on the left end of the spectrum, but also deeply conservative in this other peculiar way.
It was so funny, because working with her was atrocious some days. She would be angry as fuck, throwing shit around, and yelling at people. She had terrible customer service skills, but she knew so much about hardware that you couldn’t fire her because she was so helpful. I learned so fucking much from her.
The last day I saw her, I bought her a steak for her to have before she went to Missouri. She bought me a pack of cigarettes in exchange. I had just moved into this new place that had sort of an uneven floor in my room so she sawed these blocks of wood for me to sit under the edge of my bed so it would stay even.
The last time I saw her, she was sweaty as fuck because [the store] didn’t have any equipment, so she was hand-sawing these things and [there was] sawdust sticking all over her. She’s like, “I’ll see ya, buddy. I’ll see ya when I get back. And have a good weekend.”
And that was it.
Des: How did the experience of your attempt color the lens through which you saw her death?
Andy: I remember the party, of sorts, that we had after she passed away. It was at the Seward Café, which was this punk café. We had kegs of Hamm’s and we sang karaoke, because that’s what she did. 80’s hair metal songs. Some people were super angry and vehemently so, to this extent that it was super polarizing.
I did not feel angry. I felt so understanding, especially having known her thoughts around it, having known her as a person and understanding how depressed she was. Her friends even told me, “No, this is not the Floyd we knew five years ago. She has just been in this for a long time.” People had always been super supportive for her and been there for her. She wasn’t alone at all, but I think she thought she was.
I remember feeling so… “I’m glad you’re in a better place now. I’m glad you can find some peace. I’m glad you can finally pursue the aquaponics garden that you’ve wanted to do up in the sky or wherever you’re at, and that you’re drinking whiskey and chasing ladies like you’ve always wanted to be doing.” I felt so… not happy, but this sort of contentedness about it, like, “Thank god that you got some relief.”
Then it made me look at my own experience and be like, “Thank god I didn’t die.” Later on, I started getting angry. I think the stages of grief were really warped for me. I got really mad that she couldn’t be there for me. Not for herself. It felt very selfish. “Well, fuck, my door handle doesn’t work. Who the fuck am I going to call now? Can’t fucking call you. Goddamn you. Why? Why did you have to die?”
I started comparing our experiences, too. “Well, did I ever have it as bad as Floyd did?” That is not the question to be asking myself, because everybody grew up in such completely different environments. How could you ever compare? However, I think there were some crazy similarities between us regarding feeling abandoned as kids. The absence of my parents and the alcoholism. The absence of her parents in a much different sort of a way, but our behaviors and understanding of who we were really meshed, I think, because of that experience.
So, then the anger that I had also started turning into this [other] anger, not a selfish anger, like, “You could have lived,” but, god, you can’t fight with someone who’s making a choice for themselves. Those thoughts swirl around in your head of: what if I had said something differently? What if I had called her? What if I had been there when she was going to attempt and I stopped her? All of these things where it’s like, when do you start to let go of that, just be at peace, and sort of like, “Well, fuck, she sure as shit taught me a lot. I’m really glad about that. And I’m thankful to have known her?” It comes on in waves every once in a while, but for the most part, it feels okay.
If you're hurting, afraid, or need someone to talk to, please reach out to one of the resources below. Someone will reach back. Please stay. You are so deeply valued, so incomprehensibly loved—even when you can't feel it—and you are worth your life.
You can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860 (U.S.) or 877-330-6366 (Canada), or The Trevor Project at 866-488-7386. If you don't like talking on the phone, you can reach Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, or check out Lifeline Crisis Chat. If you’d like to talk to a peer, warmline.org contains links to warmlines in every state. If you're not in the U.S., click here for a link to crisis centers around the world.
Andy's story is sponsored by a grant from the hope & grace fund, a project of New Venture Fund in partnership with global women’s skincare brand, philosophy, inc. Thanks also to Alison Rutledge for providing the transcription to Andy's interview, and to Sara Wilcox for editing.
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