By krista schwimmer
On Thursday night, February 25th, my friend, Simona, found me at work to tell me that my friend and neighbor, Andrew Koenig, had been found dead in Stanly Park, Vancouver, Canada. Although he had been missing by then since the 16th, and had a history of depression, I had still held up hope for his safe return. Friends and family sweeping the park had finally found his body off a trail. The news later confirmed his death as a suicide.
I last saw him at his Venice apartment the night before he left for Montreal, Canada. As he often did, he knocked on my back door. When he told me he was moving and flying to Canada the next day, I was surprised. He had not mentioned any of this to us earlier. I said as much and then asked him his plans. He said he wasn’t sure, that he was going to most likely travel for a few months. He had friends he could stay with in Canada. He wanted to know if I needed any herbs or spices from his kitchens; I told him no, and then hugged him, saying I would miss him. He told me he would miss me, too, and returned to his apartment to continue his work. Little did I know he had given away most of his possessions. He seemed calm and focused.
Although his move was a surprise, I knew he was miserable in Venice. I knew, too, how much he loved Canada (a shared love as my husband is from Nova Scotia). He had lived in Vancouver when he was younger and still visited friends up there regularly. Whenever he returned from his visits to Canada, he seemed happy and refreshed. I thought that he was perhaps trying to make a dash for Canada. I had done that myself, in my 30’s, when I had moved to Nova Scotia. So, I interpreted it as a man going after his dreams. I planned on checking up with him through Face Book to keep in touch with him.
In 1998, when I first moved into this neighborhood, folks still took the time to get to know each other. Andrew was no exception. I would see Andrew in passing when I threw out the trash or left cat food on my back steps for the wandering Venice cats. Being Canadian, my husband, Michael, would see Andrew and say, “Hey, come over for a beer!” Over time, Andrew would come over often for a variety of reasons — to borrow something; to use our printer; or simply to visit on the front porch where squirrels and birds would come because of the feeders. We had many conversations on the porch ranging from politics, to meaningful work, and critters. I particularly remember how Andrew loved the idea of astral travel and had consciously tried to do it.
Andrew was a kind hearted person, sometimes in spite of himself. There was a group of cats that lived in the back of our two apartment buildings. In the beginning, there must have been at least 6 of them. They were abandoned after their owner, a woman next store, died of cancer. There was a golden tom cat named Junior that Andrew particularly helped. He was a very needy, physical cat. At first, Andrew was a bit put out by Junior’s demanding way. (Believe me, we all were!) They became particularly close buddies, with Andrew regularly leaving his door open for Junior to wander up and visit with him, particularly when Junior was ill. Andrew would take Junior to the vet and pay for his vet bills even when he, himself, had little money. When Junior finally died, Andrew knocked on my backdoor. He had Junior’s body, knowing I would want to say my final goodbyes before he buried him.
I always admired that Andrew put into action his philosophy of life. He was a vegan; owned a Prius; went to Burma and returned to speak up for their suffering. As an actor, writer, director and editor, he struggled; but, he also persisted, learning new skills and constantly working at something. All three of us shared a love of Halloween, with Andrew almost always coming to our annual Halloween porch party and public ritual for remembering our ancestors. That is probably why I enjoy so much Andrew’s humorous short, “Good Boy” about a man who chops off his own hand to retrieve his remote control.
Although I admired Andrew’s creative self, for many years we knew nothing about his early acting success as “Boner” in “Growing Pains,” or that his father was Chekov on Star Trek. It was largely Andrew, the neighbor, I knew and loved. When I had my hysterectomy in 2008, he drove down to Harbor UCLA in Torrance to visit me in the hospital. He also made himself available to me while I recovered at home, so that when my husband went to work, I would have someone there if I needed. He was one of the few people I trusted to take care of my birds whenever Michael and I went up to San Francisco.
I still find myself looking out the tiny window of my backdoor to see if Andrew’s door is open. I still expect to walk by him, in that alleyway with the pink bougainvillea, as he returns and I go to the local post office. Or maybe, catch him on the steps of our porch eating a lunch of organic greens and heirloom tomatoes. I think of his family and their terrible loss. I pray that his soul is at peace, that the Goddess has taken him back into her being and even now, is restoring him with her infinite compassion.
One of the teachers I admire tremendously is the Buddhist activist and monk, Thich Nhat Hahn. In his book called “No Death, No Fear”, he talks about how when conditions are right, a person who has died, returns again. As a young boy, Hahn experienced this himself, after his mother died. One night, when he was sobbing in bed for her, the moonlight touched him in such a way that he knew it was his mother.
I believe in this myself. So, I will look for you, Andrew, in the world around me – the world of birds and squirrels and sky that you protected and loved; a world that you decided to return to yourself.
For more information about Andrew’s life and suicide prevention, visit his father’s site at www.walterkoenigsite.com