I don’t mean the “not tonight, honey, I have a headache” headache. Not even the tension headache you get when you’re swamped at work and get another stack of papers on your desk.
I get what is described as a cousin to a migraine called “cluster” headaches. They give them this name because they come in clusters, some cluster together in a day, others a week, a month, six months . . . you get the picture. I have had bad ones before, but the insane ones, the ones that make you want to reach under your skin and rip the veins out of your forehead…(sorry for that visual, but it’s true) are pretty rare. Today was one.
I took the medication that fights the symptoms early hoping to head off the pain. Didn’t work. Ended up going home early. Fortunately I’d made dinner ahead and in desperation took a shot of scotch to try and at least forget the pain. Alcohol or wine can be a trigger for these headaches, but I already had one.
After sleeping off some of the pain for about two hours we had dinner, watched Christmas specials on the Family Channel and I was stable enough to get a little work done.
It’s interesting, but the pain of these headaches is affected by light, loud noise – like the kids screaming at each other – all kinds of things. But they also make me hyper. I get up, move around, did three loads of laundry, cleaned the kitchen, made cookies, all of that. Anything to get my mind off the headache.
Music actually helps for some reason. By nighttime I’d sat down with my guitar, de-tuned the low string to a drop-D and started playing.
I ended up with the song Black Water by the Doobie Brothers. My oldest, who grew up with them on the radio and loves that song came into the room and started singing the harmonies. Then when it came time for the closing acapella portion all four rang in. It was pretty damn fun, even amazing.
I started another song and there was my daughter singing along.
By night’s end I had made lunches, watched some recordings sitting on the DVR for months, and realized that, in spite of the pain the night had been pretty good.
In fact, randomly, it was quite rewarding.
You just never know what’s going to come from the pained part of the day.
While I try very hard to juggle everything it’s not like it is a walk in the park. Every day I have the washing machine going, as there are four of us and two are twin boys. I try to make dinner every night, thought tonight was an exception: pasta with jar sauce from the store.
But sometimes I’m just not prepared for all of it and it comes out and it’s not fair to the kids or the rest of the world. But I can’t help it.
Today was a perfect example. I got home from work, after 8 hours of fidgeting around and getting nothing accomplished I actually wanted to accomplish. I also get what they call “cluster headaches” which means they come in clusters. Sometimes one a day, sometimes several, always insanely painful. Today was a bad one and I’d already taken my dose of medication for it. It started with a phone call where, as a joke, my middle daughter, the babysitter, had locked one of the boys out of the house. I was a joke, meant to get him to stop hitting her with a glove that was doing no real damage and, by her own admittance, not painful. But instead of the few seconds it should be he went running up the hill, acting all helpless and put upon. All I needed would have been a neighbor to think he was wandering the neighborhood unsupervised for my day to take a worse turn.
I walked in to hear this story played out, in unison, with differing stories escalating in volume by the son and the daughter. This along with my headache. These headaches are similar to migraines – certain sounds and bright light hurt – but not a throbbing headache. Is more like someone takes a sharp pencil and sticks it in your forehead and digs around a little.
One boy had a doctor’s appointment so at the point I needed to start making our simple dinner I was informed that Wednesday my daughter has yet another part of a project I thought was finished to complete. Mind you, being my daughter, she cannot simply write a paper or do something simple, it’s a complicated video with scripts and scenes and lord knows what else and . . . like her sister before her . . . completed at the last minute. Since I had to come home to take her brother to the doctor this wasn’t what I wanted to hear at this point in the day.
Waiting for my son in the lobby of the doctor’s office the headache medicine kicked in and the pain started to go. I began to regret my mood – that I grumped my way into the house. I felt bad I groused at their projects and that I was angry at Hannah for her joke and that I was annoyed with having to contend with their problems.
It was here that I felt my head go back into place and realize that while I don’t have that spouse to help juggle everything . . . they don’t have that either. I’m what they have, the one person and the stabilizing factor they need. Much when I speak with my father, their tendency is to release all the pent up frustration, worry and stress from the day the moment I get home. Days like this I don’t know if I can really shoulder it . . . but then they need me to do it.
So after a few minutes peace . . . I grabbed my son, stopped and bought their college-bound sister a Christmas present, and rubbed his head. He told me about his school project, how worried he was about his field trip and what the next week was about. I listened attentively and gave him a hug as we got out of the car.
“Love you, Dad” was all he said.
And that tightened things up. Seemed to be all I needed. I read them a stave in A Christmas Carol and tucked them in . . . and started the washing machine again, baked some cookies for lunches and sat at the table to wrap presents.
It’s now the third Christmas since I lost my wife, Andrea, and this year, 2013, seems to be the one where “moving on” took more physical form than mental.
It might be, perhaps, that we’ve dealt with so many losses this year that I figured it was time to rely on my own sense of self than to rely on something from the past. That first year, December of 2011, I had to make a lot of decisions about Christmas, and even the most simple was the most difficult to come to terms with. Last year, during the decorating phase, my oldest asked me why I wasn’t putting their mother’s stocking out. I had to think that answer through, very hard. Abbi, my oldest, is still dealing with the loss, moving far slower than she’d care to admit into the emotional morass. I had to wade into it far earlier. Not saying I’m perfect, I still have many, many moments of dark sadness, but they’re far fewer than they used to be.
My answer was pretty simple, as it’s the reason I didn’t put it out. My boys still get visits from Santa, as do the two older girls. So there is no easy answer when they wake up Christmas morning and find either a) the stocking is full . . . so if Mom’s gone why is she still getting presents from Santa? What does that mean? Where is she? Then there’s b) the stocking’s empty, no presents, and they get it reinforced, on the most celebratory day of the year, that their mother is gone. Forever. The look on my daughter’s face showed her I’d put a lot of thought into this and it was the right thing to do.
But as this year has progressed, we seem to have lost so many it’s like the whole of existence wanted to see just how much my family and extended family could carry on their shoulders. We lost my grandma, who had a long life, sure, but it’s never easy to see that come to an end. Every Christmas was spent in memory of sugar cookies, family, company, talking in the little kitchen in my grandparents’ house in Nebraska . . . opening our presents then going to their house and opening what my grandparents gave us. Even last year she sent money to get the kids presents, which I was about to return when my parents told me it would mean more to her if I did what she asked: buy presents. I did, and when I sent her a card I told her what she bought the kids. She forever called the boys “my twins” – taking possession of them herself, and loving every picture. She even hung their pictures on her wall as a badge of honor.
We lost Andrea’s parents, one of my kids’ sets of grandparents. That’s a harsh reality considering my grandparents lived into their nineties. Then came the loss of my friend, drummer, and dear friend to my brother, George Marshall. That was just last week.
So many losses made for so much adjustment and change . . . it seemed the house was the only control I had left. We got new lights for the outside of the house. I looked at the way we’d decorated before and come to the realization that, even though Andrea’s presence was heartfelt, some things just weren’t me. Not any more. I don’t want’ leopard spotted bows. I can’t stand the damn chickens she had everywhere in our kitchen.
I bought new ornaments and garland. I got different lights. I even bought a bigger tree than we’ve ever had.
It’s a different holiday and I hope it’s the harbinger of better things and newer life in the new year. I hope to see new adventures and maybe new projects. It’s not something I’m overwhelmed by I look forward to it.
There’s a hew holiday and I’ve done new things . . . but the ornaments are still the ones given and made over the last 18-19 years. This is the time of year we honor the past and look forward. I think we’ve managed this even in the spirit of how we march toward Christmas.
I think I can honestly say I’ve had enough of the grim reaper, loss, and grief in the last year. Hell, in the last three years. Being honest, this comes after a particularly terrible day where loss seemed to be the running theme.
What I know how to do, though, is tell stories. As a result, that’s what you’re getting here. After a day where word came that two people – one a former colleague, the other more like a brother than a friend – had passed away the day went from difficult to painful. So as I write here tonight, I’ve had a couple glasses of alcoholic beverages and it did little to numb how things felt.
The first man had been ill, a few years back he’d found out he had pancreatic cancer. They’d declared him cancer-free for quite awhile, but like many other forms of this horrid disease it came back with a vengeance.
Jim Fagin was a curmudgeon of a man. I don’t say that as an insult, it honestly was in the most appealing of ways. When a woman once called our station – a call I seem to repeatedly get from multiple people each day – saying she wanted him to go after CPS. Apparently they’d taken her kids and they had no right. Sure, she’d been on meth and smoking pot and the kids were in soiled diapers but that didn’t mean she was a bad woman, right? “Ma’am,” Jim said in his blunt demeanor, “I think you’re under the mistaken impression that we’re here to help people!” He informed her we worked in news. We weren’t social workers we had to make a profit and we told stories. That was it. It may be an over-simplification, but it’s true.
Jim wasn’t cold-hearted, though. Before I ever worked with him I dealt with him while I was at another station – across the river in Council Bluffs, Iowa. I had stumbled on an accident and it was one of the first stories I’d had to cover in my career. A young boy, simply driving in the middle of the day to get a pack of gum at a convenience store, had been hit by a car. The driver had left an adult bookstore, likely not wanting to be seen, and struck the boy, who was following the traffic rules, and hit him. I’d shot the scene, a mangled bicycle, the street literally covered in blood. Jim called a few hours after we’d closed up for the day. “I saw your story,” he told me. “Powerful stuff! Powerful stuff!” The line was over the top enough we used “powerful stuff” for every good story from that point on . . . but Jim was serious. He swallowed pride and called to get the video from us which couldn’t have been easy. He went after the story at WOWT with a vengeance . . . to no avail. He once told me he was always upset they’d never caught the driver. That’s the kind of man he was and I always remembered that the story stuck with him. He passed away on December 2nd and the journalistic world’s a little worse off without him.
The second loss hit home from left field. On the way to San Francisco for a story I got a message from my father that George Marshall had passed away.
George was a dear friend. Closer even to my brother, Adam, a member of his band, the Manoucheri trio and drummer extrordinaire for our band together, Manoucheri.
I met George when my band ran a jam session at the Howard Street Tavern in Omaha, Nebraska. The bar had a storied history, with Albert Collins and Buddy Guy having graced its stage. We got paid in beer, mostly, but we honed our playing as well. We always opened with a set of our material and this night was no different. After finishing up I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned around to see George standing there. “What can I do for you?” I asked pleasantly. George, a man of few words, simply opened his coat and showed me his t-shirt, which had the logo of the country club of my hometown. “Hey!!!,” was all I could get out.
“Your cousin Tom said you would be here and that you’d let me play.”
“Absolutely,” was my answer. “What do you want to play?”
“Hendrix. Clapton. Santana . . . just want to play.”
Play he did. My 2nd guitarist was starting a Hendrix tribute band and looked a bit skeptical. Here was an unknown guy, short – just over 5 feet – and my friend Grover shrugged figuring he’d play his best. We counted off “Them Changes” off the LP “Band of Gypsies” to start. George didn’t miss a beat or a break. He was dead-on, better than Buddy Miles on the original. We did other songs, it was like Mitch Mitchell, Keith Moon, Neil Peart and John Bonham had just arrived in one body on the stage. We selfishly tried to stay on the stage as long as we could to the consternation of the jam attendees in the crowd.
My brother would have his own tales . . . a day in the school gym playing songs from Blind Faith, Cream and Jethro Tull. The ability to play Rush with no problem was innate in him.
George was a man of few words but when he spoke it was worth it. Often funny or insightful he’d also constantly push to gig. When I left Nebraska for another job my brother and George became even closer. He’d become the drummer in the Manoucheri trio.
Just a few months after my wife Andrea passed away I came to my hometown and stayed with my folks. My brother came over and simply said “George and Orv are coming. Let’s head out to the studio.” It was a pattern repeated at every visit since. George showed up, tuned up his drum kit, and walked up, shaking my hand.
“How are you doing,” he simply asked.
“Best I can,” I told him, and it was true. It wasn’t easy and I was still a bit lost.
“You just need to play some music,” George said and sat down at his kit.
I remember that day in particular because we played so much, and I played so hard, that sweat was pouring into my eyes. I had soaked through my shirt. “Damn, he’s just torturing that guitar,” our bassist Orv said. I had broken strings on two Stratocasters and was quickly moving through other guitars in my brother’s stash.
George didn’t stop. He just kept playing. When we finished he just said “well . . . when are we doing this again?”
My brother found George Monday night. We don’t know what happened . . . we may never know. He was young, healthy, in far better shape than I am. Today just didn’t seem real. To have lost George, who was at the house a lot, spent Thanksgiving with my family many years, had holidays, was simply part of the family, was unfathomable.
2013 has not been a banner year. We lost my grandmother, the kids lost Andrea’s father and mother . . . and now this. It’s all out of left field.
We will miss the amazing songs we didn’t get to play with George, the dreams we’ll never see. We’ll miss the melodies we created over his intense rhythms. But more we’ll miss the presence of the man who was a great friend.
Goodbye Jim. Don’t rest peacefully, George, but play on. I will try to hope when the summer storms roll through that part of the booming thunder is your hands, hitting every beat and never missing a break.
Every year, in an attempt to stave off the crowds and the traffic and the insanity of everyone rushing to get their tree and the Black Friday deals and post-holiday chase of pre-holiday shopping and decorating, I avoided it until just a few weeks before Christmas.
But then this year Thanksgiving came late.
Then this year, my oldest daughter was in college and was only home Thanksgiving Thursday until Sunday morning.
It changed the whole routine.
We had our dinner, all of that, I worked on Friday . . . and then I did what I was loathe to do all those years I was married: I started the Christmas rush. It’s not like it was unwarranted, it’s only a few weeks until Christmas – which is when I normally did all this. So yesterday I loaded the kids into the car, drove up the hill into the mountains and found our annual tree farm and we got a tree. We got home, let gravity do its due diligence on the once-wrapped branches and pull them back down, and got out the boxes and boxes of Christmas stuff.
I normally wouldn’t do all this in a single day, it’s a lot of work, it’s a lot to deal with having four kids in the house . . . but our time with Abbi, my oldest, was limited. So we got out the Charlie Brown Christmas record (on green vinyl, no less) – which is the best Christmas record ever, hands-down – and started. This was, by far, the tallest tree I think I’ve ever gotten. We had to get a ladder to put on the tree topper. I had to herd the kids like cats around the tree . . . but we had hot chocolate, listened to jazz-influenced Christmas music, and then went to bed far too late.
Where this could have been a difficult and sad day since Abbi was leaving on Sunday it wasn’t. She’s returning in just a couple weeks for Christmas.
So today, after she left, I started to put the lights onto the house and realized that the lights we’d used for years were destroyed by a wind storm last year. I bought new lights, looked like a pregnant penguin trying to climb on the roof in my sad shape, and put them up. I got in the house, reorganized the way I put up the decorations in there and realized that this was a change we needed.
Each year, you see, we’d tried to decorate the way their mother did it and this year I came to the conclusion: I can’t. I don’t have the eye, the fortitude, or the patience she did. I also just don’t have the same style sense. It seems a little odd for a guy raising his kids – where there are three guys and one girl in the house now – to have leopard spotted bows on a garland across the banister. So I’m rearranging things.
I got the lights and the garland up. Santas are placed on the ledge with care. The stockings are up. The majority of the house is done.
I worried I may have gone too far afield. It’s a different kind of tree. It’s a different way to decorate. The lights are colored, not all white or all one color. It’s just totally different.
But just before I sat to write this, Hannah, my middle daughter came down the stairs, not knowing I could hear, and told her brothers: “have I said how much I love our house this time of year?!”
That . . . meant the change had done us some good.
On Sunday I posted a piece on Rene Syler’s Good Enough Mother about how watching the TV show Dr. Who brings my family together. You can click on that link if you want to have the details of why.
But tonight, my dear readers, was the night.
You see, normally I don’t get snowed by my kids’ whining or crying or complaining that they don’t get the same things as other kids or that they desperately want to do something. I don’t even fall for the “I’ll clean the house/bathroom/kitchen/do laundry/clean my room begging, either. I’ve been parenting alone for too long to fall for that. If anything, their rooms will look worse and I’ll be lucky to keep the areas of the house where everyone sits in working order.
But when my son, Sam, who never complains much, was talking to the woman cutting his hair a couple weeks ago I overheard him. He didn’t think I could hear him out in the front lobby, but I did. He talked, incessantly, about Doctor Who, the 50th Anniversary special (which actually aired – for free – on Saturday November 23rd) and how the theaters were showing it only on Monday, November 25th, and it was in 3D! That was followed by “but my Dad says we can’t go. We can still watch it on TV, though.”
So I caved in. No, it wasn’t from embarrassment, nor was it feeling sorry for Sam. No, the reason I caved? The fact that he wasn’t complaining. The lack of complaint or expectation that I’d take him to the theater just made me make meals with a few more things in the freezer or stretch the grocery budget just a bit so that I could take all three of them to the theater to see it. I had them have sandwiches for dinner and raced home from work so we could get to the theater in time to print the tickets I’d bought in advance.
When we arrived . . . there was a line out the door. Literally. I figured on a Monday night, two days after the show aired on BBC America, there’d be hardly anyone at the theater. I was so totally wrong. The first two showings (of four, they had to add 3 more) were sold out when I got there. (Thank God for Fandango advance tickets) We saw every permutation of every character from the show. My sons looked around in wonder, telling me they should have dressed up . . . because nearly everyone was.
The funniest part – and this is truly funny – the theater posted a bunch of security around the people in the queue waiting to go into their respective theaters. Security. Like a bunch of geeky people (myself included, not delusional here) dressed up like a silly madman in a blue box standing in line were a riot concern. “None of us has the strength to hurt anyone,” my daughter Hannah commented. “It’s not like the crowd that might come to a Metallica movie.”
The theater was packed. The movie had trivia in front of it. (Did you know Ridley Scott was originally tasked with creating the Daleks and was moved to a different department at the last minute?!) A special introduction by a Who alien creature and then by both Matt Smith and David Tennant – stars of the movie – with a cameo by John Hurt. There was a showing of a making-of after the movie.
And my kids sat, in stunned and abject awe, staring at the 3D screen with their show, larger than life. When a brief glimpse of the next man to play the Doctor appeared . . . then the eccentric and elusive actor who played the 4th incarnation . . . my kids burst into applause and laughter. They all knew who they were.
It’s not often I can sit with my kids at an event – and that’s what this was, an event – and be enraptured not by the event itself but by the enthusiasm and happiness of my kids. But that’s what this was. Happiness, there’s not other word for it.
Sheer joy – and that’s a word I don’t often use, joy. But staying up past their bedtime, having Icees, and watching their favorite show, a night of the Doctor (okay, Day of, there was a prequel called “night”. Sue me)