Tag Archives: fall

No We Can’t Dance Together. No We Can’t Talk At All.

Years ago, when I was still climbing out of the hole I’d dug for myself, I used to tell Andrea that dancing wasn’t something she wanted to see me do.

“I make music specifically so I don’t have to dance,” was my line.  It’s not really as though I hated it, I just thought I looked reaaallllly silly doing it. I just hadn’t really taken the time to see that, unless you’d taken lessons, gone to Arthur Murray or something (look it up, I know some of you don’t know who that is) EVERYBODY looked silly dancing.

But it’s funny, there are two kinds of people that push and push me to move on.  The funny thing is, they both are just trying to make themselves feel better, and it annoys the hell out of me, it really does.  I’m not trying to offend, just educate.

The first are absolutely determined that I can’t possibly handle this.  I HAVE to get to counseling, now, immediately, quickly.  I’m insane if I don’t because the emotional anvils, boulders, shock waves will come falling down on me like so many Acme devices in Wile E. Coyote’s desert.  Why?  Because I’m taking too long.  I’m not fixed.  I’m still here, the guy that’s alone, lost his wife, annoying them with his calm daily work and refusal to be whatever the hell it is they think I should be.  Sorry folks, I didn’t conform to social criteria as a kid, what makes you think it’s happening now?

The second group are the people I like to call the “Sleepless in Seattle”-ers.  They are determined to convince me that I’m going to move on.  I use the movie because it simultaneously gets the grief part right and yet throws me toward the whole “magic” part and never remembers the ghost of Tom Hanks’ wife lingering in his life.  I get a lot of lines from these folks: “you’ll start to heal, eventually you’ll start to date, you’ll meet somebody . . . ”   Those folks are trying to be subtle, creeping the idea into my head.  Then there’s my least-favorite: “Those who have loved before are TWICE as likely to love again!”

Right.

Now, I’m not saying it’s a bad movie, it was actually one of Andrea’s (OK, mine, too) favorites, but now, when I’m actually in a similar position to Tom Hanks’ character (ironically named Sam, my son’s name) it’s got a whole different feel and is very hard to watch.  The sleepless nights, the daily activity but melancholy nights . . . those are all spot-on.  But what it doesn’t really delve into is why everyone wants you to get there.  What Nora Ephron DOES get right is the beginning of the film.  The “don’t mind him, he’s just the guy who lost his wife” part.  I agree with how he feels at first, it’s hard to imagine how this would work, because as Ephron’s line puts it, “that’s fine, no problem, I’ll just grow a new heart.”

I guess that’s why getting that second chance at what they deem “Magic” seems so incongruous.  Andrea and I got together in spite of ourselves, let’s face it.  I mean, we almost never went out again.  We’d gone out, had a lot of fun, even stayed out having a couple drinks and seemed to click.  She loved to stay up, be out with friends, and I thought we might actually start going out.  A bunch of guys from my speech class in college heard I was in a band and during one of our study sessions, at 9:30 at night, decided that I should grab the ugly, Peto-Bismol colored Ibanez guitar one of them had laying on the floor and we should hit up a jam session at a nearby bar.  So in a brazen state of self-confidence, I hit the pay-phone in the front of the bar (Yes, they had those, well before cell phones, you had to have change and everything and pay physical money to make a call) and fished a piece of paper in my pocket where Andrea had scrawled her number.  I actually got through all seven digits, not hovering after six, in a panic.

I asked for Andrea, as one of her roommates answered.  When she came on the phone, I told her I’d headed out for drinks, was going to actually play guitar on-stage, would she like to join us?  Her answer . . . “oooh.  Yeah.  You see, I just washed my face and . . . geez, I don’t know, I just can’t.”

Yes, yes, I get it, women of the world.  This actually WAS a legitimate excuse.  She’d taken off all her makeup, she’d done her whole bedtime routine, it was fine.  But to 20-year-old Dave who actually took the leap and made the call . . . it sounded like the equivalent of “I’d love to, but I really need to wash my hair”.  The funny thing is, I took this guy’s ugly, awful guitar, got my spot with the band, called out the chords, and just beat the crap out of the guitar.  I played a couple Hendrix pieces, a Muddy Waters cover, and finished to see my speech buddies’ jaws hanging open.  The head of the jam session gave me his card and begged me to come to the next jam.  I, however, downed my drink, laughed as 5 guitarists tried to play “Free Bird” and wondered how this amazing woman could have given me her number, told me to call, then just blew me off.

But she hadn’t.  She must have sensed something, probably because I closed down and hid in the control room, but she did what Andrea did . . . wouldn’t let me hide from it.  She had a knack for hitting me in the head with the proverbial 2×4 to make me see reality.  I just had stewed for a few days because she had some time off.  Just when I was about to give up and chalk this up to my being . . . well, me, she tracked me down and said she’d have done it ANY other night, she just couldn’t that night.  I gave her crap about this nearly every year.  What she didn’t know was all she had to really do was flash that smile and I melted anyway.  You want that movie magic?  That’s where it was.  One flash, one twinkle of her smile and I didn’t have a care.

If you’ve been part of the magic, why would you rush back into the sludge that led up to it?

There’s just such a huge push to make sure that you move on.  You’re still sitting there, cleaning up from the day, basically dying for that second wind and the coffee to take effect so you can take on the 3rd job of the day: maid/butler/chef/laundress/sock darner/pants mender/counselor/dishwasher/repairman.  People also seem to think that because I talk about all that work that it’s simply a matter of having someone there to help you that’s making things so hard.

Get over it.

If that was all I needed, I’d find a way to just hire some person to come in and do all this stuff.  It’s not at all about the work, the activities or raising the kids. I actually like to cook.  I have always loved being with my kids.  They’re the greatest thing in my life, and quite frankly all I have left of my wife.  What I miss is just so intangible.  It’s not as simple as Tom Hanks saying “ah, babe, I miss you so much it hurts…” that’s a given!

It’s the stupid little stuff, the things that hurt and depress and aggravate you all at the same time.  It’s seeing a drawing your son did on the floor, picking it up and looking up to say “look at this” and realizing there’s nobody there.  It’s reaching over to the spot where you held her hand when the house finally went quiet and realizing you’re not going to find those fingers.  It’s wondering how you’re going to help your daughter deal with the problems unique to being a girl and realizing you are all she has.

I guess what I’m saying is what all that symbolism of marriage and relationships is about – symbols most people don’t realize are truly appropriate.  The thing that your wedding band represents isn’t just some big old rock that’s sitting on top some gold or platinum, it’s supposed to be a circle.  It’s supposed to represent one whole life, unbreakable, binding, one blending to the other.  The idea given that you no longer are two people, you are one, that’s something you don’t really realize until it’s gone.  We were still individuals, we kept our characteristics.  We had our own jobs, our own likes and dislikes.

But Andrea was ripped away from us – and that’s the appropriate descriptor, ripped.  If you’ve ever had a piece of your skin torn away, or a nail tear through your skin, it’s the emotional equivalent of that kind of pain.  It’s deep, it’s hard, it’s really, really painful and takes forever to heal.  So if you’ve been through that, if you’ve been so invested and bound to this other soul for that long, why would your first inclination be to jump directly into finding someone else?  I found the person that – forgive the cheesy analogy – completed me.  I had the circle, the combination of souls, the person who finished my thoughts.  The person who inspired me to write intense, creative words; to make music and write songs; to influence my thoughts and put them into some sort of artistic endeavor is gone.  I’ve had as many years with her as I did without her, half my life.

I cannot see the future because for decades that future included Andrea.  Now I have to come to terms with that.  I can’t say I’ll never date someone or that the spark, the magic won’t happen.  But having someone try to force me to make it happen won’t work either.

So you’ll excuse me if I’d like to think about and absorb the fact that I’m now half the man I used to be.  Maybe not that much.  She was part of me.  When the music played, she laughed, sang off key . . . and she danced, whether it looked good or not . . . and by then she didn’t care if she’d washed her face or not.

But now, if Donald Fagen will forgive the reference:

“…we can’t dance together.  No we can’t talk at all.”

You Don’t Miss Your Water ‘Till Your Well Run Dry . . .

There’s an undercurrent to everything I write here.  Whether you’ve caught it or not, I’m not sure, but it’s certainly there.  Sure, this blog is a legacy to Andrea and the kids of what an amazing woman their Mom was.  I sat, days and days on end, looking out at nothing from the couch in a home we were about to lose and somehow the memories of those early, brilliant, halcyon days with her started flooding through my exhausted, bleary mind.

But it confounds me how those memories are so vivid and the number of memories beyond the first years aren’t as great.  I understand that whole reality of marriage.  I know everyone’s analysis that love goes from infatuation to lust to intensity to familiarity and if you’re lucky it stops at that and doesn’t move to indifference.  I’m not saying we’d moved into that territory.  Life with Andrea was never boring.  It was intense, crazy, even ridiculous at times, but never boring.

I am not at all above admitting the obvious here, though.  I feel horribly guilty for the fact that I took that amazing woman for granted.  I knew all about her background, loved her madly, but took her for granted.  In days gone by I’d say my work got in the way, we had 4 kids, all of it.  But they aren’t good enough excuses.  I should have told her that I DID still get butterflies in my stomach as I got closer to home each night.  I shouldn’t have waited until she got upset or cried about her liver problems causing weight gain to tell her how beautiful she was, regardless.  I should have told her anyway.  I shouldn’t have hovered with my hand over the phone when she called wondering if it was a happy or angry call but answered anyway, telling her how much I loved her.

The old saying goes “You don’t miss your water ’till the well runs dry.”  I certainly fit that.  I loved her, but did I love her enough by that point?  Did I tell her how my world stopped turning, the pieces sitting on the crust of the earth floating out of control due to the lack of her centrifugal force keeping us all in line.  I know now that I loved her that much, but did she know?

When the hospital said visiting hours are over I should have told them to screw themselves and slept in the chair next to her bed.

Before the mass of comments and email, I understand that guilt and regret are all part of those steps of grieving.  This isn’t a step, it’s been sitting here growing since she went into the hospital.  It started as panic.  When she was sick, that was one thing, you get that crazy guilt, the hope that it’s OK.  She wasn’t feeling well, I looked at her and asked her if she wanted me to spend the night down on the couch with her.  She did, so I did.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been in the spot I was in, maybe you have.  When Andrea first went in, they took her from the emergency room up to the ICU, but they never told me where she was.  I sat in the waiting room, watching some awful movie on my phone, and after nearly two hours I didn’t know what they’d done with her.  When I asked, nobody knew.  I started to worry . . . no, I started to panic.  When they finally told me she was in the ICU, I looked for her all over, finally getting to the doors and they wouldn’t let me in.  First they didn’t know where she was then they kept me away from her.

When I got to her she was sleeping.  She slept a lot.

It wasn’t two days and she couldn’t talk, a tube in her throat, the machines helping her to breathe because the infections had filled her lungs with so much fluid she couldn’t do it.

Maybe you’ve been in this kind of awful situation, but I can describe it.  When she first went on the respirator I could literally feel my world starting to swirl. I didn’t have any peripheral vision.  Everything started to go through a white haze.  I got light-headed, feeling things swirl out of control.  That night…the entire next day…I wouldn’t shut up.  I was so freaked out, so panicked and lost that I couldn’t put my thoughts together.  My phone kept ringing, the texts kept coming, and my work kept calling about stupid shit that had no importance at all in the schema of the world we’d entered.

I was at the point of pleading to her.  I talked normally, held it together, but in my mind, and the morning she died, I was shouting at her.  “Don’t leave me. You have to stay.  I can’t do this alone.”  Worse, I just wanted ten more seconds.  Ten little moments to just say I really do love you.  I didn’t tell you enough, you tell me you don’t deserve it, but I truly love you.  I sat there, the blood rushing to my head, the whole world turning white, the vision tunneling, and I just kept thinking I needed to tell her how much I owed her.  I didn’t want the last thing she heard to be some nurse talking to her, right before she went into arrest.  I wanted her to have her last few moments be with me, the memories of my voice, the press of my lips, the touch of my fingers on her hair.

But she didn’t hear it.  Not in any way that I can be sure she knew.  She moved, and the doctors said she knew I was there, but they don’t know.  There were just as many reflexive movements in her day as there were ones when she looked on us.

They’d been working on her for more than half an hour by the time I finally got in to see her.  Half an hour.  Do you have any idea how awful it is to know that she may have gone . . . left me for good and wondered why I wasn’t there?  Her biggest fear – being left alone – and I wasn’t there when she needed me the most.  I didn’t get to tell her how much I loved her.

I knew right then and there that I should have told her more.  All the horrible things, the bad moments, the arguments, they all flooded back in.  I wanted so desperately for her to come back to me so I could just tell her that I still loved her like that beautiful, amazing girl I’d met twenty-odd years ago.  When I say I broke down, it’s not just pure grief or pain.  It’s because I just freaked out from the fact I just couldn’t hold her hand and have that last conversation with her.

She was important in so many ways to me.  She reached into my heart and pulled me – the real person, the Dave that was there when I was 5-6 years old and singing along with LP’s in my parents’ house – out into the daylight again.  I don’t know what hid me in that dark, lonely place, but she didn’t care.  She didn’t see the goofy, angry, lonely kid.  She saw me.  She kissed me and hugged me and lifted me out of the shadows.  What did I give her?  Love?  Companionship?  Really, what is that compared to getting your life back.

Yes, guilt is there.  It has been for a long time.  Time is really the key.

I thought I had the time.  I really did.  Like I said before, ten more waking seconds, that’s all I’d need.  It’s not what she deserves, but it’s enough to at least say what I wanted.

She wasn’t just the love of my life, she knew me, what I was and what I could become.  She was always there, the rock solid foundation of all our lives.

Now I can see just how thirsty I really am.  The well’s run dry.

(For those of you who think I own nothing recorded after 1985, this is a Derek Trucks song with the oh so appropriate adage in the lyrics.)

You Said How the Coffee Tasted So Fine…

2-14 The Coffee Song“The Cofee Song” by the power trio “Cream”.

There is a song that was originally supposed to go on the LP “Fresh Cream” by . . . well . . . Cream, that always gave me a melancholy but hopeful sort of feeling. The song, simply “The Coffee Song” is a tale – an actual story – about a message in the corner booth at some unknown cafe at a railroad station. The sort-of hook says:

We sat here together just to pass time. You said how the coffee tasted so fine.

So, I didn’t have the horrible pangs of regret that the song portrays. I have to say, it’s one of the few moments during that portion of my life where I didn’t screw things up so badly. I honestly, up until that point, would have been the guy who had that conversation, sat all night in the corner booth and maybe even have been personable and enjoyable. What I would have done then, though, is analyzed the situation to death and actually messed it all up.

What I don’t think people realize is that Andrea and I didn’t start out in the whole “love at first sight” kind of relationship. We actually weren’t that friendly at all. I can say, without embarrassment and with complete confidence that from my perspective I figured she was the typical California girl. She was blonde, extremely attractive, wanted to be an anchor, wanted attention and I acted like there’s no way either of us could possibly like each other. But given what you now know about me – how I was a geeky, shy, quiet to the point of unlikable guy – I really was infatuated with her and knew full well that she wouldn’t give me a second glance, and it ticked me off. A lot.

I remember the day that changed, though. We were covering some community meeting together. She was reporting, I was her photographer for the story. We were stuck in a community room in Council Bluffs, Iowa, waiting for the rest of the people to come into the room. The meeting, as was inevitable in Iowa politics, was late even getting started. We were all hungry and the only food was a small vending machine in the hallway. They wanted, at the time, fifty cents for a Hershey bar. I made some grumpy (me? grumpy?) comment about how expensive it was and to my astonishment she agreed!

“You know, I remember when these were a dime,” I said quietly to myself.

“What?!”

“Hershey bars. They used to be a dime. I was really little, probably 7 or 8, and my Mom used to give me a buck or two to go to Shellhammer’s grocery down the street from our house. I’d get the loaves of bread she wanted with it and there was always ten cents left from the bread and I’d buy a Hershey bar with it. I’d get about halfway home with the box of bread, sit on the curb, open the candy bar, and eat it before heading the rest of the way home.”

Andrea had an annoyed look on her face. (I remember this. You can look at the screen incredulously all you want, but friends will tell you I have an amazing brain for the most ridiculous of miscellany.) She shook her head, and just said:

“You’re nuts!”

“What?”

“You’re crazy. A Hershey bar was never ten cents. As long as I can remember, NO candy bar was ever ten cents.”

“It was in O’Neill, Nebraska.”

That was the key, believe it or not. My hometown.

“You’re from O’Neill?”

I honestly had no idea why being from O’Neill could ever have connected with this girl. She was from California. She was a blonde, liberal, hard partying, well endowed, beautiful girl. There’s no way she could know about O’Neill.

Here’s where you need to know something. At it’s peak, or the peak of my life there, O’Neill’s largest population was probably 3,700 people at most. It existed and was well traveled because US Highways 281 and 20 met in the town. It was a crossroads for campers, travelers and shipping for the Northern part of the state. But if you’re from California and don’t have relatives in O’Neill, your only indication that O’Neill was even there was if something tragic happened or a tornado touched down.

“My best friend is from O’Neill.” I continued to look at her. I knew a lot of people, but for someone like her I doubted I’d have moved in the same circles. But she mentioned who it was and I was stammering.

“Yeah. I know her. I went to High School with her, as a matter of fact.”

I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced this. It was a particular moment, a fixed point in time that you can actually feel the changes as they happen. The room got immediately smaller. We were talking about our mutual friend/acquaintance. I saw this woman in a new light. My whole attitude was shifted. In fact, I forgot all my preconceived notions about who she was. The thought that she’d look at me with disdain or even a tinge of disgust just disappeared. She was looking at ME differently, too. I could tell.

“I have to know more about her (Andrea’s best friend) from when she was a kid. Are you working late? I am going out with a bunch of friends tonight . . . ” . . . which was the line I’d been waiting for. Start to ask if I want to hang out then find a reason to drop me . . . “. . . but can we have coffee after work? You can meet all of us!”

I wasn’t doing anything. Well, wait, that’s not true. I DO remember that I was supposed to rehearse with the cover band I’d joined. Let’s face it, though. I could hang out with a bunch of stoned-out, too-loud, ’80’s-obsessed musicians who walked around in the hazy fog smelling of ditch weed or I could hang out with a beautiful, blonde, funny girl.

Ummm . . . yeah. I’m a musician, but I have my priorities.

20111107-155445.jpg
The promo photo for my first band

 

We met at a place called “M’s Pub” in Omaha’s “Old Market” area. (It’s still there, by the way. If you’re in the mood, get their linguine with pesto and grilled chicken.) We were only supposed to have coffee. I couldn’t resist, I ordered a piece of flourless chocolate torte that had a vanilla sauce of some sort. It was amazing, went with the coffee and it was rich beyond my wildest imagination.

“I can’t eat this all, you want a bite?”

She apparently couldn’t resist, either, because she had a bite . . . or 3. We drank our coffee and talked about her best friend. I went to school with her, got closer to her through Andrea as well, and had an amazingly wonderful, friendly evening. Her mother had lived in O’Neill during WWII as her father fought in the war…just down the street from my Grandma. She wasn’t cold or off-putting, she was talking to me like she’d known me for a long time. She told me she had relatives in Norfolk, a town on the way to O’Neill, even asked if I could drive her there over the holidays. She hated driving alone. I’m not an idiot, of course I agreed, but that’s another story, and I thought she’d forget.

We didn’t have a date. There were other people there. We had coffee. We talked. We laughed. It was the first time I’d been anywhere with people and a beautiful girl singled ME out. She looked at me and we acted like we were the only people in the room. Her friends were leaving, pulling at her, telling her she had to go. She was halfway out the door as I stood up to pay the check. It had been an amazing, fun night, but I figured this was how it would end, with me alone again.

Then I turned around and she was running up to me.

“Thanks for the coffee. This was fun! You should come out with us again!”

She gave me a big hug.

She’d really been sort of aggravated and annoyed that we were working together and dealing with me, but part of that, I know now, was that I hadn’t made myself anywhere near pleasant to her, either.

It’s not in my lexicon of first dates because . . . well that was months, maybe even a year before we actually went out.

But then the Cream song came on my Spotify account and it threw that memory back into my memory synapses. For us, the lyric was really true.

We sat here together just to pass time.

I marvel at how this almost became the melancholy story, the crazy “what if” moment for both of us.

But never before had the coffee tasted so fine.

 

…It Was(n’t) a Very Good Year

OK, I know, the ripoff from “Old Blue Eyes” is probably a bit much, but I feel like it’s necessary to be able to give you all some perspective into what all has been going on in our household.  The reasons why I seemingly went off the deep end here and made everything about our lives so public and so personal, out here for the world to see.

You see, I’m not sure if any one thing in our lives had happened I would have done all this, but the past year . . . not even a full 365 days, not even close . . . has been just plain awful.

It all started when my Grandfather had a stroke.  My Mom and Dad have taken care of my grandparents for decades, my Dad letting them pay his rate for their prescriptions, my mom doing whatever they needed.  When I was a kid we were always over at their house and in later years my brother helped take care of them.  But when my Grandpa had a stroke, I had relatives that swooped in from out of town, took over, and took him and my Grandma away, implying that my Mother didn’t care.  That hurt.  Worse yet, the fact that my Dad, whose mere existence had caused my mother to be banished from the family before their marriage, helped so much and was cast aside didn’t seem to register.

Then, my Aunt passed away.  She’d been fighting cancer for some time, but she lost the battle.  My Uncle, a strong, fun man who we’d always loved being around was torn apart.

Then, not long after, when Abbi and I were in Omaha for the National Speech competition and my Grandpa passed away . . . out of town, away from home, making a wonderful mess to contend with.  Abbi’s big moment was a blur, messed up.  It was a terrible tournament made worse by the events of things.   He moved, made the decision with my Grandma, but it didn’t change the fact that a horribly awkward situation was made worse by the emotional standoff at the mortuary.

Then came Andrea.  You all know what happened there.

In that first month or so after Andrea passed away, we lost our house.  Two weeks after returning to work my boss told me they wanted to demote me and force a pay cut of more than 1/3 of my salary.

We had to find another house, even though in the middle of the housing crisis, I actually went on one house appointment and there were more than 30 people and couples were negotiating to pay higher rent just to get the home.

Now, my father’s best friend, the man that was nearly his little brother, has passed away.

This has been just the most awful year.  I don’t know what we did to upset the national order of things.  I don’t remember stepping on some witch doctor’s grave.  I don’t have a black cat bone.  I don’t have my mojo working.  Hell, I don’t even think I pulled the pin out of a fake voodoo doll.

So what they hell?

I mean, I don’t think I’m Job here, I don’t have boils, I’m not living in the desert.  I worry I wouldn’t have the faith to sustain that kind of life anyway.

It’s enough to make me break, it really is.

So what do I do?  I keep moving forward, I guess.  I try to have a sense of humor.  I play a LOT of music, both on the stereo and on the guitar.  If I hadn’t I don’t think we could have gotten this far.

But I also give tons of credit to my father and mother.  His best friend was deteriorating and having a hard time.  He should have been there for his friend, but instead he was here, taking care of all of us . . . and I meant that.  He wasn’t just helping, he was taking care of us.  It’s a horrible thought to ponder that your father lost the man that he considers his little brother and he couldn’t be there because he was taking care of me.

The worst thing is, I’m glad he was.  Without them both here we would never have made it, it’s that simple, and that makes it even worse.

So I write.  I try to process it all by communicating my details so I’m not carrying even more weight.

Now we grieve again, this time for the man who was such a part of our lives.

So how much more can we take?  Lord knows not much more.

To steal the words from the song again, “when I was 17, it was a very good year . . . “ and little did I know how good it probably was.  I only hope that now, with this latest straw on the back of the camel, I hope that my daughter can say the same.

Cars, Cakes, Crash and Burn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The cake we got for Abbi!

Crazy is the New Normal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And maybe that’s a good thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Whisperin’ that I wasn’t the only one

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now I can.

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

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

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

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

When You Never Get It Right…

An amazing fall picture of Andrea

Today would be Andrea’s 41st birthday.

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

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

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

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

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

In the end, I just never got it right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Almost Level With the Ground . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But not quite.

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