I sit here at the end of the day’s events, yes, it’s very late, I know that, and it’s been a very hard day’s events, and I realize that things were really pretty much how I figured they would go. We were happy to be together, but the whole day was just off. We all knew it. We all felt it. The kids all were on edge, even the oldest. They picked on each other. They hit each other. It wasn’t even so much that they really knew what it was, I don’t think, they just had to act out somehow.
It started, I think, when Andrea’s parents stopped by. It’s not really their fault, as much as I’d like to fix blame, but to see their Grandma deteriorating when a year ago she’d been much more the person they remember didn’t make their day better. They always love seeing them, but between pumpkin bread, the sugar cookies their grandparents brought and the stresses of the day, I’m not sure they really were ready for so much emotional upheaval. I’m new at this still, though, and I didn’t recognize that this would really have been too much for them.
Hannah wanted to go to the cemetery, to say Happy Birthday. I don’t think the others wanted to, Noah in particular. Abbi didn’t say so but I could tell. The thing was, I wasn’t going to make Hannah do it alone, I wasn’t going to be as strong as she needed me to be. So I asked them all to come, figuring that we’d all be stronger together than if we were apart. It’s been my running theme for the last seven months and it’s seemed to work.
We got there, and Noah tapped my leg, whispering “Hannah needs help, Dad.” Hannah had broken down, which really didn’t surprise me. She was so close to her Mom, and I think she believed she’d get more out of this than she really did, that she’d be physically closer to her. But instead it was just kind of empty for her. I hugged her, tight, holding her as close as I could. Abbi looked away, not on-purpose, but I think she was trying to hold on harder than she needed to. Noah was crying, looked over at Sam who had a blank look and said, simply “I don’t get this, it’s not fair! How come Sam never cries. Sometimes I don’t. But he never does. How does he do that?”
Thing is, his twin holds it in. So does his sister, so do I for the most part. I’d had Abbi grab some roses, the flowers I always gave Andrea, when she went to the store, and we each gave her one. I asked Abbi to take the kids back to the car, the selfish act I allowed myself today, and allowed myself a little bit of emotion. I had written her a letter, much like I had Noah did, just because I didn’t know what else to do. Talking to Andrea has fallen flat for me. Writing this brings up the emotions and the memories, but it doesn’t really get me closer. I just had to do something – this was it. I won’t give the full text, but I told her how much we missed her. I told her this was one of her few weekend birthdays and she wasn’t even here to see it for once. It wasn’t beautiful, clever, or even well written. It just told her what I felt and how much we missed her.
But I also wanted her to be at peace. I want her to be happy. The one thing I will share from what I wrote is that I want her to be happy and calm, finally, after going through so much. If for some reason she thought we were so bad off she stayed here, guilted into sticking around and unable to finally, gracefully rest and be the amazing, smiling spirit I met twenty years ago I’d hate myself for the rest of my life. She deserves her peace. After all those years worrying, trying to achieve the impossible, and trying to gain the appreciation and respect of family that were never going to express it to her, I hope she now believes what I did: that she was the most amazing of people. You have to understand, there were some in her family that thought she was this horrible, angry, hard to get along with, quick to react person with a big temper and short fuse. That mentality, description and feeling followed her everywhere. And sure, she had her moments, those awful arguments and gripes that were not grounded and highly volatile. But she was also sweet, loving, fun, and at times, God help me for saying it, adorable!
It was almost like “Taming of the Shrew” in an odd sort of way. Andrea was the oldest sister, the tall one, angry, incurring the wrath of her father. Still, she partied, didn’t have some intense plan for life or intense drive to become higher than her station in life like her Shakespearean counterpart. But the comparisons to her sister bothered her a lot. Andrea’s sister always had a boyfriend, (before I get the emails, this is according to my wife, don’t revise my revisionist history, please) Andrea said guys always wanted to go out with her sister. But in the one period of time when her sister was “single”, I met Andrea and both our worlds stopped turning. We just started going out. But even I, this naive kid from the Midwest with little or no experience could feel the vibe from some in her family (I should put here, not Andrea’s sister, she was always happy for us.) that wondered what was wrong with me . . . that I would fall for this Andrews sister. Some even asked me why I would have picked Andrea. (I won’t say who it was, but suffice to say it was awkward)
But she was amazing, she just was a bundle of fire. She didn’t want to change me, she knew I WANTED to look better, feel better, loosen up and have some fun. I was uptight, shy, scared, and lacking so much confidence it’s amazing she saw me I hid so far in the corner. Sure, she yelled at me, lost her temper, questioned my decisions and rolled her eyes at me. I did the same to her. I was so stunned, so madly intoxicated by her, though, that we were engaged in just a couple months. It’s amazing that even happened, as her mother, sister, aunts and everyone she knew started shopping for rings, asking when I was going to give her a ring and pushing us along – almost like if we didn’t get it going we might change our minds. The thing is, I asked her in spite of all that. I looked at who we were together, minus the early co-dependence, minus the arguments, and minus the pressure and realized that I couldn’t see my life without her. I just couldn’t.
I even screwed up the engagement. I had to do the formal things, had to ask her Dad’s permission; had to plan it all out; had to meet the expectations. But I wasn’t one to fit into the box, either. The expectation was that I would ask her on Valentine’s day, get engaged, put it all together and make everyone *sigh* in romantic bliss. But I wasn’t going to do it. It was OUR day, not everyone else’s, and I wasn’t going to deal with it. I wanted it to be a day that wasn’t some high-pressure crazy holiday everyone would pick.
So I told her sister, best friend, everyone who needed to know, and I asked her at the airport. Crazy, huh? I remember it still, it was February 29th – a Leap Year. I’d given her a ring for Christmas, a Black Hills gold ring that I thought matched her personality. That day, waiting at the terminal for her to leave for Spring Break to see her family, I asked her for the ring back. She asked the inevitable question – “why?” – and I said . . . because I want you to wear this one. I gave her the engagement ring. It wasn’t much, I couldn’t afford much more than the setting, but I asked her. Here’s where I screwed up, though. How do you celebrate when she’s getting on a plane in 10 minutes and leaving for a week? She got on the plane, her family already knew, and the fun of it all had to sit on hold for that time.
But she did it anyway. I told her what I thought, that I’d looked at everything, my whole life from that point on, and just couldn’t see it without her there. I wanted to walk the road together, figuring it out, navigating the future with her at my side. It was that day I realized I couldn’t see my life without her.
Now I can.
I’m alone on the road, carrying the kids with me. I make the decisions with them, sure, but they’re the kids, seeking guidance and assuming I have an idea where we’re going. With her there, it was someone to help guide me, someone I could ask about decisions.
When we were going out, Andrea loved the Bonnie Raitt album “Luck of the Draw”, because the song “I Can’t Make You Love Me” made her cry. I loved “Not the Only One”, because it reminded me that Andrea was with me. I actually wasn’t alone.
Yesterday, for the first day in a very long time, I broke out that disc. The kids had no idea, they thought it was simply our music for dinner. But it was different this time. I am the only one, she’s not here to guide me, not in the way she should be.
Instead, I let it play “I Can’t Make You Love Me” instead and remembered her and felt a tear run down my cheek, remembering all of hers I’d let fall on my shoulder.