I made a mistake that ruined my entire evening. I was looking for pictures and items for my little project running the 26th. In my zeal I grabbed a handful of videotapes, including one that was a 3/4 inch tape – a large cartridge, two cylindrical holes in the back with a metal flap that opens on the top. I had figured this was a random, old tape that I’d neglected throwing away when we moved or what have you. I brought it into work in order to see if it was something I should worry about or not. I wasn’t too concerned because I’d labelled all the older tapes, mine, Andrea’s, random newscasts from my first and second jobs, all of those were in a safe location.
I guess I should feel fortunate that the tape was in the middle, halfway through the tape, with the main part of it being – I kid you not – movie trailers and interviews from “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.” I thought it was just a tape I had no need of keeping but to play it safe – and this was my downfall – I rewound it. I hit the stop button and waited for the wide mylar tape to reach the beginning of its reel, the trademark “thunk” emanating from the U-Matic deck we have in the dubbing area of our station. I figured, while I made a dub of something in the bigger rack looking at a tape on the 3/4 machine was no big deal.
When I hit play after rewinding the tape, though, it wasn’t Keanu Reeves playing air guitar. It was abundantly clear that this was the beginning of what we called a “dump tape”: a throwaway tape that a reporter, anchor or photographer would grab and re-use in order to save their best stories or anchoring and “dump” the stories onto the tape. Only this wasn’t my dump tape, it was Andrea’s. One I hadn’t even remembered seeing.
I remember the day is the worst part. I can’t give you an exact date, it’s not that drastic. But Andrea wasn’t the main anchor for our station. She was filling in for the anchor, a night that she’d hoped would get her experience and show she could do the job. She was hoping that when the main anchor left, something that was in the works, she’d be up for the job. The newscast is from 1992, one of our first TV jobs. If you saw it today you’d think very little of it. Small town news, a salt-and-pepper haired anchor sitting next to an attractive blonde, it could be any station in any small market. But the blonde was my wife.
I looked, and if I tried really hard, I could see on her left hand a ring. It was her engagement ring, the one I’d given her on February 29th of that year. This was a night she’d come back from Spring Break, been anchoring, it was likely late Spring or Summer.
I watched and it was just so jarring. Here she was, just in the throngs of engagement, just having fallen in love, and it was just an everyday sort of activity for her. Nothing special, the newscast certainly nothing special, but . . . there she was. She wasn’t great, she wasn’t awful, but she was there. My head started to swim a little and the first thing I thought of was did I stand in her way? She wasn’t too bad for being in a small market, especially for the technology we had. Could I have worked with her a little more, pushed her, let her be the driving career force? Did my career moves, the failed jump to Colorado, the move back to Nebraska, Texas, all of it make her life go where she never wanted to go? She was clearly happy here, and it’s what she wanted to do, so my first thoughts were . . . was she happy?
I’ll never know now if she truly left television because she wanted to or because she felt she had to. She was ambitious, wanted to do something that paid better, hated the way the industry was going, but she’d always said she missed it. I stayed in the business where she left it, but did she leave because she wanted to or because she thought she had to? I will never know the answers to these questions, and part of me hopes I never do.
But seeing her again, the woman locked in time, in a fuzzy, distorted tape and locked there in the state she was in when I fell in love with her was really hard. Hard, because I wanted to be in there with her, not the memory of the guy punching the buttons directing her newscast, which is likely where I was that day. It didn’t make me break down or cry or anything like that. It just soured the rest of my day because . . . I missed her. I have missed her horribly this last couple weeks and seeing this; this just brought that emotion to the front. Nothing was repaired, there was no “thankful to see her” moment, it just reminded me of what I lost and what it was like literally twenty years ago. The joyous, intense, carefree days are so long gone I could hardly remember them.
I found myself quiet, answering my kids with two-word answers tonight, and snapping at the little things they wanted to tell me. Nothing really seemed too important tonight, not really.
A voice from the past, her voice. Not like some seance with the spirits invading my subconscious, this was just a memory, one I thought I’d forgotten or put in its place. This was no sign, no happy moment. One day I’ll look at these kinds of things with a fondness and love, but today . . . today I wasn’t prepared or ready to see it. Now, I have to try and go to sleep with the memory of what I lost – with the vision of that person on the fuzzy screen in my head and I can’t help but relive so many key moments from those times, and it simultaneously makes me smile and clench my fists, angry I can’t have them again.
I will be able to look at it again, prepared now for what’s there, but it’s the unexpected, the voices from the past, that haunt me and pull me farther back from the progress I’ve made.