There’s a picture on my desk that – and bear with me here, I know this is deep for a Polaroid picture – seems to fit my mood lately. If you’ve read many of my posts in the last couple weeks you know that I’ve been feeling the tug of the past.
While I may be at a mere 41-years-old today, I met my wife, then with the perfect television name of “Andrea Andrews” at age twenty. We started dating that year and I was engaged to her not long after I’d turned twenty-one. I loved her dearly, and we had a very intense, emotional and vibrant relationship in those first couple years. We were engaged after a few months, married a year or so after that.
So it should come as no surprise, I would think, that the past seems to pull on me so. I spent more than half my life in the presence of this woman, near daily. Hitting just ten months past the day we lost her – tomorrow being ten months exactly – and those memories are nearly as vivid as they were right after they happened. But it’s interesting how the memories are different from each stage of our lives.
The intensity of those first years has burned nearly every event into my brain. It’s like a different part of my cerebral cortex is storing the memories so that I can remember conversations, arguments, dates, names, how she looked putting on her makeup. I remember the day I dropped her at her Grandparents’ house after we’d just started dating and she kissed me so deeply but ran into the house because she didn’t want me to be subjected to her parents’ and relatives’ 3rd degree. I remember the day she came back to Omaha after her Grandpa’s funeral and came straight to my apartment, not to hers. I remember her hair, curly, blonde, brushing the side of my face. I remember the tears that came down her face and how she fell to me and asked me not to try and comfort her, just hold her and kiss her. I remember hysterically laughing that same day as we both tried to get her out of her black dress that had no zipper and criss-crossed over her chest and each movement she made counter-acted movement I made, and ended up tying her deeper into the dress.
We have lovely memories about moving to Texas. We had amazing friends. I remember moving into our house. I remember teaching Abbi to ride a bike in the circular street that encompassed our neighborhood. I remember the day she told me she was not feeling well, that she’d had problems bleeding and that the doctors thought she’d had a problem that could lead to cancer and she’d have to treat it for years. I also remember feeling both relieved and scared when they said “we’re wrong, you’re only pregnant…and it’s twins!” I also remember her being angry – for years – that I didn’t just embrace her and get excited about having four kids instead of two. I never said we shouldn’t have the kids, I just couldn’t get excited. I’m big enough to admit I was scared.
I remember moving to Sacramento, because I told her it was “her turn” to move for a job. I remember her excitement and enthusiasm about being close to her family. I remember her thinking that all her problems were over. I also remember, but try to forget the dark depression she hit and the frustration she had trying to come to terms with the fact that we’d moved here but were juggling taking care of the kids ourselves, without the help she thought she’d get.
I remember the touch of her skin, the look in her eyes, the nervous giggle.
But the closer we get to today, the thicker the veil on the memories. The ones swirling around my children are just as vivid, both of them and of Andrea. The number of vivid, brilliant thoughts and memories, though, are fading. It’s, again, like the picture on my desk. It’s one made by my middle daughter, Hannah. It’s also why we call her grin the “Charlie Brown Smile”. She’s like me, won’t show her teeth, doesn’t like her smile, but can’t help having that straight-line mouth-only smile. She made it for me for Valentine’s day, obvious because of the hearts all around it.
But the picture, an old Polaroid, the instamatic film now fading, is going with the memory. None of us can remember why it was taken. Was it at the father-daughter dance that year in Texas? Was it just a class project? Now, it’s just a faded picture saying “Happy Valentine’s Day 2003” on the back. The more I search for the memory the dimmer it becomes. In days like the last few weeks, I search, spelunking through the cavernous memories in my head, to find bits and pieces of our time with Andrea. The farther from her teenage self she got, the fewer pictures she allowed. The visual and audible stimulation missing the memories fade. I miss her and I miss the memories as they start to peel away from me and go to be with her.
I see her, always, as that beautiful, amazing twenty-one-year old woman I loved so much. I see her, occasionally, as the amazing woman who swore she’d kill me if I put cake on her face at our wedding then proceeded to cover my face in cake. I spy the piece of her in those amazing overalls and wandering a pumpkin patch in Omaha. I see her hair, short, wisps of it flying away from her face as we lived in Texas. I see the curves of her body in that white blouse and blue jeans. I see the grin on her face as we jumped in the moving van and headed West.
I wish I could see all those moments with the crystal clarity in which I see her standing near the rail of the cruise ship on our honeymoon. I wonder how the kids remember her. What are their memories, burned into their brains? I also grieve for the ones that I know they won’t have, worrying about the fact that, at 8-years-old, the memories the boys have of their Mom will be fewer as they age.
I am a storyteller, I write the memories partly to move on, partly because I so want to have them here to remember. To be able to look at what I remembered when the layers pull more and more.
But like so many things through time, they fade. I just hope that they don’t fade for good. There are so many that I would hate to lose.
Tomorrow, ten months on, I am saddened not just by the fading memories, though, but of the realization that we’re actually able to do this without her.