Tag Archives: Geddy

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.

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.

Distant Early Warning

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One of the things I'd miss if I'd never met her.

Yeah, I know, the 2nd Rush reference, but it fits.

A friend of mine has a website called “Good Enough Mother” (http://www.goodenoughmother.com) and she posed a question the other day whose answer did not come easily to me. If I had a crystal ball, would I want to know the future, a finite point in distant time.

It’s not an easy thing to think about. The reason being the first question on everyone’s mind when they see these things is sadistically curious: if I had known what would happen to Andrea would I change how things came to pass? I’ve actually had someone pose this question to me before and I hate it.

Let me preface my comments with the fact that I truly do hate the way I feel right now. People who don’t know how to handle knowing someone who has lost their spouse try to get me to act like I’m normal and happy and everything’s OK. People who miss Andrea want to commiserate about how much they miss her because it makes them feel better, never mind how we feel. Others just don’t want to deal with it and use the old “you’ll get through this” or “those who loved once are twice as likely to love again” cliches. I hate that. I really mean it, I can’t hide my disgust and disdain for it. I know they have the best of intentions, at least in their own minds. In reality it makes them feel better because they’re uncomfortable around someone who is just not feeling whole anymore.

So in order to answer the crystal ball question – on both ends of my hypothetical life – let me start with the conundrum that I face when I approach this question. There truly is a part of me that absolutely wallows in the sorrow and thinks that nothing is worth this much pain. It really hurts, like nothing I’ve ever faced before. It’s funny, because all those studies that talk about how breakups and heartache can have the physical symptoms of real pain make me laugh. They’re the product of people who live in a clinical world and have obviously never, ever, faced any kind of relationship or breakup. But add to that the fact that I’m not just facing discomfort but the reality that I’ll never see the woman I love again and you scoff at the studies because nothing I’ve ever faced hurts that much.

Yes I’m avoiding answering the question thus far. But here’s my mindset: part of me thinks that if I’d known what would happen and stopped myself from going out with her and avoided all this she might still be alive. She might never have been here, never had 4 kids, never had the liver problems, circulation issues, none of it. She might have been a TV anchor living in DC or New York and one of the most successful people I ever met.

But look at the things neither of us would have had: no kids. No life together. She used to tell me she was on a self-destructive path, that she was falling apart and I came in at the perfect time to stop her from going down that road. I used to tell her that I was a shadow of who I am now, the real person buried under tons of emotional debris. She might have left us earlier had I not been around as well. I might never have moved up in my career, never done anything but shoot video in small town Iowa.

Then there’s the most important thing: I would never have had those four amazing children.

So what about my distant future? Don’t I want to know if my kids made it, if they’re OK, if they’re successful and able to function on their own?

No.

Neither option works for me. Here’s why: as much as it hurts, and it is awful. It’s like the arrow pierced my heart and was ripped out, leaving shards and little pieces of her behind, but never enough that it stops from hurting. The scar tissue hasn’t even come close to growing around it yet. She’s gone, there’s nothing I can do, and it hurts. But I still have the most amazing memories.

I have the story of our lives up to this point. I see its tragic end, the horrible, awful moments in the hospital, hearing her ribs crack as they beat on her chest and seeing the doctor ask me to make the choice for them to keep going or to stop. It’s a position I hope none of you EVER face in your lives. It’s awful, it’s painful, and it’s messy. But if I saw only that without seeing the amazing night we spent together after her sorority formal, or the first time we made love realizing we’re both awkward, uncomfortable and breaking out in laughter that made us both starry-eyed, changing our feelings to honest-to-goodness love, I’d be missing so many things. I’d never see that beautiful baby Abbi coming out, fighting everyone who tried to hold her only to snuggle up to me and fall asleep in my arms and my arms alone. I’d never have a daughter whose birthday is also my birthday.

I’d miss the pain but I’d miss the memories more.

So if I saw that finite future, the ending to the kids’ stories or the way my life plays out I have no idea what the rest of the book says. It’s like looking at the end of the book before you even read the first few pages. Sure, you may know that butler did it, but what if the dead body was someone who tried to kill the butler’s daughter and he killed the man to save her life? You have no idea.

I don’t like the idea of knowing the ending. There’s far too much left out in that finite moment.

I hurt, a lot, and I wish it would go away, but I wish it would get worse, too. The pain is awful but it dredges up those memories and reminds me that she was here, it wasn’t all a dream. The better I feel the less her presence is in the forefront of my mind, and I don’t want it to fall into the background. I loved her, I miss her, and I see her slipping away day by day. This will be our first holiday without her, and when we get through it I’ll have been through almost every holiday without her.

I don’t want that. I have to have it, but I hate that it’s happening.

So keep your crystal balls. Tell your psychics to stay away.

I’m much happier here, looking at the anticipation of what happens next – waiting to find out how our story begins.

 

You Said How the Coffee Tasted So Fine…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?!”

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

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

“You’re nuts!”

“What?”

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

“It was in O’Neill, Nebraska.”

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

“You’re from O’Neill?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The promo photo for my first band

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

She gave me a big hug.

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

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

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

We sat here together just to pass time.

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

But never before had the coffee tasted so fine.

 

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.