Tag Archives: bedtime

I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead . . .

I'll Sleep when I can . . .
I used to use that line years ago, “I’ll sleep when I’m Dead!”  It’s not very original, I know, and it’s not the most subtle of statements, but it gets the point across, I suppose.  The thing is, I never really realized what exhaustion and being functional in a daze really was until the last ten months.

The closest I can come is years ago, when my wife, Andrea, was still alive.  We’d faced a lot of challenges, not the least of which was the fact that Andrea really didn’t like what she was doing for a living.  She didn’t know what she wanted to do, being a reporter wasn’t what she wanted simply because it didn’t pay enough right off the top.  Like many journeyman jobs, being a journalist requires a lot of work for a bunch of hours for little fulfillment and even less pay in the beginning.  What you get in return is a wealth of experience, repetition so you learn from your errors, and friendships that are very strong and can even (in our case) bond you for life. I fell in love with the woman who was the reporter and realized it wasn’t the reporter I loved, it was the person who made her a reporter.

So just a year into our marriage my wife decided to go into Pharmacy and thought it was a  brilliant idea because it helped people, paid well, and she had the influence of my father to help her through any academic issues.  What she hadn’t really thought through was the fact that she still needed several prerequisites (Television doesn’t lend itself to Organic Chemistry, you see) and post-graduate schooling that at the time was NOT payable through federal loans.  In fact, we had to pay all her tuition and costs of living.  That means, school, food, baby formula (and Abbi, my oldest, was allergic to everything so that she needed special formula) and all were coming out of our pockets.

I, at the time, was working for an insurance company.  I had taken the position because they said that they wanted to start a production house and wanted to see how the production went.  In reality, they used SVHS cameras and tape, a horrid and difficult format; a Newtek Video Toaster for the production switcher and editing, an industrial video type setup, and put me as their “talent” and writer.  I had to wear a suit every day, even when schlepping around a camera, tripod, cables and decks.  It wasn’t all bad, I met an amazing graphic artist who is now a published author, screenwriter and friend.  But the job was awful, cooped in a room separated from the rest of the insurance folks.  Knowing that they put profits before health, to the point where “death benefits are far cheaper than paying for preventive care for everyone” when it came to Cancer policies and the like.  I couldn’t take it.

The point to my story: I went back into journalism, part-time.  The job I’d begun in television – the first gig I had as a photographer/reporter/director came open again, but only at 20 hours a week.  I couldn’t stay in insurance, it was slowly eating my soul away.  So I took the job at the television station, part-time, and then I started delivering newspapers – I kid you not – at 2am every day to make up the difference.  I took our car, filled the entire back seat with newspapers rolled up or sealed in plastic bags, and delivered them to the areas of town that had an older population and somewhat richer.  Some people were nice, others, very bitchy and deserving of the paper getting soggy in the sprinkler.  However, when that happened, they didn’t pay, I did, so it wasn’t worth it.

My problem in this 2-year period was the fact that while my wife loved being in school again, she hated the fact that I wasn’t paying as much attention to her.  Sure, I was young, stupid, even naive to think I could survive at this pace.  My parents worried about me, buying me sweatshirts and coats to withstand the bitter Nebraska cold when I delivered these papers in the middle of the winter nights.  I had constant bags under my eyes. I was falling asleep at 9 at night only to be nudged awake by my annoyed wife because she wanted to have conversation after finishing her homework, which took her all my waking hours to finish.

I supplemented this with gigs as a musician.  My brother and I had a band and I booked as much as I could.  some weeks we had groceries just because of the music.  One weekend I over-booked and had a Wednesday-Saturday gig.  I worked the TV station, showered, ate, went to the bar, set up, played the gig, broke down, went home, changed, headed to the newspapers, delivered them, got home showered, ate, wen to the day job, worked my 5-6 hours, got home, ate, showered to stay awake, went to the bar, set up, played, and broke down the gear.  My brother was worried about me being up for so long with no sleep and came with me.  He fell asleep after about an hour or two.  I was so tired I started seeing people in their bathrobes in the driveway and they weren’t really there.  I was exhausted.  By the time I’d finished the route, the sun was coming up and I had 20 or more papers still in the car.  I didn’t care, I went home and passed out.

I lasted nearly two whole years, resigned in a huff after getting overtime work at my TV station, only to get an overnight shooter/editor job at the NBC affiliate in Omaha a month later.  Another 8 months of exhaustion.

I’m more tired now.

I don’t say that as a complaint.  There it was just from the number of hours.  Now, it’s because I’m older, out of shape, and having to constantly worry about my children, worry about making ends meet, and worry that they don’t have the help that they should have from their mother.  I start between 5 and 6am, getting to bed around 12 or 1am.  It’s not a complaint, but it’s something I hadn’t considered when this all happened.  The amount of work that one of the pair of you does each day is amazing.  When you get sick, there’s nobody to pick up the slack.  You have to double your efforts when you’re up and around again.

I miss my wife more and more every day.  It’s not the exhaustion that causes me to miss her, though.  It’s my heart.  My soul.  The exhaustion highlights it.  I had so many angry moments, so many arguments in those days when I worked so hard, but I wish that I’d told her why . . . I wish that instead of getting angry that I was so tired I’d said out loud that I did all this because I loved her.  I did it all because I trusted her, that I knew she was brilliant, beautiful and talented enough to do all of this, and that she’d save lives and help people.  She did research for Alzheimer’s drugs.  She got an award for her research.  She was always so worried she’d fill a prescription wrong she implemented policies to ensure people got the right bottles and drugs.

She was brilliant and I only complained I was tired . . . over and over again.

So my lesson now?  I’m not going to complain to my kids.  The price for seeing my daughter’s play, my son in the “math bowl” and the artwork my daughter draw is that I pick up, do the laundry and cook for them.  I never see that as “work”.  It’s life.  I know others see it as so much drudgery, but when I do it with them, I’m with the kids.  I only get just over a year with my oldest before she heads to college.

It all leads back to that line above.  I’m tired, sure, near exhaustion, but if I sleep I’ll miss what time I have with them.  I’ll sleep when I’m dead.  Now I have too much to do before I die!

Holy Jeans and Towels You Can’t Use

A Towel You Can't Use . . .

Try a Little Tenderness by Otis Redding

It amazes me the amount of damage to simple cotton and polyester that a little boy can do.  I mean, I started noticing how my son, the silly, funny little guy, would jump onto the ground, slide on his knees, skid in the grass not matter what his pants or his knees looked like.  I am constantly amazed he doesn’t have rug burn or scars on his knees, but like I was at the age of 8, he’s got joints of cast iron, it seems.

That doesn’t mean his stomach is, though.  So on Friday morning, after spending the entire night up with Sam throwing up, I stayed home to take care of him.  By noon, Noah had a 100 degree fever and was at the school office.  The Friday catching up on a lack of sleep and cleaning after Sam took a nap was no longer feasible.

The weekend led to some of that catching up.  You see, those holy knees were in all but a single pair of uniform pants.  One pair, too big, and kindly donated to us by another family.  I know I shouldn’t complain about having to buy uniforms if I pay to put my kids in a Catholic school, but there’s a reason for it.  I put Abbi all the way through a private education.  We did it in Texas until the Fall of our last year, the year we moved.  We couldn’t afford the massive, insane cost the parish priest foisted on the parishoners.  We had Italian marble statues of the apostles lining the driveway up to the church, but we didn’t have a gymnasium.  We didn’t get much of a break for our tuition if you had more than one student, but he drove a Mustang every day.

So when we moved to California I expected more of the same.  Instead, we found a far better, far more welcoming situation.  The cost for us to have four kids, if we were active in the parish, was far less.  The pastor had a reputation from some of being a bit of a curmudgeon.  I found him to be funny, surly, and right up my alley.  When Andrea was sick in the hospital, he came to us.  (Beckoned, yes, by a family friend, but he came nonetheless) What I thought was a formal ceremony where he said her name but didn’t seem to be as friendly or outgoing so I assumed he didn’t recognize her or me.  We hadn’t been active for some time and he probably knew our children better than me.

But after the sacrament he walked up, put his hand on my shoulder and handed me a slip of paper.  “If you need anything, call me this is my cell phone number.”  That alone would have been enough for me.  But then he added “I’ll make sure we keep an eye on Noah, Sam and Hannah at the school as well.  They’ll be in good hands, you just be here with your wife.”

I’m not trying to convert you.  I’m no missionary, I’m not a man of God or a convert or born again.  It meant a lot to me that he remembered and thought enough to say something, and evidently it did to Andrea, too.  You see, that morning, the doctors had told me that even though they had been the ones to sedate her to put in the breathing tube, they couldn’t wake her back up.  Nothing worked.  They weren’t sure what to do but they didn’t know if she was really hearing them or what.  When the Monsignor did the anointing and then I said the prayers along with him, then had the conversation about the kids and talked with each other her eyes flickered.  Her hands moved and squeezed mine.  I make no assertions, maybe it was the anointing, maybe it was just hearing my voice, or maybe it was the realization her kids were still here and needing her that woke her up, but wake her up it did.

The reason I tell you this is because it’s this scenario – this particular situation that makes me push and save and scrimp in order to keep the kids in the school.  Andrea wanted them to go to this school.  She saw this school on the hill and immediately said it was the place for her.  We put the kids in here because she had a public school education and she wanted a private one, something she thought she’d needed.  There is a contingent that says I should have kept my oldest in the private high school as well, that was insanely important to Andrea as well, but I cannot afford it.  (It actually costs more than sending her to college would and I’m now a single-income family, so reality has to set in at some point)  The decision was that she got through grade and middle school so her siblings would as well.

So here’s where the holy pants come in.  While I pay for the school, we started the year with literally 4-6 pairs of pants for each boy.  It was amazing.  By this week I had 1.  A singular pair of unholy pants, a tribute to durability, you might think, but no.  A tribute to the fact they’re too big and didn’t fit.  So we went to the store to buy new pants, 2 for each boy.  When they looked and saw how much money the pants were per pair the boys were stunned.

“It costs that much for one pair of pants?”
“Yeah, what did you think, Sam,” was my response.
“Wow.  No wonder you yelled at us when we ripped the knees!”

I took a bit of pride to realize they finally saw the damage they were doing.  That, and the fact that we’d had so many accidents, vomit, shoes and trips on the bathroom rugs that we needed those as well.  I’d been through the whole store, bought the boys their clothes and realized I needed the new rugs.  I got one for the toilet only to realize that it didn’t match the rest of the stuff.  So I got ones for the bath and shower.  Then I heard Andrea in the back of my head – it won’t match, we need the towels to match!  Inexplicably I was at the checkout aisle with towels, hand towels, rugs and carpets that went together.  I was scratching my head when I got to the house.  I put the stuff all out and found myself lecturing the kids:

“We have plenty of towels.  Do NOT use the ones here!  These go with the rugs, they’re not for drying off, so don’t!”

I suddenly realized that I was doing what I’d poked so much fun at Andrea for: towels you can’t use.
“What good are towels if you’re not supposed to use them?” was always my interrogative to her.
“Beside, what do you dry your hands on if you can’t use these towels?  It makes NO sense!”

I was like a man possessed.  I stood there with towels, striped and solid, decorating my own bathroom.  I had, in one day, in one fell swoop, already duplicated my wife’s mantras.  I yelled about the laundry and holy knees.  I bought towels you can’t use!  (But I have to admit, I bought towels I couldn’t use, but it was far better than before.  You see, Andrea had a thing for leopard spots at one time.  I just couldn’t bring myself to continue living in my own bathroom with leopard spotted towels.)

It is by no means a symbol of anything.  I don’t try to convert my Muslim, Protestant, Hindu or even atheist friends.

It’s simply that, for the first time in more than 10 months, I heard her.  I felt my wife’s presence, and finally, inexplicably, among the holy knees and towels you can’t use, I found comfort.  I also got it all on clearance, so I know she’d be happy!

Jam Sessions and Chocolate

Our Little Jam Session

Owner of a Lonely Heart by Yes from the LP 90125

I had made my way home, a little sore from the accident yesterday and trying to get the energy to buck up for the routine today.  I had the kids all home, the kitchen was still a mess, and the laundry almost manageable for the first time in over a week.  (Doesn’t mean they put the laundry away, it just means that it’s clean)

We were all tired, all grumpy, and it was just a hard couple weeks.

Everything about this last week has pulled us backwards, but none of us can quite put a finger on why.  I know when I write here it must seem like I’m in constant pain, emotional turmoil and just wallowing in every detail of the past never thinking of the future.  (Get the song tie-in yet?  Do You?)  You have to understand, I write here in the dark of night, sometimes in the empty living room with the television on, sometimes in my bedroom with the sounds of my daughter snoring in the next room starting to lull me into an exhausted sleep.  It is when the forward motion of the day starts to slow that the pull of the past starts to draw me in.  While there is so much talk about dating again or moving forward or starting over what most people neglect to remember is that I’ve spent more of my life with Andrea than I did without her.  That’s an odd statistic to fathom, knowing that more than half your life you’ve spent with someone else by your side, there, constant companion.  If you have that history, that timeline, why would it be easy to just “move on”?

It isn’t.

The funny thing is, our days aren’t spent wallowing and reminiscing and my drinking whole bottles of wine while looking at our wedding pictures or crying over the pinot noir.  Our days and nights are fairly mundane.  That’s almost what makes it so scary.  We don’t sit and wallow, though there are days I think we should.  I get home after the kids have gotten home, unless Abbi has a rehearsal of some sort, in which case I’m the one home and she gets home to have dinner with the rest of us.  While it seems a strange circumstance that we’ve got a new home, a new routine and a new life, we do it anyway because we have to.  Sitting and bemoaning our situation doesn’t change our situation, it just makes it worse.

There are glimmers.  The kids watched “Once Upon a Time” with me on the TV last night (God love our DVR) and the whole episode centered around pain and a broken heart.  Noah made a comment about me, the other kids looked over at me, the subject sensitive, all of it just danced around a little bit.  None of us really wants to be sad, we want to be OK with things as they are.  We want to enjoy things.  It’s hard, though, not to feel guilty about having fun and enjoying ourselves knowing that she’s not here to enjoy it with us.

But I have two cures for everything in our house: jam sessions and chocolate.

Yes, my friends, those two things hold the key to all happiness.  Don’t get me wrong, the kids all have their individual ideals.  Sam can’t play an instrument, but he sings.  Abbi wants to play, but after decapitating my hollowbodied Dot ES335 some time ago she is loathe to touch any of my guitars.

So imagine my surprise when Hannah asked, after I picked up my guitar with its new pickups (still waiting on that endorsement deal, Lindy Fralin.  Money?  Endorsement?  Hell, new pickups??!!  I’ll take a couple Pure PAF”s for my other Esprit!) why you’d ever tune the guitar differently.  I tuned to a “G” chord, played some slide (Walkin’ Blues, Muddy Waters, great staple); played  “Come and Go Blues” by the Allman Brothers Band.  I tuned to a “drop D” and played  Just a Little Bit by T-Bone Walker and started to strum the harmonics to a song I’d written Andrea when I started dating her.

Soon after, I looked up and Hannah had her guitar and wanted to show me a lick.  Noah had grabbed his and wanted to know if I could “teach him some jazz or blues?” and Sam and Abbi were singing.  I showed a D7 to Hannah and showed her that by moving that same fingering up and muting one string, you could play “Soul Man” by Sam and Dave.  Abbi sang, we played, Noah strummed.  I taught Hannah her first Bar Chord.

The routine was interrupted, but we went on anyway.  I asked Abbi if she remembered a song I’d played years ago, one she loved, and she started hollering out “ain’t nothin’ in the world that a T-Bone Shuffle can’t cure!”  (Albert Collins, Robert Cray and Johnny Copeland, T-Bone Shuffle )

Then routine started again.  We went up, read half a chapter, tucked in, and I came downstairs.  I looked in the bare cupboard and realized we needed something different.  The routine was changed, so breakfast, just for a day, would too.

So I looked up a recipe and made chocolate waffles.  The smell wafted through the house and up the stairs.  I cooled them, packed them in the freezer, and readied the plates full so that the kids could have them tomorrow.  Whipped cream, bananas, and chocolate waffles, something I’d never made before and new memories.

So you see, we are making new memories.  It’s not just some random set of circumstances.  We’re not wallowing in self-pity.  We, sometimes, are simply stuck in routine.  So what do we do about it?

There’s nothing that a good jam session and chocolate can’t cure.  That, and once in awhile, a T-Bone shuffle.

But I’m a Man, Yes I Am . . .

My little Baby Bear, Hannah

I’m a Man by The Spencer Davis Group

Yeah, yeah, quoting Steve Winwood, I know, but hey, it fits.

So last night, it happened, one of those moments I was dreading after Andrea’s passing: Hannah hitting puberty.  She was already getting there, things going steadily, slowly hormonal.  She was getting forgetful, not turning in homework, her attention waning worse than usual.

I, of course, hadn’t put 2 and 2 together.  I came home tonight, frustrated because I had left my house keys in . . . the house. I got inside and the chores were never completed, laundry was spread out everywhere, mounds of it, the kitchen table covered with books, papers and old homework, and I just got curmudgeonly grumpy.  I was snippy, biting off the kids sentences as they talked to me.I was cold, my back hurt, I was angry, and . . . as if you couldn’t tell from the last couple nights’ posts . . . I really have been missing my wife this last week.  I don’t know why it has been so hard, but it really has. I’ve felt very lonely.

So I did what I always do.  After grabbing a trash bag, pulling up all the crap and putting away everything that the kids had strewn across the floor I got out my guitar and started playing, trying to drown out the screaming in my head.  I had my eyes closed, the amp turned up, playing “Ain’t Superstitious” by Howlin’ Wolf on my own on the Eprit (with new Lindy Fralin Pure PAF pickups – sponsorship opportunity Lindy??  Maybe??  Just new pickups??) and I felt a tug on my shirt.

I Ain’t Superstitious by Howlin’ Wolf, performed by Jeff Beck off “Truth”

“Dad, I need to take Hannah to the store.”
It was Abbi, and she was sheepish but had a shy, small, almost embarrassed smile on her face.
“What’s wrong?  Is everything OK, does she need something for school?”
“No, Dad, Hannah just got her first period.”

Now, no, I’m not squeamish.  I’ve been to the store, I’ve bought tampons and panty liners and picked up Andrea’s birth control pills when she needed them to control her acne.  After having two girls as a parent, your level of humiliation decreases significantly.  I was never the outsider Dad, I was always there.  I changed their diapers.  I fed them bottles, I traded feedings with Andrea.  I would have gone and done whatever she needed.

“Actually she got it earlier today, she just didn’t want to tell you.”
“Why?  Did she think I’d get embarrassed, or mad, I’d never get mad at her about something like that. It’s OK!”
“No, Dad, nothing like that.  You’re Daddy.  You’re a guy, she didn’t want to talk to a guy about it.”

I couldn’t be mad at her about that.  I understand.  I’m not Andrea, nor could I hope to truly understand what she’s going through.  I’ve been around it, a bunch, through Andrea, Abbi too.  Andrea had a lot of hormonal adjustments after Abbi was born, thus the birth control pills, but she also had the massive cramps, the pain, the aches and I learned how to massage her back and relax her shoulders – all things you just don’t really do much to your daughter.  It’s a little . . . odd that way.

But this speaks to a bigger issue, not just my being a guy.  Hannah was joined to Andrea at the hip.  It’s not that I didn’t take care of Hannah.  We have the exact same birthday – she was my present on my 29th birthday.  The doctors messed up on the delivery and nicked an artery during the c-section and Andrea nearly died on the table then.  She got a post-op infection and for the first 2 months I took care of Hannah and Andrea.  Hannah had contracted RSV and had to have albuterol treatments every 3 hours, so I got up, gave her the treatments, fed her, put her to bed only to have Andrea need to get up, so I lifted her off the bed, brought the portable IV (with antibiotics in it for the infection), got her to the bathroom, put her back to bed only to have Hannah cry again.  She and I spend 2 months of intense and painful life together only she – even then – wanted little to do with me.

Now, she cuddles me, hugs me, wants to spend as much time as she can with me, but I have 3 others to spread that time around with.  She’s such a beautiful girl but it’s still clear that, even without her presence here, she misses and wants her Mom.  There are just some things that, even as knowledgeable as you think you are, you can never understand because you’re not just her Dad, you’re a guy.  You don’t have those parts, you don’t feel the way she feels.  All you can do is to listen, if she’s willing to talk.  I can’t force her to do it.

So now I know that the “talk” I’ve been putting off is no longer something you can put off for awhile.  Where I used to have that amazing woman, the Mom who would be blunt, giving advice and being the capable, delicate, understanding person that wanted to get it right (because she felt her own Mom had done it wrong) I have myself.  Where I’m lucky is that I have my oldest, Abbi, who can help cushion that.

By night’s end, after I’d cleaned up the dinner dishes, tucked in the boys, read “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” and come back downstairs I saw Hannah standing there, waiting for me to say goodnight.  She had her hair, wet and stringy still from her shower, her shoulders hunched down and bags under her eyes.  She looked tired, emotionally drained, and worn out.

“Good night, Baby Bear”
“Good night, Daddy Bear”
“You OK?
“Yeah.”

I couldn’t help it.  I had to show I knew a little bit, that I could help if she needed it.
“If you’re sore, or you get a little cramped up, there’s Naproxen in the cupboard.  That will help the best.  Come wake me up if you need anything.”

She smiled, her shoulders raised a little, I could tell she wasn’t as down as she’d thought she was.  She kissed me on the cheek, hugged me, and headed up the stairs.

Understand, I didn’t make a big deal of this, didn’t make it some massive rite of passage for her.  It was a signal to a change in her life that was bound to happen, hell I’m surprised it hadn’t happened before now.  But I could tell that no matter what happened, she wished her Mom had been here to help her get through it and understand: no books or videos or talks can describe it unless you’re going through it.

But in the end, I guess she just needed that reassurance that I’d do whatever she needed, even if she does feel more like talking with her sister about it.  That’s OK.  But as she went up the stairs tonight, I could tell she knew that even if Abbi hadn’t been there, she knew it would be alright.

That’s worth more than anything in the world.

I don’t just miss . . . you . . .

A wedding photo - one of our happiest days

Maybe I’m Amazed (Live at Glasgow, 1979) one of Andrea’s favorite songs, and very appropriate

I know I have told a lot of stories about how much I miss my wife and what she was like, and sure I do, I miss her more than anything, but there’s more than just the physical presence.  I miss having her here for a myriad of other reasons.

It’s not a purely physical or sexual thing.  If it was simply that I’d make a trip to Vegas and visit one of the many ranches and submit to the hormones raging around in my bloodstream.  But it’s not sex and it’s not just having that person lying next to me in the bed.  It’s going to sound strange to a lot of people, I suppose, but I felt her with me, all the time.  She was a part of me, a joint portion of my existence and one of the things that kept me going every day.

It’s not just that I loved her or that I was attracted to her.  Those are very important things, of course, but it takes more than that to be married.  You can love someone and not like them very much.  It sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s true.  There were times I didn’t like her very much.  There were arguments that were so horrible and we both said such amazingly nasty things that I wasn’t sure how we’d get through them.

One of the worst involved my birthday.  Even now my brother jokes that I handled it poorly, I was angry and stubborn and read more into the day than I should have and I said, as he’s fond of reminding me “it was my f#$%ing birthday!”  I’d approached the day, hinted I wanted to go out, felt like I was always trying so hard and failing to get Andrea’s birthday right but never really getting the celebration she demanded.  Friends from work surprised me with wanting to go out, got a sitter for the kids, planned everything out because they thought it was a big day to celebrate.  But Andrea then felt left out and very angry that we were out and about with people.  She was seething, told me I should just leave, got very snippy with me, then made the comment that I should stay with them.  I still remember her making the claim “I’ll leave the house, pack up, and you can stay.  I’ll lose weight, I’ll start doing my makeup again and I’ll find somebody else, it won’t be hard!”  She left, mad at me and I didn’t follow, continuing to drink and look at my friends and brother like I’d been horribly wronged, even uttering that ugly phrase I wrote up there earlier.

It’s the only argument, the only angry utterance I remember verbatim.  There are a couple reasons why, first, I realized I’d gone too far.  I really was being selfish and we’d just had Hannah and just had to make to adjustment to being parents a second time.  She was, we determined later, also quite depressed.  That night a friend told me I needed to make a decision.  I was married, I obviously loved her, and the statement that she’d find someone else really hurt.  Not just that she’d leave, but that she’d make the effort and wouldn’t make the effort for me anymore.

“You need to either decide this is it, or you fight, Dave.  You stay, you fight, and you make this work.  The ball’s in your court.  But whatever happens from this moment on, Dave, is on you.  It’s your decision now.”

Then the phone rang.  Andrea was still angry, but asked if I was coming home.  I did, and there she was, in the house, waiting for me.  She’d curled her hair.  She’d put on her makeup, just like she’d done when we were dating, and was waiting in the living room for me with a flower and wearing a beautiful, burgundy neglige.
“This is why I wanted you to come home.  This is why I was so angry,” she said sheepishly.  “I just wanted to have the night . . . with you.  That’s all.”

I have never felt so small, nor have I ever told my brother, my friends, none of them what happened after that argument.  I still laugh at the line “it’s my f&*$ing birthday,” because let’s face it, it’s funny, but it is funny for other reasons to me.  We definitely had other arguments.  We had other rough times, some rougher than this, but I never forgot that advice.  I fought.  I made it work.  And you know what I got?  I got someone I didn’t just love.  I liked being with her.  When things went right, she’s the first person I called.  When something funny happened I made a mental note to tell her as soon as I got home.  She wasn’t my wife, she was my companion, my best friend, my buddy.  I could joke with her, I could tickle her to get a rise out of her, and I could be geeky, goofy and silly and she’d play right along.

Now, that argument weighs on me.  I think about the things she re-lives wherever she is.  I think about the things I didn’t want her to know about myself that she already knew and sees through now.  I worry I don’t feel her presence around me because she wonders where I was when she left, why I wasn’t there earlier.  I worry she sees me as the man I was before she met me, not the man I have become.  I miss her nervous, giggly laugh, I miss her smile, yes, but I don’t miss her, the physical.  I miss my companion.  I got an email from Rene Syler she wanted me to write for her site and I instinctively reached for the phone, only to remind myself she’s not there to tell.  When I am so frustrated with the kids I want to tear my hair out I can’t look at her and ask her to wallow in misery with me.

I miss that person to bounce ideas off, to love, to play, to be with.  I don’t miss her I miss all of her.

I felt like we were joined the day we married, but we were fused after that fight.  We passed the 7-year-itch and survived and she was a stronger part of me, weaved into my soul.  When she died, I felt that piece of me tear, rip and pull away.  I really did.  My entire being hurt because I didn’t just miss having that person next to me, there really was a hole in me, a tear in my body that won’t heal.  It’s never going to heal, that’s what people don’t get, it doesn’t heal.  You learn to live with it.

But I won’t learn to live without her.  I have to do it.  I don’t just miss . . . her.  I miss her because I miss the person I was when she was with me.

Can You See the Real Me?

The Real Me by The Who from the LP Quadrophenia

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One of the First promo photos of the band

One of my favorite songs is actually one of the least played for the group: “The Real Me” by the Who, from their often-underrated album Quadrophenia. I’m not some renegade on a scooter driving around looking to avenge the destruction of my machine, though, I just always related to the tone of the song.

Can you see the real me, can you? Can you?

When I was young, and I’m talking very young, high school and early college, I really didn’t think people could. I knew who I wanted to be, I even could see myself, guitar slinger extraordinaire, with the writing and journalist thing on the side to keep me grounded. We had a consultant once tell us that, other than praying we wouldn’t lose it and just fall apart going to black instead of on-air, we needed some sort of real goal. Something that was finite we could strive toward. I jokingly put I want to win an Emmy and a Grammy, not necessarily in that order. The consultant thought I was dead serious, looking to that as a very lofty but worthwhile goal. We all laughed.

But when I met Andrea, I really didn’t have to hide my thoughts and ideas with that kind of sarcasm or humor. She saw the real me. The one thing that kind of got pushed to the side, though, was the musician part. Not music, it played throughout our house, I had my Dobro hanging on the wall, but Andrea just did not anticipate what it would be like being married to a musician. When we first started going out, I was in a band, paying an ill-fated gig opening for the one-hit-wonder a*%hole band Foghat (who stiffed us the mere pittance of $3-400).

But once we were really going out, the times where we spent nearly every night together, the whirlwind, amazing, emotional time where you think all your love’s flaws are actually cute, I’d left that band. I wasn’t a gigging musician any more. Then we were married, and while I had that old band play my reception (their wedding gift to us!) and my brother sat in with them, it still hadn’t sunk in to her. Even after I wrote her a song and (yes, I did, you can’t ignore it!) serenaded her on the dance floor, she always thought it was just a phase.

Still, the itch hit me hard, and I started playing with that same-said Omaha band again, and Andrea even helped me gain the confidence to start my own group, something that got a gig far too quickly and with only me and drummer at the time. I was starting from scratch and it drove her nuts that I was working on starting this band on my own. We started getting contracts for gigs, even playing a lucrative night on . . . Valentine’s Day. Now, most guys will say the same as I do, I think, when you ask if it’s OK and your wife says “sure, no problem, what a great opportunity,” you should know full well that even though you know deep down, in your heart of hearts, that this is a made-up Hallmark holiday, that she would want more than anything else for you to NOT be at a gig but at home. Last-minute, the night of Valentine’s Day, the bar had over-booked the night. The act they had before us decided to go very long, have technical issues and the bar was a mess. Nobody stayed, even our fans had left thinking they’d gotten the night wrong. When the manager asked us if we could wait another hour before we hit the stage I told him to stick it and we left. I still had time to head to the store, get something for Andrea and have a semi-romantic evening.

We did, of course. She kind of forgave me, but not fully. I made a fancy dinner, filet mignon, asparagus, whole nine yards. I’d gotten her a bracelet, something I had seen her looking at through the jewelry store window about a month before. If you wonder how I could be so insensitive, so stupid, so naive, you have to see things from a 22-year-old Midwestern boy’s perspective. I had gigged and taken all these nights playing to pay for said diamond bracelet. I was hoping it would lessen the blow, not that it would take the place of the night. My reasoning was that I had a contract, a full-on legal commitment to play unless they screwed up and we were able to leave, which happened.

Andrea, you see, had a paranoia about musicians. She’d married one, even if he was part-time, but her father had informed her that the life was horrible, the hours awful, that they’re never home, that I couldn’t make it and gave her horror stories of what her life would be like. None of which, of course, took into account whether I would actually think of going on-tour or the fact that he’d been a musician prior to marriage and in the 1950’s. So many incorrect factors but the influence your father crushing her heart into getting angry with me for every transgression that involved music.

But this night, that first Valentine’s Day as a married couple, she wasn’t mad I was a musician, she wanted me to spend the whole night with her. She didn’t want surprises, but I wanted to give them to her. I gave her the bracelet, which she promptly returned to get the one she really wanted. It didn’t make me mad, just made me wonder why she’d been looking at the thing in the first place. She didn’t really have an answer for me. But she came over, sat on my lap, and kissed me, finally apologizing that the show got cancelled, and I think she really meant it.

She also unbuttoned her shirt a little and showed me the lingerie she’d bought me for my gift. It was worth far more than the diamonds.

Then we had Abbi . . . November 3rd. (I won’t do the math for you.)

I worked in an industrial video department at an insurance company and I realized it was going nowhere. I was watching my life rust. I decided it was time to do something drastic. So I went back to news, back to storytelling. I worked part-time at the first station I’d worked all over again. I delivered newspapers at 2am, just so Andrea could go back to school and become a Pharmacist, and gigged as many weekends as I could get. We ate some weeks because of those gigs.

As time wore on and I moved, the musician in me glowed but hadn’t burned for some time. The guitars were relegated to a back room, often kept in their cases, played occasionally. I hated it but was never well enough established to be able to play even part-time again.

But after I lost Andrea, the one thing I gladly made that adjustment for, I needed something, anything to figure out what I was doing. In the days and weeks after the funeral I found myself, during my inability to sleep, holding and playing a guitar again, like it was part of my arm, an outlet that I didn’t have. I wrote songs, a lot of music, one full piece that I recorded with my brother just a couple months ago. It was like, without Andrea here, the literal better half, I needed something to release that part of my day. I’d never thought I’d be a full-time, touring, massive star of a musician. I just felt most comfortable there, on a stage in front of a group of strangers. It’s easier than laying your soul bare in front of a single person. Andrea didn’t make me feel that way. I told her everything, made decisions, felt like myself.

She saw the real me.

Adam laying down rhythm track for my first song since the funeral

Now that she’s gone, I can only do what I know. I can keep the house – well, a lot of the time. The laundry’s a mess and the kitchen needs cleaning, but we’re able to walk in the house – but I still need that something, an outlet, something to push those problems out and away. So I went to what I know, what is part of me. I am not the person I was before I met Andrea, I didn’t revert to being too shy, too quiet and without any self-confidence. I need to lose some pounds, need to feel better about myself, sure, but I’m not afraid to talk to people or have a pleasant conversation. I’m . . . me.

So last night, I set up the last of the guitar stands and put what I have out for me to play when and wherever I wanted. My amplifier sits in the living room under the alcove with our television, directly between the stereo speakers. “Wow, it looks like a museum in here,” said Sam, meaning it in the best of terms. They knew I had the guitars, and they’re not sprawling in the house everywhere, they’re just accessible now. Part of me.

Tonight, my kids all helped me, one with pliers, another with a flashlight, one with parts, another collecting the leftover stripped wire, and I replaced parts of one of my guitars with new pieces. They all watched, it’s now normal. Where they fought thinking it a little unlike our normal lives, our normal lives changed, drastically. There’s no reason for us to live in the past, though I still…do more than I should.

But as I put the last pieces back on my Fender Esprit, they all looked at me and asked “well what’s it sound like Dad?!”

It may be a little different. May not be the typical household you might all think about, but we ceased being that normal household in March. It is one of the things that separates this story from the last one, the move to try and get going to where we need to be. To laugh, to love, to sing, and make new memories that don’t have us looking backwards and wondering how much better they’d be with her here.

Now our home is what it needs to be and my kids can see it. They understand, and they see the real me.

 

Leave the World a Bit Better…

Lonely Boy by The Black Keys from their LP El Camino

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Those Damn Cookies I Had to Make!

I was in a mad dash scramble tonight from the moment I entered the door. It also came after a day when one interview cancelled and I was running around crazy, so my mood had not been particularly pleasant. I hadn’t even taken my coat off and standing above me, looking through the banister, was Sam hollering “can we go to the school’s International Passport night? We get a free dress pass tomorrow if we do!”

If I hadn’t needed to eliminate a load of wash for the evening I wouldn’t have even considered it. On top of scrambling to fry a bunch of burgers and cook fries for dinner, I had to head to the grocery store to get the ingredients for a recipe of Persian cookies that I’d volunteered to make for “International Meal” at Hannah’s class tomorrow. I stood there, wool P-coat still around my shoulders, looking into the kitchen, out the front door, and still hadn’t put my briefcase down from the work day. You know what happened next, I was doomed.

But the stress didn’t end. First, Hannah informs me that there are more than 30 kids in her class alone, therefore I have to make 3 dozen cookies. I’m running around realizing I don’t have hamburger buns. The kids are all shouting that they want to go because it starts at 6:30 and I haven’t even half finished with the dinner yet . . . and I suddenly realize the “lesson” I’ve been trying to teach Hannah about not doing her chores has backfired. Not only is there no room at the table, the entire kitchen is a mess. The more I clean the angrier I get, and I was already angry.

Little did I know that the dreaded and well-known Manoucheri curse was going to rear its ugly head soon.

We all went to the evening, running into parents I hadn’t seen and walking through the chaos of the gymnasium filled with maps, games, foods, all of it from around the world. It was a little bit of pride that took me when the kids had to put dots on where they were born and we had two separate states, neither of them California, and the people around looked like we’d just landed here in our shuttle craft from the Martian mother ship. (not the parent running the booth or the teachers, but there is a contingent and pervasive mentality that if you’re here in California why would you ever want to leave?) But seeing the map, the little dots on Keller/Ft. Worth, Texas and then Omaha, Nebraska, I didn’t just think about the fact they were born there, there’s a flash of memories that rush through your brain. You get overwhelmed with memories.

Noah is still processing the latest string of emotions that hit all of us, I think. He didn’t want to go to the International Night because he was worried he’d get lost in the mass of people and not be able to find me, a fear that he’s gotten in just the last couple months. A fear that I can only help him to face, but he’ll have to tackle it at some point and I can only help him get the tools, I can’t face it for him.
“Will you stay with me when we go to the tables?” he asked more pleading than anything else.
“Of course, Monkey, I’ll be right next to you. Don’t worry.”

It wasn’t painful, it was fairly easy and we saw friends who make us smile. I loaded everyone up, now hopped up on lemonade and sugar cookies and went to Safeway. I went in to get cookie ingredients and Noah got out and came along with me, leaving the other 3 kids in the car. He reached up, put his hand in mine, and quietly said “I love you, Daddy.”

It melted some of the stress.
“Love you too, Monkey. Very much.”

It was the drive home that was hard. Abbi nearly lost it. Yesterday I bought tickets to see the band “The Black Keys” during a presale for registered users of the band’s website, and since I’d gotten their latest album on presale for Abbi for her birthday they gave me a password to order tickets early. I’d gotten three, one for me and the girls, who love the band. On the way home, her friend had informed her, after her very short period of bliss, that the concert was on the same night as the Prom. The Prom which Santa had gotten a very expensive, very nice designer dress that was an insane amount of stress and difficulty for both me and the re-suited fat man!

“Maybe I’ll just skip the prom. Nobody’s going to ask me anyway, and I want to see the Black Keys!” was her response. I looked at her and had to say something.
“You know, I can’t say for certain that the Black Keys will be around in 20 years, but I can say that if you skip the prom, you’ll have to deal with that forever.”

Her response is one I’ve heard and told myself countless times. “I won’t get asked” or “I’m always second in everyone’s mind” or “I’m a good friend but they never think of me as a date” all things I don’t agree with, but what can I say? I was the same way. All I could say was how, even in my youth, when I was shy, quiet, lacking self-confidence, I asked a girl to the prom. I never took a date to Homecoming, Sweetheart, none of the other dances. I always went, but I never took a date. The Prom . . . prom was different.

You have to understand why this was such a big deal for me. I’ve recounted before how I couldn’t ask a girl out easily. I had paralyzing fear and shyness. I’d dial 6 numbers and never get to the 7th. I’d ask then panic wondering how I could have gotten myself into the situation. I think they were going out with me because they felt sorry for me. None of these things were true, at least I don’t think, but I thought them nonetheless. But I overcame that, just long enough, to ask a girl I had a crush on to the prom. I rented a tuxedo, talked with friends about what they were doing, and then asked, quite unsuccessfully, my father if I might drive the convertible to the dance. (I knew the answer, but hey, you gotta ask!) I may have been an outsider, so to speak, but even I asked a girl to the prom. Me, the geeky, lanky, shy boy. Abbi’s none of those things. She’s outgoing, happy, funny, and smart. One of the good things, I thought, of going to this public school was that she’d get to have a social life and interaction with boys, much as that bothers me as a Dad. She gets a taste of real life, to live her own John Hughes film.

The boys then asked the question that started the philosophical thinking in my head: “did you know mommy when you asked this girl to the dance, Daddy?” Of course, I didn’t. I lived in Nebraska, Andrea grew up in California, we were literally a world apart. I was in a small town she was in Sacramento, a large town trying to act small.
“What happened at that dance, Daddy?” I couldn’t lie. Sure, I got the courage to ask someone to the dance. Didn’t change that I was still shy, geeky, lanky, and not the most confident of people. Not the shining moment that I would have hoped, but I went. I asked someone, and good or bad memory (it’s not all bad, take it from me) I went.

Then they asked what I’d been thinking: “but Mommy didn’t have a bad time when she went out with you?”
“No, she saw something inside me, something I don’t know I even saw myself, kiddo.”
“So what did she do?”
“She was you Mom, guys. She showed me who I could be. She didn’t let me be shy. She was tall, beautiful, and funny.” Abbi looked my way and saw I’d noticed and she turned away. The boys asked . . . “so is that why you married her, Dad, and not that other girl?”

“I don’t know that marrying anyone else was ever on my mind, kiddo. I loved your Mom, and she loved me…all of me, she didn’t even see the things I worried about, she just blew past them and brought me up next to her. It’s like she’d known me all along, even if I didn’t know the person she saw, she let me be who I’d always wanted to be. She saw who I really was . . . even if I didn’t…”

I could feel my eyes welling up and I was glad it was dark.
” …and I miss her. I miss her a whole lot.”

When I got home the reminiscence didn’t stop. Abbi was still horrified at her luck of losing the concert to the prom. So I solved the problem. I got tickets to the show the night before, with the little I had saved for new pickups for my guitar. I told her to find kids who would want the Sacramento tickets, the presale for Oakland hadn’t ended and we got tickets for there instead.

“Mom always said that you were the best at solving problems,” Abbi told me. Andrea did used to say that. She thought I should have been an ER doctor, or some other high-stress job because she always thought I thrived on the problems and coming up with ways around them. She’d once said that if we’d had to fight on the battlefield that she knows I’d be more like the guy who took the reigns when the Colonel was killed and got his men out of harm’s way. I still feel like I’d reverted to being the kid who barely asked the girl to the Prom.

While I made the cookies for school the next day, running the dishwasher full of old dishes Hannah had neglected, I had the TV on to a random channel. On it, a person brought up a very old saying: “the main thing is to leave this world a little better than when you entered it.” It’s a saying I’ve heard before, one that I always liked, but it really made me think.

There’s the what-ifs . . . how many more amazing things could this beautiful woman have accomplished in her time? What more could I have expected from just being in her sphere of influence? I don’t lie when I say I am the man I am today because of her. Then I started to think about everything.

When we met, I was a technical guy. I did the occasional reporting, but more than anything I was a photographer, nothing more. Now, I’m an investigative journalist. I’ve won awards, I’ve met world leaders, I’ve seen amazing things. I would never have done any of it, I wouldn’t be the writer I am today, if not for the woman who never bothered to look at me as less than I was. She just saw . . . me. I so wish I could have seen what more she would have done, what she would have given the world. The Alzheimers drugs she’d helped research in school. The lives she might have saved catching drug interactions. The materials she might have written in some sort of drug research.

But in the end, she did leave the world better than when she found it. At least my world. I’m here, today, writing and solving the “Manoucheri curse” yet again because she showed me I could.

When I came up to start writing I checked my Facebook page and saw my daughter had posted a message:
“Who has the best Dad in the world?! I do!!!!”
Really, that’s all I needed. She’s more like her Mom than she ever realized.

 

Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More

Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More (Live) by the Allman Brothers Band (I suddenly realized I haven’t put an Allman Brothers track in the headline before…so here ’tis!)

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Our own little fork in the road

I spent the evening sitting in a meeting filled with people I didn’t know in order to supposedly get information on what my child’s high school play will be about. Unfortunately, I don’t think I could tell you a singular item from the meeting. I would hear one thing only to realize they’d backtracked to something else and then completely negated anything that had been said prior. I was tired, stressed out, had to leave work early, and had all 4 kids with me because, let’s face it, there’s simply nobody else around to watch the kids when you are the babysitter. Abbi, my oldest, is the normal babysitter.

It was after the meeting, which left me thoroughly befuddled, that I realized I had no idea what I was going to make for dinner. I looked over at Abbi, my oldest, and informed her of said condition and informed her it was 7:30 in the evening so it would have to be something quick, easy, and could not involve going out to eat as I don’t get paid until Friday. As the words were leaving my mouth, I realized it was silly of me to ask. She had the blank look she always does when I ask if she has a preference for dinner. I should know better, but like the guy who keeps hitting his hand with a hammer “because it feels so much better when I stop”, I ask anyway.

Fortunately, if you sell something as a great treat, it becomes a great treat. “Let’s have breakfast for dinner!” was my idea. It was met with a hearty dose of enjoyment by all, which was fortunate because, quite frankly, I wasn’t sure what else I’d have done. Nothing is that quick and I’ve hit a wall in terms of my planning for the week. That same said high school play has caused me to pick up the kids from the Extended Day Program (EDP) myself, early. That, in turn, means I have to get into work early so as to complete the tasks I’ve got in front of me for the day. I mean, let’s face it, if I said I’d do them when I got home getting the work completed is about as likely as my fixing the nuclear reactor meltdown at Chernobyl.

So you might wonder what makes me use the title I did when I seem to be spiraling just a little out of control? The reality is I’m not wasting the time. The chores, well, they’re not getting completed, but I’m not doing them any more. When my daughter couldn’t find a place to eat breakfast this morning because the table was so messy . . . guess whose fault it was? Suddenly, when I got home, she had unloaded the dishwasher and cleaned it off. Amazing!

But more, it’s to try and get us back onto the path, start us writing the story without the “Lost” flashbacks. I write those here. I think about those in the waning hours of my day, while I sit alone. It’s not healthy for them to just stumble, just walk and go through the motions. So we attended this parent meeting with no semblance of order and no indication that anyone had an idea what we really did need to know that was so vital this evening. Why? Because I am not wasting any more time. I sat in that room and realized, no, I didn’t know these people, neither did my daughter before this. Should I? Maybe. But we won’t start turning pages, she won’t leave behind her old school, one we cannot afford to return to, unless we stop stumbling blindly in the dark.

It’s time to take those small, baby steps that take us away from the fork in the road.

So no, I didn’t know what to make for dinner. I wasn’t sure how to proceed. I still have a hard time keeping up with getting the laundry put away. I can’t get the kids to complete their chores. But I have to get all these things working. If I don’t, we’re stuck here, going in circles, returning over and over again to the fork in the road.

Years ago, when Andrea first got pregnant, we had hit the morass of repetition. We’d only been married a year and we’d had all these amazing plans, ideas and thoughts about what our lives were going to look like. I was going to keep playing my guitar in my own band. She was going to be a network anchor. Andrea sat in the bedroom of our apartment in a desperate panic when she’d missed her period. She’d come home with a brown bag with a pregnancy test in it. It contained two of those little sticks and we sat there, on the edge of our bed in a small two-bedroom apartment, like a bad version of the EPT commercial waiting for the timer to go off. She took the first one and started to cry, in a panic, running into the bathroom grabbing the second little white stick from the box and once again peeing on it and waiting.

The timer went off and she watched as the little blue line turned into an = sign and said she was pregnant. Andrea nearly hyperventilated. She sent me, now angry, to the store to buy two more boxes of tests.
“Maybe I did it wrong,” she said. “Maybe I contaminated the sample. We have to do this again!” So I went. Would arguing with her have really accomplished anything? All four new sticks said the same thing. One said =. One of them said +. Another just said “yes” or “no”. Didn’t make a difference, they all meant “pregnant”.

It was the only time Andrea ever faltered. But I was there, like so many other times when she had her head on my shoulder, telling her we’d be OK. We’d reached that fork far sooner than we’d thought or wanted. We thought of ourselves as kids still, just figuring out what it was like to be with each other, still desperate to get home at the end of the day to see each other, and now we were about to take on the responsibility of another, helpless little person. It was awful, at least for me, because I had to resign myself to being a Dad, a caring support system for a pregnant wife, and I wasn’t remotely ready for it, but I did it. I dealt with the tears followed by arguments followed by crying apologies for 10 months. I spent so many days running to “Garden Cafe” to get a piece of sour cream chocolate cake that the restaurant just cut a piece and had it in a bag for me so I could walk in and buy it without waiting. I did all this because Andrea needed to feel like we could accomplish this. She thought, for the longest time, that she didn’t have the close relationship I have with Abbi because she fought the inevitable so much.

I’m now faced with a similar fork in the road. I have so much to face, so many awful details in front of me and I put on the face like I know what I’m doing. I’ve decided I can’t waste time any more. The kids need to move on, even if I’m not ready to, because this last few months to the anniversary of her passing will set the tone for the rest of their lives. My kids need to know that I have us moving forward down the path, even if I’m not sure that I do know all those things. I may lead them in circles, but at least I’m leading them. So I arrange for getting the other 3 kids so my oldest can do a musical. I hit up contacts and friends so I can get tickets to “The Black Keys” at Arco for the girls. I take the boys to see the movies they want and help Noah learn to play guitar. I help Sam kick the soccer ball and play basketball because those are all lines we need to write on the page. I’ve spent 9 months just trying to keep us on our feet now it’s time to stop.

It’s time to turn the page. It’s time to stop wasting time.

Long Way from Home

Long Way from Home from Brotherly Love by the Vaughan Brothers

Crepe Myrtles, the trees Andrea favored

I had a rather unique problem tonight, one that I didn’t think would be any big deal, not for me at least.  It wasn’t even something I’d thought about since we moved out of our home and into the rental where we’ve lived for the last many months.

Abbi, my oldest, had ordered something from Amazon.com and had it shipped.  She was scratching her head at the kitchen table asking me if I’d picked up the mail or if there was a package.  When the box wasn’t there I looked up at her with a sudden cognition realizing exactly what she had done.  You see, Abbi hadn’t ordered anything online, particularly from Amazon, since last year – and I don’t mean last year, December 2011, but last year, January or February of last year.  When she’d ordered her box, she had never bothered to change the settings of her account and simply pushed the “order” button and said ship it off without realizing they were sending the box to our old house.  The tracking information said it was delivered at noon and it obviously was at the old house.

I saw her struggling with it.  Once before, in a bit of routine memory, she had accidentally turned into the road leading to our old house on the way home from school.  She couldn’t turn around, it’s a small 2-lane almost country road that led to our old neighborhood, so she turned into the cul-de-sac where we had lived.  The house was empty, the back yard being landscaped and everything just torn up.  Which is what it did to her, tore her up.  She was a bit overwhelmed.  She had to park the car and compose herself then continue home.

I didn’t think I’d have the same problem, I really didn’t.  I had moved us out of the house, done the walk-through and everything when we left, did the “broom clean” bit and even did the round about looking at the yard and everything to make sure we had gotten it all.  I left knowing full well that this wasn’t the home of our dreams.  This wasn’t my middle child’s view at all.

The day I announced we were moving Hannah went into a panic.
“This is our house, Daddy!  Mom wanted to live here!”

But she didn’t.  That was the only irony that kept me going.  Andrea didn’t want to live here.  Sure, she’d found the home, even slyly, using her very feminine wily ways of conversation to get me to buy into the fact we needed to buy into the housing market that was giving me heart palpitations because of the massive disparity in costs from the market in Texas, where we’d lived prior.  I said before, Andrea had ways of making me say and do things I would never have done before.  It was good in some ways, but in others, like buying a home right before the market tanked, that’s bad.  I don’t say this to make it sound like Andrea always got her way or tried to make me a virtual slave to her ideas and ideals.  Far from it.  In fact, there were moments where we nearly didn’t make it because I caved in too much and had to come to terms with the fact that I needed to help her since she helped me so much.

The ways it helped, of course, are evident.  I met a friend for lunch today and when I talked about my kids and going through teenage shyness and self deprecation I told her how I was shy, paralyzingly so, in my teenage years.  It was horrible, and I even regret it but couldn’t help it then.  I was so scared of rejection, so lacking in self-confidence I nearly couldn’t function.  In a group of friends I might be fine.  When I had a crush on a girl I so desperately wanted to ask out, I would – and this isn’t an exaggeration – dial the first 6 numbers and physically couldn’t get to the 7th.  I would hover over the number.  I had an old push-button phone that would dial out the number like a rotary phone and even if I got to the number, I’d hang up before the last number went through.  The few times I went out I was so amazed I’d gotten to the date I couldn’t think what to do.  I was quiet, shy, and just stupid.  Let’s face it.  Wish I’d been less of a dweeb, but it took Andrea to see that it wasn’t really me.  It took her not just befriending me, but loving me, showing me I was worthwhile.  It’s funny, just withing a couple months, when we’d just started dating, I must have made a pretty drastic change.  People I’d spoken with in my college classes normally wouldn’t have given me a glance – not because they were mean, I gave them no reason – were asking me to out for drinks.  Girls were saying hello.  I was actually being flirted with, even enjoyed it, but knew . . . I had found the person who really knew me and she was waiting for me.

My friend said they couldn’t picture that.  They saw me as so outgoing and confident, the complete antithesis of what I was describing.
“That’s Andrea,” was all I could say.  “She looked at me and saw something.  God knows what, but she saw it, pulled me out of there.  I have to wonder what her friends thought, because I know some of them had to be wondering what was going through her head.”  I’ve said it before, but I’m so much better for having fallen in love with her.  I just wish I’d told her that more often.

But where she made me better, she made me worse, too.  We bought our home, thought we’d argued and negotiated well. The price was far lower than market, by a lot.  But then the market didn’t just “adjust”, it tanked.  I liked the house, it was nice, it was big, and it was somewhat comfortable.  It had two ovens which was amazing.  But by the same token, the space between the kitchen island and the fridge was barely enough to fit one person, let alone two through.  The pantry was deep but narrow.  The light fixtures weren’t normal screw-in lights, but plug-in one-brand flourescent only.  The furnace filter was off-sized and had to be custom ordered.  The house was always drafty and the back yard was literally a mountain of a hill that couldn’t grow ANYTHING.  I tried, used a jackhammer on the rocks, tried to plant jasmine in the soil, planted carpet roses and hiked up the back yard.  But we never had the money to finish it.  The house cost so much we couldn’t afford to do anything else.  The enjoyment you’re supposed to get from having a home just wasn’t the same.  It echoed massively.  The place was loud.

We moved because we had to.  Financially, sure.  We didn’t have a second income.  I can’t use the social security for such a large mortgage payment.  I can’t do it without a second income, and it was just too much to handle alone. More importantly, though, my daughter and I couldn’t look around without seeing Andrea.  She was on the couch in the living room.  She was at the table, a mug of coffee in her hands.  Her form in the front room, where the Christmas tree was every year opening presents.  Abbi said everywhere she turned she saw Andrea and she just couldn’t take it any more.

So I took up the mantle of getting her package from the old house.  I thought it would be fine.  I wasn’t sure if there were people there or not.  I wasn’t sure what I’d say, but it wasn’t like I wanted to tour the home, I just wanted Abbi’s box.  But the closer I got to the neighborhood I started to feel like that kid again.  My heart started to beat so hard it was skipping, the tachycardia I had as a teen becoming evident again, making it hard to breathe.  I turned onto the road and started up the giant hill, the mile of asphalt leading to the small neighborhood.  I realized there might still be friends in the houses, maybe out and about.  I went from the strong, confident journalist to the teenager who was dizzy from the hormones and emotion of trying to ask out that girl all over again.  I told myself I didn’t know why I was feeling this way, knowing full well I knew exactly what I was feeling.  I hadn’t been back here since we’d packed up the trucks and moved.  I had no idea who was in there now, never really met them.

I pulled up and the Christmas lights were still up on the house.  A giant dumpster was out front, a Christmas tree in it, rocks and landscaping garbage in it.  I walked up and saw Abbi’s box on the porch even though the people were obviously home.  Through the windows I’d seen new paint, different colors even on the walls.  I grabbed the box and turned around and noticed something wasn’t right.

The lawn right by the front of the house, the small sections of grass that went on either side of the sidewalk normally bordered the two garages of the home – one a small one-car and the other the normal garage.  In the middle, when we left, were two trees, pieces we’d loved when we moved in because they were Andrea’s favorite.  They were crepe myrtles. The trees were tall, still young, and they flowered every Spring in beautiful colors and made her smile.  As I turned around, the front grass had been covered with mulch, tons of little tufts, desert kind of plants filling the whole area.  The trees were gone.  The things she’d loves so much had been ripped out, sitting in that dumpster, unceremoniously disposed.

I couldn’t take it.  That was the last bit.  I was glad I hadn’t had to talk to the people inside, but I couldn’t believe it.  I was angry, though I had no right to be, it isn’t my house.  I was sad, so much so that it just broke my heart.  I know it shouldn’t, Andrea didn’t like the house, she didn’t want to live there forever, or even much longer when we were together.  But now, the piece she liked, the bit that made me smile every time I marched up the walk to the door when I got home, was gone.  Not just gone, but ripped up, torn out and tossed aside.

I wasn’t bawling, not screaming or beside myself.  But it affected me.  I took the box, my eyes watering and sniffing a little as I walked up to the car and couldn’t bring myself to look back at it.  It’s not that the house had changed it’s that I just couldn’t face it.  I realized I was just starting to fall apart.  Simultaneously I was turning into the teenaged wallflower and angry, simpering man.  I realized that I’d weighed myself down this whole time.  I could tell you more about my shoes and the sidewalk than the world around me because I look down and trudge along like a man weighed down by a cord of wood.  After putting the box on the passenger side I looked up.  I inhaled a deep breath, opened my eyes, and realized I’d been staring at the ground wherever I went for the last nine months.  So I looked up and noticed up there, nearly at eye level, was the moon, nearly full, orange, and beautiful.  The woman’s profile staring back at me in the right lower corner and the stars around it.  The crisp air made the night clear and I saw the stars, brilliant and twinkling at me.

It made me think of her, of how her eyes sparkled like those stars when she smiled and of how the first time we visited my folks and it scared her because there was no light, just the stars.  I looked around me, seemingly for the first time in months, and realized even the neighborhood was dead.  Our home sat there, the lights and Christmas decorations still gaudily glinting there.  The house across the street empty, dead.  The neighbors selling, another house, vacant.  Andrea wasn’t here anymore, but she really never was.  I’d prayed this would make me more hopeful, but in the end it just resigned me to the truth.

All of it had changed.  We left and left it all behind.  The house wasn’t the house any more.  It felt like the place was just standing there while we moved.  Like Andrea, we’d left it behind, like so many crepe myrtles in a dumpster.

I try to hold on to my son’s analogy, that she’s there, in my heart, the biggest portion.  But I have been looking back so much to try and keep standing, to shoulder it all that I haven’t just . . . looked.  It’s really hard, nearly harder now than we even thought the holidays would be.  I think I realized, as I drove away, that it was because we want so badly to hold onto what is back there, but the more we move, the farther it falls behind us.  It made me feel even worse to finally realize it, and I had to pull out, into a Target parking lot, wandering the store aimlessly, because I didn’t want my daughter to feel like I’d been so affected by a simple package retrieval.

After a short while I composed myself, headed home and went to our new house.  I had to get the boys ready for bed, the midnight snacks going.  I had to get moving to the daily routine, knowing full well that with each little action, I was pulling us farther away from the world I’d just revisited.

And I took some solace knowing that even though it was left behind, Andrea’s body lies under two new trees, the same kind, those beautiful crepe myrtles, and at least there I can visit and know she might see them, wherever she is, and smile.

Down in the Flood

Down In the Flood by Derek Trucks from the LP “Already Free”

Our home after the move - start of the first waves . . .

I never used to be one that bought into constant analogies and metaphors for daily life.  I just went on with my daily activities, stressed out much of the time, and not really understanding what I was going through.

But now, the idea of being caught in a flood really catches my eye and is without question one of the most apt descriptions of how I think we’re going right now.  In the beginning, you see, we were just starting, the water trickling in, the dampness sort of permeating small, unrealized areas of our lives and we thought it was OK.  We could easily mop it up or bail it out later.  We had bigger things to contend with.  The dam had to be built or repaired in other places.

I’m not just giving you metaphors here.  I have examples.  Where daily things like laundry, dinner, picking up the kids, how to deal with school, all those things were decent sized problems, particularly for someone who wasn’t used to doing them every day, there’s the fact that I had to move our entire house just a couple months after losing Andrea.  I had to get a different job because my boss didn’t want me working with them any more.  I had to seem like I was a really strong and capable Dad able to take care of my children and seem like where they were a wreck I was OK, strong and able to handle things so they could feel safe.

But I had to give up a home that would work because I was losing more than 1/3 of my salary.  My children were a mess because, under the deal we’d made, we had to be out of our home in a very finite amount of time.  With no home to move into, my father offered to let us live with them, in Nebraska, as long as we needed.  We could pay for food with Social Security and unemployment.  I could write.  I could get us through the 2 remaining years of high school for my oldest, Abbi, and then decide what to do.  It was so tempting, to the point I was nearly resigned to do it.

You have to understand, in those first weeks, the point where my writing was stiff, stilted and jerky on the page, I was lost.  I was down in the flood, missing my best friend.  The person who helped me make decisions was gone.  I was alone, fumbling around waist-deep in the water not knowing what I was feeling.  Ultimately, I decided that, under all the changes we’d had to face, including moving my daughter out of her school and going to the public school, the last horrible thing that would break my kids would be moving them from the home they know right now.  Living in Nebraska, in the calm, safe, security of a home that was mine, that was my life alone, was tempting and would have been wonderful for me.  But it really wasn’t about me.  Not any more.  It was about those four kids and moving four kids from California to the Midwest, putting them in a school where their class might be 30-40 kids at most, was setting them up for ridicule and scrutiny they really didn’t need.

So I was resigned to stay.  I got so lucky, I was offered a job that paid me better, was friendly toward my family where the previous one wasn’t, and let me be a journalist, not a virtual traffic cop placing and rearranging other people’s stories to fit someone’s schizophrenic idea of a story calendar.  My father, still living with us, said “it’s about time.  You’ve been so due for even the tiniest break I couldn’t believe it.  I didn’t want to ask what else could happen!”

Once we started trying to find a house the market was insane.  One house I went to said he would open the house for fifteen minutes and I could fill out an application.  Little did I realize it wasn’t just my 15 minutes, but me and 20-30 other couples, all of whom started negotiating higher rent with the owner because they were desperate, just like me, to get into a home.  I was lucky that a property manager who I had been dealing with prior to getting pushed out of my job remembered me and had set up with the owner that we could move in, if we wanted the house, with no advertisement on the home.  If we wanted it, the owner was fine with us already.  The water pouring over the dike was so heavy by that point I was literally feeling like I was drowning.

Once we moved there was stuff everywhere.  We had to move from a place we called home, with tons of stuff, a lot of it Andrea’s, and go through the materials before we were even ready.  Again, the major wash of water overshadowing the routine.

The major change now, though, is that I’ve hit a wall.  Where 8-9 months ago the water was washing, like a tsunami dragging us out to sea, now it’s been a sneaky, rising flood that has come up from underneath us.

You have to understand, I’m not really stressed out, not like I was.  I don’t hate my job, in fact I love it, quite a bit.  So the daily dread of getting in the car and driving to work wasn’t there.  A year ago I was racked with worry.  Financially we were unstable.  Andrea’s knees were shot and the bones were literally grinding against each other when she walked.  I was so hurt watching her struggle to even walk from the car into Target for the day.  Liver problems and medical issues had caused her to gain a bunch of weight that made it hard for her to sleep in our bed.  The light of her smile had dimmed.  The depression she was feeling had taken, literally, the color from all the sound and vision of her world, it was all muted tones of grey.  She told me as much.  But where you might think, “he’s happy she’s not suffering any more” you’re wrong.  You see, she’d turned the corner.  In the last few months, nearly a year, she’d gotten so happy.  She was smiling more, dancing again, singing off-key and giggling like the Andrea of old.  Just when we were poised to get her better it all went away.

So the stresses are gone.  Sure, I should be happy, but I’m not.  You never realize how much water has overtaken you until you look and see that your body is wet.  Now, I am seeing the daily laundry overtaking me.  I can’t fold it all, can’t iron my shirts, fold towels, even get it all in the washing machine.  The boys have ripped holes in nearly every single pair of pants.  Hannah has gone to excessive eating again, to the point I have to force her to get outside and walk around with me so we both get a decent amount of exercise.  My poor Abbi is in a school she didn’t want and we both know she has to attend, but she doesn’t know how to let go of her past.  Noah doesn’t want to do things separately so he knows what is going on every day.  Sam, he just doesn’t want me out of his sight.

And I work as hard as I can to stay together.  I work until my body tells me it’s had enough and needs to stop and then I sit up in my bed and watch TV until I can’t sit any more.  Like yesterday, we’re walking just off-kilter, seeing the world from the periphery.  I’m treading water.  The massive panic went away and I realized it masked the rising flood waters below us.

That, and I miss my best friend now.  It’s been a long road these months to come to the realization that I had to take the mantle of authority.  Now, I realize nearly too late that I make the decisions.  Right, wrong, good, bad, I make them.  We’re down in the flood and it’s my own fault, but the solutions are there.  I’ve got the kids doing more.  I task out what’s most important and let the leaks lie while I fix the cracks.  I’m slowly getting my head above water.

But it still doesn’t fix the one big thing yet, that I’m missing my best friend now.