Our Story Begins:
Explaining the Past
It started today with a picture.
I was cleaning off my desk, everything packed neatly into a nice set of brown and orange Home Depot boxes. I had placed most of the stuff in there: my old 3/4 inch videotapes; files from my stories; even the stapler and scissors and office supplies were packed away.
I also packed up all my pictures. Well . . . most of them.
Last year I was nominated for a local news Emmy award. The entire thing was based in San Francisco, red carpet, black tie affair. (Bear with me . . . this gets you to the picture) Still pegged to the wall was a bulletin board where I keep my shooting schedule and calendar and I also tacked up a bunch of pictures and nick-knacks. Usually, in front of me, just above eye level at my desk are pictures of my kids, from their school pics to fun shots of each of them at varying ages. I also keep my favorite picture of Andrea, taken when we were still dating.
But still pegged to the bulletin board was a picture from that Emmy night . . . It’s not something I’d thought too long or hard about, I just had not gotten to the wall behind me in my work area yet. But as I spoke with a colleague at work his eye wandered to the photo behind me, without my realizing it, and made what would normally be a logical assumption:
“So is that you and your wife there? What a great picture! You both look like you’re having a blast!”
Except she wasn’t my wife. Andrea – as I stated earlier – had passed away in 2011. The picture was of me with a different woman, one of my dearest of friends. (In the interest of privacy I’m not giving her name and for a whole lot of hilarious reasons I have vowed not to show any pictures other than the one at the top of this post so you won’t see any other photos) Conversations of this type are generally like a grenade tossed into the room with no warning. You are totally content and completely unaware until someone shouts “Grenade! Holy s**t grenade!”
“No . . . that’s a friend of mine who was my date for the evening,” was my line. Most times that elicits just a puzzled look. Others I’ve had people look at me funny, like it’s out of the question for me to have a social life now that I’m widowed. (I know , sounds weird, but widowered sounds stranger still) “My wife passed away about three years ago.”
And therein lies the abrupt hairpin turn every time this conversation comes. Now I’m explaining what happened…how I am the only remaining parent to four children. Yes, I can cook. Yes, I do the laundry. No, it’s not easy.
My daughter and I had a discussion about this before she went off to college. While at work or school people would ask her the typical questions. Over Thanksgiving: “Did you help your Mom make Thanksgiving dinner?” Her answer? “Yes.” She just didn’t want to face the conversation. Moving to a new town with new people who didn’t know anything about her past gave her a new start and fewer conversations about home life. She’s just living life. Her solution: avoid the grief grenade by avoiding the places where grenades go. Sure, it only works about 60% of the time . . . but that’s 40% fewer conversations.
The whole reason this gets upsetting isn’t because of the facts: Andrea died. Fact. I’m parenting alone. Fact. I loved my wife. Fact. She caught a resistant strain of pneumonia and was gone after less than a week. Fact.
But once you’ve expressed the facts and heard the sympathetic lines and said “it’s okay, we’re fine…” you’re left to assess the damage left after the grenade went off. That means you relive those moments again . . . I remember the hospital, the last moments , and having to go home and tell my children. Those are the factors you don’t want to relive but they creep in anyway.
I get it . . . the easy answer would be “just take the damn photo down!” Yes. That would be the easy answer. But I won’t.
That photo isn’t particularly spectacular, I suppose. But it does represent something: life. I don’t have a shrine to Andrea, not in the house, not at my desk. That doesn’t mean I didn’t love her, not at all. That means I can’t live back there, three years in the past, with her forever. I have to keep doing things, moving forward.
This was me living. Sure, it was an awards banquet with rubber chicken and egomaniacal San Francisco anchors telling everyone else how great they are. But for an entire weekend, no kids, no reminders, I just had an enjoyable time. I didn’t think about my late wife, my household or what anyone else thought. It was just a night for me to enjoy and share it with someone.
That’s what the picture represents.
The grenade went off and I came out mostly unscathed. And the picture remained . . . and yes . . . we did have a blast!