John Kratzat drops the CD into his den’s stereo system and taps the play button. Nearby, his 29-year-old son Andrew leans back on the headrest of his motorized wheelchair and listens.
A soft alto saxophone begins its descent. An acoustic guitar enters with an easy, rhythmic strum. Then comes the clear voice of Joey Dosik, one of Andrew’s friends and colleagues from the University of Michigan.
Goodbye Earth, I’m on my way.
It’s just too crowded for me to stay.
I’m sorry ’bout all of the fights.
I’ll do this one right.
As Andrew Kratzat listens to the music he composed and recalls the lyrics he wrote, he also anticipates hearing the stand-up bass he played on each of the CD’s five songs. And there it is: a simple two-note punctuation after Joey sang right. Andrew, of course, would contribute more of his bass to that song and the four tracks that followed.
When he listens, his dark eyes stare at the facing wall in his parents’ northeast home, and yet they seem to look into the beyond.
The medical term is traumatic brain injury. Andrew has suffered from it for two and a half years, since the afternoon of July 26, 2011. It was a Tuesday. Bright. Warm. Beautiful.
With Andrew in the passenger’s seat and his fiancée, Alicia, behind the wheel of her silver Honda, the two were on their way to meet Andrew’s parents for lunch in Marshall, Mich. There was much to talk about, including Andrew’s admission into the graduate music education program at Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. But because there was a traffic back-up on westbound Interstate 94, Andrew and Alicia were running late. As they pulled to a stop behind a tractor-trailer rig, all they could do was wait.
Andrew doesn’t remember the crash. Alicia, who did not want to have her last name published for privacy, a violinist whom Andrew met at Michigan and who also has a traumatic brain injury, says she recalls it.
Bearing down on the line of stalled traffic was another semi, only this one didn’t stop. Police investigators estimated the truck was going 50 mph when it slammed into the back of the Honda.
The driver of the truck, to my knowledge, was never cited, John says. It was an accident. We don’t know if he was texting, or reaching down to get something, or daydreaming. We just don’t know. It was an accident. He wasn’t paying attention.
Both were airlifted to the intensive care unit at the University of Michigan hospital in Ann Arbor, where they were undergrad music majors. Andrew stayed for three weeks before he could be transferred to the St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor Hospital, where he stayed a year.
Then, John says, he transitioned to a rehabilitation facility in Michigan. And then in March, he came home to live (in Fort Wayne).
John compares his son’s injury with shaken baby syndrome; that the force of the truck’s impact tore pieces of Andrew’s brain, as it did with Alicia’s. Andrew, a 2002 graduate of Snider High School, cannot walk. He has required therapy to help him swallow and regain partial dexterity in his hands, and has slow, deliberate speech. But, his resolve is exemplary.
There is no room for self-sorrow, Andrew says. No room for bitterness.
He struggles with the words but says, Everything can only get better from here.
He misses playing the bass with the same proficiency, yet insists, I’ve got other things I focus on now.
In addition to four therapy sessions a week, the top of Andrew’s focus list is the Meet the Artist 10-concert series that begins Jan. 18 at the Covenant United Methodist Church, where John Kratzat is the music director.
Groups and individuals that Andrew played with will be coming to Fort Wayne, with Andrew footing the bill, primarily from his insurance settlement. It’s his way of thanking those musicians, and to give back.
Because his wheelchair can unfold and put him in a standing position, Andrew also hopes to back up his friends with a few bass licks.
Music is all I’ve done since I was 12 years old, he says, explaining his determination.
‘A long journey’
The photograph taken in 2005 of Andrew and six of his cohorts crowded together in somebody’s house was supposed to be for an album cover whenever the time came. But because the picture looked as though somebody’s mom took it with a Polaroid, circa 1974, the cover idea was scrapped. Still, Andrew decided to make copies anyway and insert them with the five-song CD titled Greetings From the Andrew Kratzat Singers.
That’s Andrew, all 6-foot-4 of him, standing in the back, holding the coffee cup and wearing the green sweater and the smile of a college kid with his future ahead of him.
I wrote these songs between 2005 and 2008 with the idea that you could tell a complete story through a song, Andrew wrote inside the CD jacket. They were recorded in bedrooms, living rooms, churches or wherever else we could find space.
He goes on to thank contributors and says he enjoyed his time in Ann Arbor.
It has been a long journey, but the songs are now ready, he concludes. I hope you enjoy them.
Meanwhile, he seems to look into the distance as he listens to his music.
I’ll meet my wife one night, real late
Having forgotten to pack toothpaste
Smiling brightly, she’ll win me for sure
When she says, What’s mine is yours.