Audry Henry looked at all the cards her son had sent her since she moved back to Washington from Southern California without him.
There were eight years’ worth, marking birthdays, Christmases and Mother’s Days past.
The process was painful. Henry was grieving. She still is. She always will be.
Her son, Marland Anderson — who, among other things, worked as an adult film actor — died in Los Angeles after an encounter with the LAPD. To this day, what happened leaves his mother with uneasy, lingering questions.
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Shortly after her son’s death, Henry was searching for a way to comprehend an inexplicable tragedy.
The cards, it turned out, helped provide motivation and inspired a path a forward.
Each year, and with each holiday, Henry decided, she’d take another one out of a box. It would become a tradition, a coping mechanism and a reminder of both what she’d lost and what she’d always have — her memories.
By the time she ran out, Henry pledged, she would open the personal training business that she always dreamed of opening with her son.
The two shared a love of fitness and exercising, going back to the time when Henry was a single mother and he was a young boy, she said. She recalled riding the bus with him to the local family center when he was too young to use the equipment and running stairs with him when he got older and he began excelling at track.
Though she had worked in commercial insurance most of her life, in 2008 she became certified as a personal trainer by the American College of Sports Medicine. When Henry retired from insurance after 39 years last year, she decided it was time to finally put the certification to good use.
The business would be a tribute to her son’s legacy and a way to hold on, Henry decided.
In December, inside a narrow Hilltop storefront that was once home to Sam and Terry’s Barbershop — where the newly painted white walls now bear mirrors, framed copies of her professional certifications and two small framed photographs of her son — Henry’s dream became a reality.
The business is MA’s House of Fitness. And the initials — MA, now etched on the street-facing window glass — serve as an easily missed reminder of Henry’s only son.
“I made a promise that before I was done bringing back each card every year that I was going to start this business in his name,” Henry said from behind a small desk Thursday morning, a row of elliptical machines behind her.
“He has kept me motivated,” the mother added.
There’s a satisfaction in her response — her son “would be very proud of this,” she’s sure — but it’s cut with anguish.
The path to this point hasn’t been easy, she acknowledges. It’s more than a mother should have to bear.
Marland Anderson died on a Southern California hospital bed on April 13, 2012. Days earlier, he’d threatened suicide, according to accounts his girlfriend gave to police and news outlets, and she’d dialed 911.
Somewhere on the way to the hospital, with Anderson riding in the back of an ambulance with a police officer and a paramedic at his side, he became agitated — breaking free from a handcuff that attached his wrist to the gurney.
From there, the situation deteriorated.
According to a review by the L.A. District Attorney’s office, a stun gun was deployed on Anderson multiple times in an attempt to subdue him, and additional officers responded to the scene. Eventually officers gained the upper hand, but by the time Anderson arrived at the hospital, CPR was being performed in an attempt to save him.
It didn’t work. After flying to Southern California, Henry made the difficult decision to take her son off life support. He was 39.
In the two years that followed, inquiries into Anderson’s death determined officers used reasonable force while also raising questions about a neck compression injury he sustained at some point. A lawsuit Henry brought against responding officers was denied.
Making matters more difficult, she was hounded by local and national press, given her son’s notoriety in the adult film industry.
It was a lot to deal with, though today Henry says she’s at peace — or at least as close to at peace as a mother with a dead son can be. She freely acknowledges the unease that comes with the likelihood that she’ll “never know for certain what happened that night,” but chooses to focus on the positives.
“He loved me and I loved him, and we had a wonderful relationship, so I’m thankful to God that he gave me the son that he did. I realize that with his depression, he was suffering a lot,” Henry said, noting that her son attempted suicide one other time, in 2007.
“Mental pain can be as bad as physical pain. ... So I look at the positive side, that he’s not struggling anymore,” she said. “I’m happy with the memories that I have of him.”
Looking out the window of MA’s House of Fitness on a rainy morning, Henry reports having a handful of personal training clients and feeling optimistic about the prospect of attracting more.
When she thinks of what her son’s reaction would have been, she smiles.
“This would have made him extremely happy. It makes me happy, too,” Henry said.
“I know I’ve shared a lot of sadness, but this means a lot to me.”