The Soundtrack to the Colour of the World

Most days I stumble along, keeping my mouth and nose just above the surface.  Now, that’s not to say I don’t occasionally swallow some water.  If the surface is calm, I can keep my nose and lips above the water, watching the surface tension hold the flood that could pour into me and drown me in a sea of difficulties.

Not that a wake doesn’t push through and rise the level above my head.

I get that I’m over-doing the drowning analogy here, but it’s apt.  Believe me.  The biggest wave to hit is almost always the kids’ school.  The number of half-days, holidays, breaks, long weekends, in-service programs and faculty retreats is so high I can’t seem to keep up.  This week is the perfect example.

Tuesday the boys remind me that there’s no school on Friday.  None.  No extended day program, nothing.  Don’t get me wrong, the reason is very noble, it’s a good cause.  They help what is called a “mustard seed school”.  Basically it’s a way for our parish and school to give help, supplies and anything else to kids and schools who don’t have the resources.  Every year we all pitch in, buy backpacks, get extra school supplies and help the students less-fortunate than ourselves.  It’s very noble.

But as this event swishes through my week, the wake it leaves behind is killing me.  I no longer have that partner.  The ability for one of us to shift our schedule, or take half the day, what have you, is gone.  On top of that, the last few half-days and days off I had to take off.  We’re in October, the push to November ratings, and I’m already 2 sick days and 5 vacation days in the hole.  I’m only 4 months into this new job, I can’t afford to make them angry or miss more work.

I get that we have that Catholic missionary charity mandate, but this is starting to wear on me.  I can’t stay home, I can’t get daycare because I can’t afford it and my oldest has school all day.

I find myself, again, begging my sister-in-law to take the kids.  This isn’t a criticism of her, she’s amazing, wonderful, helps whenever I need it, and is constantly telling me to let her know if I need anything.  But I hate having to ask.  She’s got her own 3 kids.  She has my in-laws living with her. (An issue for another entire post I won’t subject you to today) Sam is a little freaked out by one of their dogs.  Don’t get me wrong, I take her up on it, I have to, but it kills me to ask and put my burdens on someone else.

This is where missing Andrea approaches the practicality of every day life.  If you have your spouse you can plan, bargain, schedule, even argue, but at least you get the solution and can make something happen.  There are days that I wonder how many more times I can beg for help?  When does taking people up on their polite offers of help turn into burdening them with your difficulties?  What happens when Abbi leaves for college?  She’s only here another 2 years and Hannah won’t be old enough to drive!

Andrea was always a great problem solver.  It was a boon and a burden, though.  There were times we absolutely needed it.  There were also times that her drive to solve what she saw as a problem created bigger problems.  Andrea was brilliant, even though she was told she wasn’t.  She wanted to change careers but I don’t think she ever forgave me for the fact that she did it.  I wanted her to stay in journalism, but it didn’t make enough money, fast enough, for her tastes, so she went to pharmacy school.  The thing is, everybody told her she couldn’t do it!  I knew she could.  I didn’t think we could pull it off, but I knew she was smart enough.  Much like my brother Mike, she took the prerequisites she needed and tested out of others in record time.  She got into Creighton’s PharmD program.  She was, in the end, a Doctor of Pharmacy.  She knew more than I ever did, was able to use the logic and even got an award for her help in researching new treatments for alzheimers – a drug I see marketed today and know she played a role in it.

But to pay for those initial two years of undergrad extras I had to supplement our income.  I worked as many hours at the small-market television station that employed me as I could.  I delivered newspapers at 2-5am.  (Not kidding.  Really did it) and gigged with my band as much as I possibly could.  Andrea hated me playing with a band.  It was the one thing we had the hardest time reaching a middle ground.  I couldn’t get her to understand, nor did she want to, I don’t think.

Those gigs, that music, actually fed us in those years.  We had groceries some weeks from the 4-hour gigs at the BBQ joint or the 415 Club.  Music is a huge part of my life.  It’s here in this blog, and there’s a lot of musical references in everything I do.  If you told me I could pick losing a leg or losing an arm, I’d pick the leg so I could still play guitar.  It took the revelation that Andrea had a condition known as Synesthesia – seeing sounds and objects as colors – for us to meet halfway.  We both came to the realization that we had similar syndromes – hers with colors, mine with sound.  There isn’t a time in the day where some tune or musical note isn’t running through what’s happening in front of me.  For her she saw varying colors with the way people talked.  As a result, if something was wrong with me, she could tell, even if I tried to shield her from it, because the tone of my voice visually betrayed me to her brain.

So early in our marriage she would jealously feel that when she arrived in a bar where I was playing I should have focused my attention on HER, not my playing.  In the last half or so, she realized that to pull me out of that world – much like removing the color from hers – would drive me mad.

I sincerely believe it’s what made her so wonderful.  She was fanciful.  She was fun.  She had a beauty that sparkled in her eyes when she smiled.  That twinkle, some of the color, started to disappear when she became clinically depressed.  You could see it dull when she fell into that darkness.  What irritates the hole in my soul is that I saw that spark returning bit by bit, and she was laughing, sparkling more in the months before she died.  The woman who got angry and finally went back to school, damn the consequences, damn the cost (which was the downside to her pharmaceutical decision) she would prove them all wrong!

Yet some in her sphere of influence (I won’t say here) wouldn’t even ask her questions about the prescriptions they were given when she got her DOCTORATE.  She just wasn’t “smart enough”.  In a room full of people – the people most important to her – some of those closest to her would ask people with no medical background about the medications they were taking, right in front of Andrea, ignoring that she had taken 4 years of pharmacology.  How many years do you live with that kind of subtle psychological nose tweaking before you give in to the insanity?  Before you lose the colour of the world?

So she embraced those charitable events and had a strong faith.  But where that improved our lives when we were together it is such a big stress now.  I get that they have to help others, it’s a Catholic thing, faith, love and charity wrapped in one giant guilt burrito.  But I’m one burrito away from falling under the surface.  I miss the practicality of having that cohort to bounce ideas and solutions off.  But more I miss the comradery.  It isn’t that I miss her every day.  I can’t picture any portion of my day that isn’t missing her presence.

But when the practical daily routine is so out of whack it’s an obvious, immediate, machete instead of a scalpel kind of reminder of what’s missing in our lives.

I often use the phrase that everything’s a song to a musician.  It’s still true.  But we look for things we wanted to do but couldn’t because Andrea wasn’t able or didn’t want to . . . because without her here, we have a soundtrack to our lives, but we’re missing some of the colours of the world.

The sparkle in her eyes said it all
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