I have had a harder time the last few days, maybe even weeks, it seems. Not like the days right after the funeral, but I find myself in a state where I think more and more about Andrea. Losing her the way we did, the way it all played out, none of that helped. I never got a chance to tell her goodbye, not properly. I have my regrets. I have my sorrows about how those days played out.
But just today I was reminded by a very dear friend how Andrea’s and my story began. I’ve always told the story of how we met, the crazy, whirlwind cliff we both fell off. But I posted a picture on this friend’s Facebook page that Andrea had snapped. I remembered the visit Andrea had made when we were both still in college.
The part I had neglected to tell, not even to some of the people very close to me, is that our relationship was almost over as quickly as it had begun. Andrea and I had started dating over a period of months through the first semester of our Senior year in college. It wasn’t something either of us had planned. Oh, sure, we had toyed with the idea of going out. There was the silly first time we’d gone alone to the movies together, her for work, me flattered she wanted my company. But that first semester, Fall of 1991, it was like a catalyst had sparked our interest and taken it from mere infatuation to a boiling point.
I can say with certainty now that I know what that catalyst was. She was moving away.
When we started dating, the first throes of drama and infatuation turned to something more. The wall that stood between us came down because Andrea had already begun looking to her future, one as a journalist and news anchor. Prior to dating me she had arranged to transfer from Creighton University to the East Coast, attending American University for her last semester and interning at the CNN International desk. The job was already arranged. She had longed for this. She’d met Leslie Stahl during a visit to Creighton and was encouraged by her to continue on that path. It was during this time, the turmoil of getting through her last semester in Omaha and preparing to move East that we found how much we really wanted each other.
That was the catalyst. There was little to lose, you have to understand, for either of us. If I was every bit the lanky, geeky, shy boy that I saw in the mirror there was only a few months time and the relationship could falter. She’d be no worse for wear. If I thought there was risk involved in darting someone I thought was both out of my league and so far removed from my background – someone who burned as bright as the rising sun, let’s face it – I could live in that shadow for these months and find its end after the Christmas break.
It was here in those weeks that we spent nearly every moment together, awake and asleep. She spent most nights in my apartment, talking about the family histories that seemed to paralell, her grandmother living in myr hometown during WWII. The fact her mother grew up just a couple hours from my town. I even drove her during Thanksgiving break to her Grandparents’ house on my way home. We sat in the driveway of that house for an eternity. She kissed me and said she liked me too much to take me into the house and subject me to her family, likely watching us kiss in the car and wearing nothing but their pajamas and ready to grill me with questions.
By the end of that break she flew to meet our friend on the East Coast to scope out her new life there. I made her a “mix tape” of songs we’d listened to during those long, amazing hours together. Our mutual friend, then a nanny for a family on the Coast, helped her to find her way around and look for a place to live and scope out the area. It’s during that visit that she took the picture up there of Andrea.
During that trip, I spoke with Andrea on the phone. It wasn’t like today, there were no texts, no social media. I told her I’d write, I promised to talk with her every day either she calling me or my calling her. She talked in quiet, scared tones, worrying about how we might not survive being that far apart. Wondering how we were to make this work.
By Christmas we had fallen head over heels. I had given her a small gold ring, not an engagement ring, not yet, but I had grown to love her more than I ever thought possible. What started as a safe bit of dating to have fun in our senior year was now becoming a heart wrenching story about how in just a couple weeks we’d be apart, likely forever. I mean, I was young and inexperienced working in Council Bluffs, Iowa. She was about to gain experience with international news at CNN, the place that had broken free with the War in the Gulf.
Christmas break hit and Andrea was preparing to leave Omaha and had flown home to California to see her parents for the holiday and talk logistics of the move East. She was a wreck. The shadow that grew wasn’t so much now because of the relationship but because she’d gotten into an argument with her father. Andrea called me in a panic because her father informed her that there was no money to go to American. He couldn’t, and to a degree wouldn’t, pay for her move out there nor for her to leave Creighton. The problem was, it didn’t change her situation any. At this point she had not registered for Spring classes and informed Creighton she was leaving. The transcripts had been sent to American already. She had no apartment, she had moved her stuff out from her roommates.
Andrea was hysterical on the phone. She didn’t know what to do. I was sitting in my parents’ house, helpless, and knowing what I wanted to tell her but unsure whether she would accept it as a real or true solution. I wanted her to stay. I wanted her to come back to Omaha and live there, be there with me. I didn’t know if we’d stay together, but I wanted to try. But I had told her on more than one occasion that the last thing I wanted to be was the reason she left her career or life behind. If we were together God wouldn’t have put us there just to take us apart. She had to be able to be her own person, not just following me around. I said that and meant it. But I was dying to tell her what I wanted.
My Dad was the one who convinced me to do it. He had heard me on the phone tell her I loved her. It made her cry. I don’t remember if it was the first time I’d said it, but it must have been really early because her reaction was so intense I was overwhelmed. My Dad wouldn’t let up until I called her back.
“You aren’t necessarily stuck, if you can’t go to American,” I must have said.
“Creighton will let you do late registration, you already had started the year, they won’t be able to fill the slot mid-year that easily. You could re-apply.”
I also knew her roommates hadn’t found someone to take her place. They would let her come back.
“Besides, I want you to come back. I know this isn’t CNN, and I know we’re just figuring out what we’re doing, but would you want to come back? I love you, Andrea, and if you feel the same way, this could be a lot better than not being able to go to school.”
I wasn’t sure if she’d already thought of this, or if it was just so much going on it hadn’t come to her mind. Either way, she was crying again, this time happy that I wanted her to come back.
“You really want me to come back?”
I told her I really loved her, missed her, and I just didn’t want to stand in her way. I wanted, more than anything, for her to come back to Omaha so we could be together.
“I wish you were here,” was her answer. “I just want you to hold me.”
Like he’d heard the whole thing, my father bought me a plane ticket, for way too much money that he didn’t have, and flew me out to meet her. I had to ride back to her house with her father driving, due to the fact he wanted to meet this person who he’d never heard about and had no idea who he was. I’m sure Andrea had mentioned me – to her mother – but that the conversations about love and romance weren’t things she discussed with her father.
I arrived in the morning and just a short time after getting to their house – a house that is just a few minutes drive from where I live now – we left together. It was a little chilly. Andrea had on a black wool coat and she took my hand and took me out for a walk. We went to a small park a couple blocks from her parents’ house and before I could say anything she kissed me. It seemed like too short a time and I just couldn’t get enough of being with her. I held her hand, kissed her again, and with that big smile, the impossibly bright twinkle in her eyes, she told me what I hadn’t thought would happen:
“I’m moving back!”
It all fell into place. She’d gotten classes lined up. Her roommates were happy to have her back. Our old shop even had her original job still open.
Andrea planned an entire weekend, a whirlwind to the wine country, out to San Francisco for dinner, and back home…but that’s another story that I shouldn’t write in mixed company.
One week’s time. That’s all it would have been. A simple week that could have changed our entire story forever. So looking at a simple picture, a snapshot that looks happy and fun, there’s so much more background than you can tell.
As the saying goes, every picture tells a story. In my case, an amazing, beautiful love story. I got my “happily ever after” even if it wasn’t as ever after as I had hoped.