Tag Archives: Bonnie Raitt

Haunted by the memory . . .

I Can’t Make You Love Me by Bonnie Raitt from the LP Luck of the Draw

Abbi in one of our great Fall Moments

Lately it seems we’re seeing her more and more . . . not a physical presence. I don’t feel a cold chill on my neck or a shiver down my spine.  I don’t hear a strange ethereal voice that won’t stop in my ears.  I just mean the memory creeps in at the strangest and most inopportune moments.

I knew it would happen, though.  I mean, it’s Christmas.  I could make some cheesy reference about family or the “reason for the season” but that all falls short.  I just always had such an affinity for this time of year.  Not just Christmas, but starting in the Fall, with the crisp bite in the air and the changing color of the leaves.  Even though I have the attention span of a gnat some days and I love my music and playing guitar, etc. . . the Fall is the time of year I slow down and appreciate what I have around me.  I miss the Midwest (yes, I do, don’t mock me!) because of the Fall.  We were surrounded by trees.  There were old WPA shelterbelts planted that had a myriad of trees . . . oaks, cottonwoods, ash, elm, maple . . . all of them full-sized and decades old by the time I was a kid.  Come October and November there were flaming colors up in the sky.  Add that clean, clear sky with the sunset and it’s really a beautiful sight.  There are things like that here, but it’s not the same.  That’s home for me, and it was home with Andrea for a long time.

When I met her, after we got married, and even as we moved to other states, we always took advantage of the Fall and Winter.  I would drag her into the car and we’d go walk down tree-lined streets and kick the leaves.  When Abbi and then Hannah, Noah, Sam were born we did the same, extending it to pumpkin patches and tree farms and the Fontenelle Forest.

So now it’s Christmas, the year we lost her, and she’s creeping back in, just when I thought I was doing better.  I’ve said this before, but it’s not the major events – the Christmas, the Thanksgiving, all those momentous days – that hurt the worst.  I know they’ll be bad, I know they’ll change, but I can see them coming.  It’s the times when something sparks a memory that I’m not prepared for that just take me down.  Tomorrow night is the Christmas play for the kids.  Andrea always had things perfect.  I’m now the guy wandering through Target looking for the pieces of clothing for my 12-year-old girl who doesn’t like wearing girl clothes and I don’t know what will look good on her.  I walk through and see a sweater and all I can see is how it would look on Andrea, not Hannah, and I don’t know why.

I’m wrapping presents and in the way I fold the paper I can see her hands moving the stuff around.  I remember the year we were so strapped we used brown paper bags and she wrapped them this way . . . and decorated them.  With crayons, paint, ink, and made the most beautiful tree I had ever seen.  It was like nothing I’d seen before, and then I look down and I have bought paper and sticky name tags because I just don’t have the time to be that creative.

I am making cupcakes (store-bought cake mix.  Don’t give me that much credit) for lunches and CSI is on the TV.  (DVR, it was more like 10:30 when I did this) It’s a random episode.  It’s about a coroner’s wife accused of murder and having an affair . . . and it ends with the two of them drinking wine, on a back patio, and listening to Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me”.  It’s a song we listened to so much I thought the cassette would wear out.  Andrea loved it but disliked the lyrics, she just felt something when it was on the stereo and it made her look at me in a way I can’t describe here.  I saw it in the actors on the TV and I almost threw my spatula across the kitchen.

She’s everywhere.

I mean, it’s not like the last few months, where there’s a memory here or a peek there.  Not like the daily routine where I wake up and remind myself that I’m alone in the bed – again – and start the routine to get the day started.  It’s the stuff we thought we’d left behind when we left the house.  Abbi was hit hardest there.  At one point she told me everywhere she turned she saw her Mom.  I wasn’t sad to leave the house, I was happy.  It wasn’t our favorite place; it wasn’t Andrea’s favorite; we saw her everywhere and we just couldn’t handle it.  Leaving there was a blessing.

But we’re surrounded by her.  The garland has her bows that have a hint of leopard spots in them – that’s all her.  The ornaments on the tree are surrounded by her childhood ornaments that her Mom foisted upon us years ago because she didn’t want to store them.  She picked out the stockings.  She sewed the tree skirt.  Everywhere I turn she’s there.

Now I can’t even go to Target without seeing her.  The kids see her, too.  They’re talking more and more about last Christmas.  They ask about Santa and then talk about Mom threatening to have me call the “head elf” on them.  They see books and clothes from her and talk about it.  It’s not a bad thing, it’s healthy.  They need to talk and I guess I do, too.  But I don’t think I was ready for it to be just so overwhelming.

Then one of the boys asked what we were going to do this Christmas.

“Are we doing things different, Dad?”
“I don’t know yet, son.”
“Holly has a tradition where they open one present before Christmas, can we do that?”
“Not sure yet.”
“Are we opening presents on Christmas Eve, like Grandma and Grandpa?” chimes in Hannah.
“I just don’t KNOW!” is my horribly curt response.

That’s what’s killing me.  I don’t know.  I bought some new decorations.  I changed the way we did things.  But do I change it all?  Do I go back to how I did things as a kid so we make a clean, instant break from the way we did things with their Mom?  Or do we continue.  Is it good to start over or do you hurt their memories and traditions if you do?  Each present I wrap makes me think a little harder and I don’t honestly know what I’ll do until I have to decide.

Tomorrow night, before their Christmas play, I plan on taking a picture of us.  Earlier in the year we’d talked about mimicking an old family photo, but putting a picture of Andrea where she should be.  Now I wonder if it’s better to show everyone that we’re together, that we have had to move one . . . that we have moved on.

I had so many decisions that seemed simple and prudent at the time.  It’s hard to stick to your guns when you’re haunted by a memory everywhere you turn.

Like everything else, I’ll put it off until I have to.  Then I’ll decide, and it probably won’t be as big a deal as I’ve made it in my head, but anything that pushes her a little farther away is a hard decision.

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.