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.)