Last Thursday at 3 a.m. the crickets shut it down when I cracked open my computer. The first thing I did—check the blog of Andrea Willoughby-Jones, “My Life Without Morrissey.” In that moment I realized how much I relished reading her articles. And not because I’ve ever seen Morrissey, nor had I even listened to The Smiths. Andrea’s voice, her story, causes a catch in the back of my throat—the place where tears get trapped …
With every article Andrea composes, she’s done so only after banking time—moments saved for the quiet that night delivers to a full house. Writing is Andrea’s decadent dessert, her trip to the spa, her air. There’s a book living in her too, one that nags, “Write my story!”
It’s her story now. We sit across from each other in an abandoned teachers’ lounge on blue 1970s couches. It’s dark in there like her bracelet that says MORRISSEY in block white letters. Back in 2003 Andrea and I would sit in this same room and talk about how we’d never have kids, maybe not even husbands.
Andrea focused on teaching high school English. She wrote poetry, even had it published in literary magazines. And then she met Roland—a musician from the Isle of Wight whose band traveled to the U.S. Over a wave of dancers at The Harp in Costa Mesa, California, the two locked eyes. And here they are, married. It was in this same lounge, too, that Andrea announced her pregnancy.
Her life changed in the space of a paragraph, and that wouldn’t be the first time. In 2010 Andrea and Roland discovered that one of her students had been admitted into the foster care system with his younger brother a few days before Christmas. They went to see him. They met his brother. They decided that they could raise three boys in a two-bedroom condominium along with a rescued dog and a cat. On Christmas Eve the family of three became a family of five.
Over the years Andrea has cared for an ailing father, put her husband through the teaching credential program, rescued kids and animals, ushered three boys to their activities, and taught 200 kids per year. She put love and service before self because for her it was the right thing to do. It was the right thing to do, too, after their dog died to take in a neighbor’s neglected dog that just sat outside on a leash and barked incessantly. She named him Moz, the short version of Morrissey. And then I notice the caption on her t-shirt: The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated ~ Gandhi. “He’s the best dog I ever had,” she says.
Shortly after taking in the boys, during one of her jaunts to swim practice, a Smiths song came on the radio. Andrea hummed along and thought, I miss Morrissey. After everyone went to bed, Andrea researched the legendary singer. She started treating herself to Morrissey concerts. This mother of three jumps barricades or slips under them to make it to the front, sometimes getting caught, but sometimes getting to touch the stage. Sometimes getting to hand Morrissey blue roses. She sneaks her camera in and takes forbidden photos. Reading about her concert escapades intrigues me—like her passion, and her desire to follow that passion even though it costs her in sleep and money.
Andrea flew all the way to Chicago for one night just to see Morrissey, and then he cancelled. It sounds like a love affair with a bad boy at times. Like the time she had tickets to his Vegas show, and he had to cancel then, too. Andrea and Roland drove to Las Vegas for the night anyway, and they literally bumped into former Smiths co-writer and guitarist, Johnny Marr. Roland snapped Andrea’s picture with him. On a whim she had packed her chunky vinyl album for Marr to sign just in case … it’s a great story and her blog is full of them—replete with stories about someone who has found a way to carve out space for herself amid the sacrifice because, she says, “There must be a way.”