Tag Archives: fall

Things Stolen from Me When She Left…

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

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

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

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

The next day she went into the ICU.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . .and they just won’t be the same.

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

It’s Only a Matter of Time . . .

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

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

That’s a good day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…Things Have a Way of Growing Downward.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s precisely why I said “yes”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Forecast Calls for Pain…

One of the HR people at my old shop used to tell me she thought a dark cloud just followed me around every day – like a depressed version of “Pig Pen” in the Peanuts strips.

This week was when the cloud caught up.

Once it does, it takes twice as long to get ahead of it again.  When Noah hurt a little kid in the EDP room this week, in fact, it didn’t just drop a cold mist on my head, I could see the lightning and hear the thunder.

The Forecast Calls for Pain, as the great Robert Cray says.

To begin with, the first indications that there was anything wrong came from Noah’s big sister, Abbi, not the teachers.  Understand, now, that I don’t dispute that Noah was wrong, nor do I think any kid deserves to have somebody bigger than them push or hurt them.  That’s just not right and I won’t put up with it.

What makes me angry, though, is that the first I’d heard of this was when it was already too late.  Noah is like a pressure cooker set too high.  It doesn’t take much more pressure to make it go off, so if he’s bothered, even if it’s not meant to be bothersome (in this case, he was dead wrong, Noah should have just held his temper) he reacts.  He’d been reacting this way for nearly a week, I think.

I heard about it Tuesday.

Worse yet, I talked with him, and he then goes to school with the promise of behaving.  He didn’t.  In fact, he moved directly from yelling to hitting, pushing the kid over and pinning him to the ground.

I could see the lightning flashes.

We went through the apology letters and the letter to his Mom, and then one of the teachers, a person I trust and admire had a talk with Noah about his behavior and told him how he needed to find other ways to work out this aggression.  She gave him a journal to write in, helped him find ways to work out the anger, everything he needed.

Then the school called because the principal had a talk with him as well.  Parents had complained.  He was getting a disciplinary form, nothing for his permanent record, in the backpack.  Was he getting counselling?

And there was the thunder.

He is a loving, wonderful, funny little boy and smart as a whip.  But he likes being the center of attention – not as the class clown but just as a matter of fact.  But he has been through this once before.  He just needs to be able to control his actions better, which I know is reaaallllly hard at the age of 8.  It’s hard at 38.  (No, that’s not my age, don’t send me messages, please, I know how old I am, it matched the point I was trying to make.)  I know it was wrong, I feel awful that others are having to deal with this too, but he’s also not a kid that can be so much more than the reputation he’ll get.

Now, of course, he can’t even be near trouble when it happens.  It’s like the corollary to the “Boy who Cried Wolf!”  Someone gets in a fight, Noah’s nearby, he’s part of it.  Kid yells at him on the playground, he’s going to be questioned what did he do to start the shouting?  Now, as a result of his lack of control he’s going to have to be TWICE as good to avoid getting in trouble – when it’s deserved and when it’s not.

I’m not going for dramatics here, Noah’s not getting suspended, he’s not going to be on anti-psychotics or anything, the principal’s being very nice about it and seems thankful I’ve responded quickly.

But I have to ask this: why is everything about their mother?  Here’s the thing nobody took into account: Noah had this problem well before he lost his Mom.  We had issues in Kindergarten, even had problems last year.  I know that it’s a contributing factor, it’s the 800 pound gorilla standing on top the white elephant in the room every minute of every day in our house.  I have no doubt that it helped spark this latest storm front, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s not the biggest factor in it all.

I honestly believe that it’s not just my son who used his mother’s death to try and get out of trouble that first day.  I think it’s an easy answer to the problem for everyone.  If the kid is misbehaving, it’s an easy thing to say it’s because he’s upset about his Mom.

Of course he’s upset, wouldn’t you be?  But is it the chief cause, the main determining factor?  Are you kidding me?

Believe me, I wish it was that.  I wish it was the fact that his Mom passed and that he missed her and had closed down without talking about her, it would be SO much easier.  It’s just not right.

Guess what, everybody, he DOES talk about it.  He misses his Mom SO very much.  My worst example:  We were on our way home from Nebraska, just a couple months after Andrea had died.  We needed something to eat and in the Denver airport your choices are ice cream or the freaking Clown house.  So it was a happy meal.  When he read on a McDonald’s Happy Meal box that “Little Ryan (name changed to protect the innocent and because I can’t really remember his name anyway) was gravely ill.  Thanks to the Ronald McDonald house, Ryan had his friends and family near him and he was able to get better!”

I watched his face blanch, I really did.  His eyes got glassy and watery, his gears were turning – I could see it.  He could easily have just sat there, holding it in, but I have told ALL of the kids that we’re in this together.  If they need ANYthing at ANY time, call, email, text, or just come up and talk to me.  I’ll make the time.  If I need to stay home, work be damned, that’s what they mean to me.

He looked up at me and I knew something was wrong.  He simply asked “is that why Mommy died, Dad?”

“Is what why, kiddo?”

“The box here – it says that because his family was there with him he lived.”  His voice grew a little more frantic . . . his thoughts were getting erratic.  He started to stumble to put his thoughts together.  “I wasn’t there with Mommy, and that’s why she died.  If I had been there, would Mommy still be alive?!”  (It’s here that I have to tell you how much I sincerely hate McDonald’s – worse than I ever did before.  Not the food, which is horrible for you; not the atmosphere, which is chaotic; it’s that they would write this kind of thing on a Happy Meal box like it’s the ONLY thing that helped a cancer-ridden kid survive.  Not the doctors, medication or the little boy’s flat out tenacity and strength. )

Yet Noah talked with me and asked me about it.  You may see this as unreasonable or silly, but in the 8-year-old mind of a little boy who saw his Mom on a Tuesday morning and the next time he saw her, she was closed in a casket – that’s not silly.  It’s scary.  Horrifying.

I told him that it wasn’t his fault, it could never . . . ever . . . be his fault.  I looked at Sam and he did what he always does, closed down, his eyes now glassy, too.  “Sometimes bad things happen,” I told them.  “They aren’t nice, they don’t make sense, and it’s really, really unfair!  But I never want you to believe that this was EVER your fault.  Mommy got sick, it’s that simple, and no amount of company would have helped that get better.  She tried so hard to stop it but her body just couldn’t fight any more.”

I told him that his Mommy would never have left us if she thought we couldn’t do this on our own, something I truly do believe.  That, and she wasn’t alone.  I was there – the day she went in, the moment she left.  She was NEVER alone, and she would never have thought it was his fault.

As much as she wasn’t alone, neither is he.  I don’t work for 90 hours a week and I don’t get home insanely late.  I don’t come home, expect my daughter to cook or do laundry.  I don’t plop on the couch and stare at the TV.

From the moment I got home from the hospital, I had to buckle down and show these kids that they were going to be cared for.  I don’t break down in front of them.  I keep the routine, I try to get them to activities we wouldn’t have done before, and I make sure that they know they’re not alone and they are supported by me.  Sure, the horrible quiet of the evening makes me think about these things, but I’ll be damned if THEY have to face it alone.

I don’t write this in an effort to say I won’t take Noah to counselling nor do I think it’s a bad thing.  I’m just saying – to paint this little man, hell all 4 kids, in a corner and say their behavior, let alone their lives are defined by the fact that they lost their mother is so painfully wrong.  They’re defined by us both – hopefully getting the best parts of Andrea and me, the pieces of their lives put together by the influence, affection, activity AND events in their lives.  It’s that box everyone talks about.  The problem is, we don’t fit in it.

Still, it doesn’t change the fact that I can see the cloud following us around – the Forecast Calls for Pain . . . but if I can hear the thunder and see the lightning, maybe we can handle the storm.

When Do We Stop Touching the Street?

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Abbi at 6, realizing she may be small but is a giant inside!

I took this photo probably ten years ago, maybe more.
I had just bought a medium format camera, a Yashica, from a colleague for a decent price and I was experimenting with the camera.

As I was staring down the top of the little box, watching the reflex prism and getting used to the strange counter intuitive movement I heard “Daddy! Look at me! I can touch the street!”

As I turned around Abbi was standing next to the concrete steps that led up to our little home on 50th street in Omaha. Her arms were up, and she was giddy that she could look at her shadow projected in perfect position so it looked like she was touching the street. With the hand rail, steps and her shadow, the lines were just perfect to snap a photo.

The thing is, she was a tiny little girl, the kind of kid Andrea and I both needed for our first.  When Andrea got pregnant with Abbi, she wasn’t happy.  She wasn’t indifferent.  She wasn’t even pensive, much like I was for both Hannah and the boys.

She freaked out!  I mean, catatonic, hair on fire, a hare’s breath from falling off the ledge freaking out.  You know what, I got it, even then.  We were only 22/23 at the time.  We were young, stupid, and married only a year.  We had amazing plans, travel we wanted to do, and a whole life that wasn’t planned out, but we weren’t ready to be parents.  Still, she was freaking out, and even though I wanted to freak out too, one of us had to be calm.

But something happened after Abbi was born.  She was this adorable little thing, hungry, helpless, and the strangely perfect combination of the two of us.  Sure, she had problems.  As a baby her GI tract was so messed up she had vomiting episodes that make the exorcist look like and episode of Sesame Street.  She needed handmade formula because she was allergic to EVERYTHING!

But she was also the best kid, which was what we needed.  Sure, we had our battle of wills.  We had our crazy arguments.  But she always was this smiling, bright little star that made both of us beam.  While Andrea swore that Abbi was distant from her because she was so anxiety ridden through the whole pregnancy, she would be heartbroken to see how much her daughter misses her.  Abbi doesn’t have breakdowns, doesn’t burst into tears.  But I can see the missing pieces when I talk to her.  When she has a problem with her math homework, when she’s having boy problems, when she can’t get a date for Homecoming.  Still, there are times when she does something silly, not the adult Abbi she sees herself becoming, but the goofy, funny little kid – the same silly things that her Mom would do that made all of us love her so much more than we already did.

And I’ve noticed something, being the only adult in a house full of children.  They have this amazing ability to look at the world with amazement.  They can see their shadow and say “hey, I can touch the street”.  When I walk with the boys they see a rock in front of them and they kick it.  They don’t run, in fact they keep the pace, moving slowly right or left to meet up with the path of the rock . . . and kick it again.  I get that it’s a rock, but it’s still a great indication of how they keep imagining the way things should go.

It’s made me think of something.  The best times in our lives, the ones that we remember, laughing, falling over giggling, and loving every minute of it are the ones where we suspend our reality to look at the world through their eyes.  It’s why we love going to theme parks.  Take the analogy further – it’s why we ended up on the freaking moon!

Now Abbi is 16.  I see some of that imagination wane.  The small twinkling of that brightness comes back sometimes, and I see it: when she’s singing in the choir; when she’s dancing with the iPod in her room (and thinks I didn’t see her); when she gets an invitation to a party some popular kid is throwing and other people didn’t.  I realize that those horrible ’80s movies we all watched as teens aren’t popular because they were amazing films.  I mean, look at Ferris Bueller. Like he could jump on a parade float, get the crowd singing and get away without one bit of police brutality?  But what made them golden – what makes us keep loving them – is that suspension of disbelief.  We never thought Molly Ringwald would end up with Andrew McCarthy, but then, Ducky never lives happily ever after either.  But we have just enough of that little kid left in us to still think those are the greatest moments ever.

I’ve realized it’s OK to think that, too.  Why kill the one thing that keeps us from falling off the cliff ourselves?

I wish I knew when we stopped trying to touch the street.  I’d stop it, and challenge us all to reach for the moon instead!

We’re only immortal for a limited time . . .

When we are young, wandering the face of the earth, wondering what our dreams might be worth, learning that we’re only immortal for a limited time.”

Yes, I know, it takes some guts to start a post with a quote from the band Rush.  There’s a reason for it, beyond the oddly philosophical bent to the lyric.

My oldest daughter had a brief moment of clarity, a space between the angst and hormonal intensity of a typical sixteen-year-old’s reality.  We were sitting at our kitchen table together, the last two holdouts of our family dinner, an exercise that seems to be growing exponentially shorter by the day.

The whole point to dinner at the table is so that I can talk to them all and know what’s been going on.  I know what little girl takes delight in emotionally torturing Noah, seemingly for little reason.  I know what part of the field trip they just took impressed Sam the most.  I know the long-term plan Hannah has for getting her friends musically educated so they can have a band and play Green Day and Pink Floyd songs together.  I also know what boys are cute and what party Abbi is invited to that boosts her morale and confidence.

I also rotate music choices.  Here’s where we diverge from the path we traveled as a full family.  Andrea hated my stereo system.  She thought it was clunky, old, big, noisy and outdated.  I love it.  Where Andrea loved the convenience of the newer, bookshelf stereo or just throwing a CD in the DVD player, the lack of audio quality bugged the hell out of me.  So one of the first things I did was to set up the stereo, in a shelving set in the corner, speakers on the floor, part of the decor, in a very retro-looking setup I’ve seen on a dozen romantic comedies or so, where the male love interest somehow has an old, expensive turntable and a full LP collection that nobody I ever knew owned.  Even when LP’s were all you had.

Yes, I’m strangely retro now.  Funny thing is, it wasn’t by choice.  It’s cool now to be collecting vinyl and listening to your stereo.  I think we’ve confirmed that I’m not cool.  I just never stopped listening to my vinyl.  Guess I shouldn’t reveal that and just act like I’m cool. (Yeah, I know, if you have to act cool, you aren’t)

There’s a point here, bear with me.  We rotate the music choices.  Each night, a different person in the family gets to pick a record.  (CD’s too, if they want, but I prefer the vinyl.)  This night, we had some new record playing, that expensive audiophile 180g vinyl that Odd Job from Goldfinger could use to cut off your head.  It was a bit melancholy, and Abbi mentioned something I’ve been thinking . . . even posted here . . . for some time.

“It’s been a lot harder this last few weeks, Dad.  I don’t know why that is.  It’s just been harder.”  She hadn’t expected that.  She wasn’t sure why but I was.  I’ve said it before, Fall is our time.  Andrea and I just loved everything that came with it.  Her birthday is also the 30th of October.  How do you face an occasion you never got right without the person you disappointed for so many years?

As we reviewed how we’d trudge through the rest of the month Abbi went to her room, likely to commiserate with friends.  I noticed that the old cassette player had a tape in it, one I’d put there when we moved and forgotten.  It was an old “mix tape”.  For those unfamiliar, a “mix tape” was a way to show you cared for someone without getting hurt too badly if they said the feelings weren’t mutual.  You took the time and effort to find songs and artists that you thought the person would like, timing out two sides to a cassette, positioning the songs so that there’s no dead air at the end of a side, perfectly placed so the last notes fade, the leader tape streams over the heads of the deck, and the clunk of the mechanism stopping signals the listener to rotate the tape and see what awaits them on the other side.

This tape was one I had made for Andrea when we first started dating.  I know it was for a trip she was making, I think to visit our mutual friend Annie, on the East Coast.  It was all music we’d listened to at work.  but there were hints of things we’d played while wiling away the evenings in those intense, romantic first weeks.  It also had the song quoted above, seemingly out of place other than it was from that era.

But it fits for two reasons.  First, I had taken Andrea on our first official “date” (I’ll go over why it’s in quotation marks on another post) to see Rush.  She could have cared less, I know now.  It was cold, with black ice all over the pavement.  We walked together toward the Civic Auditorium in Omaha, Andrea in a bright red, full-length red coat that had a big scooping hood that draped off the back, framing her shoulders as it hung below them.  She slipped slightly, grabbing my elbow as my arm went around her waist.  It could  have been filmed, that moment, where she leaned there, in my arms, the briefest of eternal pauses as she steadied herself in my arms.  And then she smiled, laughing in her eyes, telling me “it wouldn’t surprise me if you did this on purpose, just so you could see the California girl fall on her ass!”  It’s one of those moments you are sure was in a John Hughes film, the California girl meets the Midwestern boy.  It’s either that or a Bob Seger song, not sure which.

I was walking 2 feet above the ground the rest of the night.  I didn’t know until later she could have cared less about the band, she went because I asked her.  Some Romeo, right?  Ask a girl out and the venue is one where you can’t talk because it’s so loud.  It’s either stupid or it’s genius.

This song, those two albums: Presto and Roll the Bones, were more commercial and probably most accessible to her.  We ran into friends at the auditorium, pulling the romance out of the moment quite a bit.  But I never forgot the night.  I guess she didn’t either, because in years since, her family and friends all recount that night as one she told them about.

Now, I see the whole picture.  Andrea was a flaming burst of energy in those days.  Where I was this sort of gangly, geeky, quiet and calm kid, she was was antimatter released!  She partied hard, drank heavily, but that wasn’t a bad thing.  She made me happier, boosted my confidence and just enveloped me with emotion.  I don’t think I ever saw her in those days without a brilliant smile, her eyes just sparkling.  It was such a counter opposite to how things deteriorated in the last few years.  Not between us, but for her.  The flame wasn’t as bright.  I had seen it coming back, but now it’s extinguished.

The lyric is a strong metaphor.  We spent nearly every possible waking hour together.  As Neal’s lyric says, we were “wandering the face of the earth, wondering what our dreams might be worth…”  Andrea blew through life like she was immortal.  Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead, the hell with the consequences, we will do this and come through on the other side.

I won’t say Andrea was like Jimi or Janice.  She wasn’t doomed to die, because we had plans.  We were going to take a little of that lightning back out of the bottle again.  We had never thought this could happen.  It wasn’t on the horizon.  We were getting older, ignoring the lessons of our misspent years, when we thought we were going to live forever.

It’s the one lesson I hope my kids don’t ever learn.

I don’t want them to know that we’re only immortal for a limited time.

Autumn Leaves, UFO’s and Pancakes

Aliens on Vacation

Fall is school, and therefore school projects.  The kids had already read their books and picked out the projects for the “visual book report” they were to do.  Most kids pick a hangar and draw some pictures.  Mine . . . well, they had to get creative.  One son picked a book called “Noah Barleywater Runs Away”, (http://www.johnboyne.com/ is the author’s website) focused on apple trees and a mystery in the woods.  So obviously we had to make a tree and post the note cards on apple branches attached to the turning leaves.

The other: “Aliens on Vacation”. (http://www.cletebarrettsmith.com/ for that author) Naturally, we had to make a UFO.

I both adore and despise the store Michaels.  I adore the fact that I can get most the art materials I need.  I loathe the fact that I HAVE to go there and pay through the nose for something that I could make on my own if I’d thought of it a week before the due date instead of the day before, like we inevitably were.

So we used a tree branch, fake leaves and fake apples for one; Silver Krylon, upside down Lazy Susan platters and glow bracelets for another.

This well before I had to put together the next day’s stuff.  Weekends were always made for us to put the breakfasts and dinners together for the week.

Why?  I HATE mornings.  Can’t wake up, never could.  But my mom always made us breakfast.  Even if it was Cream of Wheat she was up and made it, so I do it too.  6am, or earlier, I’m up.  My method to ease the pain is advanced cooking.  This week’s breakfasts?  Pancakes.  I was up until Midnight, cooking, cooling and sealing in Ziplocks, but we had buttermilk pancakes warmed in the toaster for days!

The apple tree project reminded me of Andrea.  She always had amazing ideas.  I had to implement them a lot of the time, but that’s what a good partnership is.

Fall is our time of year.  A good friend told me not long ago that this was our season, we really pulled out the stops in the Fall.  Our house was always decorated, the smell of pumpkin spices and ruddy colored candles and decorations filling the houses where we lived.

That wasn’t what I loved.  I always loved it for selfish reasons.  The season always brought about a crisp bite to the air that cleaned out the pollen and haze of summer and made the colors bright.  That, and we got to bundle up and be close.

Andrea was gorgeous.  There’s no disputing that, and I should have been thanking my stars that she put up with someone like me.  In the fall she always was just so wonderful.  Early on she’d have some sort of t-shirt with a pair of soft overalls, or a big brown sweater that you swore looked like corduroy but was really soft as silk.

And it was the time of year to just be close.  There was something irresistible about reaching out and just holding her: the contact; the feel of her cheek or the tickle of her hair on my nose.  This was the time of year I wanted nothing more than to grab her and just never let go.

Now, overalls are coming back, but not like I remember Andrea wearing.  There’s something very alone about being in the cool morning air in the house and knowing you’re waking up to that same chill to see the vacancy on the pillow next to you.

That, and her birthday was the day before Halloween.

I always messed up her birthday.  I can’t think of more than a handful that went well.  My job, you see, is in television news, and the biggest, most important ratings period every year is November.  The start of that ratings calendar was almost always the Thursday before her birthday.  We’d done this for years, but she never could forgive the industry’s pull that kept me at work until the evening hours.  We got in so many arguments, and I saw so much horrible disappointment in her face every year.

I’d kill to try and fix those.  It seemed such a big deal then.  Now, I live with disappointing her knowing I couldn’t get it right.  You can tell me all you want how much she knew I loved her, I live with this pattern of dysfunction forever now, with no way to make it up.

She brightened up the house.  I loved having her there to whisk through, pushing the boundaries of what we had to decorate any hovel in which we lived.  Now we’ve reached our first Fall in our new life.  We will celebrate the seasons, but without her it won’t burn quite so brightly.

Noah Barleywater Project