“When we are young, wandering the face of the earth, wondering what our dreams might be worth, learning that we’re only immortal for a limited time.”
Yes, I know, it takes some guts to start a post with a quote from the band Rush. There’s a reason for it, beyond the oddly philosophical bent to the lyric.
My oldest daughter had a brief moment of clarity, a space between the angst and hormonal intensity of a typical sixteen-year-old’s reality. We were sitting at our kitchen table together, the last two holdouts of our family dinner, an exercise that seems to be growing exponentially shorter by the day.
The whole point to dinner at the table is so that I can talk to them all and know what’s been going on. I know what little girl takes delight in emotionally torturing Noah, seemingly for little reason. I know what part of the field trip they just took impressed Sam the most. I know the long-term plan Hannah has for getting her friends musically educated so they can have a band and play Green Day and Pink Floyd songs together. I also know what boys are cute and what party Abbi is invited to that boosts her morale and confidence.
I also rotate music choices. Here’s where we diverge from the path we traveled as a full family. Andrea hated my stereo system. She thought it was clunky, old, big, noisy and outdated. I love it. Where Andrea loved the convenience of the newer, bookshelf stereo or just throwing a CD in the DVD player, the lack of audio quality bugged the hell out of me. So one of the first things I did was to set up the stereo, in a shelving set in the corner, speakers on the floor, part of the decor, in a very retro-looking setup I’ve seen on a dozen romantic comedies or so, where the male love interest somehow has an old, expensive turntable and a full LP collection that nobody I ever knew owned. Even when LP’s were all you had.
Yes, I’m strangely retro now. Funny thing is, it wasn’t by choice. It’s cool now to be collecting vinyl and listening to your stereo. I think we’ve confirmed that I’m not cool. I just never stopped listening to my vinyl. Guess I shouldn’t reveal that and just act like I’m cool. (Yeah, I know, if you have to act cool, you aren’t)
There’s a point here, bear with me. We rotate the music choices. Each night, a different person in the family gets to pick a record. (CD’s too, if they want, but I prefer the vinyl.) This night, we had some new record playing, that expensive audiophile 180g vinyl that Odd Job from Goldfinger could use to cut off your head. It was a bit melancholy, and Abbi mentioned something I’ve been thinking . . . even posted here . . . for some time.
“It’s been a lot harder this last few weeks, Dad. I don’t know why that is. It’s just been harder.” She hadn’t expected that. She wasn’t sure why but I was. I’ve said it before, Fall is our time. Andrea and I just loved everything that came with it. Her birthday is also the 30th of October. How do you face an occasion you never got right without the person you disappointed for so many years?
As we reviewed how we’d trudge through the rest of the month Abbi went to her room, likely to commiserate with friends. I noticed that the old cassette player had a tape in it, one I’d put there when we moved and forgotten. It was an old “mix tape”. For those unfamiliar, a “mix tape” was a way to show you cared for someone without getting hurt too badly if they said the feelings weren’t mutual. You took the time and effort to find songs and artists that you thought the person would like, timing out two sides to a cassette, positioning the songs so that there’s no dead air at the end of a side, perfectly placed so the last notes fade, the leader tape streams over the heads of the deck, and the clunk of the mechanism stopping signals the listener to rotate the tape and see what awaits them on the other side.
This tape was one I had made for Andrea when we first started dating. I know it was for a trip she was making, I think to visit our mutual friend Annie, on the East Coast. It was all music we’d listened to at work. but there were hints of things we’d played while wiling away the evenings in those intense, romantic first weeks. It also had the song quoted above, seemingly out of place other than it was from that era.
But it fits for two reasons. First, I had taken Andrea on our first official “date” (I’ll go over why it’s in quotation marks on another post) to see Rush. She could have cared less, I know now. It was cold, with black ice all over the pavement. We walked together toward the Civic Auditorium in Omaha, Andrea in a bright red, full-length red coat that had a big scooping hood that draped off the back, framing her shoulders as it hung below them. She slipped slightly, grabbing my elbow as my arm went around her waist. It could have been filmed, that moment, where she leaned there, in my arms, the briefest of eternal pauses as she steadied herself in my arms. And then she smiled, laughing in her eyes, telling me “it wouldn’t surprise me if you did this on purpose, just so you could see the California girl fall on her ass!” It’s one of those moments you are sure was in a John Hughes film, the California girl meets the Midwestern boy. It’s either that or a Bob Seger song, not sure which.
I was walking 2 feet above the ground the rest of the night. I didn’t know until later she could have cared less about the band, she went because I asked her. Some Romeo, right? Ask a girl out and the venue is one where you can’t talk because it’s so loud. It’s either stupid or it’s genius.
This song, those two albums: Presto and Roll the Bones, were more commercial and probably most accessible to her. We ran into friends at the auditorium, pulling the romance out of the moment quite a bit. But I never forgot the night. I guess she didn’t either, because in years since, her family and friends all recount that night as one she told them about.
Now, I see the whole picture. Andrea was a flaming burst of energy in those days. Where I was this sort of gangly, geeky, quiet and calm kid, she was was antimatter released! She partied hard, drank heavily, but that wasn’t a bad thing. She made me happier, boosted my confidence and just enveloped me with emotion. I don’t think I ever saw her in those days without a brilliant smile, her eyes just sparkling. It was such a counter opposite to how things deteriorated in the last few years. Not between us, but for her. The flame wasn’t as bright. I had seen it coming back, but now it’s extinguished.
The lyric is a strong metaphor. We spent nearly every possible waking hour together. As Neal’s lyric says, we were “wandering the face of the earth, wondering what our dreams might be worth…” Andrea blew through life like she was immortal. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead, the hell with the consequences, we will do this and come through on the other side.
I won’t say Andrea was like Jimi or Janice. She wasn’t doomed to die, because we had plans. We were going to take a little of that lightning back out of the bottle again. We had never thought this could happen. It wasn’t on the horizon. We were getting older, ignoring the lessons of our misspent years, when we thought we were going to live forever.
It’s the one lesson I hope my kids don’t ever learn.
I don’t want them to know that we’re only immortal for a limited time.