What the War Did to Andy
Since last June, Andy Kubik has been living at a VA hospital in Michigan, where he's been treated for PTSD and substance abuse.
Credit: Andy Ryan
One day a few years ago, he traveled to Ohio to watch his son play hockey. At the time Tina still allowed Andy to spend time alone with the boy.

The day of the first game, Andy and Travis sat together eating lunch, and Andy felt a growing sense that someone planned to assassinate Travis. "Give me your hamburger," he said, shoving his club sandwich across the table. "You eat mine."

At a game the next day, Andy noticed the local newspaper photographer on the arena floor. Sure that the man was surveilling Travis, Andy snatched his camera cleanly and hid it in a locker room. Someone called the police, and as they arrived Andy tried to escape. In the process he broke a window and slugged an officer. The police shot him with a Taser and found a weapon of sorts hidden under his jacket: At the hotel where he was staying, he had taken a corded phone from the wall – something he could swing like a medieval flail – and wrapped it around his waist.

Andy would land in jail two times over the next few years for incidents stemming from his paranoia. His training made him dangerous. One time, for instance, his guards discovered he had covertly mapped the jail and stashed a pen in his cell as a weapon.

Several times Andy ended up in hospitals, where doctors tried round after round of medicines in vain. His hypervigilance and paranoia were "horrific, frustrating, fearful, helpless," according to his mother. "The inability to go into his world and bring him out... To see the anger in his eyes or, at times, the blank stare."

The only thing that seemed to work, Andy discovered, was cough syrup with dextromethorphan. It disgusted him, and the taste sometimes made him vomit. But Afghanistan had exploded his psyche like a fragmentation grenade, and cough syrup, he told me at one point, "slows everything down and defrags my memories."

In the span of an hour or two, he once drank three full bottles.

In February 2009, Andy launched one final mission.

Dearborn, Michigan, just outside Detroit, is home to one of America's largest Arab communities, and Andy decided to travel there and advise the authorities on his solutions. He envisioned coordinating and building a super-intelligence unit headquartered in the suburb – among America's Muslims, instead of its politicians and lobbyists – with no other purpose than to hunt Al Qaeda.

Before he deployed, he met his mother at a small restaurant. At first he refused to speak aloud, and instead passed her a note that said simply, SIXTEEN AGENCIES. DEARBORN. And she knew, as she watched him walk away, that her son might not survive this time.

Later, driving back to his apartment in Ohio, Andy felt sure someone was following him. He took an evasive route. Inside his apartment something seemed amiss. Jazz music leaked from his radio. Someone has been here.

He stuffed cash and clothes into a rucksack and fled to a friend's house. A solid guy, a retired Air Force guy, who could give him a place to hide out. But there was no one home, so Andy slipped through the open back door and waited in the living room. Then he heard it again: jazz music, from the same radio station. Dear God.

Andy stole his friend's old Mercury station wagon and launched toward Michigan. He stashed the car at the Detroit Metro Airport, in the short-term parking lot, and hailed a taxi to take him into downtown Detroit. He eyed the driver when he pulled into a substance-abuse clinic in suburban Franklin instead, possibly sensing Andy's troubles. This made Andy even more paranoid: What does this driver know? Where is he from? Andy threw a hundred-dollar bill over the seat and walked into the clinic, to appease the watchful taxi driver. He grabbed the clinic's phone and dialed 1-800-FUCK-OFF.

Did these people really think they could corner him so easily?

He slipped out of the clinic and ditched his rucksack in a trash can, saving some cash and his military identification card. He crept into a nearby racquetball club and in the locker room grabbed a duffel bag full of clothes. He then entered a golf-equipment store and within about 20 seconds emerged with a stolen jacket and a set of keys. He pressed the key's panic button, and a Dodge Charger lit up down the block. He climbed in, then noticed a baby seat strapped into the back. Can't take this one. Can't involve children in war.

He walked to a store where construction was being done on the roof, and he found a set of keys and a dog in the crew's work van. He let the dog out, fired up the van, and took off as the men yelled from the roof. He drove about an hour, evading his enemies until the van started to sputter. He parked it in an industrial park and set out on foot, walking for hours through wooded areas, moving parallel to an expressway, and watching for signs of surveillance. He slogged through creeks; the sun had set hours before, and temperatures dropped to about 20 degrees. He ignored the pain of the cold and changed into the clothes he had stolen.

He came across a concrete-making company and squeezed inside its gate, where he found an old snow-covered Chevy Blazer with the keys inside. He pulled a knife from his pocket and cut his military ID into pieces, then pulled out a driver's license he found in the pocket of the jacket from the golf store, transforming himself into respectable citizen Ray Lawson, of Rochester, Michigan.

By now it was night; the lights on the Blazer didn't work and the door wouldn't stay shut, but he drove it until it died too, then hid it behind a local bar. As he climbed out of it, a piece of exposed metal tore one leg of his wet blue jeans from his buttocks to his ankle. Dangerous cold. But Andy's training from survival school stayed with him: Keep moving forward.

Police stopped him as he walked down a frozen road and asked for identification. "Where have you been tonight, Mr. Lawson?" one of the officers asked.

"Down at the bar with buddies," Andy said, chuckling. "Could you guys give me a lift home?"

They called him a taxi instead, and as the sun came up Andy had the driver let him off in a nice golf-course community. Then he followed a woman into a nearby construction office, pulled her keys from her purse when she wasn't looking, and wheeled away in her black Jeep. He needed to find a safe place, and fast.

He decided to make his way to his mother's lake house, but along the way he drifted to sleep at the wheel and almost forced another car off the road. Gotta stop. He pulled over. Gotta rest. Police found him passed out on the wrong side of the road.

Breaking and entering. Interstate grand larceny. Identity fraud. Trespassing. Credit card theft. The list went on. The prosecutor and judge took one look at Andy and realized something in him had gone wrong. There's a catch-22 in the system, though: The judge couldn't just release Andy back into the public; he was dangerous and needed to be imprisoned, if only to protect himself. But Veterans Affairs won't take over a jailed soldier's case until he's released. The ensuing bureaucratic disentanglement took months, leaving Andy in jail and his family discouraged almost to the point of despair.

Andy wasn't a criminal. He was broken.