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A UW Student Found Success, And Answers About Her Father’s Addiction

By Evan Bush The Seattle Times

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Columnist Evan Bush does an extraordinary job of bringing to life the experiences of UW student Mackenzie Andrews.

The Seattle Times

For Mackenzie Andrews, it was an idyllic bookend to the summer of 2010.

During the day, in rare Northwest tank-top weather, she kayaked the San Juan Islands with her childhood best friend, Alena.

At dusk, the sun faded into a color so beautiful, she'd later describe it for an English class project. At night, she sat around the campfire singing along to the strum of a guitar.

Mackenzie was ready -- excited, even -- to start high school a few days later.

But when she returned home to Olympia, she could sense something was wrong.

We should probably sit down, her mom said soon after Mackenzie walked inside.

Where was her dad? Had he not come home?

The day Mackenzie learned her father had been arrested was the day her life imploded.

Debt threatened her family's home. She soon decided to quit training in gymnastics, effectively ending her promising career. Her mom muffled cries at night, trying to hide her desperation from her only child. For years, Mackenzie's father would remain absent from her life.

It was also a day of relief. Finally, tension at home might subside into peace.

Nearly eight years later, Mackenzie is a 21-year-old brimming with success. Soon, she will graduate with two University of Washington degrees: one in neurobiology, and another in bioengineering.

She was nominated for the engineering school's Dean's medal. She's a powerlifting champion and a budding entrepreneur. University lecturers rave; classmates can't understand how she makes it all fit. Next year, she'll pursue a masters at UW.

All the while, Mackenzie's been searching.

She couldn't have known it at the time. But her father's arrest would send her on a yearslong quest, both academic and personal, to understand his stumbles and why her family fell apart. The pain of her family's fracture would propel and shape her college career.

Addiction is a disease, her mother, Karina Andrews, told her at the time.

"I wanted proof," Mackenzie says.

All agree they began as a happy bunch, with a math-whiz daughter who favored playing in the dirt to Barbies.

As a youngster, Mackenzie climbed everything. On playgrounds, she walked across the monkey bars.

"It was important to teach her how to fall," Karina says.

Sometimes, she wore her parents out with her energy. Her first time on a gymnastics mat, she refused to leave. On a road trip, Mackenzie, just 6 years old, demanded math problems -- square roots, no less -- from the back seat.

Mackenzie spent hours wiring an electronics kit, a gift from her father. She first put him in checkmate in second grade. She loved sitting on his lap amid the jungle of wires ensnaring his office.

Karina, an artist, taught her daughter to shape clay figurines. Mark brought her to job sites and taught her how to splice wires into connectors.

She was so mature, her parents called her an "old soul."

As a family, they often escaped for weekends in an RV, touring the West Coast. Both parents fondly recall one Easter Sunday at a rest stop, when Karina packed eggs with one-dollar coins, then hid them in the olive trees for young Mackenzie to search for, bounding around happily.

Since his childhood in California, Mark always had a knack for technical work.

But school bored him. He dropped out, got hooked on heroin and spent his 20s in and out of jail. At 28, he went to recovery and got clean.

A few years later, Mark started an electrical contracting business, doing custom projects for ritzy Bay Area homes.

He found success, employing multiple people at the company's height. He met Karina, and later hired a biplane to pull a sign proposing marriage.

At a job site in 1990, a lumber beam fell on Mark as he held a ladder below. The beam struck his back, leaving him with a watermelon-sized hematoma, slicing his liver and a kidney, and crushing his vertebrae. For decades, he'd struggle with pain so fierce, he'd sometimes collapse when it struck his back.

In 2002, the family moved to Olympia. Mark hoped to leave behind the hard labor of an electrician. He and Karina had hoped to flip houses and later dreamed of starting a glass business together.

Karina marks the construction accident as the cause of a steady, downward slide for Mark into prescription drug abuse -- and worse, more than a decade later.

Mark was overprescribed by a doctor, she says. His moods began to swing wildly. Sometimes, she says, he was verbally abusive: shouting, yelling and calling her and Mackenzie names (Mark disputes this).

Mackenzie remembers him nodding off while driving.

"He was slipping away for a long time," Karina says.

Mark says Karina overstates his substance issues at that time: It was his family's deteriorating finances, the failing business venture and the 2008 financial crisis that sent him spiraling with stress.

His wife, he says, refused to face their financial troubles, and he couldn't talk to his family about the pressure (Karina says he wouldn't talk).

Financial woes sent him to California for a few weeks of electrician's work.

He couldn't sleep.

On Sept. 2, 2010, police found Mark at the scene of a crash outside Novato, Calif., City Hall.

He was pushing his wrecked Dodge Charger out of the intersection. Both of its air bags had deployed, according to a police report.

The report says a witness told an officer "he thought something was wrong" with Mark. The witness told police he had watched Mark run a stop sign, stop for a green light and then run a red light later, causing a slow-motion wreck with another vehicle.

According to the report, officers described Mark's speech as "slow and slurred." He struggled with balance.

"I kinda feel spacey," he told officers. The report says Mark confided he had taken two Ambien pills the night before. Mark says now he had taken the Ambien by mistake.

Officers arrested him. The police report says Ambien was found in his left pocket and a prescription bottle for Oxycodone, with another man's name on its label, was discovered in his right pocket.

In the trunk of his car, officers found a combination safe with pry marks.

Later, in an interview at the station, Mark told officers he had found the safe on the side of the road and didn't know to whom it belonged.

A locksmith cracked open the safe. Inside, officers found an estimated half-million dollars of jewelry, cash and collectors' stamps, along with documents bearing the name of a wealthy client for whom Mark had worked for more than 20 years.

It had been reported stolen the day before.

Mark pleaded guilty to felony burglary and driving under the influence, and received a suspended sentence that allowed him to attend drug treatment in California.

He also got three years' probation. Meanwhile, Karina, a school-bus driver in Olympia, stared down a new reality with Mackenzie.

The family was about $178,000 in debt, a surprise that Karina says left her and Mackenzie "deer in the headlights."

The family owned two homes on back-to-back lots in Olympia, living in one and renting out the other.

Karina decided to foreclose their home. She pushed many of their belongings to the rental in a wheelbarrow.

For years, Mackenzie had been competing in gymnastics, often spending up to 30 hours a week practicing at the gym.

That summer, she quit training, giving up her childhood passion.

Karina had always made grocery shopping a math game for young Mackenzie, asking her to calculate items' values by price and quantity.

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