Tag Archives: bedtime

Cars, Cakes, Crash and Burn.

Even during the best years, ones when Andrea was here, this week was insanely hard.  It’s one of the most insane set of family events almost a prelude to the holidays.

It starts, obviously, with Andrea’s birthday.  I won’t re-live the misery that I’ve inflicted on that day, it’s been pretty well covered, I think.  I know this year went better than most, not because she is gone, but because it was a Sunday and we decided to celebrate the day anyway.

The next day is always Halloween.  Again, work is a vital part of our equation, so here I was working until at least 5:45pm, there was just too much work to be done.  I couldn’t really push it off, some of it was for that day.  We had one daughter going to a friend’s house, the boys dying to go trick-or-treating, and a 16-year-old who bemoaned the fact that nobody wanted to ask her to a party or go out for the evening.  I didn’t have the heart to tell her I was secretly happy she was there.  It made things feel almost normal, or the new normal we seem to be experiencing.

Then comes Abbi’s birthday.  That’s just 3 short days after.  This year was insane.  I’d been smart enough to get her presents early.  She wanted a particular jacket, thinking there’s no way I’d get it right and dropping not-at-all subtle hints about it, asking if I’d seen it, sending me pictures of it, everything.  Little did she know I’d had the jacket locked in my trunk for a week already.  (By birthday I’d had it for 3 weeks)  I had other presents, pre-ordered the new Black Keys CD/LP/mp3 and T-shirt combo.  Ordered a gift card.  There was little wanting in terms of presents.  Then I went the lazy route and ordered two cakes from the Freeport Bakery here in Sacramento.  I honestly believe that no matter how good your intentions, somehow the laziness always ends up making you pay in the long run.  I’d ordered the cakes, a little, “Itty Bittty Birthday Cake” for her, and a sour cream chocolate cake for the rest of us.  Problem was, I had to attend a hearing in the federal courthouse at 2pm.  I sat through it, listening to the defense counsel throw out argument after argument for nearly two hours for a simple Temporary Restraining Order hearing.  When it finally ended, I had to get sound with the players, etc.  All the things a regular reporter does.  But I still had to get to the bakery and pick up the cakes before they closed!

So I got the video, separated from the photog, raced to the bakery, picked up the cakes, left them in the car and raced back to the station.  I wrote up the story for the 5pm and still had 2 other scripts to write!  It was already 5pm.  You have no idea how much you miss your spouse . . . not emotionally, but in this case, simply practically, when you can’t get out of the building from work until well after 6pm and your commute is 37 miles each way.  Abbi wanted Stir Fry for dinner, cake, presents, all of it.

The other hiccup is that Abbi was getting her hair done as part of her birthday.  When I was in the fed she kept asking me to transfer money to her account so that she could pay for it.  But I wasn’t in any position to transfer money.  The baliffs are worse than the flight attendants on airlines: use a phone, turn on a computer, the judge owns it.  It’s that simple.  My small plan of getting home to make dinner and get the routine on track was already running off the rails.  Now I had to stop off at the salon and pay for the haircut on my way home, too.

By the time I’d left it was already after 6pm.  I called Abbi to tell her I was on the way home, I had the cakes, all of it, and I heard it: she was crying.  She didn’t want to say what was wrong, I pushed her to tell me, I mean, I’m her Dad.  She had a day from hell.  First, her hair, according to her, is waaay too short.  She had it darkened, closer to her hair color, a little highlights (I’m talking like I know what all this means, don’t worry, I am just regurgitating facts) but wanted it trimmed.  This was after she’d been chastised for something she didn’t do by one teacher; harassed by the two knucklehead boys who sit behind her in History (even though one even said “dude, be nice, it’s Abbi’s birthday, to which the other said “f**k Abbi’s birthday!” in a hung over stupor); and then the balloons her Aunt sent to the school didn’t arrive in time, so when she was sent to pick them up the administrative folks treated her like she’d lost her mind.

Then came the haircut.  While I realize that for girls in particular (yell at me all you want, female friends, it’s true) a terrible salon experience can truly make you feel like you’ve lost all control of your fate, I don’t honestly believe that the haircut was the major issue.  The stylist is a friend of our family.  When Abbi went in, the natural thing was to talk about the common person, the common event, the one thing that binds the two of you.  In this case, it was Andrea.  This, unfortunately, is where I don’t think most people really understand what we’re going through – one of the reasons I write this blog.

As people we have this natural tendency to be nostalgic, to talk about the past, to commiserate.  We tell people how sorry we are about events from the past, how happy we are to see each other, reminisce about good times . . .

. . . and tell people how much we miss their Mom.

Thing is, it’s not the casual acquaintance for us as it is for most other people.  This woman was like the center of our world, the eye in the middle of that hurricane.  No matter what happened, she – Andrea – Mom – was there.  Now she’s not.  Events are hard for us, because the world centers around family.  We celebrate together, it’s how we’re wired, it’s the natural order of things.  So when one person is gone, the events don’t work like they did.  They just don’t seem natural right now.

The best of intentions lead to the worst of pains.  When you get your hair done and the entire time you hear about your Mom, the woman who – and there’s no question here – made your birthday the most amazing day ever, every year, without fail, it may make YOU feel better, but for Abbi, the day went from miserably problematic to nuclear winter.

Next, one of her best friends did something truly amazing and wonderful, getting a card and having every person Abbi knew at her old school to sign a big poster board and put funny, loving, 17-year-old notes on it with drawings and signatures.  It flattered, encouraged and made Abbi insanely proud and happy to have such wonderful friends.  It also reminded her that she doesn’t see those friends every day.  She then got a crazy text from her ex-boyfriend.  That would have been just a flesh wound any other day.  Today, it was like a .44 Magnum shot her with hollow points.

This girl is a beautiful, funny, smart and amazing kid.  But that’s just it – she may be 17 today, but she’s 17, she’s a kid.  She’s strong, but she isn’t Teflon.  These kinds of things stick.  I’ve had a hard time this week, I can only imagine what she’s going through without her Mom.  The oldest child, the girly-girl, without the one person in the house who can relate to THAT side of things in your life isn’t here when you need her most.  I don’t care who else calls, shows up or tries to talk to you and can relate as a Dad, Mom, woman, whatever, it’s not . . . Mom.

So I did my best to console her.  I didn’t know what the haircut was, didn’t know what she was going through, but I did the only thing I could.  I listened.  I told her we had cake, dinner, presents, all of it, and she wouldn’t have to worry about the early part of the day any more.  I was getting home late, like 7pm but we’d do it all anyway, damn the bedtime, damn the showers.  It made her chuckle a little.  We had cake, she opened her presents – and got the jacket, the one thing she’d been insane and acted like her mother about.  The present she hinted, talked, took pictures and all but searched the house for (just like her mom) was there.  We laughed, listened to music, and ate too much cake and stayed up late.

I can’t replace Andrea.  Can’t even try.  I have to at least do my best to understand what she’s going through, listen to the problems, and can’t be the insane, over-protective, wait at the door with an unfinished guitar neck for the date kind of Dad any more.

For most people, this isn’t something they experience this early in life, the loss of a friend.  We’ll see two people divorce, meet someone who lost their father or mother, all that is something you might be able to relate.  So we do what we think is normal, we talk about it – we talk about them.  It doesn’t sink in that bringing up Abbi’s Mom, when she’s already so near the breaking point she misses her so much, that talking over and over again about your Mom on the day that she’s supposed to be here to make your life great isn’t making it better, it’s making it worse.  You feel better, but we have to live through every moment, every painful, searing, awful point of learning about how she’s gone all over again.

It’s akin to the days after Andrea died.  The phone would ring, people would stop by, and every person wants to know what happened.  It’s normal.  You have to go through it, but it’s just so horrific.  You see, not only do you live through the death of your wife or mom or husband or dad, you have to live through it over and over and over again.  Her Uncle calls and needs to know what happened, so you have to tell them, details coming out again, and you cry, horribly, wishing you could hold it in.  Then you have to explain it to your colleagues at work.  Same thing.  Your best friend calls crying because she can’t believe and is so worried about you, and you . . . live . . . through it . . . again.  By the end of the 2nd day, I was dehydrated, quite literally, because I hadn’t eaten, drank, slept and cried all day with every single person that needed to hear what happened.  It’s the blessing and the curse of being married to someone who touched that many people.

It’s the first speed bump in the road, the first loose page in our story book for Abbi.  For me, it’s enough to question if I’ve started screwing up another woman’s birthdays in my life.  I hope not.  Andrea’s been gone seven months.  But when we go through these kinds of events we go back to those first days all over again.

It’s easy to crash and burn when things happen.  What separates us is whether we lay down and give up, or rise from the ashes.

The cake we got for Abbi!

Crazy is the New Normal

Halloween came and went. We had a myriad of offers to come to houses and visit family to get together with the kids and go Trick-or-Treating. Hannah was invited to a friend’s house, and it was someone she’d gone trick-or-treating with before so I agreed, as long as her homework was completed for the day.

We got invitations from others as well, to join them, to make sure the kids were OK, whole nine yards. I appreciated every one, but there was just something about the night that I felt needed to be ours, not shared with another family, even if it was relatives or friends.

With Andrea’s birthday simply a day before it, we needed just to be together, best we could, and embrace the fact that this was our lives from now on. It was fine to dwell on the past and think
about Andrea on Sunday. Monday needed to be about us, what we were doing from now on. So we went out on our own, the four of us. Hannah never goes out with friends and I thought it was a good point for her to have something that was just for her.

So we wandered our new neighborhood. I put out the candy bowl on the driveway, the jack-o-lanterns lighting the way up to the cauldron filled with candy, set atop a stand and pedestal Andrea had gotten from some decorator place. My worry was less that we’d run out of candy and more that the bucket and stand would be taken.

That’s a worry I’ve had for awhile and it stems from something absolutely bizarre and amazing from when we were in Omaha. My father owned a pharmacy in my hometown, a small place, but it had more than just the pharmacy counter. He sold the staples, toilet paper, perfume, and even gift items. At one point, Andrea had seen this Shamrock, a St. Patrick’s Day wooden sign, nothing huge, but very cute and it fit with the decor of the little house where we lived. Every St. Patty’s Day we hung that sign up on the door to our house.

On this one particular week, I had come home for lunch. It was the rarest of homes we owned nearby my work so I could actually come home during the day, so I was there to say ‘hi’, wolf down some food and head home. We heard footsteps coming up the steps, though we weren’t expecting anyone. I figured it was the mailman, as we had an actual mail slot with a little secret panel next to the door where our mail was deposited. At times, a package too big would get set by the door, just like any other place.

But I walked up, figuring I’d say hello or see if I had to sign anything, and our front door started to open, but I didn’t see anyone there. I walked up to the window of the door, looked out, and there was this crazy woman, hunched over, gripping the four-leafed-clover looking straight up at my face. The thing is, my favorite part wasn’t the catching her, it was the look of cognition in her face the moment she realized she’d been caught trying to steal something. It’s like when the coyote sticks his foot below the line of the dust cloud and realizes he’s just hanging in midair, waiting to fall. That wide-eyed look.

She let go, tripped on her way down the stairs – which were steep, and then had to run down the steep concrete steps down to 50th street. Her boyfriend or brother or husband, whoever, was waiting in the car and as I opened the door they peeled out. I was so flabbergasted I didn’t know what to say or do. Andrea, on the other hand, was laughing uncontrollably. She had this giggle – kind of like my older brother Mike – where it was almost a nervous laugh at first, with that huge smile of hers and you couldn’t help but laugh without even knowing what you were laughing about.

I added new locks to the doors then, and since that time, I’ve kept that Shamrock. It’s a little out of date, but we always put it out, I mean, why not? It’s our way of thumbing our nose at whoever that was, the leprechauns, the Irish gods that might have conspired to give the clover to a woman/wife/scavenger hunt.

These are the things I kept from before. There are just too many things about Andrea that define how we act, what we do, all of it. It’s not that we’re trying to forget her, that would be the most horrific thing I can imagine. No, we’re just having to keep moving forward. We don’t want to, and there are days that it feels like for every step forward we take we’ve gone two back, making negative progress.

But move we have to. I never thought we’d be on our feet the whole time. I didn’t think it would be easy. Hell, it was hard before we lost her, I would be a fool to think it’s easier without her.

But signs and pieces creep forward with us. We were goofing around out on the streets Halloween night and Abbi started screwing around with the boys and for a few seconds I heard her . . . the nervous laugh, the giggle that made us all laugh. It was Abbi doing it, but she’d gotten that piece, the mischievous twinkle and big smile, it’s there. Sometimes I might think it’s too much to bear, that I can’t see Andrea in them because it just hurts too much. Her birthday was that day. Halloween was something else.

More than anything, we just walked. Abbi bemoaned the fact that she wasn’t invited to a party with anyone, unaware of the fact that I might never have allowed it anyway. It was the first event since she’d left we’d managed to do just ourselves. We’re walking the road, very slowly.

We’re a little farther down the trail, a few pages into the story. Not so far, though, that we still can’t look back and see where we came from, or re-read the pages that led us here. It’s all still in sight.

And maybe that’s a good thing.

Abbi, Noah and Sam ready to head out the door.

It was the Best of Times, It was the Worst of Times . . .

OK, please excuse the Dickensian reference, but he’s my favorite writer and I sit here, again late in the evening, and it’s the first thing that rolled off my fingers as I write. Beside, it was that or I was going to put a Phil Collins reference in there. I love Phil, but I think none of us want to see that in a Blog post.

I use it, though, to set some of the record straight, I guess. I realize I’ve given a pretty rosy picture, an idealized version of things. I actually think it is natural, that the normal tendency is to take what you remember and point only toward the best parts.

So here is where I’ll actually set the record straight.

We didn’t have roses at the dinner table all the time, we didn’t have those amazing smiles and happy lives through every moment of our marriage. It was really a lot harder than I think some of you are getting out of this when you read it.

We almost didn’t make it. I know that sounds like I’d be exaggerating, but there were a few moments, when I worked in Omaha particularly, that we were at the point where it was just going to break into pieces. Andrea had accused me, on more than one occasion, of wanting to spend more time with or even having an affair with (what she thought were) more attractive, younger women I’d worked with. I guess it goes without saying that it was absolutely NOT true!

But I didn’t help matters any, either. These people were my friends. I needed someone to talk to about the issues we were facing and Andrea was hysterical some nights. I needed a calm place, a glass of red wine, hell a shot of tequila and a dark quiet room even. I had friends, I had bandmates and other activities that started taking up time because I just couldn’t take hearing the accusations any more.

You have to understand, those first months, even the first year, were amazing, crazy, intense days where we spent nearly every free minute together. When necessity dictated that those minutes diminished somewhat, it bothered Andrea, like a scab on your arm that you shouldn’t itch but you just keep scratching anyway. She had this intense, horrific fear of being alone and of being abandoned. When you’re that person’s husband, working at a job that requires your absolute concentration and organization, getting phone calls at noon asking if you’ll get home a little early, every day, starts to wear on you.

Worse still, I had no idea until a couple years into our marriage that in college she’d been on a date where the creep took things too far, taking advantage, to the point of date raping her. While she trusted me, even early on, that dark moment grew, intensely, to the point where it started to overwhelm her, even years later. When you try to kiss your wife and she turns away, saying it’s not your fault, you can’t help but wonder. It’s your birthday and she goes to bed early. When the woman who spent every day with you, laying in your arms, kissing you passionately begins to push away from you, it starts to mess with your head. By this point, we had Abbi, Hannah was very little, it was awful. And worse yet, she’d gotten depressed and I could see the bright twinkle when she smiled was going away. I could see it. It was awful, like the sun was starting to lose its brightness and I didn’t have the technology to fix it.

But understand, I didn’t enter marriage lightly. I was in love, and it sounds cheesy, but I was simply made whole by this woman who understood me and actually put up with all my quirks. She tolerated my obsession with Doctor Who. She accepted my playing the guitar whenever the mood suited me. I knew this woman was still in there somewhere, but she was intent on pushing it away. It was one of those friends, bandmates, loved ones who said I either needed to dive in and take marriage head-on, or leave. There really wasn’t another choice. So I took it. It wasn’t easy, I had to fight, and we fought a lot, but we stayed together. I don’t care if people say kids shouldn’t see you argue or hear you yell, the fact of the matter is, no matter how bad it got, no matter how angry I got that I had to leave the house, we ended up coming to some sort of understanding and ended up solving the problem at night’s end. Might be 5am when we finished, but we did it. The kids at least knew that no matter how bad it got, we never left.

I wasn’t perfect, by the way. I mean, take a look at yourself, guys. Wives/girlfriends – how many times do you complain about your husband/boyfriend? Do you say he didn’t get it right? Do you yell at your husband saying he never does anything to help and then refuse to let him change a diaper because you’re sure he’ll get it wrong anyway? I admit it. I got those phone calls at work and rolled my eyes. I complained or commiserated with friends about how she never had her phone or answered it when I really needed her to answer.

Want to know something though? Andrea went to one of those “Mom” groups when we were in Texas. A parenting group, helping understand having this big family. We just had twins and she wanted to have the social interaction. We weren’t bad off, but things weren’t perfect. I knew she was going, and I worried how it would go, but I knew she wanted and needed it. If I could play guitar, she could go to a social group. When I got home, she was at the kitchen table with a big coffee cup, something she always seemed to have with her. I simply asked how the group was. She got up, came over to me, put her arms around me and kissed me like she had when we were first dating – like she hadn’t in SO long.

“I went, thinking they’d help me, but they were all fucking nuts, Dave!” Andrea hated cursing, so for her to say that . . . pretty bad. “They didn’t want to talk, all they wanted to do was bitch about their husbands. They all seem to hate them, they say the husband won’t take care of the kids, but when the husband offers they yell at them saying that they’ll just screw it up anyway. I looked at them all and realized that you were nothing like that. I never worry about you taking care of the kids. I never worry about you taking care of me. I love you.”

She kissed me again, holding me for a very long time.

She basically told them all to get over themselves and left, long before their meeting was over. They likely thought she was nuts, she said, but she went anyway. She said she couldn’t wait to get home, she wanted to be there when I came through the door.

That’s what our marriage was like. It wasn’t perfect, in fact, it was a mess. But it was our mess, and we didn’t ask anyone else to clean it up.

The worst part is that it was all starting to work again. We’d addressed the problems. She’d gotten past her jealousy, I’d gotten past my anger. She’d gotten over the a**h**e who raped her and got away with it. We were coming back to the people we’d been twenty years ago. The twinkle was returning to her smile. What creeps into my head is how I’d get annoyed when she’d ask me to help for the 3rd or 4th time in an hour when she needed a dressing changed or wanted me to drop her at the front door of a store.

So I remember and write about those amazing, intense, lovely times she gave me, because the problems didn’t define us. It was what we did to get past them that did. The worst thing about it is the fact that she’s gone now, for good. We worked so hard, were getting so much closer now than even in the beginning, and she’s gone. The flame went out, the light diminished. Someday I’ll get to feel the warmth again.

For now, though, I remember the Best of Times, even though I know right now it feels like the Worst.


Whisperin’ that I wasn’t the only one

I sit here at the end of the day’s events, yes, it’s very late, I know that, and it’s been a very hard day’s events, and I realize that things were really pretty much how I figured they would go.  We were happy to be together, but the whole day was just off.  We all knew it.  We all felt it.  The kids all were on edge, even the oldest.  They picked on each other.  They hit each other.  It wasn’t even so much that they really knew what it was, I don’t think, they just had to act out somehow.

It started, I think, when Andrea’s parents stopped by.  It’s not really their fault, as much as I’d like to fix blame, but to see their Grandma deteriorating when a year ago she’d been much more the person they remember didn’t make their day better.  They always love seeing them, but between pumpkin bread, the sugar cookies their grandparents brought and the stresses of the day, I’m not sure they really were ready for so much emotional upheaval.  I’m new at this still, though, and I didn’t recognize that this would really have been too much for them.

Hannah wanted to go to the cemetery, to say Happy Birthday.  I don’t think the others wanted to, Noah in particular.  Abbi didn’t say so but I could tell.  The thing was, I wasn’t going to make Hannah do it alone, I wasn’t going to be as strong as she needed me to be.  So I asked them all to come, figuring that we’d all be stronger together than if we were apart.  It’s been my running theme for the last seven months and it’s seemed to work.

We got there, and Noah tapped my leg, whispering “Hannah needs help, Dad.”  Hannah had broken down, which really didn’t surprise me.  She was so close to her Mom, and I think she believed she’d get more out of this than she really did, that she’d be physically closer to her.  But instead it was just kind of empty for her.  I hugged her, tight, holding her as close as I could.  Abbi looked away, not on-purpose, but I think she was trying to hold on harder than she needed to.  Noah was crying, looked over at Sam who had a blank look and said, simply “I don’t get this, it’s not fair!  How come Sam never cries.  Sometimes I don’t.  But he never does.  How does he do that?”

Thing is, his twin holds it in.  So does his sister, so do I for the most part.  I’d had Abbi grab some roses, the flowers I always gave Andrea, when she went to the store, and we each gave her one.  I asked Abbi to take the kids back to the car, the selfish act I allowed myself today, and allowed myself a little bit of emotion.  I had written her a letter, much like I had Noah did, just because I didn’t know what else to do.  Talking to Andrea has fallen flat for me.  Writing this brings up the emotions and the memories, but it doesn’t really get me closer.  I just had to do something – this was it.  I won’t give the full text, but I told her how much we missed her.  I told her this was one of her few weekend birthdays and she wasn’t even here to see it for once.  It wasn’t beautiful, clever, or even well written.  It just told her what I felt and how much we missed her.

But I also wanted her to be at peace.  I want her to be happy.  The one thing I will share from what I wrote is that I want her to be happy and calm, finally, after going through so much.  If for some reason she thought we were so bad off she stayed here, guilted into sticking around and unable to finally, gracefully rest and be the amazing, smiling spirit I met twenty years ago I’d hate myself for the rest of my life.  She deserves her peace.  After all those years worrying, trying to achieve the impossible, and trying to gain the appreciation and respect of family that were never going to express it to her, I hope she now believes what I did: that she was the most amazing of people.  You have to understand, there were some in her family that thought she was this horrible, angry, hard to get along with, quick to react person with a big temper and short fuse.  That mentality, description and feeling followed her everywhere.  And sure, she had her moments, those awful arguments and gripes that were not grounded and highly volatile.  But she was also sweet, loving, fun, and at times, God help me for saying it, adorable!

It was almost like “Taming of the Shrew” in an odd sort of way.  Andrea was the oldest sister, the tall one, angry, incurring the wrath of her father.  Still, she partied, didn’t have some intense plan for life or intense drive to become higher than her station in life like her Shakespearean counterpart. But the comparisons to her sister bothered her a lot.  Andrea’s sister always had a boyfriend, (before I get the emails, this is according to my wife, don’t revise my revisionist history, please) Andrea said guys always wanted to go out with her sister.  But in the one period of time when her sister was “single”, I met Andrea and both our worlds stopped turning.  We just started going out.  But even I, this naive kid from the Midwest with little or no experience could feel the vibe from some in her family (I should put here, not Andrea’s sister, she was always happy for us.) that wondered what was wrong with me . . . that I would fall for this Andrews sister.  Some even asked me why I would have picked Andrea.  (I won’t say who it was, but suffice to say it was awkward)

But she was amazing, she just was a bundle of fire.  She didn’t want to change me, she knew I WANTED to look better, feel better, loosen up and have some fun.  I was uptight, shy, scared, and lacking so much confidence it’s amazing she saw me I hid so far in the corner.  Sure, she yelled at me, lost her temper, questioned my decisions and rolled her eyes at me.  I did the same to her.  I was so stunned, so madly intoxicated by her, though, that we were engaged in just a couple months.  It’s amazing that even happened, as her mother, sister, aunts and everyone she knew started shopping for rings, asking when I was going to give her a ring and pushing us along – almost like if we didn’t get it going we might change our minds.  The thing is, I asked her in spite of all that.  I looked at who we were together, minus the early co-dependence, minus the arguments, and minus the pressure and realized that I couldn’t see my life without her.  I just couldn’t.

I even screwed up the engagement.  I had to do the formal things, had to ask her Dad’s permission; had to plan it all out; had to meet the expectations.  But I wasn’t one to fit into the box, either.  The expectation was that I would ask her on Valentine’s day, get engaged, put it all together and make everyone *sigh* in romantic bliss.  But I wasn’t going to do it.  It was OUR day, not everyone else’s, and I wasn’t going to deal with it.  I wanted it to be a day that wasn’t some high-pressure crazy holiday everyone would pick.

So I told her sister, best friend, everyone who needed to know, and I asked her at the airport.  Crazy, huh?  I remember it still, it was February 29th – a Leap Year.  I’d given her a ring for Christmas, a Black Hills gold ring that I thought matched her personality.  That day, waiting at the terminal for her to leave for Spring Break to see her family, I asked her for the ring back.  She asked the inevitable question – “why?” – and I said . . . because I want you to wear this one.  I gave her the engagement ring.  It wasn’t much, I couldn’t afford much more than the setting, but I asked her.  Here’s where I screwed up, though.  How do you celebrate when she’s getting on a plane in 10 minutes and leaving for a week?  She got on the plane, her family already knew, and the fun of it all had to sit on hold for that time.

But she did it anyway.  I told her what I thought, that I’d looked at everything, my whole life from that point on, and just couldn’t see it without her there.  I wanted to walk the road together, figuring it out, navigating the future with her at my side.  It was that day I realized I couldn’t see my life without her.

Now I can.

I’m alone on the road, carrying the kids with me.  I make the decisions with them, sure, but they’re the kids, seeking guidance and assuming I have an idea where we’re going.  With her there, it was someone to help guide me, someone I could ask about decisions.

When we were going out, Andrea loved the Bonnie Raitt album “Luck of the Draw”, because the song “I Can’t Make You Love Me” made her cry.  I loved “Not the Only One”, because it reminded me that Andrea was with me.  I actually wasn’t alone.

Yesterday, for the first day in a very long time, I broke out that disc.  The kids had no idea, they thought it was simply our music for dinner.  But it was different this time.  I am the only one, she’s not here to guide me, not in the way she should be.

Instead, I let it play “I Can’t Make You Love Me” instead and remembered her and felt a tear run down my cheek, remembering all of hers I’d let fall on my shoulder.

When You Never Get It Right…

An amazing fall picture of Andrea

Today would be Andrea’s 41st birthday.

That would be difficult enough, like every first holiday without her, but this was the day I’ve been dreading since she passed away.

You have to understand, Andrea’s birthday was the day I never seemed to get right, some of it because my job had me forced to work late almost every birthday, and a lot of it because I just screwed it up.  That’s a hard legacy to live up to.

I have to admit, there were times I don’t think I could ever have gotten it right.  Days that she asked, even begged me to stay home all day.  One year, that was her only wish, wanting me to stay home and be with her . . . even admitting at that point she wanted me to be home to entertain her.  Andrea had a horrific fear of being alone.  I work in television news so November, even today in the daily monitoring world, the most important ratings period, the one that sets the biggest ad rates for the year, is November.  It usually starts on a Thursday, the last week of October and goes until right before or after Thanksgiving.

The way I avoided most of the holiday problems was to work as an investigative reporter.  The payment you have to make for that is the fact that you end up working every book and guaranteeing that every story for the opening of the book gets put together right.

But it’s more than that.  I never got it right.  I’d tell her I’d do my best to be home by 6 or 7 and be late.  I’d try to get her the right present and we’d be out of money or would start looking too late.

In the end, I just never got it right.

The inevitable arguments ensued.  I’d see the disappointment in her eyes, the smile in that photo you see disappearing.  Now, that’s all I see.  I’m sure there are a number of birthdays – in early years – that were just fine.  I managed to get other holidays, even our anniversary right.  I just kept messing it up.

That makes this day so much harder.  We all felt this coming, handling it differently.  Hannah wants to go to the cemetery.  Sam doesn’t.  We all want to celebrate, but what do you do?  It’s hard to celebrate the birth of someone who will never age.  She lives with us, in our hearts, attached to our souls.

The best I can accomplish is to just celebrate it.  We have a cake – a fancy one, I made and decorated for Halloween.

So I’m doing the only thing I can think of.  I’m making Andrea’s birthday our own holiday.

It’s not huge, but I got the kids each a present.  We made a cake.  I’m going to make a nice dinner, something Andrea would love.  It’s not an effort to buy my way out of things, if that’s what you’re thinking, because that would never work.  Especially for MY kids.  Instead, I want to make want to make this day a celebration of their mother.  A day that we take to think about her, do the things she’d love, and just think about what she brought to us.

It’s my only way of trying to make up for what I did wrong for so many years.  This is my only way to make this right.

Today is her birthday, and she’ll never see it.  I loved her so much and only wish I’d done this right all these years before.  I’m making up for it . . . but to the kids and myself since she’ll never know it now.

Happy Birthday, Andrea.  You’ll live on, a little stronger this day, the one you deserved when you were with us.  I got it all wr0ng, but maybe this time I might actually do something right.


Almost Level With the Ground . . .

Thorn Tree in the Garden, by Derek and the Dominos off the album \”Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs\”

There are a number of really strange things that have happened since our new story began.

Obviously, there’s the strange events of the hospital.  When Andrea passed away, the doctors were fantastic, all supportive, worried that I hadn’t told the kids yet.

But After they took me into a room, I thought to give me privacy but now I wonder if it was so I’d stop being so loud and calling attention to the fact that someone died in their hospital, they showered me with platitudes, brought in a chaplain, asked me if I was OK, even gave me a glass of funky tasting water since I’d gotten a little dehydrated.

But the thing that bothered me the most was that about 20 minutes to a half hour later they just started inundating me with information.  They wanted me to decide on a mortuary – then and there, no holds barred, immediate decision – and get them started in dealing with Andrea’s body.  I know this will sound crazy, but it seemed like a bunch of little kids worried that they might get “cooties”.  Oh my God, there’s a body in there!  I hadn’t even had a chance to say goodbye.

Then they gave me a full list of everything I’d have to do.  I have to be honest with you, they beat the mortuary drum loudest, and I picked one.  The one closest to my house.  I got insanely lucky that the people I chose were great people, worked with my church, and were sincerely wanting to help me.

But 20 minutes after Andrea’s death, I’m getting pelted with things I have to do.  I haven’t even had time to fathom she’s gone.  I didn’t know HOW I was going to go home and break my kids’ hearts.  I didn’t know what to do.

I asked to say good-bye.  I went in the room.  I heard some nurse complaining that I hadn’t put on the scrubs, rubber gloves, all the crap I wore for days because she had some sort of infection on her leg they never figured out.  I ignored her.  They were in a gigantic hurry to get me moving so they could process her body, but she still had the IV hooked up, the syringes and wrappers still being picked up, and she had the tube in her mouth.  I couldn’t kiss her goodbye.

I don’t remember what I said.  I put my forehead on hers, said a prayer to myself, and told her goodbye.  I didn’t want to stay, it was just so hard, but I didn’t want to go, either.  This was the very last time I’d ever see her.  I made my peace, took a deep breath, and steeled myself for the trip home and what I had to do.

Then the chaplain grabs my hand . . . clamped around my wrist, and just says “pray with me” . . . and starts chanting the “Our Father”.  I’m sorry, I’d said my words.  I had prayed to God, talked to Andrea, begged him to make sure she was finally safe and happy.  I told the chaplain I’d said my prayers and stalked out of the room.  I wasn’t going to let these people drag me through any more emotional sludge.  I had enough pain to deal with now.

I got home and intentionally waited until right before their closing to call the mortuary.  If they wanted her out that badly, they’d have to do it on MY timeline.

The next few weeks, though, showed some of the most amazing pieces of humanity I’d ever experienced.  My parents were the first.  You have to understand, my father absolutely despises California.  He hates the scenery, the people, the attitude, everything about it.  Just coming here is hard for him, I can tell, but he doesn’t stay away.

The night Andrea ended up on a respirator the hospital called me at two in the morning.  I’d actually just gotten into bed, and Hannah and Noah were sleeping in there already.  They told me the nurses laid Andrea, a patient who can hardly breathe and fighting pneumonia, the weight of her body pushing on her lungs making it harder to breathe , on her back to clean her up.  Instead she went into respiratory arrest.  They said she was on sedation and respirator but they couldn’t calm her down and could I come there . . . it was really bad.

I called my Dad and Mom on the way.  It was raining, pitch black, and I’d had to leave Abbi to watch the kids.  I was a mess.  I didn’t know what to do and I was freaking out.  I knew what respiratory arrest meant and they didn’t know how long Andrea had been without oxygen to her brain.  I told Dad, near hyperventilation what had happened.  Dad is usually my voice of reason, my calm in the storm.  They had left Nebraska, were on their way to visit my older brother in Texas and had stopped in Norman, Oklahoma to spend the night.  I knew I was in trouble when Dad just said “Oh, God.”  That was it.  Dad is never without an answer, but this night, he just said we’d have to hope she comes out of it and that the doctors are helping her fight.  “Oh, God,” he said again.  I told him I just needed him to calm me down, which he did.

“We’re on our way, son.  We’ll be there in a couple days.”

While I was on the phone, they’d gotten dressed, packed up, and just jumped in the car, at 4am their time, and turned the car West.  They got to our house just a couple hours after Andrea died.

At the funeral, it was hard.  At the cemetery was harder.  People wanted to crowd into the tent with us and I kept them back so the kids and I could be there.  I got through the prayers.  Andrea’s sister got us all flowers – roses, her favorite – that we could put on the casket.  Everyone left, and something inside me just collapsed.  I lost it, hysterical, to the point I started to fall.  And there . . . was my dad.  He grabbed me, held me in his arms tighter than he had in years.  He told me he knew, it was OK.  I could take as long as I needed.  When I was able to stand up again, apologizing, he chuckled, picking up his handkerchief, saying “dammit, I thought I was going to make it through this.  Showed me, huh?”

He knew just when and how much to lighten me up.  He put his arm around me and helped me so I could walk back to the car.

They stayed until the weekend after they kids got out of school, literally months living with us and taking care of us until we could start walking again by ourselves.

Andrea’s best friend, a person I went to High School with, showed up and helped with the kids the day Andrea died as well.  If she’d done nothing more than be the godmother to Hannah that she was, we’d have been blessed.  Instead, she helped us get organized, and was yet another pillar holding up our foundations.  I know it wasn’t easy for her.  We were selfish, wallowing in our grief, and only now realize how insanely difficult in different ways this had to be for her, Andrea’s sister, all of them, it was.

That was the finite, emotional and physical help.  We go so much help to pay for things from others.  I didn’t have to cook for weeks after the funeral.  We paid for the rest of tuition and expenses and bills with help from friends I haven’t seen in years.  For every crazy, awful person that just wants to make themselves feel better by throwing cliche’d statements at me there was the friend who just wanted to take us out for pizza.

Then there were the crazy things – an anonymous donation to our bank account of a thousand dollars.  A thousand bucks!  Who does that?!  I don’t know, but if I’m ever in a position to do it, I will.  I was completely blown away by the support we got from our church community and those who loved and cared for us.  It was phenomenal.  I got two insanely expensive boxed sets – the 40th anniversary of Layla . . . the Deluxe Edition of Traffic’s “John Barleycorn Must Die”.  To this day, these insanely expensive sets, filled with 180g vinyl, dolby surround mixes, bound books and artwork, sit anonymously given, no name attached.  Sure, Clapton’s a given for me, but Traffic?  Only someone who knows me will knows I have the respect I have for Winwood.  I have no idea where these came from and I kinda like it that way.  It is help selflessly given, and make no mistake, to listen to Layla, or hear the last phrases of “Thorn Tree in the Garden” (even if it is about Bobby Whitlock’s dog) are amazing things.  Both albums gave me cathartic, new ways to look at this story of lost love.  The Majnun, the madman, dying himself lying on the grave of his love because they’ll never be together.  That’s profound.

I know I’m not the subject of a Persian love story.  But I do have love around me.  When I’m having an awful day and randomly this friend sends a text saying “love you, my friend,” I am pulled back up to ground level.

The old song says “I’m tore down . . . almost level with the ground.”  That’s the thing I have to remember.  I’m almost level with the ground.

But not quite.

One of the legendary 3 "Kings" of the blues, Freddie King

Things Stolen from Me When She Left…

You never realize how much of the world centers on love stories until you realize that your story has ended.  At the very least it’s on hiatus due to the fact that person – the amazing woman whose gravitational force kept you orbiting perfectly – is gone.

There were a lot of things that I brought into the relationship that I cannot bear to face.  Not now.  Maybe not ever.  I don’t mean arguments or artwork or physical things.  I mean parts of my life that eventually became parts of our life.

There are pieces of music that I cannot bear to hear, and as a musician, that’s awful.  Everything’s a song to a musician.  I see the world in terms of melody and harmony, but I feel pieces pulling away from me and leaving with her.  My best example: I, as many of the people who grew up with me will roll their eyes and attest, am a Clapton fanatic.  I think he and Carlos Santana are musicians that, when at their peak, have an ability that is innate and makes them almost one with the guitar.  I hear their music, particularly their live guitar solos, and I can feel emotions well up in me.  So I brought that to our relationship.  Andrea’s favorite song, the one we played for our first dance at our wedding, was “Wonderful Tonight” off the album Slowhand.  It didn’t matter how angry we were or how many arguments we’d had, if that song came on the radio we softened.  Now, I can’t bear to hear it.

It’s not just the connection we had to the song.  The day I had to go to the funeral home to make arrangements was a horrific blur.  It was made worse by the shock of how insanely expensive dying is.  The bitter irony, the last hurrah of the tribulations of our marriage, was the fact that a day before Andrea ended up in the hospital she’d looked over my benefits statement from work.  Somehow, I’d missed adding Andrea to my life insurance policy.  I literally told her “I’ll call tomorrow.  If I can’t get you added I’ll just call our agent and get a separate policy.”

The next day she went into the ICU.

My Dad came to the mortuary with me.  Andrea left on a Saturday.  It was Monday morning.  I don’t think I’d slept more than an hour or two in the days after she died.  I sat on the couch.  Watched the entire series of “The Wire” – not a season, the whole series – and simply…existed.  My folks cared for everyone, letting me deal with paperwork, Thank You cards, death certificate applications, car titles, changes in accounts…I am not even sure how much I did.  So when I had to go to the mortuary, my Dad didn’t even ask, he came along.  If he hadn’t, if he hadn’t helped me, we’d still be lost.

After we finished there, the costs and decisions, the preparations for a memorial and the decisions about the funeral – do you embalm her or no?  We need to change caskets, you can’t use that one.  Where do you want to have her plot? – I was wiped out.  I’d held off weeping uncontrollably by just a hair, and remember the walk back to the car feeling like I had fifty pound weights on my legs.

Dad started the car, and “Wonderful Tonight” came on the radio.  I tried, I really did, but I turned to him and said “Dad, can you change the station, please. . . ” and I couldn’t finish the sentence.  My Dad, much like when I would drive around with him as a kid, just patted my leg with his hand, changed the station, and said “of course.”

These are the things she’s taken with her.  Maybe she needed them, I don’t know.  But I can’t listen to a lot of the Clapton stuff I adored then.  I can’t hear that song, nor “Tears in Heaven”, much of the album “Journeyman”.  When Clapton did that tour, all the way through the “24 Nights” era, he had a backup singer named Tessa Niles.  The woman was a dead ringer for Andrea.  That’s all I see when I watch on YouTube or listen to the disc . . . it’s shot to hell for me now.

And it’s not just music, a big part of my life for sure, but television shows, foods she loved, drinks she enjoyed…and as I’ve said before, the seasons we enjoyed.  You can’t avoid the change in seasons.  I watched a show the other day that had a camera shot from a helicopter showing the changing leaves in a forest somewhere back East.  I don’t remember much of the show, it transported me to Omaha, the years we spent there.  Fall would come, we’d dress warm, Andrea in a big over-sized sweater, and walk through the neighborhood, or go to Fontenelle Forest.  I can’t hear the leaves crunching under my feet without that pang in my heart aching just a little more.

Last night, in the middle of a million daily problems, Hannah just looks up and says “Christmas won’t be the same without Mom around, Dad.”

I can avoid certain songs.  I can change the channel.  Unless we move to the Bahamas, we’re not avoiding the Fall.  Unless we switch faiths, move to some isolated land, we’re not avoiding Christmas.

She took these little things, the amazing, beautiful parts of our lives, and stole away with them.  I know she didn’t mean to, but like a thief, she took away the most precious things of our relationship.  I’m not sure I’ll ever get them back.

I don’t know that I’ll ever listen to those songs again, let alone play them.

Somehow, we’ll make Christmas our own.  We’ll do things during the Fall that are ours.  That’s what hurts the most.  For some things, it’s not that she took them.  It’s that we’ll somehow manage to get them back. . .

. . .and they just won’t be the same.

(Eric Clapton’s “Wonderful Tonight”  from the album 24 Nights.  You’ll see the blonde backup singer, Tessa Niles, who bears a similarity to Andrea.)

It’s Only a Matter of Time . . .

Consider yourselves lucky . . . the title was almost “Time Is(n’t) on My Side” but thought that was a little too much, even for me.

Working in television news is a difficult lifestyle juggle on the best of days.  I seem to have 5 things I’m juggling every day, and that’s even before I get to the daily work grind.  Breakfast for the kids, backpacks organized, projects finished, the money for “Halloween-grams” (whatever the hell that is, I don’t know, but I had to give each kid a buck to buy them) and hopefully get a couple cups of coffee in the house and on the way to the school.  Then I have to pray that the traffic isn’t so God awful that I can actually get to the station in time for my 8:30am meeting with the News Director and Managing Editor.

That’s a good day.

Lately, though, I’ve had to meet with one of the kids’ teachers at 7:15 so the morning routine has to get bumped up in order to get EVERYONE out the door in time for me to make the meeting.  The two littlest ones have to be in the Extended Day room for an hour . . . a service that cost me nearly six hundred bucks last month.  (That’s not a complaint, it’s a service I gladly pay for, it’s all I have.  Without it, I’m SOL)

Here’s the thing.  It’s hard enough being Dad, Mom, taxi driver, tutor, chef, maid, butler, and role model all before 8am.  Then I have to turn around and be producer, researcher, journalist, advocate, and expert.

Don’t take that above statement as ego, by the way, it’s not.  For all those jobs, it’s impossible that all of them are actually accomplished in any particular day.  In fact, if they were, the meeting with the teachers wouldn’t be happening.

So in the last week, I’ve had my middle child so far behind that she’s failing multiple classes and still doesn’t understand why she needs to turn in the homework that is due each day.  I mean, I hated homework.  I even hated a number of my teachers.  Hell, if my kids think they had it bad, I had Sister Mildred, a crazy woman who today would have been placed in the sanitarium for the mere fact that she thought Nixon was still in office and didn’t realize that when she was stapling posters to her bulletin board she was actually forcing the staples through the blackboard.  She took pride in throwing hardcover books at kids and rapping our knuckles with the back end of a wooden hand broom.  (I’d show you the scars, but I already had some, no room)  It can’t be the teachers.  In fact, I can’t believe that in some instances she’d even do the work but not turn it in!  Thus, the meeting.  Now, the whole family is aware that they have to wait, patiently (ha!) for dinner while I look through the planner, which every teacher signs, and make sure that EVERY piece of homework is accounted for before we eat each night.

Then, there’s Noah.  I set up several interviews, work through a conference call . . . and the school calls telling me Noah is sick.  My commute, with traffic, is such that by the time I got there to actually pick him up school was out anyway!

So you’d think that would give me a reprieve, right?  Umm . . . no.  I had 2 calls come in for work, all while trying to keep the kids quiet so I can get things moving with them.  I had a source unexpectedly call.  I had a former colleague needed help with something.  And I had a script I was trying to write . . . which I got about 1/4 done.

It’s only a matter of time, right?  A matter of time before it all comes together?  No.  A matter of time before they find me in the corner sitting criss-cross flicking my lips sounding out thpppppthhhppppp.

There aren’t enough hours in the day.  I don’t even know how we did it with two of us!

Before all the offers come in, I realize that there is help to be had.  I know I just have to ask for help.  But for what?  I won’t ask someone to come to the house and do the laundry or cook for me.  But those are the routines that I need to make, well, routine before the other projects can balance in the air like one of those carnival guys spinning plates on sticks.  it takes a lot of concentration to not drop one of those damn plates.

If only there was a way to make them out of plastic somehow.

But I digress.  It’s a matter of time.  There just isn’t enough of it in the universe to handle all this.  That, and the fact that I can’t end up in the corner catatonic.  Those four kids really need me.  If I do that, they truly are alone.  The one thing they need more than anything in the world is the assurance, whether obvious or implicit, that I’m stable, strong and able to carry whatever they need to put on my shoulders.  Even if it’s not true.

I miss Andrea more than anything in the world.  But weeks like this, I realize I missed her more than just in my heart.  My shoulders are aching because, even in the worst of times, she was able to lift a little of that weight off my shoulders.  She also had an uncanny knack of helping to force time to slow down yet allow me to work at normal speed . . . so that we just never appeared to be dropping those plates.

So now it’s a matter of time.  Time I just don’t have, but need to gain anyway.  Some days I just don’t know how to do it, but I guess I have to know which plates to let fall . . . so they do the least amount of damage.

It Is Little, and it is broken . . .

Let me start by saying I absolutely despise the Disney Channel. Apart From Phineus and Ferb, I don’t really think think there are any redeeming values on its programming. (and that show is only because Bowling for Soup are OK with their song being used for the theme)

In fact, when Abbi was just a little older than the boys, she started acting crazy, totally unlike herself. She started talking back, even yelling that she needed privacy, rolling her eyes when I told her to do something.

I quickly realized she was mimicking the behavior of the shows she watched on that channel. If you don’t have the joy of seeing these shows, they all have a common theme: parents are stupid, they come up with bad ideas, the teenage kids are smart, and in the end it is only that Disneyfied pre teen or uppity kid that comes up with a plan to save the day and the parents gush in stupefied pride over the fact their kid is smarter than they are.

Abbi used this mentality yelling, nay, screaming for privacy. She got angry with her sister Hannah. She slammed doors to make her point, an action she was warned would have dire consequences. One particular day she got in a Eisner-esque argument with her mother about wanting to be alone in her room and that she hated her sister and everyone needed to stay out of her room. She slammed her door with such force that her sister’s trophy shelf on the adjoining wall flew off the wall anchors holding it in place. Hannah’s soccer trophies, a tribute to the “everybody wins” mentality in my opinion, flew to the ground. Hannah was beside herself. Didn’t matter what I thought, Hannah thought she was the greatest soccer player ever, and she had trophies to prove it.

My answer? I blocked all Disney channels from all TV’s. I also took Abbi’s door off the hinges, leaning the door against the wall facing her bed so that she had to see it no matter where she sat in the room, a reminder of her misbehavior. Suddenly Dad didn’t seem. So stupid, he was a force to be reckoned with and the plot of her shows was nowhere close to reality.

Her attitude was fixed in just about a week.

So imagine my surprise when Disney helped us today.

Noah has had a rough couple weeks. He got in fights. He had to apologize to his mother, taking a letter and placing the envelope on her grave so the consequences hit home. Now that he has NO wiggle room he knows he has to work twice as hard to just stay away from trouble.

So for the second time in as many weeks, this girl who loves to push
His buttons comes up to him and says in the most mean way possible: “my life is better than yours. I have both parents and your Mom is DEAD!”

Here is where Disney came to play. The boys wanted to watch “Lilo and Stitch” this weekend. Toward the end, the nasty, chaotic little alien looks at everyone and says “this is my family. I found it all on my own. It is little, and…it is broken, but it is still good. Yes, it is good.”

So when Noah’s sister brings up that this girl was trying to get Noah to react again today, to get him to push back and get in trouble, he didn’t. At the dinner table he says, “oh, yeah, she said it again.”
“Are you okay, little moo? What did you do?”
“I didn’t do anything,” he says, rather dull and matter of fact, taking a bite out of his hamburger.

“You know if she really had it so great she wouldn’t have to say anything about how much better her life is, right? I mean, we aren’t perfect, but we are OK.  I know it would be perfect if Mommy were here, but since she’s not, it’s not horrible, is it?”

He just looked at me and in unison, nearly all the kids said, “it is like the movie!  This is our family!It is little, and it is broken . . . But it is still good. Yeah, it is good.”  Bear in mind, they’re my kids, so the statement came with the obligatory voice mimicry.

Damn you, Eisner! Just when I was enjoying hating your world-dominating ways you have to help my family.

Next thing I’ll have a bumper sticker that reads “Ohana means Family!”

But, hey, we aren’t perfect. I would argue, though, that we have bent, not broken. The fact is we are starting to stand back up. It really is dysfunction of the highest order, but in the end, we are still good.

Yeah…still good.

…Things Have a Way of Growing Downward.

It’s funny the way our brains and emotions work, it really is.

I mean, things are crazy.  It doesn’t just rain, it’s rain forest monsoon pouring.

I have one child that is now marked – he can’t even be near trouble at school because the tendency will be to assume he’s part of the problem even if he’s just standing on the corner of the playground with nothing to do with the fight.  I have another that has showed me her planner for all her assignments but actually didn’t write them down, so I wasn’t even able to see all the assignments she had NOT turned in.  She doesn’t turn in her homework.  Now, she’s at a point where the possibility of her even moving on to another grade is in question.  That’s on top of facing the fact that my oldest daughter is dealing with her raging pubescent hormones and trying to figure out life in a public high school surrounded by both sexes.  All of this is occurring on the busiest, most stressful time of year for someone in TV, the buildup to the November ratings period.  Due to family dramas I’ve had to take a week’s vacation I didn’t have, burn sick days that didn’t exist and take at least 2 days without pay.

Remember that scene in “Romancing the Stone” where Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner have the ground fall out from under them and get swept down a cliff on a rushing river of new water?  That’s me right now.  I’m at the point where fighting the current has pushed me against so many rocks and tree branches that I’m now getting hurt just trying to fight the raging rapids.  It took me too long to realize I need to just ride out the water.

And we’re exactly a week from Andrea’s birthday.  She’d be 41 this year.  So I must just be missing her so much that it makes my head explode, right?  Well . . . yeah, that’s right, but not the reasons you’re thinking.  Not the reasons you’d suspect looking at the way things are playing out above.

I miss her more than anything, but it’s not that she would have backed my discipline.  It’s not that she’d have a great, amazing idea to fix Hannah’s lack of academic ability.  (She would, by the way, so don’t think it isn’t on my mind)  It’s not even that she would know just how to handle the life of a 16-year-old because she knows just how to handle everything and help our daughter get through all the problems and now how to flirt and figure out how to be the amazing young woman I know she is.  She’d be all that, absolutely.

No, the curious thing I am missing most isn’t really tangible.

I miss that feeling.  I was never a fan of the Righteous Brothers, and excuse my bastardization of their intellectual property, but I’ve lost that fuzzy feeling.  That fuzzy, hazy, warm feeling that grows inside you as you get closer to someone you really love.  It’s not that intense butterflies-in-your-stomach feeling you get when you’re first dating someone.  Sure, that’s a wonderful thing, but I’m way beyond the age where puppy love really approaches enjoyment, don’t you think?

No, I mean the happiness I got knowing I am about to see the person I love, and knowing full well she really does love me.  I had a long time coming to terms and belief that it was true, but you get past that.  You throw everything at them and they at you.  Not that you’re pushing them to take on your stresses from work but that you need to talk things out and there’s just nobody who gets what you’re going through like they do.

Andrea and I took way too long to get there, by the way.  It’s not that our marriage took us on a long winding path.  It was getting to engagement.  Understand, our friends and family all think we met, love at first sight, and loved each other madly.  Sure, I think that love was there, but neither of us acted on it right away.

I miss the things that should be ingrained in my DNA: how her lips felt on my cheek; the feel of her arms when they wrapped around my waist or neck; the press of her skin as she lay next to me in bed.

I can remember so many random things, things from early on that are burned into the back of my retinas so I can seen them when i close my eyes.  I can remember the first time we went out. I’ve said that the first “date” we went on was to see the band Rush at the Civic Auditorium in Omaha.  That wasn’t the first time we’d gone out together, though.  The first time was very different.  Andrea started her life in television doing Entertainment for the station where we worked in Council Bluffs, Iowa.  The particular day I remember (one I’ve chronicled before in briefer form) involved her review of an Alec Baldwin movie.  I arrived early to work, which was typical for me, and she was heading out the door quite late, which was typical for her.  I was painfully shy, and she was insanely beautiful, so I was not able to muster much in terms of trying to flirt or make conversation.  I was able to ask how it was going, polite as part of my Midwestern upbringing.

But she just wasn’t having any of it.  That simple line, the phrase I knew was absurdly pathetic “how’s it going” was not going to be enough for her.

“I’m so late, I have to review this awful movie, I have free passes, and I have to get going all the way to Indian Hills!”  If you ever made it to Omaha in the ’60s through the millennium, you’d would know that we were sitting a good 20 minutes inside Iowa, then having to drive from there, across the river, and another 90 blocks to the West side of the city to a theater that had several screens and was showing an advance screening of the film.  Andrea stopped herself, looked me in the eye and said with a mischievous grin, “want to come with me?”

I was the only director.  I’d come straight from school, had no place else to go and was planning to get to work on a school project.  It was close to noon.  If I didn’t make it back by 3pm my life would be hell if I tried to put an entire newscast’s pre-production together in that time frame.  No sane person would even think about it.

It’s precisely why I said “yes”.

I knew I looked silly, by the way.  My hair was awful, I wore a dress shirt with a colored t-shirt or concert shirt underneath (typical for the era, though I didn’t pull it off well) and topped the fall look off with a black trenchcoat that I thought made me look like Dickey Betts on the cover of the latest Allmann Brothers record.  She drove with me in a rose-colored 1985 Oldsmobile that I owned and happily drove along.  She had shoulder-length blonde hair that a stylist the station had a contract with convinced her to put in a perm.  She hated it, telling me so during the drive, but I thought it made her look amazing.  She had a black blazer covered in white polka-dots and silk pants that flowed very well behind almost like a Westernized version of Ali Baba pants and they accentuated her height.  (She was tall, 5 foot 10)  She had a tendency to wear t-shirts from Express, a store where she worked to supplement her income, with what they called a “sweetheart” neckline.  I am slightly embarrassed to admit that the very neckline drew my attention, but she was amazing in how she just blew through the formalities of being with someone and just talked like we’d been fast friends for years.

The movie, coincidentally, was a horrible flick called “The Marrying Man”, an excuse for Alec Baldwin to get in a movie with then-wife Kim Basinger.  I remember nothing about it.  I remember, though, watching her, taking notes, sitting next to me, the looks in the audience amazed at the woman and who she was with.  I remember her grabbing my hand, laughing at some lame joke.  She bent over to pick up a notebook and looked up to catch me looking down at her as her t-shirt bloused outward just a little.  Instead of chastising me she smiled at my red face, made more silly by my olive skin.  She was absolutely brilliant.

There are more intimate memories.  The night we first kissed . . . she’d spent the entire night talking with me, about where I came from, why I played music, how I ended up here.  About how she met Leslie Stall, towering over the woman but feeling 3 inches tall next to her.  How her Mom was from Nebraska, even lived down the street from my grandparents during WWII.  We talked about our families and she brought up a problem her sister was having.  She laid her head on my shoulder, upset by whatever it was her sister was going through, a tear coming down her cheek.  I already had my arms around her.  I kissed her forehead, and she looked up at me, a moment I truly wish I could just freeze and live in for eternity, those amazing greyish-blue eyes looking through mine like they could see inside me – see the person who really was sitting there, not just pandering to her to get her to like me.  It was a moment filled with wonder, and I didn’t, for the first time in my entire life, have to think or try or anything.  I had this amazing woman looking at me, so close I could feel the brush of her nose against mine . . . and I kissed her.  I can’t imagine it was a phenomenal kiss worthy of note to most people, but I thought it was amazing.  And that’s all we needed.  In fact, that night, it’s all that happened.  We had stayed up talking all night, drank a couple too many Miller Lites, it was late, nearly 3am, and I had kissed this amazing, beautiful woman.  She fell asleep in my arms.  I know this all sounds too silly, romanticized to the point of being maybe a bit too romantic.  It’s too contrived to be true, but it’s absolutely how it happened.  I can close my eyes and see it all.

That’s the problem.  I have to close my eyes to see it.  I don’t see her in my dreams like some people have told me they do.  I don’t feel a brush on the back of my neck and think “She’s standing there watching me”.

I am truly here, without her.  I didn’t get the “grow old together, love each other, sickness and health, watch each other as our kids grow older” lifetime.  I had it good and perfect for awhile, but that was it.  Awhile.  I don’t get the rest of our lives.  I got ’till death do us part.  I don’t get to come home and feel that warm comfort of knowing that those eyes will look into mine again.  I remember these amazing moments and it kills me that I write them down now and never told them to her.  Did she know what those moments meant for me?  Were they as insanely amazing for her as they were for me?

Sure, I see the pieces of her, the brilliant parts of Andrea that walk around in our kids.  It is a comfort to have them around me and know that they don’t think I’ve screwed up too badly, even though I have – for their school, for personal projects, financially, emotionally (for Noah especially) but they don’t come at me like I’ve hurt them too badly, or strayed so far off the road that it’s not within sight anymore.  I just don’t have the person waiting for me at home, the warm feeling I got, the closer I approached my house, waiting to feel her arms around me, that has left a terrible emptiness.

The attached song has hung over me a lot this last few days.

In my life, things have a way of growin’ downward.

So I don’t know if I can watch myself be a coward . . . again.

I only use this line because she made me a better person.  She made me stronger.  It is so true, I don’t want to watch myself turning onto that fork she veered me from.  She can’t save me again, she won’t be around.  Why did’t I ever tell her that?  Why didn’t I remember all these amazing things about her when I could say them while looking inter her eyes?  What do you do when you face the hard reality that you have nothing but your own two feet?  I have to find out, I just don’t want to right now because I’m afraid what the answer might be.

11 In My Life by Gov’t Mule, from the album Life Before Insanity