Cars, Cakes, Crash and Burn.

Even during the best years, ones when Andrea was here, this week was insanely hard.  It’s one of the most insane set of family events almost a prelude to the holidays.

It starts, obviously, with Andrea’s birthday.  I won’t re-live the misery that I’ve inflicted on that day, it’s been pretty well covered, I think.  I know this year went better than most, not because she is gone, but because it was a Sunday and we decided to celebrate the day anyway.

The next day is always Halloween.  Again, work is a vital part of our equation, so here I was working until at least 5:45pm, there was just too much work to be done.  I couldn’t really push it off, some of it was for that day.  We had one daughter going to a friend’s house, the boys dying to go trick-or-treating, and a 16-year-old who bemoaned the fact that nobody wanted to ask her to a party or go out for the evening.  I didn’t have the heart to tell her I was secretly happy she was there.  It made things feel almost normal, or the new normal we seem to be experiencing.

Then comes Abbi’s birthday.  That’s just 3 short days after.  This year was insane.  I’d been smart enough to get her presents early.  She wanted a particular jacket, thinking there’s no way I’d get it right and dropping not-at-all subtle hints about it, asking if I’d seen it, sending me pictures of it, everything.  Little did she know I’d had the jacket locked in my trunk for a week already.  (By birthday I’d had it for 3 weeks)  I had other presents, pre-ordered the new Black Keys CD/LP/mp3 and T-shirt combo.  Ordered a gift card.  There was little wanting in terms of presents.  Then I went the lazy route and ordered two cakes from the Freeport Bakery here in Sacramento.  I honestly believe that no matter how good your intentions, somehow the laziness always ends up making you pay in the long run.  I’d ordered the cakes, a little, “Itty Bittty Birthday Cake” for her, and a sour cream chocolate cake for the rest of us.  Problem was, I had to attend a hearing in the federal courthouse at 2pm.  I sat through it, listening to the defense counsel throw out argument after argument for nearly two hours for a simple Temporary Restraining Order hearing.  When it finally ended, I had to get sound with the players, etc.  All the things a regular reporter does.  But I still had to get to the bakery and pick up the cakes before they closed!

So I got the video, separated from the photog, raced to the bakery, picked up the cakes, left them in the car and raced back to the station.  I wrote up the story for the 5pm and still had 2 other scripts to write!  It was already 5pm.  You have no idea how much you miss your spouse . . . not emotionally, but in this case, simply practically, when you can’t get out of the building from work until well after 6pm and your commute is 37 miles each way.  Abbi wanted Stir Fry for dinner, cake, presents, all of it.

The other hiccup is that Abbi was getting her hair done as part of her birthday.  When I was in the fed she kept asking me to transfer money to her account so that she could pay for it.  But I wasn’t in any position to transfer money.  The baliffs are worse than the flight attendants on airlines: use a phone, turn on a computer, the judge owns it.  It’s that simple.  My small plan of getting home to make dinner and get the routine on track was already running off the rails.  Now I had to stop off at the salon and pay for the haircut on my way home, too.

By the time I’d left it was already after 6pm.  I called Abbi to tell her I was on the way home, I had the cakes, all of it, and I heard it: she was crying.  She didn’t want to say what was wrong, I pushed her to tell me, I mean, I’m her Dad.  She had a day from hell.  First, her hair, according to her, is waaay too short.  She had it darkened, closer to her hair color, a little highlights (I’m talking like I know what all this means, don’t worry, I am just regurgitating facts) but wanted it trimmed.  This was after she’d been chastised for something she didn’t do by one teacher; harassed by the two knucklehead boys who sit behind her in History (even though one even said “dude, be nice, it’s Abbi’s birthday, to which the other said “f**k Abbi’s birthday!” in a hung over stupor); and then the balloons her Aunt sent to the school didn’t arrive in time, so when she was sent to pick them up the administrative folks treated her like she’d lost her mind.

Then came the haircut.  While I realize that for girls in particular (yell at me all you want, female friends, it’s true) a terrible salon experience can truly make you feel like you’ve lost all control of your fate, I don’t honestly believe that the haircut was the major issue.  The stylist is a friend of our family.  When Abbi went in, the natural thing was to talk about the common person, the common event, the one thing that binds the two of you.  In this case, it was Andrea.  This, unfortunately, is where I don’t think most people really understand what we’re going through – one of the reasons I write this blog.

As people we have this natural tendency to be nostalgic, to talk about the past, to commiserate.  We tell people how sorry we are about events from the past, how happy we are to see each other, reminisce about good times . . .

. . . and tell people how much we miss their Mom.

Thing is, it’s not the casual acquaintance for us as it is for most other people.  This woman was like the center of our world, the eye in the middle of that hurricane.  No matter what happened, she – Andrea – Mom – was there.  Now she’s not.  Events are hard for us, because the world centers around family.  We celebrate together, it’s how we’re wired, it’s the natural order of things.  So when one person is gone, the events don’t work like they did.  They just don’t seem natural right now.

The best of intentions lead to the worst of pains.  When you get your hair done and the entire time you hear about your Mom, the woman who – and there’s no question here – made your birthday the most amazing day ever, every year, without fail, it may make YOU feel better, but for Abbi, the day went from miserably problematic to nuclear winter.

Next, one of her best friends did something truly amazing and wonderful, getting a card and having every person Abbi knew at her old school to sign a big poster board and put funny, loving, 17-year-old notes on it with drawings and signatures.  It flattered, encouraged and made Abbi insanely proud and happy to have such wonderful friends.  It also reminded her that she doesn’t see those friends every day.  She then got a crazy text from her ex-boyfriend.  That would have been just a flesh wound any other day.  Today, it was like a .44 Magnum shot her with hollow points.

This girl is a beautiful, funny, smart and amazing kid.  But that’s just it – she may be 17 today, but she’s 17, she’s a kid.  She’s strong, but she isn’t Teflon.  These kinds of things stick.  I’ve had a hard time this week, I can only imagine what she’s going through without her Mom.  The oldest child, the girly-girl, without the one person in the house who can relate to THAT side of things in your life isn’t here when you need her most.  I don’t care who else calls, shows up or tries to talk to you and can relate as a Dad, Mom, woman, whatever, it’s not . . . Mom.

So I did my best to console her.  I didn’t know what the haircut was, didn’t know what she was going through, but I did the only thing I could.  I listened.  I told her we had cake, dinner, presents, all of it, and she wouldn’t have to worry about the early part of the day any more.  I was getting home late, like 7pm but we’d do it all anyway, damn the bedtime, damn the showers.  It made her chuckle a little.  We had cake, she opened her presents – and got the jacket, the one thing she’d been insane and acted like her mother about.  The present she hinted, talked, took pictures and all but searched the house for (just like her mom) was there.  We laughed, listened to music, and ate too much cake and stayed up late.

I can’t replace Andrea.  Can’t even try.  I have to at least do my best to understand what she’s going through, listen to the problems, and can’t be the insane, over-protective, wait at the door with an unfinished guitar neck for the date kind of Dad any more.

For most people, this isn’t something they experience this early in life, the loss of a friend.  We’ll see two people divorce, meet someone who lost their father or mother, all that is something you might be able to relate.  So we do what we think is normal, we talk about it – we talk about them.  It doesn’t sink in that bringing up Abbi’s Mom, when she’s already so near the breaking point she misses her so much, that talking over and over again about your Mom on the day that she’s supposed to be here to make your life great isn’t making it better, it’s making it worse.  You feel better, but we have to live through every moment, every painful, searing, awful point of learning about how she’s gone all over again.

It’s akin to the days after Andrea died.  The phone would ring, people would stop by, and every person wants to know what happened.  It’s normal.  You have to go through it, but it’s just so horrific.  You see, not only do you live through the death of your wife or mom or husband or dad, you have to live through it over and over and over again.  Her Uncle calls and needs to know what happened, so you have to tell them, details coming out again, and you cry, horribly, wishing you could hold it in.  Then you have to explain it to your colleagues at work.  Same thing.  Your best friend calls crying because she can’t believe and is so worried about you, and you . . . live . . . through it . . . again.  By the end of the 2nd day, I was dehydrated, quite literally, because I hadn’t eaten, drank, slept and cried all day with every single person that needed to hear what happened.  It’s the blessing and the curse of being married to someone who touched that many people.

It’s the first speed bump in the road, the first loose page in our story book for Abbi.  For me, it’s enough to question if I’ve started screwing up another woman’s birthdays in my life.  I hope not.  Andrea’s been gone seven months.  But when we go through these kinds of events we go back to those first days all over again.

It’s easy to crash and burn when things happen.  What separates us is whether we lay down and give up, or rise from the ashes.

The cake we got for Abbi!
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