You Never Know What You’re Going to Get.

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Andrea allowing a rare moment of public affection

No, this isn’t an attempt to get at the Forrest Gump in my life. I will not say “run, Forrest, run!” nor will I mention a box of chocolates unless there really was a box of chocolates involved. The quote, however, is appropriate to the end and beginning of my week.

My weekend was a whirlwind. I’ve had to be father, friend and disciplinarian all at once. I know that’s the life of a parent, but it’s still the craziest set of circumstances when your favorite part of the weekend is that you get to sleep in until 8:00am!

My oldest daughter’s birthday carried over into this weekend. It’s her first one without her Mom, and it’s a little crazy because I’m the one who implemented all the birthday parties, but I wasn’t actually the one to plan them. Still, I’ve added another proof to the theorem I postulated so many years ago that the home-bound birthday party is so much more expensive than going someplace to hold it. It’s particularly true if you decide to do it at home in order to save money! Abbi wanted to do flag football at the park for her friends in order to have the opportunity to hang out with them, have some fun, whole nine yards (pun intended).

But where the bank account started to whittle away was the fact that nearly 50 people RSVP’d her Facebook page for the party. This is where social media is a bane, not a boon. It’s so easy to simply click “yes” or “maybe I’ll attend” without giving too much thought to the situation. You don’t have to pick up the phone and call the person to say you’re coming or to bow out and say why you’re not. It gives some responsibility. But a button on a website for a party is the equivalent to saying “yes, I’ve read the above and wholeheartedly agree to the terms of service!” You’re agreeing, certifying you’ve read it, but let’s face it, it’s the biggest lie on the planet.

So fifty people, whittled down to 40 that would actually attend, equates to 50-60 hamburgers. Buns to go with them. A box of chips for the kids because I’m not cooking french fries on an open fire. Charcoal. Starter Fluid. Grill cleaner (you’ve seen the grills at the park. I defy you to say you’d cook without cleaning it!) Cookies. Pop. Ice. Plates, buns, napkins. Then two of the kids are vegetarians, we HAVE to have veggie burgers! (Welcome to California) Oh, yeah, the piece de resistance . . . bandannas for the flags. Just when you thought it would be safe to leave the house, you’ve got to go yet again to the dreaded bane of your existence: Michaels. About $75 for bandannas later and twenty-five kids show up. Many of them late. I made about 20 hamburgers and only about 1/4 of the chips were eaten.

By the time the game started, the sun had already sunk behind the homes on the topmost portion of the hills in our neighborhood. The kids managed to start playing before light had faded, but when they finally had enough to make teams they’d really only played for a little while. They barely had time to really sort out playing the whole game.

You know where this is going, right?

The kids all ended up at the house. Before you come down on me as being the cynical, horrible, evil father who is no fun, I didn’t complain, nor did I tell them they couldn’t come. By this point the money’s spent, the food in the house, what the hell else am I going to do? The poor girl’s in a new school and she’d gotten more people to show than I would ever have managed at her age. I stayed down with the kids, managing to stay within earshot but not view so they’d feel like they had their own non-alcoholic party but could still let their folks know that a parent was there in case they needed one.

But the routine had to continue as well. The other three had to stay upstairs. I hooked the Wii back up, something they’d lost weeks ago due to arguing. The boys and their sister were doing so well considering how tempting it was to see all these near-adults standing around downstairs. I also had to throw in a load of laundry due to the fact I smelled like a chimney from the open fire I cooked burgers over at the park. (remember this, it’s important)

The kids stayed until after 10pm. It was exhausting, stressful and amazing. I hadn’t seen Abbi so happy since before March, when her mother died. For that it was worth every penny, it really was.

Then came Sunday.

Abbi informed me how much homework she still had and how little of it was completed. We had Sunday plans, which I was willing to cancel, but it seemed no big deal to her, so we went forward with them.

Sunday night, though, it was hours and hours of homework with no relief in sight and not enough time to finish unless she stayed up all night, which she couldn’t do. This is where it’s not easy or fun being Dad. It was surely going through her head, it was through mine. Had I known just how far behind things were, and I told her this, the party would have ended at the park. Pure and simple. I know she needed to vent, I know she wanted to complain, I know that she was looking for an out . . . but I can’t be the friend all the time. Sometimes, you have to say “coffee maker’s over there, coke in the fridge, caffeinate yourself and get started.” Nothing makes you more college preparatory than dealing with the aftermath of partying all weekend.

Where the night took a turn, and why I sit here at midnight writing, is after I went to swap out the laundry in the washing machine. As I put the denim, sweatshirts and uniforms into the dryer, a “clunk” hit the bottom of the washer tub. As I looked down, the bright red phone – Abbi’s old phone that Hannah inherited so we could call/txt her to make sure that choir, basketball practice/EDP are finished and she’s in the right spot had gone through the wash. This shouldn’t have been such a big deal, Abbi had dropped it in the toilet once and got it out before the water soaked through. However, it wasn’t about the accident, it was about responsibility. It was about respect for the expensive equipment she had been given. It was about taking responsibility for your own mistakes!

And it was about the fact that I just didn’t want to go through her Mom’s phone so she could use it for the day.

A couple months after Andrea passed away, I accidentally stumbled onto a voicemail. I actually hit “play” by accident on it and it shook my world for the rest of the day.

“Hi, Dave, it’s Andrea. Can you give me a call?”

Ten words. Ten short words in her voice that were so simple, so routine, yet it’s the routine that made it so hard to hear. It is the perfect example of what you take so for granted. The voice. The sound of her smile. Maybe you can’t hear it, or maybe you don’t have a spouse that has this, or maybe it’s just that synesthesia-like ability of mine to hear the world, not just see it, but I could hear my wife’s smile in her voice. I could hear the tears in her sadness. I kept the voicemail, only to realize after a phone software update that it’s gone. Disappeared for good and in the ether somewhere that I can never hear it again.

That first day I must have listened to those ten words a million times.

“Hi, Dave, it’s Andrea. Can you give me a call?”

Now, the little one has lost her phone to the wash and you’ve got to go through your wife’s phone. The personal stuff, the text messages, all of it has to be gone through in case something’s important. I’m having to peek into my wife’s head at a point where I’m still trying to imagine life without her – unsuccessfully. I’m not mad at my daughter for letting the phone go through the wash. I’m mad I have to face this task when I didn’t want to face it.

You have to understand, I faced a lot already. I got rid of the old clothes, threw out the old paperwork and shoes. I gave away decorator items we didn’t have room for. I took the preserved wedding dress and stored it in a safe spot. I emptied out the dresser and took it for myself and polished the jewelry, giving myself a plan for every piece for when each kid gets bigger. I even took the St. Anthony medallion and wear it around my neck – refusing even to take it off in the airport. It’s all I have left. I don’t see her when I sleep, like some people do. I don’t get signs from her in the stranger on the corner or in the giggle attacks we have at home. Most people say they can feel their loved ones watching over them, almost daily. I can’t. I see it here and there, but the permanent, ghostly oversight just isn’t there. I’m glad it’s not, to a degree, she deserves to finally be happy – to finally be able to rest without stress or anxiety. The one thing I was hoping to avoid, one of the few hard things I didn’t want to face was now forced upon me.

It’s part and parcel to the way things go as a parent, I know. You face things you never wanted to face and deal with emotions you never thought you’d feel. But sometimes you don’t get to do the nice things. Sometimes you have to be the bad guy, stating the obvious because they won’t accept it. Sometimes you have to comb through the snapshot of your wife’s telephonic life when you haven’t come to terms with the fact that she’s gone yet.

It’s that twist of the story I was expecting but was hoping to write in later pages. I’m not at the point where Robert Cray says “I’ve been away too long, way off track, but I’m finally bouncin’ back.” I’m still running off the rails, still off track.

But that’s the problem with life as we’re living it now. You just never know what you’re going to get.

\”Bouncin\’ Back\” by Robert Cray from the LP \”Midnight Stroll\”

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