This should have been a restful, productive and ordinary, average weekend. I planned it that way. I was finally at a point where I was able to breathe almost normally, getting over the pneumonia that has plagued me for the last couple weeks. I was able to get the clean clothes put away, the laundry half-finished, the beds made, dressers and upstairs dusted. . . even my middle daughter contributed. She was going through her clothes, folding others, and actually did the dishes, the one chore that is hers and hers alone.
But things just sneak up on me without rhyme or reason. Sometimes there’s a full-fledged cause. I can see a photo or hear a song or smell a food that hearkens back to the twenty-odd years I spent with my wife. I also understand that we’re surrounded by those as well. I have our family photos on the wall. I have the house decorated with items and materials that we bought throughout our marriage. I don’t really have a choice, these are the things that we did. When more than half your life is spent in the company of one person, merged, an entity unto yourselves, it’s hard to split from that.
That’s the hard part, too. During our eighteen years of marriage we changed. Not for the worse, not away from each other, but things changed. In our old, tiny house on 50th Street in Omaha we had green checkerboards stenciled as a border in the middle portion of the kitchen wall. We had curtains with soup can patterns on them. It was sunny, happy, small, cramped and just plain cute. It matched our tiny family. By the time we moved to Texas, we had a bigger house, three bedrooms. Our kitchen had a toile (probably spelled that wrong, but I’m a guy after all) wallpaper and fleur de lis patterns. Andrea developed a thing for chickens. I don’t know why, she just did. Our bedroom had a blue paint but our bathroom a minty green. She had leopard spots on things, why I don’t know. She’d gotten into the whole “Southern Living” thing. We just had changed.
When we moved to California, we brought most that stuff with us. The chickens stayed, the dark wallpaper and such didn’t. Part of that, of course, was my insistence that there was no way in hell I was ever hanging wallpaper again. Part of it because we had a huge house. Andrea was working full-time. We had all the photos taken by our friends “Photographer in the Family” in Texas hanging up. There was a yellow paint to give brightness to the house.
Now I live in a house that has a mish-mashed combination of all those things. When we decorated and I wanted to get settled, I didn’t know where to start. I went from having a second income that was a pharmacist’s paycheck to being the sole breadwinner having to rely on Social Security to pay some of the bills. I kept some of the leopard spots (though not many). The pictures are hanging up. I put that saying – the one this blog is named after: “Home, the place your story begins” on the wall. I put the chickens up. I have the cookbooks between the bookends in the kitchen. I have the lamp that was almost broken.
But I had to change some things. My kids were freaked out a little that I put all my guitars out in different rooms. My wife didn’t like me having them out, but I decided then and there if I was going to change, this was one. Music was going to be here, part of this, part of our lives, whether the kids or the world liked it or not. She wasn’t around any more and I needed this to stay sane, playing guitar through the night when I couldn’t sleep calmed me.
So our home is a combination of styles and situations. It’s not eclectic, it all matches, but there’s no one theme. It’s all of them. My goal was to make the kids comfortable, not have them wonder why it all went away. Their Mom was gone, I didn’t want them to think I wanted to erase her. I didn’t want to. I wanted to keep her around and wished beyond all hope that she’d stayed. I couldn’t bring her back so I kept what I had of her here.
But this weekend, without seeing a photo, without a smell, without a story, something hit me hard. It hit my middle daughter, Hannah, too. This morning, when I normally would be sleeping in, taking the opportunity to actually get a full 8 hours sleep for once, I was up at 6am, my mind racing. I had Andrea on my mind. The song I wrote for her, the project I want to do when we hit a year, the fact I want to leave town in March…all of it started rushing through my head in a matter of minutes. I tossed, turned, even fell asleep for a little bit, and dreamed about Andrea.
That hit me hard. I can honestly say, since the day she passed away, I couldn’t remember any dreams that I had with her in them. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I wake up nearly every morning with my brain, my body, all the muscles in my chest reach for the other side of the bed. You have to understand, even when Andrea and I had our differences. The nights we had our arguments, the mornings where we didn’t want to face the world, when we hit the financial wall, I would wake up in the morning and reach over to put my arm around her and pull her to me. It didn’t matter if she was in flannel pajamas, a piece of sexy lingerie or nothing at all. She could have been in a t-shirt and jeans having fallen asleep exhausted and I would reach over, each morning, and hold her for whatever time I could afford. I’d kiss her on the shoulder blade, squeeze her tight, and cover her to keep her warm before starting my day.
Andrea – an intimate moment that makes me miss her…
I woke up this morning reaching for her and cursing myself for not realizing the bed is empty. You can say it’s natural, it’s to be expected. I get angry because I realize it and it’s like my body awakens thinking I’ve just dreamed the last eleven months when in reality I was just finally, blissfully, asleep and oblivious and my body awakened to it’s normal form only to realize there’s a new “normal”.
Hannah felt it, too. My middle child, the tomboy of the house, just went to bed. I came down from tucking in her brothers, the twin terrors, who had no problem this day, it seems. But as I came down I saw Hannah on the couch, her face to the cushions, seemingly asleep.
“If you’re sleeping, you should just go up to bed,” I told her. But she turned and her face was wet.
“I miss Mom…”
I should have been far more sympathetic. I hate how I handled it. I should have just hugged her, stroked her hair, kissed her forehead, but I had dishes to do, laundry to finish, the lunches to make, the trip to her Aunt’s house for the Monday off these three little ones have . . . and I looked at her feeling such sorrow as well.
“It’s OK, Hannah. I miss her, too, a lot. But she wouldn’t want you to just stop everything because you miss her, would she?”
“She loves you still, Hannah, just because she isn’t here doesn’t mean she stopped loving you. She loved you more than anything in the whole world.”
So I kissed her, tickled her, gave her a hard time about her scraggly, rat-nest filled hair, then sent her to shower.
She seemed fine with the ordeal, just needing to know it’s OK. But I sit here now, wishing I’d told her my day was this way as well. I wanted so badly to tell her that I know what she’s saying, but I also felt like she needs to know it’s OK. That we have to move forward a little bit. The house, the music, the routine, even the change in the foods we eat…all of it as a result of our loss. I put her to bed, hugged her, and made her smile, laughing, and enjoying her night’s routine.
And that’s when it hit me. Not everything is horrible because she’s gone. Sometimes, whether I want to believe it or not, there are things that turned out better moving out on our own. The house we’re in, the guitars within reach, the music we sing, the stereo we listen to every dinner, the fire pit we use in the back yard . . . and the healthier, expanded palette for our dinners. None of these would have existed if their mother was still here.
I love the new things we do. I enjoy the new dishes I cook and the different house we rent – a house Andrea wouldn’t have liked near as much as we do, I don’t think.
I enjoy these things, and that’s what hits me hardest. When you spent so much time on one path…reading one story. It’s not easy to admit that you can have that again, knowing full well you’re doing it without them by your side.