I Can’t Make You Love Me by Bonnie Raitt from the LP Luck of the Draw
Lately it seems we’re seeing her more and more . . . not a physical presence. I don’t feel a cold chill on my neck or a shiver down my spine. I don’t hear a strange ethereal voice that won’t stop in my ears. I just mean the memory creeps in at the strangest and most inopportune moments.
I knew it would happen, though. I mean, it’s Christmas. I could make some cheesy reference about family or the “reason for the season” but that all falls short. I just always had such an affinity for this time of year. Not just Christmas, but starting in the Fall, with the crisp bite in the air and the changing color of the leaves. Even though I have the attention span of a gnat some days and I love my music and playing guitar, etc. . . the Fall is the time of year I slow down and appreciate what I have around me. I miss the Midwest (yes, I do, don’t mock me!) because of the Fall. We were surrounded by trees. There were old WPA shelterbelts planted that had a myriad of trees . . . oaks, cottonwoods, ash, elm, maple . . . all of them full-sized and decades old by the time I was a kid. Come October and November there were flaming colors up in the sky. Add that clean, clear sky with the sunset and it’s really a beautiful sight. There are things like that here, but it’s not the same. That’s home for me, and it was home with Andrea for a long time.
When I met her, after we got married, and even as we moved to other states, we always took advantage of the Fall and Winter. I would drag her into the car and we’d go walk down tree-lined streets and kick the leaves. When Abbi and then Hannah, Noah, Sam were born we did the same, extending it to pumpkin patches and tree farms and the Fontenelle Forest.
So now it’s Christmas, the year we lost her, and she’s creeping back in, just when I thought I was doing better. I’ve said this before, but it’s not the major events – the Christmas, the Thanksgiving, all those momentous days – that hurt the worst. I know they’ll be bad, I know they’ll change, but I can see them coming. It’s the times when something sparks a memory that I’m not prepared for that just take me down. Tomorrow night is the Christmas play for the kids. Andrea always had things perfect. I’m now the guy wandering through Target looking for the pieces of clothing for my 12-year-old girl who doesn’t like wearing girl clothes and I don’t know what will look good on her. I walk through and see a sweater and all I can see is how it would look on Andrea, not Hannah, and I don’t know why.
I’m wrapping presents and in the way I fold the paper I can see her hands moving the stuff around. I remember the year we were so strapped we used brown paper bags and she wrapped them this way . . . and decorated them. With crayons, paint, ink, and made the most beautiful tree I had ever seen. It was like nothing I’d seen before, and then I look down and I have bought paper and sticky name tags because I just don’t have the time to be that creative.
I am making cupcakes (store-bought cake mix. Don’t give me that much credit) for lunches and CSI is on the TV. (DVR, it was more like 10:30 when I did this) It’s a random episode. It’s about a coroner’s wife accused of murder and having an affair . . . and it ends with the two of them drinking wine, on a back patio, and listening to Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me”. It’s a song we listened to so much I thought the cassette would wear out. Andrea loved it but disliked the lyrics, she just felt something when it was on the stereo and it made her look at me in a way I can’t describe here. I saw it in the actors on the TV and I almost threw my spatula across the kitchen.
I mean, it’s not like the last few months, where there’s a memory here or a peek there. Not like the daily routine where I wake up and remind myself that I’m alone in the bed – again – and start the routine to get the day started. It’s the stuff we thought we’d left behind when we left the house. Abbi was hit hardest there. At one point she told me everywhere she turned she saw her Mom. I wasn’t sad to leave the house, I was happy. It wasn’t our favorite place; it wasn’t Andrea’s favorite; we saw her everywhere and we just couldn’t handle it. Leaving there was a blessing.
But we’re surrounded by her. The garland has her bows that have a hint of leopard spots in them – that’s all her. The ornaments on the tree are surrounded by her childhood ornaments that her Mom foisted upon us years ago because she didn’t want to store them. She picked out the stockings. She sewed the tree skirt. Everywhere I turn she’s there.
Now I can’t even go to Target without seeing her. The kids see her, too. They’re talking more and more about last Christmas. They ask about Santa and then talk about Mom threatening to have me call the “head elf” on them. They see books and clothes from her and talk about it. It’s not a bad thing, it’s healthy. They need to talk and I guess I do, too. But I don’t think I was ready for it to be just so overwhelming.
Then one of the boys asked what we were going to do this Christmas.
“Are we doing things different, Dad?”
“I don’t know yet, son.”
“Holly has a tradition where they open one present before Christmas, can we do that?”
“Not sure yet.”
“Are we opening presents on Christmas Eve, like Grandma and Grandpa?” chimes in Hannah.
“I just don’t KNOW!” is my horribly curt response.
That’s what’s killing me. I don’t know. I bought some new decorations. I changed the way we did things. But do I change it all? Do I go back to how I did things as a kid so we make a clean, instant break from the way we did things with their Mom? Or do we continue. Is it good to start over or do you hurt their memories and traditions if you do? Each present I wrap makes me think a little harder and I don’t honestly know what I’ll do until I have to decide.
Tomorrow night, before their Christmas play, I plan on taking a picture of us. Earlier in the year we’d talked about mimicking an old family photo, but putting a picture of Andrea where she should be. Now I wonder if it’s better to show everyone that we’re together, that we have had to move one . . . that we have moved on.
I had so many decisions that seemed simple and prudent at the time. It’s hard to stick to your guns when you’re haunted by a memory everywhere you turn.
Like everything else, I’ll put it off until I have to. Then I’ll decide, and it probably won’t be as big a deal as I’ve made it in my head, but anything that pushes her a little farther away is a hard decision.