I was awakened last night by the news…the distinct and jarring tones of the BBC News World Service alerts. One of only two that I allow my phone to chime. When it goes off, I know it’s likely important. (Except the day the royal baby was born…I silenced my phone that day)
I got the chime around 10pm PST. It simply read “BB King, legendary blues singer, dies in his sleep at 89 confirms manager.”
I talk a lot about parenting, loss, home all that here. It is no small thing, no subtle metaphor to say that this man was a hero of mine. He was, without question, an icon – a uniquely American form of royalty that spread throughout the world.
I grew up with Mr. King playing in my home. His records played all while I was growing up in Nebraska. His 1970’s LP Completely Well was completely worn out. When we would go to the mall and I’d walk out with a Clapton or Van Halen record my father would have a cassette with a live BB King show. We always listened to it . . . and it first. None of us ever complained, either.
I went to my first BB King show in high school. My older brother had procured tickets at Red Rocks Amphitheater and it was a triple-bill: Taj Majal, Stevie Ray Vauhan, and BB King, with BB being the headliner. Taj was good as always. SRV was amazing, but a bit hesitant. We found out later that he’d spent hours the night before jamming with Jeff Beck and worn off his callouses. He’d super-glued his fingers in order to get through the night.
But BB King…the man was just brilliant.
Years later I learned to play guitar and it was important to me to learn who the influences of my influences were. When I looked at Clapton, Beck, Green, Vaughan, Allman, they all did songs I recognized. They all recorded BB King songs…but yet somehow, not quite BB King songs.
That tone. That crying . . . that singing tone . . . only he could do it. I learned from this master of the instrument and musical mediums (plural, lest you be fooled that all he could do was sing in 3 chords) that one note was all you needed if it was the RIGHT note. You could play 1,000 notes in a single song and he would tell you more by wringing a tone from Lucille than the best of guitarists.
When I met an amazing woman who loved me and cared and treated me well I sang her a song one night on stage.
“I got a sweet little angel…I love the way she spreads her wings.”
I called my wife, Andrea, that all our married life. Even in death, on her headstone, carved on the back, it says “fly on my sweet little angel…I love the way you spread your wings.”
In the late 1990’s I worked the phones, pushed, screamed and begged until I got the opportunity – during his tour promoting Riding With the King – to interview him. While he was supposed to give us just 5 minutes in a dark corner, deep in the bowels of Omaha’s Orpheum Theater, the maestro of the blues ushered us onto his bus. He gave us close to an hour there and we did almost a half-hour interview with him. He talked about how he had an incessant appetite to learn as much as he could. He toured with a laptop computer and a library of books he read constantly.
My father was unable to come to the show and I asked, rather sheepishly, if I could bring him my father’s worn-out copy of Completely Well and have him sign it. He insisted I bring it backstage after the show.
I told King that my daughter asked to see him for her birthday . . . and he insisted I bring her along.
My daughter was scared to meet this man . . . this American King. You can see it in the photo we took with him. But after we walked into the dressing room – following a stellar show – he said “you don’t have to worry about coming in here, Princess…” and he gave her a hug. He took her arm in his and sat down on a chair. He asked her “do you have a brother or sister?”
My daughter nodded. Her sister was just a baby. “I have a little sister, Hannah,” she told him.
King tipped over a cup on the counter, filled with guitar picks and plastic pins.
“Grab something out of there for your sister Hannah,” he told her. She obliged.
“You probably want something in there, too,” he told her. She nodded. “Well, I’m not going to give you any of that,” he said, a twinkle growing in the corner of his eye.
My daughter looked at him, crestfallen but quiet.
“You know why,” he asked her? She shook her head “no.”
He pointed to his lapel, where an enamel pin of Lucille hung…gold-embossed with her name on the headstock and his on the pin.
“I’m going to give you this one,” he told her. He unpinned it and put it on her collar.
On the way home my daughter just repeated, in hushed tones, “BB King called me Princess!”
My daughter marks the 3rd generation of my family to love this man and his music. For an American King to call her Princess is simply beyond description.
We saw him several more times…each time floored by the energy, tone and warmth this man projected.
When I put the phone down tonight I could only think . . . a beautiful woman is silent tonight. Lucille cannot cry, she cannot wail, she cannot shout for joy.
She cannot sing. The man who says his only love is Lucille left her behind, and she will be silent.
But for years they made music together, sang together, were sad and angry and sarcastic…and joyous.
And what an amazing body of work they left us.
A tuxedo and a shiny 335
You could see it in his face, the blues has arrived
Tonight’s everybody’s getting their angel wings
Don’t you know you’re riding with the King!
How can I criticize the life I chose to lead or a woman who is no longer here to defend to talk about the life once lived?
That’s a question I get asked in a whole myriad of different ways; different permutations. They all ask the same thing, though: “how can you possibly be moving on?”
I’m not moving on. I’m living.
I stated this before: I honor my past . . . all our shared past . . . but I still have to live. That’s the biggest thing. When it all comes down, I’ll still be around. I don’t just survive the loss of my wife, I came to the determination that I need to live as well. So where in the past I’d watch life go sliding by and be comfortable watching the parade go by it’s not something I can do now. It’s not a reaction to the loss it’s a realization that I have to live my own way.
Sometimes I think others fail to realize that the things they’re seeing me do and try and live are new to them. I’ve had two full years to come to terms with this. That’s the hard part they don’t realize. In the days, weeks, and months after you lose your spouse people come up and give you the sympathy and – God help me – the pity. What they often don’t realize is the fact that the small things that spark their memories: seeing me and the kids; smelling a perfumed lotion; hearing a song; all those things may make them think of Andrea. They may get sad and it may affect their day in some way. What they don’t realize is that they get to go back to their day. Our day, mine and the kids, particularly in the days and weeks after losing Andrea, was totally up in the air. Our lives – our daily lives – were intertwined with this person. There wasn’t a singular thing, not one, that didn’t involve her. Hearing music; doing the laundry; reading a book; watching television; hell, even making toast was something that on every given day involved having that person in the room and part of your life.
Then two years ago that part of my life was over.
Where most people get to go back to their lives and the affectation that touched them is gone, like a singular bullet that may have grazed them in the ear, for my kids and myself we were in the bottom of a crater, hit by emotional bombshells even the minutiae of the day dropped on us.
So early on I did things that didn’t touch the trigger. I played the guitar and made music. Those things Andrea only barely tolerated, and while they were cause for many a fight, I still did them.
For the last four to five years we were content, sure, but more than that we were complacent. I cooked more than the same 3 or 4 meals, I got adventurous. I cooked desserts and made dinners and got wild with cakes and cookies and whatever I could find.
So by now, two years later, I’m not just surviving, I’m seeing the parade approach and I’m joining it.
That’s not to say all my kids are in the same place. Everyone grieves, you see, at a different pace, in a different way and we all see the world and the emotions affecting us in different ways. Some have dealt with the loss and are seeing the wound turn to a scar. Others are still bleeding. But I recognize that and can only do what I can to comfort and help. The best thing I heard this week was my oldest, Abbi, tell me that she and the kids had so much fun on our vacation that they totally forgot, until the end of the day on the 26th, that it was the day their Mom had died. It wasn’t I was trying to get them to forget, I was trying to get them to live. They did it, and the day came and went, with honor, love, and dignity. That was the goal.
But my kids and the world need to know, as the King of the Blues so aptly states up there, “when it all comes down, look for me, and I’ll still be around.”
Well, not really upset so much as . . . I used to be upset.
There were a number of things that used to bother me the first year after losing my wife. For new readers . . . I lost my wife, Andrea, in March of 2011. It was unexpected, fast, and like the song says . . . like being hit by a falling tree.
I used to have the hardest time with the smallest things in that first year. Little things . . . she stole little things away from me. I used to have the greatest love for the guitar because of the King of the Blues, BB King. It’s funny, too, because I called Andrea my “Sweet Little Angel” and people always assumed it was because of a song I’d written for Andrea of a similar title.
I called her that because of the King of the Blues. In that same concert from the song up there Riley B. King had a song called Sweet Little Angel that simply said “I got a sweet little angel. I love the way she spreads her wings.” That was her. His lyric, his line, it inspired me to write my own song for her.
But when Andrea passed away there were a lot of things I couldn’t face and, to be brutally honest, it pissed me off. I couldn’t (and still can’t) listen to Clapton’s Wonderful Tonight because it was her favorite song of his. I also couldn’t bring myself to listen to BB King’s Live at the Regal, which bothered me almost more . . . because it’s one of the records that got me wanting to play the guitar.
But unexpectedly, the other day I stumbled on an old interview I was lucky enough to do with BB when I worked in Omaha.
It also led me back to Live at the Regal. To my complete surprise, I was listening to the album . . . the entire LP, including Sweet Little Angel and I realized that it wasn’t affecting me the way it used to. Sure, there are memories with it, and many of those involve my late wife. Many don’t.
It isn’t as hard as it was in the beginning, to see these things come to pass. In the first year it was like small pieces of Andrea were floating away, like the drifting, wafting embers that float around you when you’re at a campfire. Each memory that left floated away, you think, never to be seen again. That’s a hard thing to come to terms with. You dread sleeping because you’re alone . . . then you dread it because you don’t know what memories your mind is going to purge. You grasp at them and chase them like Frankenstein after his imaginary butterflies.
But then that thinking changes. Some take years to do it. Others never find the peace of mind. I seem to have gained a different perspective in the last year or so. The memories aren’t gone, not forever. They’re just tucked away somewhere. I also realized, to my surprise, that I know my life wasn’t defined by marriage. It was part of me, and a part I was sad to leave behind, but it doesn’t – and it didn’t – define who I am totally and completely. I was still a musician, a writer, a journalist, and a Dad. I lost a lot, I know that.
I also have a lot of times that hurt. March 26th will likely never be a pleasant day. It’s the day I married Andrea and the day I lost her. October 30th, her birthday, that’s hard. She took a lot of things with her I thought were mine alone when I brought them to our relationship.
But it seems, just a little, like I finally got something back. A piece of myself and a piece of my past that gives me a whole lot of joy.
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.
At the ripe old ages of 20/21 I had the confidence and maturity level of a 16-year-old. That’s not self-deprecating nor is it me looking for compliments or sympathy. It’s a mere fact. It wasn’t some amazing epiphany that changed me, though. There was no shining light, no medical breakthrough, no therapist that unlocked the key to my inner “Dave.” Two words can tell you what happened: Andrea Andrews.
Going home was the best idea to deal with these memories. Not because I didn’t think I could handle the anniversary date, three mere days ahead of me. I know full well that the anticipation – like it was for Andrea’s birthday, Christmas, New Year’s even – is far worse than the actual event most of the time. For me, though, that anticipation is secondary. I don’t have a singular event to prepare for. I have a day that I should celebrate as well as a day I have to endure. The day Andrea passed away, you see, is also the exact day of our wedding anniversary.
Andrea, you see, was this amazing, gorgeous, California girl who by all rights should have been like every other woman I’d met. She should have taken one look at me, heard me stammer like the nerds in every romantic comedy, and chuckled as she walked back to the party. Oh, she walked back to the party, but not until she’d wrapped her arm around mine and dragged me into it with her. I knew the person she saw inside me. I was just too scared, too damaged, too used to being let down and hurt to let him out to see the light of day. The fear of embarrassment was greater than my desire to know any woman. That is, until this woman came into the picture.
Andrea looked past the awkward small-town guy with the pre-Bieber haircut. She didn’t let up. She simultaneously frustrated and intrigued me. When we worked together in Council Bluffs, Iowa, we decided that there was no need to subject ourselves to the leers, stares, even ridicule that would come with dating a colleague. We’d seen other colleagues date, have their “nooners” and return a little flushed and a lot disheveled and we were determined not to live up to those low expectations.
Andrea had this grin, a mischievous smile that showed she was thinking something she knew would cause some sort of mischief but she wanted to see what would happen when she did it. It was never anything crazy, not like a gut-wrenching “hangover” kind of event, but always memorable and always what I needed and not necessarily what I wanted.
Before we started dating she and I worked at this TV station and had a thousand things to do on a daily basis. She was a reporter and Entertainment anchor. I was a photographer and director and sometime reporter/anchor. I would shoot a story for her, sometimes for me as well, then go back, edit, put pre-production together, then direct the whole newscast at 6pm. When Andrea was finished with her story she would run a studio camera.
Directing for me was a combination of so many intense, concentration-sapping puzzles that took all of my synapses that the little switch inside my brain that turns on the buffer to prevent cussing, yelling and chastising people was shut off in order to allow me to use that processing power to handle concentrating on the monitors, timing, rundown and cameras. When the camera shot would be off I wouldn’t immediately yell, but the average conversation on headsets, particularly with Andrea would be:
“Pan left, camera 3.” No answer.
“Three, are you there?”
“Who?” would be Andrea’s answer.
“You, Andrea, you’re camera three. Pan left.”
“Dammit 3, pan left.”
“I will, say please.”
“What the fuck is wrong with you Andrea, I said pain the hell left”
“Well now you have to apologize.”
More than a few newscasts had off-center or graphics covering the anchor shots because Andrea would play with me crazily while my blood pressure soared and my eyes bugged out of my sockets. But I soon came to the conclusion that when I was working late on a story and a backup director was in there she didn’t do the same things. There was no prodding, no call for apologies, no seemingly indifferent thoughts to the production value of our nightly newscast. She panned, tilted, and adjusted shots without question. She simultaneously frustrated and intrigued me. At the time I couldn’t understand what she was thinking or doing. I’m a guy, you see. We need a 2×4 slammed across our foreheads to understand the obvious. Had I not had the lack of panache or self-confidence I mentioned up there, I would have realized long before I asked her out that she was messing with me to get my attention.
I’ve chronicled her thoughts and attempt to move and how she stayed with me instead of moving for her career. We weren’t just in love, we were madly, hopelessly entwined with each other’s personalities and souls already. She decided to stay, after just a couple months of intense, passionate, pleasurable dating. We decided during the company Christmas party to go ahead and go together and let everyone see that we were, indeed, together, and not just together, but joined at the hip. (like best friends, you creeps. Get your minds out of the gutter!) When we walked into the bar that night, hand-in-hand, there were a handful of people we knew that had no idea we’d been dating and were sitting there with their jaws wide open, nearly to the point their tonsils were visible. It was obvious I hadn’t just given her a ride to the party, we were an “item.”
Fast forward a few weeks, maybe a month. We’d been dating just a few months and during her wait to get on the plane home for Spring Break I took her by the hand. She was wearing a small Black Hills Gold ring I’d given her for Christmas to show her I loved her, she wasn’t just a casual date, she was someone special. I took that ring off her finger.
“Dave, what are you doing?” she asked.
“I don’t want you to wear this ring any more,” I told her, and I could see she was unsure. Understand, her parents, sister, friends, all of them had told her that on Valentine’s Day I would have to be asking her to marry me. I was not one to go with tradition and social expectations so part of me refused to do it on heart day simply because everyone wanted me to. I hadn’t realized that she would take that as a sign I was backing away from her. We still spent nearly every hour together.
“Why don’t you want me to wear the ring,” she asked, and I could see she was both excited and scared.
“Because I want you to wear this one,” I said, and I took out an engagement ring from my pocket and put is 3/4 of the way on her finger.
“Andrea, I looked at what my life was like before I started going out with you and what it’s like now. I looked ahead and realized I don’t just love you. I can’t see life without you. It would never be the same. Andrea, will you marry me?”
Now, you might see this as romantic, but it was really not. I was stupid to wait until then. I thought I was being cute. I had told her Mom and sister, who were picking her up at the airport. They’d told her friends in California. She was one of the only ones who didn’t know of that circle of people. The mistake I made was after she cried and said “yes!” they boarded the plane. Nothing’s worse than a rush and wave of love and emotion and they you have to be apart for more than a week. She was both ecstatic and insanely angry with me because now she wanted to stay with me but couldn’t.
The co-workers and friends from Omaha who only knew we’d been dating for a few weeks had no idea. A few days before Andrea was to return I pulled aside our News Director and friend and told her that I’d asked Andrea to marry me. Not because I wanted the attention, but because I was sure they’d see her back and notice the ring and think “Oh my God, she met some guy in California and got engaged . . . poor Dave!” I also thought they deserved to know. Our friend looked at me and at the top of her lungs shouted “WHAT?!”
I think “Oh my God!” was the general consensus. But in the end, I could tell. Most of the people we knew, even some of Andrea’s old friends, thought there was no way it could last. It was like love at first sight, sure, but most of the time that sight fails and the marriage goes with it. But here’s the thing: Monday would have made 19 years of it working. The day I lost her is the same day I made official my love, honor, and cherishing of this amazing, confusing, confounding woman who made me so much better than I was. The love story, the storyline we’d started, ended abruptly. The story ended and I have to angrily admit, the ending was less than satisfactory. It’s like the book ended abruptly so the sequel could begin before it was ready.
There are, as you all know, 365 days in a year. 8,760 hours. 525,600 minutes. That’s how many new starts I had to face. The moments after losing my wife mark exactly that: moments. In that first day it was seconds I faced. 86,400 seconds in that day. It’s not that I faced only part of that, I faced exactly that many minutes. I stayed awake that entire 24 hours, unable to close my eyes and unable to see beyond the next second.
As I moved past those first 86,400 seconds, I started to look at the 1,440 minutes. Then the 24 hours, next came the days . . . and that’s where I’ve been since. I haven’t looked ahead to next week, next month, next year. This 365 days has flown by because all I have been able to do is look day to day. Only now do we feel like a slight routine is hitting its stride. I came home, visiting the parents who lived with us for so many months after Andrea’s death so we could start writing our story and follow some sort of story line that made sense. I came home specifically so that we wouldn’t obsess about the seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks and months that led to here. These amazing parents helped me to see I have these amazing children, family and friends. As I said before, the anticipation was far worse than the actual event likely will be.
Sure, at home I find pictures and moments captured in singular frames of those photographs from the last 41 years of my life, 23 years of them knowing Andrea. But today I can look at those years, and as the wound in my soul bleeds a little and continues to feel raw and empty, I can smile, proud that the woman who needled me to get my attention still weighs on my mind. In your life you meet so many people, but only a small number have a massive impact, a paradigm shift on your life and story. Hers altered mine forever.
Only now, nearly 362 days after her story ended, do I realize that no matter how much it still hurts, that shift was for the better.
Please log on this coming Monday, day 365, to Our Story Begins to see the video I created with my children in celebration of that life. We are proud of the work we’ve done and the song I wrote for her and re-recorded to match our lives today. I hope you celebrate her and our lives with me . . . and see how our story begins.
It’s hard not to approach the 26th of March without looking back at the way things were. Last night Hannah could barely sleep. You have to understand, the kids all asked to be part of the video we’re making and rather than a fancy, over-produced piece with a professional camera and full light kit. So we’ve been making the cards, putting together the pieces all hand-made and low-tech. It’s more Davey and Goliath than Wall-E.
But seeing and hearing all this makes us look back. Hannah, being the girl closest and nearly tethered to her mother, is having the hardest time. She sees me editing and begs to see it before it’s finished and then starts to cry seeing the sentiments stated in it. It makes me happy on one hand because it’s touching her. It makes me sad because the last thing I want to do is hurt Hannah. She is by far the sweetest, most amazingly sweet person I’ve met in my life and all I want to do in life is protect her from anyone hurting her.
I look back, though, and find myself swerving to avoid the trees because I’m looking back while trying to run forward.
What you need to understand about my relationship with Andrea is that when I met her I was so far out of her league I cannot believe I even was able to get her to talk to me. I was the geeky, nerdy sidekick in all those romantic comedies. When I walked up to women, I was so hurt, so shy, so lacking in self confidence that I stammered and came across like a giddy 16-year-old with no ability to talk to women. By all accounts she should have turned around and walked back to the party laughing. She walked back laughing, sure, but only after intertwining her arm in mine and talking to me as she walked.
Andrea would come see me play my guitar and ask herself “why is he up there like that and won’t let that person out when he’s not on the stage?” She wouldn’t let up. It was only after I thought “she’s moving away, if she turns me down I won’t have to face her for long” that I actually asked her out. To my utter astonishment she didn’t say “no” she actually said “it’s about time, I was wondering how long it was going to take you!” We agreed that she was moving, it wasn’t anything big, we would become amazing friends, have an amazing time, she’d help me look more presentable and I’d help her to enjoy herself without being in a frat party filled with college Greek idiots. (no offense, not all of them are, but she couldn’t get away from the idiots!)
She didn’t see the awkward guy. When she talked to me she talked to the inner “Dave” in there. This amazing, gorgeous, sultry woman who was so fun, so adventurous and just so sexy ignored the jocks, the Greeks, the Med school students and talked with the silly kid from O’Neill, Nebraska. I couldn’t figure out why. I couldn’t understand what she possibly got from being with me, but I wasn’t going to let it go.
One day, while giving me this crazy, mischievous grin of hers, she said “write me a song!” I must have looked like I was going to be sick. I wasn’t playing as much in a band and I hadn’t gotten much material played in the band I was in. “Musicians write songs for their girlfriends all the time, aren’t I worth a song?!” How do you tell someone like that no? I stared at her and for two straight days I wrote a song. I had a 4-track cassette recorder and I put it together, just guitar and vocals, and I played it for her. I hadn’t realized she wasn’t serious, but she cried when she heard it.
To this day I’ve thought it was too simplistic and too small for her. She was amazing. her smile lit my world. Her life touched mine so deeply that I literally would do anything she asked of me. I am a tremendous BB King fan and I always said she was “My Sweet Little Angel” after his song. I told her “I love the way she spreads her wings.”
I wrote the song, my brother and I even recorded it, but I never thought it was good enough. Not good enough for her. The lyrics, very much like a 19-20 year old would write: See the girl walkin’ down the street She’s got that look in her eye Made me think of all the rough times I’ve had And changed them all with just one smile But when the morning comes I’ll never be alone She’ll be right by my side My little Angel Oh, my sweet angel . . .
Like the morning sun Or a blessing from above
She helped me learn to fly
Up with the angels . . .
Every card I gave her after that, every letter, every note said “love you, my sweet angel” on it. You have to understand, as cheesy as this may sound, as totally geeky or religious it may seem, it’s neither. She was simply miraculous to me. She had no business being with me. You can look at me, tell me I’m wrong, tell me what I gave her all you want and you’ll never get me to change my mind. This isn’t the lack of confidence coming back, you can look at that photo: that gorgeous smile, the sexy, sultry, mysterious look; the twinkle and sparkle of her smiling eyes, and you can never tell me that any man was worthy of it. I wasn’t. I was lucky. I was grumpy, shy, scared and just thinking that I was doomed to a life of being alone. There seemed no way that I’d end up with anyone, let alone someone so amazing. But there she was, right by my side, waking up next to me every morning, her hand on my chest, her breath against my skin. I would wake up thinking it was a strange dream.
Now I’m 359 days into my new story. I wake up knowing it was a dream. I had it good and perfect for awhile. It’s like she taught me what to do and then said “that’s it, my love. I have to go home now.”
I move forward every day, the workday being the easiest part of my day, then I get home and do the home chores and dinner and bedtime and wash, dry, dishes . . . then the evening hits, and I can do nothing but look back. Every day I find some new thing from her, some old picture or note that I wasn’t looking for and I feel the wound in my soul hurt a little more.
I’m moving forward, but not moving on. Not right now, at the very least, if ever. It’s hard to walk when you learned to fly with angels.
Starting tomorrow, there will be a lull in posting for the blog. We are finishing up plans for the video and the anniversary. Please check in, I’ll post occasionally, and on the 26th, the revised “My Sweet Angel” with our video will post. A celebration of Andrea and of our new story. Please join me in celebrating her on that day!
It is late, insanely late, on Thanksgiving night. I had vowed that I wouldn’t, couldn’t, post tonight, there wasn’t a reason, I’d get through the day, it would be fine, everything OK. But I just hit my same routine. I sit here in my bedroom, a “Friends” marathon seemingly on multiple channels. (Who knew that show was on long enough to have a marathon of just Thanksgiving episodes, by the way?)
My theory had been that if I held Thanksgiving at my house, cooking it, putting everything together, doing the work myself, I wouldn’t have time to think about another holiday coming and going. I wouldn’t have to face yet another signpost flying by me knowing that Andrea has left the path and headed somewhere else.
Wednesday night I headed to Target to pick up some last-minute stuff for our dinner. I had not realized that – even though I’d posted one of those past, amazing Thanksgiving memories on this blog already – the day was already weighing heavily on me. The thing is, and I know I sound like some sort of strange, mutated version of the Cake Boss meeting Martha Stuart, Andrea did the holiday right, and I mean right. Things were decorated, the table set perfectly, the china, the silver, the wine and water goblets, everything in its place and set up just so. I did the cooking, nearly every year, but she was the brain behind it all, even determining the side dishes or the desserts at times – much to my consternation when it was a chocolate-crusted bourbon pecan pie with homemade vanilla whipped cream. Yeah, she had ideas, just ideas well beyond our station. Remember this, because it’s not just important, it’s a part of our everyday lives, something that led to a lot of problems for us as well.
I saw just how little I had to make it the Thanksgiving that Andrea would have done. The table would be decorated, the house feeling like Fall even if we were in the warmest of climates. I wanted nothing more than to channel my wife, the beauty and color, the vision of the world she saw. I found a good tablecloth, the other stuff and as I cooked, up until about 1am Thursday morning, I put the table together, nervous and annoying my oldest daughter because I thought I’d done a piss-poor job of putting the table together.
I wanted to create a Thanksgiving that was ours, something that the kids could think wasn’t any different than years past. I also thought that if I made dinner myself, at home, I’d have so much on my plate – pun intended – I’d have no time to think about the fact that I’m doing this all by myself. That Andrea’s not here, so there’s no way the evening can be perfect. I had her parents, which is never comfortable for me, my sister-in-law (who is amazing) and her husband, three kids and all coming over. We had a 21 pound turkey, homemade bread dressing, homemade rolls, mashed potatoes and my sister-in-law brought over green beans and sweet potatoes. By 1am, I was completely exhausted and had made 3 pies and the dressing with the fixings for the turkey made.
The dinner worked well, my food palatable, the company was good and the kids on their best behavior.
But no matter how well I did things, it wasn’t beautiful. It was nice, it was decorated, but it wasn’t perfect. That’s what my wife brought to the table: perfection.
But don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t always happy with that perfection. Let’s call it what it was, too – an obsession. Andrea had to have straight A’s or she wasn’t happy when she went to Pharmacy school. She had to be able to get the outfits or table linens she wanted or she’d find a way to get them.
Where this was problematic for me was my own fault, my own problem. I couldn’t tell Andrea “no”. My kids can tell you I have no problem saying that to them. I can tell my work if I can’t do something or “no”, I am not able to stay late, what have you. But there was something about Andrea, a thought, a feeling, whatever spell she had over me, I did whatever she wanted or found a way to make it happen if I couldn’t. She was just so amazing to me I couldn’t refuse her. When she wanted to go back to school, regardless of the massive school loans or lack of her income, I delivered newspapers at 2am, worked my day job and gigged to make ends meet, and not very well. With a new baby, a house, all of it, we needed the money but didn’t have it.
On one particular week, I had to work my day job, gigged at a local bar, unloaded my gear, then headed home, showered, went to the warehouse, loaded the car up and delivered newspapers. I got home later that morning, around 6, showered again, ate a bagel or something, drank a ton of coffee, went to my day job, worked until 6pm, got home grabbed my gear, headed to the bar, gigged, finished up and was readying to go to the papers again. My brother was worried and wanted to ride along so I wouldn’t fall asleep in the car – by this point it was hour 32 I was up – and fell asleep in the car as I delivered papers, finishing with more than 20 undelivered in my car, got home, showered, then had to go back to work again. By the time I’d finished it all up, I’d been up nearly 48 straight hours. I started to see people in driveways that weren’t really there.
Was it painfully hard? Difficult to do to the point of burning out my memory synapses and causing me to walk around in a state of near constant exhaustion? Of course. Would I do it again if Andrea was there, wanting to better herself, show she’s not stupid and become a Doctor of Pharmacy again? Yes.
My biggest fault, the one I hated the most was the fact that, even if it was for her or my own good, I couldn’t tell her “no”. The look of disappointment, the drop in her voice, the anger or sadness that might accompany it was so hard for me I had no self control when it came to her. If she wanted to get something, I tried to find a way to get it. If she wanted to go out, no matter how tired I was, I went. If I was exhausted, after delivering papers all night and gigging through to the weekend and she wanted to grab my hand and keep me up so she could lay her head on my shoulder, I’d do it. I never wanted to see her disappointed, but it was the worst thing I could have ever done.
It’s not co-dependence. I didn’t have time apart from Andrea and obsess about what she was doing and wonder when I’d see her again. I missed her, of course, a lot. I didn’t have heart palpitations worrying about when I would finally be in her company again. The reality is I loved her. It’s really that simple.
The song I add to the beginning here is particularly heartfelt. I found myself able to listen to it, though it makes my eyes well up when I hear it. The song makes me emotional, but it doesn’t have that connection to Andrea because she was never a big fan of its writer, Stevie Ray Vaughan. She couldn’t listen to that much guitar and so little vocals. She was a jazz fan but not a blues fan. Whenever I had this song on the radio in the car she never knew it was him because it was such a soulful piece. It speaks of the loss of a dear friend, the description of life with them, then life without them.
He says what happened for me: A long look in the mirror and we come face to face
Wishin’ all the love we took for granted
Love we have today
Life without you….
All the love you passed my way
The angels have waited for so long….
Now they have their way
Take your place….
Here’s the thing, whether you’re religious or not, I called her my little angel. I felt she was like the woman in the BB King song, my sweet little angel . . . I was sure she’d made me a better man and the angels waiting for her was just such an appropriate line. It hurts to think I had an angel on my shoulder that I could touch and feel, but that’s who she was. I wasn’t ready for her to leave. It’s really true how I feel like the love we had we just took for granted. I hear this and look at the table after we’ve eaten, that song playing on the radio while I cooked earlier.
If she’s a gaseous mist, or up in heaven, on another plane, meeting the souls of the greats, I hope after she found the spirits she missed all these years she stumbled upon a tall man with massive fingers, a black hat perched on his head him why he’s there, this man with a feather standing tall from his black Hendrix-like hat. The gentle, beautiful musician who came through so many hardships only to die too young whose personality and music connected with my soul – I dream he somehow knows how much she meant to me as well. I hope he smiles at her with the Strat slung over his shoulder and tells her:
We’ve been waiting for so long . . . come take your place.
Happy Thanksgiving. Fly on, Andrea, my sweet angel. Fly on through the sky.