The first year was a year of firsts. After Andrea, my beautiful, amazing wife passed away, every typical family holiday and event was a difficult first. The first hour without her; the first day; first week, month . . . Then came the holidays. We had birthdays. Every single thing that was normally taken for granted was something that we braced for and then endured.
But none of those days or events were the sort of monumental, milestone memories that you have. I mean, sure, every birthday is memorable. You take photos, videotape them, all the things made even easier by the use of cameras on our cell phones. I haven’t forgotten or ignored those events, I have videos and photos of all of them. I’ve written and shared them here – as much a diary of our days since losing her as they are a healing and helping exercise.
But this weekend was the kind of eventful and memorable set of days that mark a milestone in any life, not just in the lives of those who have lost, like we have. It started with just me and my oldest daughter.
Abbi’s life began with music. When Andrea got pregnant with her I was still a performing musician. I ran a jam session every week with two great friends in a trio. Andrea, with Abbi in the womb, would come to the bar and watch us play. She didn’t drink, no smoking in the area she was in, she would just come and hear us play. Early in Abbi’s life we went to all kinds of concerts. At the age of 2 she was a a massive blues festival with Neville Brothers and BB King. At the age of 4 she pleaded to see the Brian Setzer Orchestra live. At five we saw BB King and Abbi met him backstage. He called her “princess” and gave her the pin on his lapel.
So I took Abbi to Oakland’s Oracle Coliseum to see the Black Keys play on Saturday. While I started my own Twitter hashtag stating #2manyhipsters throughout the evening, I was happy to be having a night out with my daughter. We watched the show, and my daughter nearly gagged on the horrific smell of some idiot hipster’s own blend of weed there in the coliseum. We watched the show and then made our way into San Francisco so that we could spend the night at Fisherman’s Wharf in a really nice hotel in the refurbished Del Monte cannery. The hotel was a four-star place, and though I’ve stayed at these kinds of places before, I hadn’t stopped to think about the fact that Abbi, and even the other three kids, haven’t stayed at a fancy place before, not to this extent, and not while they were old enough to remember.
Abbi felt rich. She felt taken care of. I spent far more money than I should have but we had an enjoyable night and we slept well. The next morning we ate outside and then had ice cream as we walked along the wharf and then on the beach. I hadn’t realized when I booked the night that it would be a great night, something she’d always remember. It was the start to an eventful day for her.
As we got back home, I’d set up with a family friend to get her hair done. I helped her to call the cosmetics place and they did her makeup for her. After I’d picked up the kids from their Aunt’s house, I took them home and Abbi got home. She wanted to get into the dress we’d worked so hard to buy, tailor, and frustratingly deal with that we didn’t even really have time to realize what had come. We’d reached the night of her Junior Prom. Here it was, that first, biggest event. It’s not like I’m that kind of sentimental, Hallmark card kind of guy. But this isnt’ a birthday or a silly little Fourth of July picnic or something. This is one of the milestones that Moms usually judge their kids by. In a moment of panic we looked for fashion tape to try and attach the dress to her upper chest so that it wouldn’t fall and we realized that in the move the same said tape had disappeared somehow. After an unsuccessful trip to Target we sat there trying to figure out what to do. Abbi thought about Scotch tape when I realized that we had larger band-aids in the medicine cabinet.
I did surgery on the band-aids there on the kitchen table. I cut the sticky, cloth-backed section off and left only the adhesive plastic bandage that was close enough to the color of her skin that it would apply. We got the dress to stay, the shoes on her feet, and out the door about 15 minutes behind schedule.
She looked gorgeous.
I wasn’t worried, the same girl who said she’d never get into drugs or weed or anything because – much like her Mom – the smell would gag her and kill her senses before the drugs did, was now the most amazingly gorgeous girl I had seen since her Mom. She was happy, smiling, excited the dress fit . . . and she was grown up. I didn’t ever think about where things went from here. I didn’t know how we were going to get here.
And that’s the thing, isn’t it? It was supposed to be “we” getting here. Us. I don’t have that. The weekend was very hard for me on a couple fronts. Without realizing it, I’d forgotten the fact that this weekend, on the wharf, was not much unlike the time I’d spent with Andrea here. I was with my daughter but the ghost of my past kept haunting me. The sand and the chill in the air reminded me that I’d pushed Andrea to walk on the beach, just because I wanted her to be a little chilled so she’d sidle up next to me and try to get warm. The Ghiradelli plant there so that I’d buy chocolate that she’d refuse . . . and then take bites of what I’d bought. The fancy hotel, something I’d splurged and spent all my money on to try and impress her only to realize that she didn’t care or notice the room. We spent the entire time out on the sand and holding each other.
Now I watched my daughter drive off to the prom and realized that, even though I’m surrounded by people and family who wanted to see pictures and share in the event, it’s still just me. I have reached the milestone that “we” were supposed to reach. When I saw this day coming in the horrifically distant future years ago I saw it happening and being able to sit down with Andrea and talk about how we’d gotten here. Now I talk and it’s a monologue, not a conversation. I know this is supposed to be hard. It’s not supposed to get easier watching your kids grow up and get lives of their own.
To take my mind off things I first took my other three kids to the movies, “Pirates!” by the Wallace and Gromit folks. Then we all went to the Avengers today. All in an attempt to keep this.
The things I hold dear and grip are the memories I’m getting just as much. Sure, surrounded by annoying hipsters I wanted nothing more than to grab a razor and a shotgun and start threatening lethal grooming, but that was overshadowed by the fact that my little girl – that 5-year-old who was so enamored with the King of the Blues that night 12 years ago, still wanted to share this with me.
This is the first biggest event, though I hadn’t realized it until it had hit full force. Now I wish I’d given it its due.
But I have the memories, and so does she . . . so do the other three. That makes all the difference in the world.