In 1999 or 2000 I was working on a story – on my own time with my own gear – on the kinds of musical acts that still came to Omaha, Nebraska, even without an arena or convention center. The city had just started an exploratory committee on the subject of replacing the city’s Civic Auditorium.
In the midst of this, the band Gov’t Mule, fresh off the release of their album Life Before Insanity sent a release saying they were playing in Omaha. I contacted their management and managed to get the band to play an acoustic song for the piece. I just had to pick them up and get them to a studio, which I did.
This is that performance. Singer, songwriter and guitarist Warren Haynes said he’d had a hard time since the gig the night before and wondered if they could do something instrumental. When they had no ideas, Allen Woody, the bassist, threw out the idea of an Allman Brothers song from Shades of Two Worlds simply called Kind of Bird. Warren and drummer Matt Abts agreed but said they’d likely never get through it since they hadn’t done an acoustic version before.
They were wrong, though. It came out brilliant. The old Carson-era mic was sitting in the corner and used at Warren and Allen’s insistence (which I later regretted, it sounds pretty bad).
The song never saw the light of day due to the fact that less than a month after shooting this, Allen Woody passed away. With him died my story as I never had access to another band like I did with Gov’t Mule. I also moved to Texas shortly after, resigning this performance to my personal tape archive until now . . . where I present it to you!
As much as I put into writing and kept discussing and chanting the mantra I still stressed and worried about my oldest daughter and her trials and tribulations. It’s not that one event – in this case the prom – was so worrisome that I had to lose sleep and worry about her. It’s the prom. Nobody enjoys it, not really, except maybe the jocks who find a girl that will sleep with them on prom night. Quite frankly, I’m thrilled that my daughter is old enough and clever enough to know what’s right and wrong. It’s both sad and scary that I so wanted her to get a date to the prom but worse yet secretly hoped she wouldn’t because of all the pressure that guys bring to the fore in formal events.
Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t one who pressured anyone. Partially it was because I’m not that kind of person but mostly it’s because I just wasn’t as confident or mature to even think about it. Had I obtained that confidence or shown it I might very well have had a much better date – as would my prom date. But that’s the rub, isn’t it, that I had a date. My daughter, in her emotional distress and confusion, was convinced that there was no way in hell she would go to the prom since she didn’t have a date and that she’d much prefer to go to see “The Black Keys” rather than the prom.
Then there’s her sister, Hannah, who had a mandate that she have no missed assignments or zeros on her report or she doesn’t get to go to the same said concert. On top of that, if she fails, all three of them have to move to the public school, going down the street where their sister Abbi goes. When I saw blank spots on her math chapter check I asked and got a panicked tirade about how things changed and she didn’t know it when we were in Nebraska for the anniversary of my wife’s passing. She said the teacher changed the assignments and didn’t tell her and that it was all a mistake. A mistake that’s now more than a month past.
“Why haven’t you asked her about them like I said?”
“Because she scares me!”
“No she doesn’t.”
“Yes she does,” says Hannah, but her eyes betray her. She’s not scared at all. She knows she should have taken care of this but didn’t. I made the deal and I told her I’m sticking by it.
“Today was the day you were supposed to fix this. You didn’t and by all rights you should stay home and miss the concert. You get tomorrow. That’s it. You’re not scared of your teacher, you’re embarrassed to talk with her. That’s different, but if you let that embarrassment overtake you you’re not going to get anywhere and all your siblings suffer. She wants to help you and you disappointed her if you don’t fix it. That’s why you haven’t talked with her.”
All this swirling around a singular concert with a band that may or may not be around in their distant future.
I like the band. They’re good, solid musicians with a penchant for actually playing their own instruments and avoiding auto-tune like the plague. For those two things alone I respect them. But my line to my daughter even a month or more ago was the fact that even I had a date to the prom. Times were different, yes. The location was different, yes. I was an awful date, yes, all of that. But I still went. My line to my daughter was that in 10 or 15 years, when she looks back, will she remember the Black Keys because they were Hendrix or Clapton-like in their staying power, or will she remember that she had a chance to go to her first public school formal event and skipped it?
Now, let’s review what got me here, though. I have tried over and over again to tell myself that I just have to let my kids solve the major issues on their own. I can’t get her a prom date, homecoming date, or any date. Can you imagine what would happen if I tried?! Good God, it’s hard enough to be a kid without your parent(s) messing with things.
To be honest, this isn’t really about a dance, anyway. It’s both of us adjusting to what life is going to be like, and for Abbi it’s nothing but change, month after month and year after year. I was so inept at the age when Prom was the most important thing in your life. But had I had that confidence would I really have ended up with Andrea as my wife? Not that I would have found better, there was no better, but would she have responded. I found her at the exact moment she needed someone who would treat her the way she deserved to be treated – at least that’s what she said. She found me at the time I needed to be able to shed the weight of the cross I was bearing and come into my own. She found out she could have fun with someone who wasn’t just wanting to party all day and enjoyed what she had to say. We worked together so we knew we could not only stand each other’s company we enjoyed it. We talked about more than college or drinking or who slept with whom in our circles of friends.
When I met Andrea I still had all that weight I was carrying around. I’ve posted this before, but she was planning on moving away from Omaha. She didn’t see anything to keep her there and she wasn’t sure there was a life for her there. I started dating her at that moment because, let’s face it, the risk was low. I might get hurt, but the repercussions were minimal since she’d be moving if it didn’t work out. But the oppressive weight that held me back from everything went away. I was so worried I’d lose what I had with her if I didn’t take that risk, worry about being embarrassed, that I asked her out – damn the consequences, no reward without risk.
But I shouldered weight my daughter didn’t want or expect me to because her life has had to change and will change so much. We couldn’t keep her in her private school because I’d lost Andrea and the income she would have brought. I moved her to a public school after a life filled with private, Catholic education. She moved into dating and boyfriends with no Mom to hold her and tell her she knows and understands the pressures of being a girl in a world filled with guys with only one thing on their mind. So when she’s upset she can’t get a date and the guy she hoped would ask, even thought they’re just good friends is with a girl he’s had a crush on, I’m crushed myself, shouldering weight she doesn’t seem too crushed by herself. I worry about the fact that she has her senior year, will get through it, and then has to decide on college and it all changes, blowing into a whole new world for her all over again. This girl who had to deal with changing her life, her home, her school and her social circles now has to do it all over again in less than another year. She’s strong, smart, quirky, and fun and my biggest worry is that she thinks that has to change with the changes in her life.
But then she told me how she’s joining a big group of people and going on her own. She’ll get to dance with a bunch of guys and she’ll look beautiful in this amazing dress that we’re getting tailored. Even though I quietly kept my ignorance of the advice to myself, worrying about the fact I couldn’t fix her problems, they got fixed. She did it on her own, just like my dear friend told me. I can’t fix it all, and I shouldn’t even if I can. Sometimes my kids have to fix their own problems. I understand the fear of going to a dance alone, though some of my favorites were when I did. I danced with people I wouldn’t have been able to with a date. I faced embarrassment even though my daughter doesn’t want to. It’s important and she needs to do it or it will overtake her later in life. But they’re all things they have to face, not me. I want so much to go in there and just meddle and do it for them.
But I can’t. They must, and through that, I live on, and I’ll be strong, because It’s just not my cross to bear.
We’ve done pretty well since the anniversary of one year came and went. I hate to say things went better, my step a bit lighter, the kids a bit less weighed down, but it certainly started to seem that way. That isn’t to say things don’t affect us because they always will. I suppose that is the one thing that others who have never experienced this will never quite understand. There are so many random things that will hit us out of left field. I’ve said before that it’s not the big anniversaries: the day she died, her birthday, Christmas, none of those hit us quite as hard. People don’t get that. Sure, they’re hard to deal with but we see them coming from miles away. We can look to that bump in the road and plan a way around it.
Yet last night is a perfect example of something that we’ve probably watched more than a few times and never gave a second thought. A few years ago Disney made a movie with the actress Amy Adams called “Enchanted” that had storybook characters suddenly thrust into the real world. The actress’ character suddenly in the home of a father who is raising his daughter alone, the Mom having disappeared for whatever reason. That in and of itself isn’t what hit everyone.
Somewhere toward the end of the movie the little girl decides to help the “princess” to get clothes and everything she needs for the “King and Queen’s Ball” by – and I just lovethis message! – grabbing Dad’s emergency credit card. At a certain point she’s in a hair and nail salon with Amy Adams and asks the simple question:
“Is this what it’s like?”
(Amy Adams:) “What?”
“Going shopping with your Mommy.”
“I don’t know, I never went shopping with my Mommy either, but I like it!”
Now, bear in mind, the two kids who were probably most affected by this were my sons. That’s where I’m fortunate, I suppose. Whenever we were forced to go shopping with my mother we kicked, screamed and yelled through the whole process. It was never fun, took too long, and we drove our Mom nuts. “Fun” was never part of the agenda. Planned torture, for all involved, was more like it. But the feeling in the room was definitely more palpable than before. I’ve mentioned before that the thought of future events, the proms, pictures, holidays, marriages even weigh on me fairly heavily because of the fact that so much of my kids’ future is no longer similar to everyone else’s. Where their friends’ Moms will cry at their weddings they will have me. (Not to say I won’t cry, the most random things get to me lately) My daughters will have me to walk them down the aisle, but no Mom in the sacristy primping and posing them so that they look just perfect for their day.
The difference tonight compared to the other nights up to this point is that the feeling was palpable, but passed. It’s exactly as I said up there. It’s a line that gave us all pause, but that’s all it is, a pause. If we dwell on the fact that we don’t have these things we’ll never move ahead and that’s the worst thing in the world for us. By no means should anyone take this as some idea that I’m “ready to move on” and looking to replace their Mom. I’m not. She can’t be. They loved their Mom like they can love nobody else. I am now thrust into the same roles.
But where my relationship with my wife was so close and so intense, we also had so many conversations, both intimate and mundane, that I have at least some idea of what I’m doing now. Little things, even “female” things are not foreign to me. I used to buy tampons and panty liners for my wife at the store, even knowing what she needed. Her PMS was so bad I knew exactly when it was coming and what time of the month it was likely to hit. So when my daughter was upset and couldn’t figure out why her jeans fit differently and seemed to gain weight but was working out more and eating better than she has in the last couple years I had the great pleasure of actually knowing that water weight, muscle gain and all the other down sides to being a girl were the things causing her problems this week. Doesn’t mean she didn’t doubt me, looking at me askew on the couch, but I could confidently say that if she just kept working out, drinking lots of water, maybe adding a cup of coffee or tea extra to reduce the water, she might feel a little better. The fact that I could have this conversation and make her feel more confident in herself made us both feel better.
It’s the lines that give you pause, the random events – a smell, a sight, a song that fires your synapses, the memories exploding in your head – sometimes even a random line from a movie can force you to think about things you never thought would affect your lives. Don’t take that to mean we’re healed and everything is perfect, sunshine and rainbows. I’ve said before, and I believe it, that this wound never heals. You learn to live with the pain and the sorrow until one day the memories and the thoughts make you smile in memory more than they make you cry in pain. That day’s not here yet, but at least now we can think it may be coming.
The lines that give you pause, though, sometimes give you necessary time to think. The best part is, after a full year, that pause doesn’t make us stop, it just slows us down a little.
If this post seems a bit disjointed it’s because I barely got to the bedroom and logged on the computer tonight. It amazes me the punishment the human body can seem to take, particularly when you are determined to push it to its limits. Not that I’m an amazing specimen of the human condition, I need to lose weight, gain muscle and eat better. But having taken several sick days to care for my children as they got sick and less than a week into the ratings period I cannot in good conscience call in sick.
So here I sit tonight, after working my 8 hours, going to the grocery store, cooking dinner, making brownies for lunch and I was about to pass out. You see, I have the flu as well. Got the Tamiflu doses at the doctor and tried to stave it off, but when you are stumbling along like I was your day gets a bit dizzying.
Between Abbi’s play and the shows on the television, we’ve had a lot of fanciful tales swirling around us lately. At one point during the night we had some cartoons on and it involved – of course – a fairy offering wishes to the protagonist. 3 wishes, of course, is the norm, something that the 3 youngest kids were oh so eager to embrace and believe. Even Hannah, the 12 year old, had that starry-eyed look. Hannah, you see, is just starting to move from watching “Transformers” to thinking “27 Dresses” is her favorite movie. (Don’t ask me, I don’t watch Grey’s Anatomy and couldn’t tell you a single thing about the movie other than “Benny and the Jets” plays a prominent role)
But at this point they had a discussion about what they’d wish for. There was the typical boy stuff, “A million dollars!”; “A new bike”; all that seemed to come out of their mouths. But Hannah spouted out what I was waiting to happen.
“I would wish for Mom.”
And there it was. Like the song up there says, it would be amazing to see what would happen, hungering for the dreams we never see. I wasn’t angry, I’d have wished it too, I suppose, if they’d said “hey, 3 wishes, no waiting,” but there’d have to be stipulations, too. I mean, it’s been 10 months, and 10 months of hell. It really has. We’re just now hitting our stride.
And here’s where I’m going to come out with one of those “stages of grief” that everyone talks about, but realistically, it’s been on my mind since last year, since the day after she died.
She left us.
I mean, I miss her more than anything in the world and I would never, ever give up the chance to see her just a minute more, to kiss her again, to tell her I loved her as many times as I could before she left again . . . but there’s also the fact that she’s gone and we’re here left to pick up the pieces of the life that shattered apart. Say what you want about how well we’re doing or how wonderful my kids are and how amazing things have worked out – and all that is true – it doesn’t change the fact that starting on March 26th all five of us stood there with the world in a blurry swirl moving around us looking at the pieces of our lives scattered around us.
The kids miss what Andrea gave them. They miss their Mom, the kindness, the softness, the whole thing. It’s so easy to push all the negative things aside because you really don’t ever want to think about those anymore. The bad things, the annoying habits, all those were part and parcel with the person you loved. If you can’t live with those you’re not really in love. You love someone because you think those little things are cute or because they’re part of what make them who they are. If you can’t accept them you really aren’t in love.
But the stress, medical bills, college loans, tuition costs, mortgage overdue, car payment, uniforms, hell everything down to breakfast, laundry and housecleaning. All those fall on my shoulders – our shoulders.
I sound mean, flippant, angry even, but she left me here to deal with the shattered pieces and not enough glue to put them back together. She doesn’t have to deal with the flu and fevers and the school calling and Hannah not turning in her homework. She doesn’t get to see the amazing picture of a cat Noah drew at school today. She doesn’t get to see Abbi in her play looking just like her mother. And her children don’t get to share that with her. On some level, sure, she’s seeing this, I hope, I pray. But the physical, emotional bond that makes a parent tear up when they see their child succeed . . . Abbi only gets that from one person now. So do the others. It’s not just that Andrea doesn’t get to see what her kids are doing, my kids don’t get to share this with their Mom, and that’s the sad part.
I get angry sometimes because I needed her. I needed her this last week. I needed her when Hannah got her period for the first time. I needed her when Noah hit a kindergartner at school and got in trouble. I am angry because where I just needed that person – the one human being who understood me above all others – the most, when I needed her hands on my back holding me up so I didn’t fall off that pedestal my children had placed me on, she wasn’t there.
I also hate the fact that I’m mad at her. I love her too much to hold that anger more than flashes at a time. Still, when Hannah looks at that fairy and says she wants her Mom, there’s that part of me that agrees . . . and there’s that part of me that thinks she needed to fight just a little harder to deserve that chance.
And I hate myself for thinking it. Because I do hunger for the dreams I’ll never see.
I spent the evening sitting in a meeting filled with people I didn’t know in order to supposedly get information on what my child’s high school play will be about. Unfortunately, I don’t think I could tell you a singular item from the meeting. I would hear one thing only to realize they’d backtracked to something else and then completely negated anything that had been said prior. I was tired, stressed out, had to leave work early, and had all 4 kids with me because, let’s face it, there’s simply nobody else around to watch the kids when you are the babysitter. Abbi, my oldest, is the normal babysitter.
It was after the meeting, which left me thoroughly befuddled, that I realized I had no idea what I was going to make for dinner. I looked over at Abbi, my oldest, and informed her of said condition and informed her it was 7:30 in the evening so it would have to be something quick, easy, and could not involve going out to eat as I don’t get paid until Friday. As the words were leaving my mouth, I realized it was silly of me to ask. She had the blank look she always does when I ask if she has a preference for dinner. I should know better, but like the guy who keeps hitting his hand with a hammer “because it feels so much better when I stop”, I ask anyway.
Fortunately, if you sell something as a great treat, it becomes a great treat. “Let’s have breakfast for dinner!” was my idea. It was met with a hearty dose of enjoyment by all, which was fortunate because, quite frankly, I wasn’t sure what else I’d have done. Nothing is that quick and I’ve hit a wall in terms of my planning for the week. That same said high school play has caused me to pick up the kids from the Extended Day Program (EDP) myself, early. That, in turn, means I have to get into work early so as to complete the tasks I’ve got in front of me for the day. I mean, let’s face it, if I said I’d do them when I got home getting the work completed is about as likely as my fixing the nuclear reactor meltdown at Chernobyl.
So you might wonder what makes me use the title I did when I seem to be spiraling just a little out of control? The reality is I’m not wasting the time. The chores, well, they’re not getting completed, but I’m not doing them any more. When my daughter couldn’t find a place to eat breakfast this morning because the table was so messy . . . guess whose fault it was? Suddenly, when I got home, she had unloaded the dishwasher and cleaned it off. Amazing!
But more, it’s to try and get us back onto the path, start us writing the story without the “Lost” flashbacks. I write those here. I think about those in the waning hours of my day, while I sit alone. It’s not healthy for them to just stumble, just walk and go through the motions. So we attended this parent meeting with no semblance of order and no indication that anyone had an idea what we really did need to know that was so vital this evening. Why? Because I am not wasting any more time. I sat in that room and realized, no, I didn’t know these people, neither did my daughter before this. Should I? Maybe. But we won’t start turning pages, she won’t leave behind her old school, one we cannot afford to return to, unless we stop stumbling blindly in the dark.
It’s time to take those small, baby steps that take us away from the fork in the road.
So no, I didn’t know what to make for dinner. I wasn’t sure how to proceed. I still have a hard time keeping up with getting the laundry put away. I can’t get the kids to complete their chores. But I have to get all these things working. If I don’t, we’re stuck here, going in circles, returning over and over again to the fork in the road.
Years ago, when Andrea first got pregnant, we had hit the morass of repetition. We’d only been married a year and we’d had all these amazing plans, ideas and thoughts about what our lives were going to look like. I was going to keep playing my guitar in my own band. She was going to be a network anchor. Andrea sat in the bedroom of our apartment in a desperate panic when she’d missed her period. She’d come home with a brown bag with a pregnancy test in it. It contained two of those little sticks and we sat there, on the edge of our bed in a small two-bedroom apartment, like a bad version of the EPT commercial waiting for the timer to go off. She took the first one and started to cry, in a panic, running into the bathroom grabbing the second little white stick from the box and once again peeing on it and waiting.
The timer went off and she watched as the little blue line turned into an = sign and said she was pregnant. Andrea nearly hyperventilated. She sent me, now angry, to the store to buy two more boxes of tests.
“Maybe I did it wrong,” she said. “Maybe I contaminated the sample. We have to do this again!” So I went. Would arguing with her have really accomplished anything? All four new sticks said the same thing. One said =. One of them said +. Another just said “yes” or “no”. Didn’t make a difference, they all meant “pregnant”.
It was the only time Andrea ever faltered. But I was there, like so many other times when she had her head on my shoulder, telling her we’d be OK. We’d reached that fork far sooner than we’d thought or wanted. We thought of ourselves as kids still, just figuring out what it was like to be with each other, still desperate to get home at the end of the day to see each other, and now we were about to take on the responsibility of another, helpless little person. It was awful, at least for me, because I had to resign myself to being a Dad, a caring support system for a pregnant wife, and I wasn’t remotely ready for it, but I did it. I dealt with the tears followed by arguments followed by crying apologies for 10 months. I spent so many days running to “Garden Cafe” to get a piece of sour cream chocolate cake that the restaurant just cut a piece and had it in a bag for me so I could walk in and buy it without waiting. I did all this because Andrea needed to feel like we could accomplish this. She thought, for the longest time, that she didn’t have the close relationship I have with Abbi because she fought the inevitable so much.
I’m now faced with a similar fork in the road. I have so much to face, so many awful details in front of me and I put on the face like I know what I’m doing. I’ve decided I can’t waste time any more. The kids need to move on, even if I’m not ready to, because this last few months to the anniversary of her passing will set the tone for the rest of their lives. My kids need to know that I have us moving forward down the path, even if I’m not sure that I do know all those things. I may lead them in circles, but at least I’m leading them. So I arrange for getting the other 3 kids so my oldest can do a musical. I hit up contacts and friends so I can get tickets to “The Black Keys” at Arco for the girls. I take the boys to see the movies they want and help Noah learn to play guitar. I help Sam kick the soccer ball and play basketball because those are all lines we need to write on the page. I’ve spent 9 months just trying to keep us on our feet now it’s time to stop.
It’s time to turn the page. It’s time to stop wasting time.