Tag Archives: first kiss

Closer to the Heart

Closer to the Heart by Rush from the LP “Gold”

Yeah, I know, it’s a Rush song.  Sue me.  You’ll see the reason why it fits in a minute . . .

Yesterday was my puffed-up, love my daughter, father-lessons-from-movies moment.  Here I thought I had this amazing couple weeks to help have some time with Abbi and help her and share some warm fuzzy moments with her.  Then came tonight.

As I said, she’s been into the Romance movie thing, and I’m not exactly holding back from it myself.  It’s been very nice for me to look at things through her eyes a little bit and I get more than a little bit of – God help me for saying this – hope from seeing the sparkle in her eyes.  My lord, she looks like her Mom when she gets that look.  Which, sadly, leads me to the foray we began tonight.

To give you some context to it all, I’m sitting here about 1:30am typing this.  Can’t really sleep.

I mentioned yesterday that I tend to go for the more realistic of films.  Not theOne Daykind of thing, where it cannot and does not end well, killing off one of the leads.  No, I tend to go for the ones that take you somewhere and might be a little funny and a lot realistic.  Unfortunately, sometimes my forays tend to get a bit too realistic and those damn movie trailers do very little to give you the full picture of what you’re opening your heart to for 90 to 120 minutes.  Don’t get me wrong, either, that’s what you’re doing.  It may be in the theater or in your living room, but you’re opening your rib cage just slightly to let those emotions in and out – both directions – in order to feel something.  You may think you’re feeling love and happiness, but you can’t always get that without the other emotions, either.

Last night I pulled some movie off iTunes that I simply couldn’t remember having seen.  It was, though, written, directed and acted by Bonnie Hunt.  I’ve always thought she was more than just funny, but had that touch of reality that you needed, not the sickening sweetness that is pervasive today, and certainly not so sad that you collapse on the floor.  But I couldn’t remember this, it was older, Carroll O’Connor was in it and it starred Minnie Driver and David Duchovny.  That should give you an idea of the era it was made.  It was calle dReturn to Me. 

It should have been quirky, cute, real and funny.  It was all that.  But I wasn’t aware that not only would it be about a girl who had a heart transplant.  It was about a girl who had a heart transplant . . . and a guy that loses his wife quickly, horribly, and painfully.  You get where this is going, right?  Now . . . I can’t be angry or dismayed by it – other than the fact that somehow, amazingly, they got it just so right.  Not the romance, it has a twist and quirky gut-wrenching turn I won’t go into, but the beginning . . . where the main guy loses his wife . . . dear God that hurt.

Abbi and I were both on the couch.  The accident has her in the hospital, dragged into another room without her husband.  The next shot, he’s going in the house talking about needing to walk the dog.  He talks about having to clean up.  Duchovny’s friend comes up and says he’s there to help and will be there at a moment’s notice if he needs something . . . then breaks down crying and hugs him, looking more for comfort himself than giving it.  This isn’t the only thing . . . he spots a note from his wife saying how much she loves him hanging on the fridge.  When he ushers the friend out the door he notices that their dog is waiting at the door for Mom to come home.  He sinks down, tells him that she’s not coming home again . . . and loses it, in the most God-awful, realistic way.  He even – and I did this – falls right there in place and falls asleep on the floor.  He’s wearing the same clothes he had on when he got there.

That killed me.  I mean, I’ve had waves of emotion and sadness before.  I just wasn’t prepared for that.  I have no idea what Bonnie Hunt’s personal life is like.  I don’t know if she knows people who’ve lost their wives.  If she doesn’t or hasn’t, dear God she’s intuitive.  I had to get up halfway into the scene and go to the kitchen.  I knew Abbi was crying.  I didn’t want her to think I couldn’t handle it.  It’s not some testosterone-induced male thing.  She’s 17, sure, but I’m her Dad.  She doesn’t need me breaking down at every reminder of her Mom, she needs to know that when she does I’m going to be there to hold her up.  So I got up and made a pitcher of iced-tea.  I got a dessert.  Sure, I’m probably not fooling her, she’s my daughter after all.  She’s sometimes smarter than I am.  But I have to at least make the attempt, and hopefully that makes the difference to her.

We both liked the movie.  We really did.  But I came to realization that reality is just too hard to face sometimes.  Sure, I’ve written about all those events – so much I won’t subject you to them again here – but those are words on a page (OK, screen) not conversation.  It’s been drafted, thought-through, and revised here and there.  What you don’t see is what I go through writing them.  You don’t see me smile when  I can almost feel the gentle brush of her lips on my cheek when I talk of kissing her goodbye each morning.  You don’t hear the crack in my voice when I would talk about seeing the kids’ faces in difficult times.  You don’t see the glassy, wavering moisture that coats my cornea as I think about where she should be.  You don’t see the track down my cheek the tear takes as I realize Im crying when the drop hits the bottom of my laptop when writing.

Reality is easy to chronicle when you can face it in short bursts on a page like this.  When you have 2 hours of it thrust in front of you, pulling you in different directions and you don’t see it coming, it’s like being on a fair ride where you can’t see the track.  The car changes direction and your body is thrown around because you can’t anticipate where it’s taking you.  It’s a lot harder to face that way than when you can walk away from it and come back – like I can here.

So I’m sitting here hours after watching the movie wondering why – yet again – the cable channels run Friends for hours and on every channel (are they giving it away for free?!) and not really watching.  My bed seems particularly empty.  My body particularly flabby.  My life particularly missing a piece . . . still.  I know the vacant space won’t get filled again, it can’t.  But the reminders really throw me for a loop.

Then Sam came in my room . . . without saying what’s wrong he asked if he can come in the bed with me.  It’s not the remnants of his sunburn, he’s crying.  “Of course, hop in buddy,” is my response.  He feels safe, I guess, because in a few minutes he starts to fall asleep.

So while reality has pulled me in strange directions tonight, it’s also brought me back.  I look at my son and realize that those few moments where I couldn’t face what I saw on that glossy screen also open my heart up a little to what Istillhave . . . and as I hear Abbi fiddle with the lightswitch in the downstairs bathroom, Hannah snore next door, and suddenly hear the resigned sigh from Sam next to me as the tension and worry leaves his body .  . .

I realize that through all of this, I still am pretty lucky.  I’m closer to reality than I’ve been in awhile.

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Fly On My Sweet Angel

Exactly one year ago, I lost the love of my life, my very best friend, my wife, Andrea Andrews Manoucheri.  We lost so very much that, by all accounts, this could have been the year everything fell apart. Instead, it became the year our story began.  We have not lost the feeling of loss, the hurt of missing her so very much.  What we did learn, though, was that we are far better together than we ever are apart.

The kids and I did this video, with the pictures and words made by our own hands. It’s purposely low-tech.  It’s meant to show you how we scratched our way up day by day on our own.  We could have done a bigger, fancier, more produced version, but that’s just not us.

The one thing that’s not low tech is the song. When I started dating Andrea, she playfully said to me, “Write me a song!” When I looked at her flabbergasted, she simply said, “You’re a musician, they write songs for their girlfriends all the time. Don’t I rate a song?!” She was kidding, being silly and pushing my buttons with a mischievous grin. Two days later I played the song for her. While my brother and I recorded it for a previous incarnation of our band and it got minimal airplay years ago in the Midwest, I never felt like I’d gotten the song right, not really. So when I started this project, as hard as it was to do, I wanted to get it right.  She deserved so much better. I changed the lyrics to match where we are today.

I miss her more than you can possibly imagine. It’s literally like a piece of myself, the part of my soul intertwined with hers, was ripped away. leaving a wound never heals. She wasn’t just my wife.  She was my love, my life, and my best friend.

It’s like she came here long enough to give me what I needed then left, abruptly. But I hear my kids laugh together and the timbre of their giggles is her laugh. The smiles they have radiate their Mom.

I had it good and perfect for a while. It’s a hard life to come back down with the rest of the mortals. Particularly when she helped me learn to fly up with the angels.

 

We miss you, my love.

Fly on, my sweet angel.

362 Days

Being at home I find amazing things: like this photo of us on our wedding day!

Sweet Little Angel by BB King Live at the Regal Theater, 1964

At the ripe old ages of 20/21 I had the confidence and maturity level of a 16-year-old.  That’s not self-deprecating nor is it me looking for compliments or sympathy.  It’s a mere fact.  It wasn’t some amazing epiphany that changed me, though.  There was no shining light, no medical breakthrough, no therapist that unlocked the key to my inner “Dave.”  Two words can tell you what happened: Andrea Andrews.

Going home was the best idea to deal with these memories.  Not because I didn’t think I could handle the anniversary date, three mere days ahead of me.  I know full well that the anticipation – like it was for Andrea’s birthday, Christmas, New Year’s even – is far worse than the actual event most of the time.  For me, though, that anticipation is secondary.  I don’t have a singular event to prepare for.  I have a day that I should celebrate as well as a day I have to endure.  The day Andrea passed away, you see, is also the exact day of our wedding anniversary.

Andrea, you see, was this amazing, gorgeous, California girl who by all rights should have been like every other woman I’d met.  She should have taken one look at me, heard me stammer like the nerds in every romantic comedy, and chuckled as she walked back to the party.  Oh, she walked back to the party, but not until she’d wrapped her arm around mine and dragged me into it with her.  I knew the person she saw inside me.  I was just too scared, too damaged, too used to being let down and hurt to let him out to see the light of day.  The fear of embarrassment was greater than my desire to know any woman.  That is, until this woman came into the picture.

Andrea looked past the awkward small-town guy with the pre-Bieber haircut.  She didn’t let up.  She simultaneously frustrated and intrigued me.  When we worked together in Council Bluffs, Iowa, we decided that there was no need to subject ourselves to the leers, stares, even ridicule that would come with dating a colleague.  We’d seen other colleagues date, have their “nooners” and return a little flushed and a lot disheveled and we were determined not to live up to those low expectations.

Andrea had this grin, a mischievous smile that showed she was thinking something she knew would cause some sort of mischief but she wanted to see what would happen when she did it.  It was never anything crazy, not like a gut-wrenching “hangover” kind of event, but always memorable and always what I needed and not necessarily what I wanted.

Before we started dating she and I worked at this TV station and had a thousand things to do on a daily basis.  She was a reporter and Entertainment anchor.  I was a photographer and director and sometime reporter/anchor.  I would shoot a story for her, sometimes for me as well, then go back, edit, put pre-production together, then direct the whole newscast at 6pm.  When Andrea was finished with her story she would run a studio camera.

Directing for me was a combination of so many intense, concentration-sapping puzzles that took all of my synapses that the little switch inside my brain that turns on the buffer to prevent cussing, yelling and chastising people was shut off in order to allow me to use that processing power to handle concentrating on the monitors, timing, rundown and cameras.  When the camera shot would be off I wouldn’t immediately yell, but the average conversation on headsets, particularly with Andrea would be:
“Pan left, camera 3.”  No answer.
“Three, are you there?”
“Who?” would be Andrea’s answer.
“You, Andrea, you’re camera three.  Pan left.”
“Say please.”
“Dammit 3, pan left.”
“I will, say please.”
“What the fuck is wrong with you Andrea, I said pain the hell left”
“Well now you have to apologize.”

More than a few newscasts had off-center or graphics covering the anchor shots because Andrea would play with me crazily while my blood pressure soared and my eyes bugged out of my sockets.  But I soon came to the conclusion that when I was working late on a story and a backup director was in there she didn’t do the same things.  There was no prodding, no call for apologies, no seemingly indifferent thoughts to the production value of our nightly newscast.  She panned, tilted, and adjusted shots without question.  She simultaneously frustrated and intrigued me.  At the time I couldn’t understand what she was thinking or doing.  I’m a guy, you see.  We need a 2×4 slammed across our foreheads to understand the obvious.  Had I not had the lack of panache or self-confidence I mentioned up there, I would have realized long before I asked her out that she was messing with me to get my attention.

I’ve chronicled her thoughts and attempt to move and how she stayed with me instead of moving for her career.  We weren’t just in love, we were madly, hopelessly entwined with each other’s personalities and souls already.  She decided to stay, after just a couple months of intense, passionate, pleasurable dating.  We decided during the company Christmas party to go ahead and go together and let everyone see that we were, indeed, together, and not just together, but joined at the hip.  (like best friends, you creeps.  Get your minds out of the gutter!)  When we walked into the bar that night, hand-in-hand, there were a handful of people we knew that had no idea we’d been dating and were sitting there with their jaws wide open, nearly to the point their tonsils were visible.  It was obvious I hadn’t just given her a ride to the party, we were an “item.”

Fast forward a few weeks, maybe a month.  We’d been dating just a few months and during her wait to get on the plane home for Spring Break I took her by the hand.  She was wearing a small Black Hills Gold ring I’d given her for Christmas to show her I loved her, she wasn’t just a casual date, she was someone special.  I took that ring off her finger.
“Dave, what are you doing?” she asked.
“I don’t want you to wear this ring any more,” I told her, and I could see she was unsure.  Understand, her parents, sister, friends, all of them had told her that on Valentine’s Day I would have to be asking her to marry me.  I was not one to go with tradition and social expectations so part of me refused to do it on heart day simply because everyone wanted me to.  I hadn’t realized that she would take that as a sign I was backing away from her.  We still spent nearly every hour together.
“Why don’t you want me to wear the ring,” she asked, and I could see she was both excited and scared.
“Because I want you to wear this one,” I said, and I took out an engagement ring from my pocket and put is 3/4 of the way on her finger.
“Andrea, I looked at what my life was like before I started going out with you and what it’s like now.  I looked ahead and realized I don’t just love you.  I can’t see life without you.  It would never be the same.  Andrea, will you marry me?”

Now, you might see this as romantic, but it was really not.  I was stupid to wait until then.  I thought I was being cute.  I had told her Mom and sister, who were picking her up at the airport.  They’d told her friends in California.  She was one of the only ones who didn’t know of that circle of people.  The mistake I made was after she cried and said “yes!” they boarded the plane.  Nothing’s worse than a rush and wave of love and emotion and they you have to be apart for more than a week.  She was both ecstatic and insanely angry with me because now she wanted to stay with me but couldn’t.

The co-workers and friends from Omaha who only knew we’d been dating for a few weeks had no idea.  A few days before Andrea was to return I pulled aside our News Director and friend and told her that I’d asked Andrea to marry me.  Not because I wanted the attention, but because I was sure they’d see her back and notice the ring and think “Oh my God, she met some guy in California and got engaged . . . poor Dave!”  I also thought they deserved to know.  Our friend looked at me and at the top of her lungs shouted “WHAT?!”   

I think “Oh my God!” was the general consensus.  But in the end, I could tell.  Most of the people we knew, even some of Andrea’s old friends, thought there was no way it could last.  It was like love at first sight, sure, but most of the time that sight fails and the marriage goes with it.  But here’s the thing: Monday would have made 19 years of it working.  The day I lost her is the same day I made official my love, honor, and cherishing of this amazing, confusing, confounding woman who made me so much better than I was.  The love story, the storyline we’d started, ended abruptly.  The story ended and I have to angrily admit, the ending was less than satisfactory.  It’s like the book ended abruptly so the sequel could begin before it was ready.

There are, as you all know, 365 days in a year.  8,760 hours.  525,600 minutes.  That’s how many new starts I had to face.  The moments after losing my wife mark exactly that: moments.  In that first day it was seconds I faced.  86,400 seconds in that day.  It’s not that I faced only part of that, I faced exactly that many minutes.  I stayed awake that entire 24 hours, unable to close my eyes and unable to see beyond the next second.

As I moved past those first 86,400 seconds, I started to look at the 1,440 minutes.  Then the 24 hours, next came the days . . . and that’s where I’ve been since.  I haven’t looked ahead to next week, next month, next year.  This 365 days has flown by because all I have been able to do is look day to day.  Only now do we feel like a slight routine is hitting its stride.  I came home, visiting the parents who lived with us for so many months after Andrea’s death so we could start writing our story and follow some sort of story line that made sense.  I came home specifically so that we wouldn’t obsess about the seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks and months that led to here.  These amazing parents helped me to see I have these amazing children, family and friends.  As I said before, the anticipation was far worse than the actual event likely will be.

Sure, at home I find pictures and moments captured in singular frames of those photographs from the last 41 years of my life, 23 years of them knowing Andrea.  But today I can look at those years, and as the wound in my soul bleeds a little and continues to feel raw and empty, I can smile, proud that the woman who needled me to get my attention still weighs on my mind.  In your life you meet so many people, but only a small number have a massive impact, a paradigm shift on your life and story.  Hers altered mine forever.

Only now, nearly 362 days after her story ended, do I realize that no matter how much it still hurts, that shift was for the better.

Please log on this coming Monday, day 365, to Our Story Begins to see the video I created with my children in celebration of that life.  We are proud of the work we’ve done and the song I wrote for her and re-recorded to match our lives today.  I hope you celebrate her and our lives with me . . . and see how our story begins.

Know Not If It’s Dark Outside or Light.

Andrea, just after Hannah was born

Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters by Elton John from the LP Honkey Chateau

The mind is a strange piece of bodily equipment.  By all accounts, if there is any truth to the way our society treats people like me and my kids, we should be healing.  The pain should lessen, the longing getting shorter, the whole thing.

But as we draw nearer to the year anniversary of her passing into whatever realm Andrea walks now I don’t see the world in those terms.  Maybe it works that way for others.  Maybe they don’t have bouts where they can’t sleep because the bed is just too empty.  Maybe their kids don’t wake up at four in the morning in order to make sure that their Dad and all their siblings are still there, in the house, breathing and OK.  Maybe they look up after watching the television and know how long they’ve been sitting on the bed and know if it’s dark ourside or light.

For my part, I can’t tell some days.  Some days I look at the world and it’s moving just fine, my feet walking across the spinning crust with no cause to think twice about what’s going on.  There are days I see the attractive woman on the train and don’t feel guilty for thinking that she is attractive.  Most days, though, I trudge along trying to get from moment to moment.  I want to think it will get easier.  Hell, as bad as it seems, sometimes, it is easier.  I don’t have the physical pain that used to be there in the days and weeks after.  Now, as I reminisce about the past, finding pictures from the days and months where I first fell in love with my wife, the stories flood through my brain in flashes and speeding visions.  They hit at an alarming rate, my brain turning me to the same babble as the Mad Hatter in Alice’s adventures.

I found so many lovely photographs, the gorgeous, twinkling smile shining back at me.  Some were from before or just after we were engaged.

Andrea just after we were engaged

Others were from the night we were married or our Honeymoon, delayed because I didn’t have to money to take us on the trip right away.  These things give me pause, making me smile, sure, but then I see her there and my brain goes into overdrive again.  I realize that I won’t see that face again.  I cannot feel the warmth of her next to me in the bed.  All those “healing” moments they speak of just aren’t as quick or easy as they want me to believe they are.  It’s not just a physical attraction or the physical act.  If that were all it was I wouldn’t have ever fallen in love.

Our Wedding Night

Love, at least for me, wasn’t all there was to it.  Love isn’t all there is to the life we had.  Love gave us our oldest daughter, but it was also an emotion that complicates things.  We had barely a year as husband and wife before we became parents. If love was all there was to our relationship we would never have made it.  If it was simply falling in love that brought us together we wouldn’t have survived the intimacy issues brought on by the horrible damage inflicted on her by the jerk that took advantage of her and date raped her.  Love is a catalyst.  What kept us together was the fact that we fit.  We were best friends.  Infatuation gave way to longing which gave way to love and then to understanding.  I spent every day with my best friend.  I know that sounds cheesy, but there it is.  I loved her and I liked being with her.

Like so many friendships, we had cool times.  But unlike that poker buddy of yours, you have to make it work when you disagree.  You go into the same bedroom every night.  That’s where knowing you love that person helps you to climb over the hump.  The various pieces of your relationship meet and complete the entire picture for you.  Without one you cannot have the other.  It is also part of the reason why I cannot simply say that I can see the possibility of dating or falling in love again.  It’s not just falling in love that creates such a lasting and wonderful relationship.  I was lucky enough to be the best of friends with Andrea for a period of a couple years before we started dating.  Once we realized how much more we were feeling the love became even more precious to us because we didn’t just love each other, we liked being together.  Love is an intense and amazing thing.  Love with your best friend is simply the greatest feeling in the world.

Now, after the relationship has come to a sudden end, the love remains.  Sure, I talk with Andrea.  The kids, Noah in particular, pray and talk to her.  That’s all that there is, though.  Like a relationship centered on love with no intimacy or friendship, it’s doomed to diminish.  That’s where I stand.  I love her, I still hold onto the woman there I met and spent all that time with, but she’s not there now.  I’m trying to hold onto a relationship that centers only on the love and has only the memory of those other things.  The difference being those other things are so embedded in my DNA that I cannot let them go.

I get it, and I know what you’re all going to say.  It doesn’t change very fast.  It doesn’t heal that quickly.  It’s only been a year.  I get that, sure, but I also know that the part of me holding onto it doesn’t want to let go.

It’s fast approaching a year, a week from moving the clocks forward, and I still don’t know if it’s dark or light.  That’s the problem.  Part of me doesn’t want to know.

Pieces of Her . . .

Abbi's cast picture - you can see the necklace hanging there

Moon River sung by Louis Armstrong – You MUST get the connection, right?

In the months after Andrea passed away I had to make a lot of decisions and get rid of a lot of things very quickly.  I rid myself of a lot of what Andrea disliked about herself the last few years.  She had gained a lot of weight, none of it purposefully and much of it because of medical reasons.  None of them were life threatening, though the weight obviously was.

With my parents’ help, due to the necessity of moving, I had to get rid of much of her clothing.  Dresses, shirts, sweat suits, all kinds of things.  Some of it was very dated which made it even harder to go through because it was like looking at a tailored history of the woman who won’t be wearing these clothes any more.  I know everyone says “I’ll hold onto this, just in case I can lose the weight and fit into someday,” but we didn’t have a lot of that.  Some of it was sentimental.  Much of it was hard to look at.  I probably got rid of a lot of stuff I shouldn’t have, and I know it wasn’t a set of decisions I should have made a mere month or two after I lost her.  But life doesn’t let you do things on your own terms, sometimes, and I had to move into another house, one that didn’t have room for everything, and I had to make these decisions or face dealing with them later on my own.  I wasn’t prepared to do that.

One thing I’d given Andrea through the years was jewelry.  Nothing fancy, not a lot of big, expensive pieces.  In fact, it was small pieces.  Silver, mostly, though there was the occasional gold ring or bracelet from when we first started dating.

One of the things that made her smile, always, was getting that silly little blue box with the white ribbon.  (Every woman I know who reads that line will know what that means.  Those who don’t (sorry, guys, you should or you’re in trouble) it’s a box from Tiffany & Co.)  What I learned fairly quickly, though, was that I could get pieces from there without breaking my bank.  One such piece was a small necklace, silver, with a little “tab”, so to speak, that just had “Return to Tiffany’s” on it.

It isn’t a fancy piece.  Nor is it expensive.  I gave it to Abbi, though, because she had seen her Mom wear it often and always liked it.  It was, after all, at almost eye level for a little girl, when on her lap as a kid, and then standing in front of Mom to get her hair done, her clothes straightened, you name it.  It was the central point where she could look at her Mom’s neck while enduring the constant primping and preening for special events and school days.

So I gave Abbi the piece.  It was a good match, I thought.  Abbi has the same skin tone, and even looked amazingly like her Mom this last weekend when she hit the stage for her school musical.  She loves it, not because it came in a blue box, but because it connects her to her mother.  I get it.  I have a St. Anthony medal around my neck that connects me to her somehow, that I never take off, the metal rubbing and fading with the showers and grime of the day.  For Abbi, it’s a visible sign every time she looks in the mirror . . . the same focal point she had all those years growing up.

It’s the musical that sparked all this thought, though.  At one of the performances Abbi was told she couldn’t wear the necklace.  She took it off, thinking she’d put it in her purse.  It hadn’t made it to the purse, though.  I’m not sure if she hadn’t realized or if she was afraid to tell me, but late on Saturday, after watching her a second time on the stage, I got home, sick with the flu.  I was nodding off on the couch and heard her sniffling, meekly, like the little girl I carried in my arms so many years ago, she called “daddy . . . ”  and I heard the panic in her voice.  “I can’t find my necklace.  Mom’s necklace.  I thought it was in my purse, and I can’t find it, Dad!  What do I do!”

Abbi thought it was her fault, thought the worst.  The possibilities really were limited: in the plastic bin with her costume, in the boots she’d left at the school, or on the floor of the girls’ dressing room.  There were a limited number of places it could be and limited number of possibilities.

“I lose EVERYTHING!” she said in tears.  “I never, ever take it off except to shower, what do I do?”

My first instinct was to give her a huge hug, which I did, but I also assured her not to worry.  First, It had to be somewhere and we’d find it.  Second, it wasn’t expensive, so even if someone took it, we’d appeal to the personal value it had to us.

Like her mother, uncannily, as a matter of fact, she wanted to panic, freak out, and start the worry there and then.  Like her mother, I looked her in the eye and told her “It’s late, almost bedtime.  Even if it’s there at the school we can’t get in, but neither can anyone else.  The best thing right now is to wait and take a deep breath.  There’s no reason to panic until it’s time to worry.  That’s not now.”

She didn’t want me to talk to or email her teachers.  No matter the sentimental value she was embarrassed she’d lost it.  But I’m a Dad.  Can’t do that.

Without her permission and without her knowing it I emailed the drama director and spelled out what it meant to us.  This isn’t a piece of jewelry.  It’s a piece of Andrea.  “We didn’t have much left after we lost my wife,” I told her, “but I gave each of the kids something of hers.  This really means a lot to Abbi.”

And it does.  It’s not that Andrea’s in there, a physical part of her, but it triggers those synapses.  It makes your eyes glaze over and your pupils focus past what’s in front of you and see in vivid detail when Andrea would lean over Abbi and the necklace would bobble just above her nose.  When she’d come over and lean down to me in my chair and kiss me, and I’d feel the chain and tab tickle my neck and chin.  When the boys would grab at it and tug thinking it was a game.  It’s the history it contains that makes it so valuable.

So, yes, I violated my promise.  I emailed the teacher.

Today the email came in saying “How amazing, Mr. Manoucheri.  I found that very necklace Thursday night in the dressing room!”

She hadn’t described it because she didn’t want someone who didn’t own it claiming it.  She was about to turn it into lost and found.  Once she knew what it was she was really happy she’d kept it.

I sent Abbi a text letting her know we’d found it.  I could feel the relief in her response.

It’s not the necklace, it’s what the necklace does.  Each little scratch is a moment etched in its history.  Every little jingle, each small link in the chain holds some sort of memory that can trigger.  Our memories aren’t simply ours to grab.  They are sparked, electric, like a bolt of lightning throwing us into the past.  A smell, a song, a picture . . . and a necklace.

All of them . . . pieces of her.

How I Wish You Were Here . . .

Andrea and I at a formal event. I wish she was here . . .

Wish You Were Here (With Stéphanie Grapelli) by Pink Floyd

Being married to me, I have to admit, was no picnic.  I am sure Andrea had her moments of absolute and sheer frustration where she just wanted to punch the walls.  I let her steer me to what clothes to wear or how to wear my hair, but even I, in spite of the occasional polka-dot purple shirt or silk top would put my foot down on a lot of things.  I wouldn’t listen to country music even though Andrea had gotten the bug from her best friend.

More than anything, though, I listened to music.  Constantly, everywhere and without pause there was music in our household.  If I wasn’t listening to music I would play guitar.  If I wasn’t playing guitar I was singing.  When I cook I sing, out-loud and the most random songs from Christmas carols in July to Robert Johnson’s “Come On In My Kitchen” to novelty songs like “Crabs Walk Sideways, Lobsters Walk Straight.  It was constant but even Andrea had her limits and would snap at me sometimes to which I’d only get quieter, not stop.

But in the car, or out with kids, particularly if there was a song that Andrea loved, she’d be there, off-key, singing at the top of her lungs.  Sam, her buddy, would go “Mooom!  Geez, stop, you sound awful!” while smiling ear to ear.  I would totally buy in, pushing her along, singing with her, trying to go off-key too and sing.  Eventually she’d pull back and listen to me sing with the kids and smile.

No song did this more than Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here”.  I have to admit, that of all the albums I own, this is probably my second favorite.  I favor “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs” by Derek and the Dominos, but Floyd’s album of loss, friendship broken and the love and depression of their friend Syd Barrett is my very close second, and though it’s probably a sin to Floyd fanatics, I consider this my favorite album of theirs.

So much so, in fact, that after getting some gift cards I decided to buy the “Immersion Box Set” of the album.  I got it this morning and I sit here tonight thinking I could get through it because of my long history with it.  After all, my brother gave this to me as a kid, my first Floyd record ever, and I was entranced with the wine-glass intro and buildup of the album’s opus, “Shine On you Crazy Diamond.”  But I sit here, on my bed at midnight, looking for things to write and hear an outtake of the title track and it just felt like my heart started to rip apart.

It’s strange, it’s not even something Andrea heard, but it’s a version never released with a violin instead of guitar solo and the sort of plaintive cry of the violin just shot Andrea into my head and I started to cry.

I always related to the song.  Andrea and I couldn’t have been more polar opposite, and I have to figure many of the people around her wondered what the hell she was thinking when she started going out with me.  She was blonde, tall and voluptuous.  I had jet black hair and was skinny to the point of lanky.  Near a 90-pound-weakling.  (Alright, 160 then, but hey, it fits the analogy)  She was classy and tanned and fun while I was wearing outfits 5-years behind the norm and had a Bieber do before he was born.

But we clicked.  And even then, dating, while I listened constantly to music and had my acoustic guitar and would play “Wish You Were Here” in the apartment where I lived while Andrea visited or got ready for her day.  She came out one day, recognizing what I was playing and giggled loudly “I LOVE this song . . . We’re just two lost souls swimming in a fishbowl . . . year after year!”

I never thought I’d ever get torn by this song.  It brought such happy, warm memories of her.  I thought about her sitting next to me in the car belting out the lyrics.

But the version I have playing right now is so stark, so . . . pretty, that’s the word, I suppose, and almost sad . . . that I find myself crying because of it.

So.
So you think you can tell.
Heaven from Hell
Blue skies from pain
Can you tell a green field
From a cold steel rail
A smile from a veil
Do you think you can tell

Before  you criticize or try to comfort, yes, I know you could find hurt or meaning in anything if you search hard enough, but it’s brutal in its honesty.  I do – I wish you were here.  We were such opposing forces that we were two lost souls swimming around.  We had so many trials and tribulations and money troubles we were running through the same stresses year after year, over and over again.  Andrea had the same fears she’d had as a child and even I couldn’t make pull her through them to the other side.

I know I’m blatant in my musical references.  You’ll notice, if you haven’t already, that I place a song on every post hoping to spread some of the love I have for it around, but this is one of the first since hearing “Wonderful Tonight”, the song we adopted as our wedding song, on the radio at the funeral home.

I hear that song, the violin in place of the guitar, and I can see her next to me, but also realize there’s just no chance to hear her loving, excited voice with this song.

I miss you my love, my sweet Angel.  I wish you were here.

How I wish . . . How I wish you were here
We’re just two lost souls swimming in a fishbowl
Year after year
Running over the same old ground
What have we found?
The same old fears.

Wish you were here.

That’s Powerful Stuff . . .

Powerful Stuff by the Fabulous Thunderbirds

Sometimes there is powerful stuff (to quote the Fabulous Thunderbirds) out there that you can’t avoid.  I can avoid what I can’t see coming.  It’s the stuff I didn’t know was out there that get to me.

There are a few things that I must admit, even though we enjoyed them as a family, I was able to retain possession.  I lost several of my favorite Clapton songs.  “Wonderful Tonight” I simply cannot hear on the radio, television or even Muzak.  Our first dance, first kiss, wedding dance, all were to that song.  Cannot hear it without losing it.  “Layla” kills me, though I’m at a point where I can finally listen to it.  I don’t watch any of the vampire shows she loved so much.  I can’t see many of the dramas.  I don’t order from one particular pizza chain . . . they’re things I simply have to avoid because they’re parts of my life she stole away when she left.

But I retained one particular television show, a Sci-Fi program decades old and my favorite as a kid.  She hated the ’60s-’70s version for its bad special effects and liked the new one but didn’t make it a point to watch it every week.

Yes.  I’m a geek, a troubled, self-conscious, certified hard and fast Whovian.  I love the TV show Doctor Who.  (For the hardcore fans, you’ll notice I didn’t use Dr. I spelled it out)  I mean, as a kid, I was obsessed.  I had the giant scarf, the rumpled brown hat, just needed the curls and the teeth.  When they re-booted the show I was aghast and enamored at the same time.  The special effects had reached modern day and the writing was brilliant.  I had to convince my wife to watch with the kids because she actually had full disdain for the program.

This isn’t a commercial for the show, bear with me, there’s a point.

The writer and executive producer of the current incarnation is brilliant.  But I didn’t know how brilliant.  Some people just get it, if you know what I mean.  My situation is certainly one where people don’t really understand and it seems easy to just say you’re sorry and that things will be OK.  By the way, telling someone like me that I shouldn’t worry, it’s all for the best, there’s a plan, a foretelling or a future that I just don’t know about . . . worst possible thing to tell me.  Why?  Because I hate the idea there’s a “plan” that involved me marrying an amazing woman only to lose her when I needed her most.  Screw the plan!  What happened to my free will in all this?!

But back to Who.  I love the show and my kids love it, too, which makes me happy.  My oldest . . . well, she doesn’t.  Or perhaps she does but doesn’t want the cool people to know that she does because, in England it’s the highest rated program and here it’s a cult hit.  I can watch it, possibly because it changes so much from year to year or episode to episode.

Every Christmas they put on a spectacle that’s over an hour long and involves some sort of catastrophe.  We wanted so desperately to watch it on Christmas day but time, relatives and reality just got in our way.  We ended up waiting until last night.

It’s the only time I’ve walked out in the middle of an episode.

Understand, it wasn’t that the episode was terrible, it was great.  But it’s called “The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe.”  A woman loses her husband to WWII at the beginning of the picture.  Midway through they’re visiting an old manor house to get away from the bombing and she hasn’t told her children that their father isn’t coming home.  She yells at them at a particular moment in the episode and says she doesn’t know why.  She doesn’t want Christmas to be forever known as the day their father was taken away.

“They’re just so happy and . . . ”
“. . . and you know once you tell them they’ll never be happy like this again.”

Or words to that effect.

The writer producer, Steven Moffat, in one phrase didn’t just twist, he wrenched the knife in my heart.  Without speaking or writing those words myself, the program had hit the point perfectly.  Not only was I the bearer of bad news, I was the harbinger of disappointment.  On March 26th I walked in and even though there was no choice in the matter, I was ripping a large part of their innocence away.  I knew that every bit of happiness from this point on would be touched with a shadow.  A spot of regret and misery that would filter into everything.  It would dim, for sure, and maybe disappear occasionally, but don’t you believe it goes away for good.  The shadow stays forever and I knew that the moment I walked in and said I had to tell them all something that the shadow would start to grow.

It’s back to something I’ve said many times before.  The big things like Christmas Day, birthdays, holidays, songs, all those things we know will hit us.  It’s the stuff from out in left field, the line in our favorite show or the picture or the worst thing – smells – that throw me into a tizzy.  You just never know what’s going to hit you.

I walked out into the hallway until I could pull myself together.  The kids didn’t know anything, how could they?  They weren’t the ones who had to tell someone their Mom wasn’t coming home.  If the writers and producer of that program haven’t suffered this kind of loss I don’t know how to explain their getting it so beautifully right!  It’s a sci-fi show, an effects laden extravaganza with an impossible plot and improbable ideas.  It’s why I love it so much.

I don’t pretend to be able to cope.  I can’t go back and un-watch a show any more than I can go back and stop Andrea from dying.  I can see these things for what they are, and that’s getting something the way it really is, getting it right.  For every post I put here, shows like this who tell people what that sadness really is, not a simplistic tragedy that can be whitewashed with platitudes but a powerful thing that can have an impact on our whole future.

I don’t hide those emotions, I hide those tears.  It’s OK for my kids to know they can feel these things and deal with them.  But they also need to know their father is strong enough to shoulder their burdens, even if it’s just so much smoke and mirrors as the sci-fi show they’re watching.  At least they know, they have someone who can help them.

There’s someone who can help them deal with the powerful stuff.

Technology hasn’t killed us yet . . .

Hangin’ Around the Observatory by John Hiatt

There are those who feel there’s too much inter-connectivity. That we shouldn’t have those smart phones, the internet and email and everything at our fingertips. It’s too easy to look up something when we should take the time to go to the library, look it up, find the answers.

But technology is my savior. It truly is.

I live in a state where I didn’t grow up, don’t have family and really had no connection to until I met my wife. Once she passed away, I couldn’t see placing my kids in that very same situation. Their Mom is now here, permanently. Their grandparents, cousins and aunt are here. In the weeks after Andrea died I was within just a day or two of packing everyone up in a Ryder truck and moving to Nebraska, living with my folks in their house, and figuring out what to do while my oldest daughter finished high school. I’d been told that my work was looking to “make a change” and cutting my salary by an insane amount of money. I would not be able to survive and even though I’d already begun looking for a different job by then, I didn’t have one. I got lucky. I have a job, an amazing one, that allows me to do what I do best – tell stories.

But here’s where technology comes in. Go back to just a couple days before Andrea died. I got the call Andrea had gone into respiratory arrest. My wife, Dad and brother are pharmacists. I know what that means and know that it’s really, really bad. I was in a panic. I needed help but I had none. My parents, you see, were on their way to visit my older brother in Texas. Twenty years ago, I’d have been screwed, hyperventilating in a car in the rain on the way to the hospital with no hope and no help.

But it wasn’t 20 years ago. It was in March.

I called my Dad’s cell phone. He answered, even though it was roughly 4am there – in Norman, Oklahoma, where they had stopped for the night. This was a random motel, a random choice, and there would have been no way I could have gotten hold of him. While I was on the phone, crying, worried that she was going to die that night, he had already silently told my Mom to pack up and they were in the car, turning West, heading my way. Had there been no cell phones, I’d have had to wait until they got to Texas, the next day, letting my brother tell them.

Instead, they were on the way. When they got to California, they arrived at the house an hour after I told the kids their Mom had died – precisely when we needed them.

Go back farther: when Andrea first went into the hospital, in the ICU, everyone wanted to know what was happening. I used my Twitter feed to give hourly updates. My cell phone had been dying, I couldn’t keep up with everyone and I quit trying to be nice. I told them I was sorry, but unless it was her parents, sister, or my family, they could get updates on Twitter. It was perfect. Every hour I posted what was going on.

When she died, after the appropriate calls were made, after I had started to crawl back up to my own feet, I let the rest of the world know on both Twitter and Facebook: “We lost Andrea this morning. It is our 18th anniversary. I asked her to stay for it. Guess she just couldn’t hold on. I miss her so much.”

20111209-114038.jpg
The Twitter feed, March 26th, 2011

That was priceless. Why? Because what people don’t realize – particularly the ones who haven’t spoken with Andrea or the loved on YOU lost, in a horribly long time, is that every call they make to make themselves feel better about having been out of the picture is like taking a bottle of lemon juice and pouring it into the wound. Make no mistake, particularly that close to the hour it happened, you are in pain, serious, physical pain. There are those you have to tell. Your parents, her parents, you kids, obviously, and then the very close friends and relatives.

But every time you take that call, get that “Oh my God, I’m so sorry, what happened?” question, you have to go back . . . two steps back . . . to the very moment all over again. You break down, even though you don’t want to. You are dehydrated you cry so much. You are in a fog because you haven’t slept for days. You are, quite simply, a freakin’ mess.

Technology made those days so much easier. We got amazing notes; fantastic comments; beautiful sentiments of 180 characters or less. Technology helped me to heal without reliving all of the pain more than I had to.

That’s not the only time it helps.

I talk to my folks daily. I use my cell phone, calling them in down time, on the drive home, when I see something amazing, whenever I need them. They are the pillars holding me up while I boost my children.

My daughter, an amazing, brilliant child, still has her times of hardship and difficulty. I became a journalist because, let’s be honest, I suck at math. Never was good at it. My older brother, though, is a mathematical genius. That’s not an exaggeration, it’s just a true statement. (He once tested and was accepted to MENSA, only to turn them down because he thought it was silly they wanted him to pay them to certify him a genius. He already knew that. Not arrogance, just truth.)

When she has problems with math and I can’t solve it? She scans in the homework, emails it, and her two uncles, brilliant men in two different states, use text, email and scanners to help guide her to her answers. When Hannah wants to know how to play a song, we record it on the phone, text it to her uncle, and he lets her know what he has done. When I write a new song I save the settings, FTP it to his server, and if it’s a great take we can keep it. Otherwise, he can learn it, and we cut rehearsal and recording time in half.

When a friend of Andrea’s – who lost her husband – knows what I’m going through and wants to find me, she got me on Facebook and we’ve become even better friends since. I know someone out there has been where I am and has the joys and frustrations I have, and doesn’t tell me how to go through this, just understands that I am.

When I need to let someone above the age of 16 what I’m going through, I can write . . . here . . . and feel a little like I’m getting someone to hear what I’m going through.

Yes, in the Lady Gaga and Katy Perry world of today, Video did kill the radio star. Janice and Jimi would have languished by today’s standards. But don’t blame the technology for the end of the world.

It saved mine.

I can feel your body, when I’m lying in my bed . . .

Andrea - my perfect fit

When was the last time you kissed her?  I don’t care if it’s your wife or girlfriend or even that first date you went on, when was the last one?

The reason this sticks in my mind is because I took a survey for a friend’s site (www.goodenoughmother.com  will be contributing to this wonderful, well-known site starting in January) and one of the questions asked when I was happiest.

The answer wasn’t particularly hard for me, it really wasn’t.  There were others that were, things like where I see myself in the future, questions about how I see myself.  But the easiest question I had was simply when I was happiest.  It popped right into my head the moment I read the question.  Without a doubt, it was the moment I’d kissed my girlfriend – the woman who would become my wife – for the first time.

Now, it’s funny, I can remember it was not after that first “official” date, the cold and icy night we saw the band “Rush” in concert at Omaha’s Civic Auditorium or another night.  She saw the band, but to be honest, even then I knew she was humoring me.  She listened to James Taylor and Toad the Wet Sprocket.  She loved Morrissey, for Christ’s sake!  But we found common ground in bands like The Doors and she absolutely adored old Santana.  Not the newer stuff, though she didn’t mine that in later years, but put on the first 3-4 LP’s and she was in heaven.

It wouldn’t surprise me if we had kissed after that concert.  She was dressed so pretty, wearing a black coat, velvet bordering the collar and a black hood hanging off the back.  She looked amazing and we’d both gotten a beer and had a little to drink.

I do know that after that show we went out and continued our retinue of alcohol-soaked evenings, but not to the point of being inebriated.  We were simply enjoying ourselves, something I had not done in all my time up to then.  She made me feel like loosening up, being happy, and being flirtatious.

I remember the night, though, the night it happened, and I ache because I can actually feel it as well.  I know for a fact that before we’d headed to my apartment we’d been at the restaurant “Grandmothers” in Omaha, right off 90th and Dodge streets, just a few blocks from my apartment.  We loved to go there because, being college students, we could order a pitcher of margaritas and get a free plate of nachos at the bar.  We ate the greasy, horrible chips and drank the pitcher dry.  This after a full day’s work.  You have to understand, after that concert, I wasn’t sure if she’d enjoyed herself.  I was the dumb ass, after all, who picked an insanely noisy auditorium filled with 10,000 other people and meeting friends from work who were standing there as well.  It was far from an intimate evening.  She was flirtatious, but at evening’s end she went home to her apartment, which was nearby, and I hadn’t ended up there or met her friends.

But the next day, at work, we were business as usual.  She was getting ready to go on the air, I was working on a story that we had shot together, and I was so sure that I’d messed up that I was convincing myself that it was all wrong and telling myself that she was just too pretty and too outgoing to go for someone like me.  I was not anyone’s idea of Prince Charming.  Around the corner from the studio’s control room was the community bathroom.  It had a big mirror, those massive light bulbs used by makeup artists.  There was a single stall with a toilet in the corner, but that was it.  The door normally hung open and the reporters and anchors put their makeup on in that room.  If you couldn’t find them, the odds were pretty good that’s where they were.  I headed in there, told her how long her story was and just kind of stood there.

“Did you have a good time last night?”
“I had a wonderful time.”
“Oh, great!  I wasn’t sure if you liked them or not, but it was a good show.”

There was a bit of uncomfortable silence and I watched as she started to lean into the mirror, putting her mascara on her eyelashes.  She hadn’t said anything else.  I was directing that night, so I had to head in to start preproduction.

“OK . . . well, I better get the pre-pro going then.”

I had walked out, heading to the adjacent control room when I heard it.

“Well, Dave . . . ”

I nearly ran back to the bathroom, trying to keep my composure.

“Yeah?”
“I was hoping you’d ask me out again.  Was I wrong?”
“No!  I mean, absolutely.  I would love to go out.  Are you free tomorrow night?  We can have dinner!”

She hadn’t remembered that we’d met at M’s Pub in Omaha’s Old Market once before, talking about her best friend and reminiscing about small town Nebraska Christmases.  But I did.  I asked her to go there again.

We ate our dinner, both of us having pasta with a pesto sauce, grilled chicken and fresh bread.  I ordered that flourless chocolate torte and we inhaled it the dessert tasting so good.  We went and saw a movie, though I’m not sure what movie we saw.  I know, how can I remember what we ate but not that detail?  I don’t know.  Certain things stick in your memory.  A dark movie theater with no conversation and no way to look her in the eye isn’t something that is very memorable.

I DO remember that after we saw the movie, at the Indian Hills theater on 90th and Dodge as well, we went back to my apartment.  I know you’re thinking I had only one thing on my mind, but I didn’t.  I was out of my depth, way up over my head.  I had grabbed a 6-pack of Michelob and another of Miller Lite, both bottles, and had them in the fridge, knowing she’d want a drink.  I opened two bottles and we talked, all night.  The movie had ended at 11 or 12, a late evening, but we’d had dinner first.  She sat on my couch, wearing a fairly simple outfit, I suppose, but she was just so gorgeous.  She had on a silky par of pants taht felt so soft when I put my hand on her knee to make a point.  She wore a t-shirt that had what they called a “sweetheart neckline” which curved below the shoulders but met at a dip right in the center of her chest, giving just a hint of cleavage – nothing salacious, but it sure made it hard for me to concentrate on the conversation and keep my eyes on hers.

But all she had to do was laugh.  I stared at her eyes, and I noticed that they sparkled.  You’ll think I’m crazy, I know you will, but when that woman laughed, with her brilliant, beautiful smile, her eyes, a grey-blue like the sky after a thunderstorm, twinkled.  We talked about work a little, school a lot, the future, what we wanted to do, the fact that she wanted to do a semester at American University and intern at CNN, and listened to CDs.  I had a mixture of songs, Bonnie Raitt, Clapton, all sort of romantic, programmed into the player and playing on a 6-disc changer on my stereo.

Eventually the discussion turned to family.  She had a lot of good, and a lot of bad to say about her family.  The pull that they had on her was painful, I could tell.  She said how she must have been a horrible date with that kind of conversation.  I made a crack about a bad joke George Carlin had made during one of my horribly failed dates and the topic made Andrea think of her sister.  She’d been going through a tough time and it was sincerely weighing on her.  So much so that her entire mood shifted.  I felt awful, I had done my typical move, screwing up what was supposed to be a perfect night.  I moved over to her, sitting next to her, trying so hard to apologize.

“I’m so sorry, I had no idea, I would never had said anything if I’d known, I’m so sorry, Andrea.”

She leaned into me, and I could feel her body press next to mine.  She was so gentle, so soft, and she seemed to fit perfectly next to me, the curves of her body fitting perfectly as she laid her head on my shoulder.  I didn’t think it was possible for anyone to physically touch me like this, to have such a perfect fit, to be so amazing, and I was screwing it all up.

“It’s not your fault.  It’s just so hard, and I can’t do anything to help.”

I told her she had nothing to worry about, that I was sure she was doing everything right.  I put my hand on the back of her head, I felt the soft stands of hair, like silk, and I leaned over and kissed her on the forehead.  I tried to be as gentle as I could, she was so soft and perfect in her movements.  And then it happened.

Andrea looked up at me, half of her laying on me, those beautiful eyes staring straight into mine.  I didn’t think I had done something right, I was sincerely trying to make her feel better.  It was like a John Hughes film.  She probably didn’t look for very long, but I studied her entire face, it was just so perfect – perfect for me.  I moved my face closer to hers so I could feel the brush of her nose next to mine, waiting to see if she would pull away.  When she didn’t . . . I kissed her.  Slowly, passionately, I kissed her, amazed again at this wonderful woman, holding her and hoping she’d never leave.

She didn’t.  Now, I know I’ve given a lot of very vivid detail here, but it’s all that happened.  It obviously wasn’t the only kiss we shared that night, but it was all we did.  By this point it had already been close to 3am, we’d been up most the night.  I fell asleep on that same couch, with her next to me, her body fitting perfectly. It was as if I’d been missing a piece of myself and never knew it wasn’t there until she had shown up.

This is the point of my story here.  When is the last time you kissed the person you love like that?  When did you look them in the eye, pausing, reading their face, so close you can feel their breath as it touches your face?  If you haven’t, if you don’t, or you can’t remember, I want you, tonight, to do it.  Go up to that person, put your hand on their cheek, or run you fingers through the back of their hair and look them in the eye.  Live your own John Hughes film and kiss them, like it’s the first time you’re doing it all over again.

You see, I don’t get to do that anymore.  I didn’t get to.  That last day, believe it or not, in the room for the last time, seeing her body there, cold and so completely opposite of the woman I’d met twenty years before, and I couldn’t even go through the motions.  They hadn’t removed the breathing tube.  She was covered in equipment, and I had yet to go home and tell my children she was gone.  Like that first kiss, I had to lean over, and gently, deeply, kiss her on the forehead, this time the tears coming off of my cheeks, and tell her goodbye.  I couldn’t tell her before, not while they worked on her, tried to keep her alive.  I looked and truly did remember that very first kiss, the press of my lips on her forehead, and I was dizzy, hoping I could see those beautiful eyes, that michievous twinkle, just one more time.  I didn’t get it.

I can’t tell you the last time I got to kiss her like that, to feel her press next to me, to touch her hair and feel her head on my shoulder.

Just like that night, where I realized that this person, this amazing, wonderful woman, was the perfect fit to me, she fit me perfectly.  Not just emotionally, but she fit next to me, her physical presence the missing puzzle piece to my life.  I go to bed and I can feel her body when I lie there.  When I close my eyes and remember that night, I can feel her, the press of her lips, the soft press of her skin, the gentle caress of her cheek as it brushed up against me.

People say that times will change, things will smooth over, that life won’t be so difficult.  But I don’t want it to go away.  I don’t want to wake up tomorrow and be OK with it, or to go back to the feeling I had before those pieces fit.  The moment I can’t close my eyes and physically feel her lips against mine is the moment that I’ve truly lost her.

So for me, just this night, this one time, find the person you love, remember that first night, that first, second or third date . . . and kiss them.  Not a peck on the cheek.  Not a quick smack that ends with “luv you.”

Kiss them.  Mean it, feel it, and tell them.  Tell them you love them and that you miss this.  Because take it from me, it’s just like the song says: I can feel her body when I’m lying in my bed.  There’s too much confusion going ’round through my head.

Give yourself that memory – not the vision, the muscle memory, the feeling, the press, the touch.  You never know when you’ll need to close your eyes and go back there yourself, because one day, it may very well be the only thing you have left.

…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