Tag Archives: home

Yes, We Gave Thanks

My family
My family

It seems almost strange to not post something the evening of Thanksgiving, so here I sit, my head swirling and more than a bit tired, writing.

I know there are a lot of families do the whole thing where they go around the table, inflicting on their small children (and the rest of the family) the requirement that they extol what they’re thankful for.  In reality, you usually hear “for good, and pie and my brother and sisters and . . . ” you get the point.  I know this because my mother-in-law used to do this to us every year and Abbi, Hannah, and even my wife, her daughter, used to sit with that giggling nervous laugh unsure what to say.  It was the same every year.

Don’t get me wrong, for most people this is perfectly normal, it’s a great thing, some even have amazing, philosophical, wondrous things to describe.  I’ve spoken with some people who talk about their lives and what they’ve lost and how they’re so happy and it’s like Shakespeare and Mark Twain got together and wrote an American oratory.

I’m not that guy.

So instead of inflicting that on my kids we just decided to have dinner.

This was the first year where, after losing my wife/their mother and going from a 6-person household (two girls, twin boys) to a 5-person household…my oldest was in college all Fall.  We were suddenly 4 people.  To have Abbi, my oldest daughter, back in the home was just plain happy.
“I thought it would be strange coming home after all these months like it would be uncomfortable,” she said this morning.  “It’s not, it’s just . . . ”
“Home,” I finished.  That’s right, I made the cheesy cliche’d comment.  I won’t apologize.

You have to understand . . . that’s become so much more true for all of us.  It sounds like a Hallmark card or the not-so-subtle lesson from a Lifetime movie, but the reality is wherever we are it’s home.  I woke up really early after a full night last night.  I had already cooked 3 pies . . . I made a family recipe that’s like Chex mix, too.  In the morning I made my mother’s bread dressing and seasoned and put the turkey in the roaster.  By the time Abbi and Hannah, my two girls, had awakened the house smelled like Thanksgiving.

That, you see, was my goal.

When I grew up, whether we ate at my home or my Grandma Lanone’s, the house smelled like Thanksgiving.  There was a mixture of garlic, rosemary, turkey, cinnamon, cloves, pecans, potatoes, sweet potatoes . . . just cooking.  It wasn’t the labor it was the fact that it didn’t feel like labor.  I’m sitting here, tonight, exhausted from cooking literally all day . . . and I don’t care.  Really don’t.

You see, we’re home.  Yes, we’re still, 3 Thanksgivings later, a member short of our 6, but that didn’t factor in.  Sure, Andrea, their Mom, came up during the day.  But the reality was this isn’t a day where the cooking was what is missing.  Andrea was the decorator, the staging person, the social butterfly.  Family wasn’t near – not extended family – so that wasn’t going to be necessary.

No, seeing Abbi so happy to be home, her brother Sam attached to her side all night while we watched the awful movie “The Wolverine” and her other brother, Noah, walking up and hugging her all night made me smile.  Hannah so excited she was talking so fast she was near unintelligible was enough to know how happy she was.  I was just happy to have them all under the same roof again.  Doesn’t matter where it is.

2013-11-29 07.30.19To give you an idea of my family – my own, me, four kids – when you walk into our home the thing that greets you first is our wall of crazy animation.  There’s a Charles Schulz etching that has Schroeder playing the piano while Snoopy listens – animation and music, obviously; there’s a print by an artist recommended by one of my dearest of friends by “The Black Eyed Guy” of a book called the Owl Whooo Knew; then there’s an original animation cell – one of the actual ones used to make 1/24th of a second of a cartoon on the wall.

That mishmash of stuff is our family.  Multiple interests, multiple thoughts, craziness running around in an organized chaos.

But at the end of the day, all of them are under one roof, together.  That makes it home.  That’s really what we should be Thankful for.

And I truly am.

Another Picture, Another Story

Years ago, when I was still a married man, we were getting our home ready for sale and starting the process of moving out to California.  Before selling our home to Andrea’s company we thought about selling it outright, even though Dallas’ economy had tanked in the wake of 9/11 and we were living in an area heavily dominated by the airline industry.  Still, we thought we’d give it a shot.

One of the things that our real estate agent told us was to remove all our family photos.
“Why,” was my question?
“Because people don’t want to see family photos, they want to see themselves in a home.”

Don’t get me wrong, she was likely correct in her assumption, but I wouldn’t do it.  This was still our home, we were comfortable, and I liked how we had our pictures placed.

But the pictures, artwork, all of that told a story.  You could see a visual history of our family on the wall.  Sure, by that point we didn’t know that part of our history was more than half over.  Still, we had the pictures of the kids as they grew, the family photos taken by our friend who started her own studio.

The place our story begins . . . our new home.
The place our story begins . . . our new home.

When we moved to California we had the same.  It’s the first thing I put up in our rental home when we moved after the funeral.  It’s the inspiration for this blog: a saying Abbi – my 18-year-old oldest child – found at work one day.  “Home: The Place Your Story Begins” was the phrase in vinyl lettering and I put it on the wall for the way up the stairs.  It’s surrounded by pictures of all of us – Andrea included.  Still, it shouldn’t be mistaken for a shrine.  This isn’t some melancholy worship of the past.  This was the reference of our story.  It’s like we’ve started writing our own series and the first one ended on a cliffhanger.  Joss Whedon would have been proud – a central character, turning her life around, getting healthier . . . then passes away from an unexpected cause.  It left the five of us to figure out where we were going.

So I put up the photos . . . but then I added more.  There’s the new family picture, none of us dressed up, taken by my sister-in-law when we visited Nebraska on the year anniversary of Andrea’s death.  The folk art that had followed us through four homes came off the wall and I replaced it with the kids’ amazing pictures.  I don’t say that lightly, either, I honestly believe they’ve gotten very talented.

Two of the kids' artwork
Two of the kids’ artwork

Then tonight I came home and was flooded with four faces all talking at once.  They all wanted to recount their day in graphic detail.  It’s like an aural pummeling to have that flood you when you’re still carrying your laptop and wearing your coat.  They hear the garage door and corner you in the alcove between the dining room and the garage.

I held up my hands, informing them that they all know they’re supposed to go one at a time, otherwise it’s white noise.  I heard about how bad AP science was.  I heard about how Sam wants to join the choir again.  Then I heard about “dark matter” from Hannah, who is doing a report on the expanding nature of the universe.

Then, as I began to get dinner ready, I felt a little tap on my back and there was Noah.
“Can I show you what my art homework looks like,” he said rather meekly.
I looked down and there was a pencil drawing of the profile of a woman.  It wasn’t meant to be realist, it was meant to be interpretive . . . and it was beautiful.  It truly was.
“That’s amazing, little moo, did you do that all by yourself?!”
“Yes.  I’ve been working on it since we got home.”
Then Sam showed me his . . . another woman, different in aspect, but just as amazing.

I immediately informed them that they’d get honorable places on the wall.  In fact, we’re going to take new pictures, too, and those will go up on the wall.  They might even replace some older photos.

You see, last week I took Andrea’s name off our home email address, nearly two years later.  I also took her last picture – the one she’d given me for Christmas – off the dresser in my bedroom.  It was no longer “our” bedroom.  I kept trying, when I moved in, to act like it was but it simply wasn’t.  It was time to make this my room, to make it our home.

It’s time to get another picture and let the walls of our home – wherever we might reside – start telling our story now.

My family, today, taken by Amy Renz's Hunny Bee Photography
My family, today, taken by Amy Renz’s Hunny Bee Photography

A Little Light Conversation

This weekend we put the lights on the house.

Kids in front of the tree
Kids in front of the tree

Yes, I know, I’m behind the times.  Most people in my neighborhood managed to get their lights put on the house on Thanksgiving Day.  I know I sound Dickensian when I say this, and will manage to aggravate so many suburban residents out there, but . . . what the hell is wrong with you people?!  Look, I get that there’s not a lot of time and you want to keep up with the Joneses and all that.  I also know that you want to be all celebratory.  I’m not disputing that, Christmas is my favorite time of the year.

But what the hell?!

Thanksgiving is spent for me making too many pies – and this year screwing up in baking two of them – and then driving around town to relatives.  Never mind the meals the next day, working before the day, all of that.  How in God’s name did these people find time to get the lights on the house?  Some hired them done . . . I know that, and I realize full-well that there’s a snowball’s chance in hell of my doing that.  I couldn’t afford it and there’s just something, I don’t know, odd about doing that for me.  I can’t figure out why I’d pay triple for lights for about a month when I could simply put some lights on the house myself.

So after all that, with yet another splitting headache, I took to the roof of our home.  (Well, it’s not our home, we’re renting, but you get it)  My oldest daughter, Abbi, saw me suffering and my vision a bit blurried and decided that it was worth helping me to ensure I didn’t fall to the bushes below the roof.  Never mind the fact it was a convenient excuse to ignore the homework she didn’t want to do.  I would say it was easy, organized, and perfectly suited since we’d managed to get the lights up on-time last year but I’d be lying.  Like so many things from last Christmas I don’t remember much.  We did manage lights, tree, presents, all that, but I don’t remember doing it.  Autopilot must have been a major part of my life last year because we managed to get through the holidays, I wasn’t a mess, and the kids enjoyed themselves.

This year I looked at all the lights put away, the giant snowflakes that I remembered hanging down at least one of the peaks on the house, and I scratched my head.  Maybe it was the headache, or maybe it’s because my brain has slowly filled up with useless information.  Either way, I didn’t remember how the hell we’d gotten the lights up on the roof.  I had tons of strands of green outdoor lights and then tons of strands of white outdoor lights.

“These don’t match,” I told Abbi as I stood staring at the storage containers.
“No . . . they don’t.  Does it matter?”
I had to think about that.  It used to.  Andrea, my late wife, used to have conniptions about anything going against “the plan.”  The plan, you see, was her vision.  Given my ways, particularly early in our marriage, you’d have been able to land an F-16 on our roof with the lights I wanted to do.  Patterns and colors be damned, I want to see my house from the International Space Station!  That didn’t go well.  I argued, I fought, I groused . . . and like always I gave in.  You know what, it was always classy, minimal, and beautiful.  She had a knack for it, this woman, and it always looked good.

So I stood looking at the lights and could only muster “well . . . ”
“I mean, we could do the snowflakes like last year . . . but put the green lights on the bottom eave . . .then up on the top one,” Abbi pondered.
“They won’t match,” I told her.
“So.  I’m not Mom, neither are you.  She’s the only one that really bothered.  It’s not worth all that work.”
She was right, too.  I got up on the roof, managed to match the white snowflakes with white strands and separated the green ones in separate areas.

We turned on the lights, fixed the broken bulbs to eliminate the dark patches, and suddenly . . . we were a lighted home.
“Your Mom would have hated this,” I said.
“Yeah . . . but Mom’s way took three days, which we don’t have, and we’d both be exhausted,” Abbi said.
“You’re absolutely right.”

The other kids came out and hugged my saying simply “yay!” and dancing in the dark of the street.  I went in satisfied, knowing it was perfect.  In the dark all you saw was the colored lights, and they sparkled against the eaves.  You couldn’t see the wires.  In the window you could see the tree lit up and even it was contrary to the way Andrea would have decorated.  There was no theme . . . except we decorated with our own materials and ornaments.  No leopard spotted bows, no ribbons instead of tinsel, it was a traditional tree.

By that I mean it was traditional for us.

A Reason to Be Home

My amazing kids, taken by "Hunny Bee Photograpy": Amy Renz

The Weight by Aretha Franklin, featuring Duane Allman

I got home at a decent hour last night, which is fairly regular lately.  It’s funny, because in my previous job I wasn’t.  My time was all over the map.  That doesn’t mean that I can say with certainty “I’ll be home at X:XX every night, kids” it varies.  Sometimes it’s 6pm, others it’s 7.  Sometimes the train is late.  Sometimes I shoot longer than normal and I can’t get home until later.  But it doesn’t change the fact that the normal routine where I had long arduous hours has changed.

That doesn’t fix things in a kid’s mind, though.  Last night I got home, saw the kids’ faces (well, all but my oldest’s) get all excited when they realized I was making tacos for dinner, and then got ready to finish all the dinner preps.  It’s not particularly easy to do considering the fact that the house is a mess and – in my less than subtle statement – I tell the kids it looks like some kind of hoarder lives here.  I pick up a little each night, but then the daily routine doesn’t get everything situated with all this is falling into disarray.

I also had to make arrangements for one of the days this week to get a babysitter for the kids.  Abbi is in school but the other three have Spring Break.  Between burning fuel to drive them North to their aunt’s house and finding a babysitter for Thursday when they have nobody to watch them I’m going mad and broke simultaneously.  I am definitely starting to feel the drain and the stress of it all.  I have the week taken care of, but the strange shift, the difference in days off, the kids not off at the same time, is a killer and I hear it from all parents, not just from my own mouth.

Then Noah, one of the twins, in the middle of getting ready for bed, asks me if I’m working all week.
“I have to, kiddo, I don’t have vacation scheduled.”
“Why, Noah, what do you need?”
His brother Sam chimed in.
“We just like it better when you’re home, Dad.  When we are off we like to be with you.”

It’s both heart warming and heart breaking.  I truly wish my kids had what I did: a parent home to take care of them.  I know my poor Mom had no vacation from us, no day off, but every morning I had  breakfast (as do my kids) and she was there every day after school, summer vacation, even Spring and Fall breaks.

But I can’t do that.  No matter how much I want to, even if by some miracle I found a way to make a good living working at home, there is still work to be done.  Short of winning the lottery, there’s not much I can do about it.  We’re in the situation for good or ill.  But how do you tell an 8-year-old that?  How do you say you know their friends’ Moms are home this week and every week and you can’t have that?  How do you tell them that you know it’s harder with Mom gone and you wish she was here too?  It’s not fair to tell them how much you miss their Mom , too.  You just show them you’re not really in control of it all, which they need more than anything.

That’s the main thing, too.  They miss their Mom.  They’ve not gotten over the hump of feeling like she left and worrying that I’m not going to be there, too.  I can tell them I’ll do everything in my power to be there and take care of them, but there will always be that nagging doubt in their heads.  Their Mom, after all, was there on Monday, in the hospital Tuesday and gone on Saturday.  What’s to stop that from happening again?

What I have to tell them is they can’t walk around worried and in fear that it will.  Bad things happen.  I wish they didn’t.  Sometimes in order to get to the top of the hill you have to trudge through the shit and mire that is at the bottom, working your way to the top.  On the way you’ll get cut, fall, have scrapes and occasional infections.  You won’t get there unscathed.  You’ll be hurt and may even fall.  The key is not stopping halfway.  We’ve made it this far.  The hardest, sure, are coming.  I don’t know how I’m going to get them all at college or pay for their clothes or get to this Saturday when the boys have their birthdays, even!

But what they can take some solace in is the fact that, other than when they visit their grandparents over the summer, when the work day is over, I’m home.

And they are there with me.  They are a reason to be home.

Going Home Again

With the Family at LaCasa Pizzaria

More than a few people look to us this week and wonder what we’re going to do, whether we have something planned, whether we have some major thought or celebration, possibly sitting to commiserate with each other.

I can’t do that, though.  Yes, we lost an amazing, wonderful, spectacular woman, we really did.  I wish I could say that it was fine, that we’re doing perfectly, that the world is letting us do what we do best and that our lives were happy and perfect.  They would be actually, but we don’t have her here.  If Andrea was still alive things would be perfection.  The one thing I’ve been telling the kids, particularly when they have a moment where they start to break down or get depressed, or out and out cry, is that they couldn’t be perfect if she was here now.  That’s the paradox of our lives now.

Let me explain it to you this way: before Andrea passed away things were rough.  Her knees and problems with the ducts in her liver created a situation where she wasn’t able to go back to work yet.  We had to stumble along without her salary for awhile.  Knowing that we had things very tight.  On top of that we were paying on her school loans for when she had gone back to Pharmacy school, which were substantial.  All that went away when Andrea passed.  The paradox of course is that those financial difficulties return if she were still here.

But emotions are a strange thing.  I loved her dearly, more than any other person or woman I’ve ever met.  To have her leave on our anniversary was a sad state of affairs that I couldn’t fathom at the time.  It’s not easy for me.  This was a day that I should celebrate, the day I made true my love for the woman I both loved and enjoyed spending my time with.  Instead it is forever known as the day I lost her now.  The opportunity to spend the day remembering our wedding, loving her, and having it to myself is not there, it’s a day to have to remember that she went away, something that all of us now share.  As special as it is to have everyone’s thoughts and love for that day I also have a selfish part of my personality that wants to hold my anniversary as my day.  I want to have it as the day I miss and love her and wallow in self-pity.

But it is not.  I will spend the day to celebrate both her life and ours.  The one-year mark isn’t one that I want to spend hearing calls and emails or tears, though.  So I went home.  My home.  The same parents who lived with us and took care of us to make sure that we were able to stand on our own two feet the days after we lost Andrea picked us up at the airport and let us stay with them for the week, able to deal with our day of loss our own way.  It’s amazing how much I both rely on and appreciate what they have given me, my entire life.

We landed last night and immediately went to the restaurant that our family has been frequenting since before I was born.  It is our favorite, the owners and workers all know us.  It is simply the most amazing food to us and we forgot why we had even come for the moment.

So this is our week to be home.  I see photos from years past.  I see myself and my children as little kids.  It is not just comfortable, it is home, and that’s truly where my heart is.  If you have a hole in your heart, the best place to care for it is at the place it was shaped and fostered.  Even as my kids were born and raised for the formative years of their upbringing we spent many a weekend at my parents’ house.  They spend their summers here.  It really is home, not just Grandma and Grandpa’s house, but home.  No matter how far away from here we travel or move, we are always able to come here and be home.

And we are always welcome.

March 26th the video we created for the anniversary of Andrea’s passing will post here.  Please, if you have the 6 minutes, take the time to click here and watch the video, listen to the song, and help us celebrate not just the life of the amazing woman I love, but of the life we’ve been able to lead since losing her.

Long Way from Home

Long Way from Home from Brotherly Love by the Vaughan Brothers

Crepe Myrtles, the trees Andrea favored

I had a rather unique problem tonight, one that I didn’t think would be any big deal, not for me at least.  It wasn’t even something I’d thought about since we moved out of our home and into the rental where we’ve lived for the last many months.

Abbi, my oldest, had ordered something from Amazon.com and had it shipped.  She was scratching her head at the kitchen table asking me if I’d picked up the mail or if there was a package.  When the box wasn’t there I looked up at her with a sudden cognition realizing exactly what she had done.  You see, Abbi hadn’t ordered anything online, particularly from Amazon, since last year – and I don’t mean last year, December 2011, but last year, January or February of last year.  When she’d ordered her box, she had never bothered to change the settings of her account and simply pushed the “order” button and said ship it off without realizing they were sending the box to our old house.  The tracking information said it was delivered at noon and it obviously was at the old house.

I saw her struggling with it.  Once before, in a bit of routine memory, she had accidentally turned into the road leading to our old house on the way home from school.  She couldn’t turn around, it’s a small 2-lane almost country road that led to our old neighborhood, so she turned into the cul-de-sac where we had lived.  The house was empty, the back yard being landscaped and everything just torn up.  Which is what it did to her, tore her up.  She was a bit overwhelmed.  She had to park the car and compose herself then continue home.

I didn’t think I’d have the same problem, I really didn’t.  I had moved us out of the house, done the walk-through and everything when we left, did the “broom clean” bit and even did the round about looking at the yard and everything to make sure we had gotten it all.  I left knowing full well that this wasn’t the home of our dreams.  This wasn’t my middle child’s view at all.

The day I announced we were moving Hannah went into a panic.
“This is our house, Daddy!  Mom wanted to live here!”

But she didn’t.  That was the only irony that kept me going.  Andrea didn’t want to live here.  Sure, she’d found the home, even slyly, using her very feminine wily ways of conversation to get me to buy into the fact we needed to buy into the housing market that was giving me heart palpitations because of the massive disparity in costs from the market in Texas, where we’d lived prior.  I said before, Andrea had ways of making me say and do things I would never have done before.  It was good in some ways, but in others, like buying a home right before the market tanked, that’s bad.  I don’t say this to make it sound like Andrea always got her way or tried to make me a virtual slave to her ideas and ideals.  Far from it.  In fact, there were moments where we nearly didn’t make it because I caved in too much and had to come to terms with the fact that I needed to help her since she helped me so much.

The ways it helped, of course, are evident.  I met a friend for lunch today and when I talked about my kids and going through teenage shyness and self deprecation I told her how I was shy, paralyzingly so, in my teenage years.  It was horrible, and I even regret it but couldn’t help it then.  I was so scared of rejection, so lacking in self-confidence I nearly couldn’t function.  In a group of friends I might be fine.  When I had a crush on a girl I so desperately wanted to ask out, I would – and this isn’t an exaggeration – dial the first 6 numbers and physically couldn’t get to the 7th.  I would hover over the number.  I had an old push-button phone that would dial out the number like a rotary phone and even if I got to the number, I’d hang up before the last number went through.  The few times I went out I was so amazed I’d gotten to the date I couldn’t think what to do.  I was quiet, shy, and just stupid.  Let’s face it.  Wish I’d been less of a dweeb, but it took Andrea to see that it wasn’t really me.  It took her not just befriending me, but loving me, showing me I was worthwhile.  It’s funny, just withing a couple months, when we’d just started dating, I must have made a pretty drastic change.  People I’d spoken with in my college classes normally wouldn’t have given me a glance – not because they were mean, I gave them no reason – were asking me to out for drinks.  Girls were saying hello.  I was actually being flirted with, even enjoyed it, but knew . . . I had found the person who really knew me and she was waiting for me.

My friend said they couldn’t picture that.  They saw me as so outgoing and confident, the complete antithesis of what I was describing.
“That’s Andrea,” was all I could say.  “She looked at me and saw something.  God knows what, but she saw it, pulled me out of there.  I have to wonder what her friends thought, because I know some of them had to be wondering what was going through her head.”  I’ve said it before, but I’m so much better for having fallen in love with her.  I just wish I’d told her that more often.

But where she made me better, she made me worse, too.  We bought our home, thought we’d argued and negotiated well. The price was far lower than market, by a lot.  But then the market didn’t just “adjust”, it tanked.  I liked the house, it was nice, it was big, and it was somewhat comfortable.  It had two ovens which was amazing.  But by the same token, the space between the kitchen island and the fridge was barely enough to fit one person, let alone two through.  The pantry was deep but narrow.  The light fixtures weren’t normal screw-in lights, but plug-in one-brand flourescent only.  The furnace filter was off-sized and had to be custom ordered.  The house was always drafty and the back yard was literally a mountain of a hill that couldn’t grow ANYTHING.  I tried, used a jackhammer on the rocks, tried to plant jasmine in the soil, planted carpet roses and hiked up the back yard.  But we never had the money to finish it.  The house cost so much we couldn’t afford to do anything else.  The enjoyment you’re supposed to get from having a home just wasn’t the same.  It echoed massively.  The place was loud.

We moved because we had to.  Financially, sure.  We didn’t have a second income.  I can’t use the social security for such a large mortgage payment.  I can’t do it without a second income, and it was just too much to handle alone. More importantly, though, my daughter and I couldn’t look around without seeing Andrea.  She was on the couch in the living room.  She was at the table, a mug of coffee in her hands.  Her form in the front room, where the Christmas tree was every year opening presents.  Abbi said everywhere she turned she saw Andrea and she just couldn’t take it any more.

So I took up the mantle of getting her package from the old house.  I thought it would be fine.  I wasn’t sure if there were people there or not.  I wasn’t sure what I’d say, but it wasn’t like I wanted to tour the home, I just wanted Abbi’s box.  But the closer I got to the neighborhood I started to feel like that kid again.  My heart started to beat so hard it was skipping, the tachycardia I had as a teen becoming evident again, making it hard to breathe.  I turned onto the road and started up the giant hill, the mile of asphalt leading to the small neighborhood.  I realized there might still be friends in the houses, maybe out and about.  I went from the strong, confident journalist to the teenager who was dizzy from the hormones and emotion of trying to ask out that girl all over again.  I told myself I didn’t know why I was feeling this way, knowing full well I knew exactly what I was feeling.  I hadn’t been back here since we’d packed up the trucks and moved.  I had no idea who was in there now, never really met them.

I pulled up and the Christmas lights were still up on the house.  A giant dumpster was out front, a Christmas tree in it, rocks and landscaping garbage in it.  I walked up and saw Abbi’s box on the porch even though the people were obviously home.  Through the windows I’d seen new paint, different colors even on the walls.  I grabbed the box and turned around and noticed something wasn’t right.

The lawn right by the front of the house, the small sections of grass that went on either side of the sidewalk normally bordered the two garages of the home – one a small one-car and the other the normal garage.  In the middle, when we left, were two trees, pieces we’d loved when we moved in because they were Andrea’s favorite.  They were crepe myrtles. The trees were tall, still young, and they flowered every Spring in beautiful colors and made her smile.  As I turned around, the front grass had been covered with mulch, tons of little tufts, desert kind of plants filling the whole area.  The trees were gone.  The things she’d loves so much had been ripped out, sitting in that dumpster, unceremoniously disposed.

I couldn’t take it.  That was the last bit.  I was glad I hadn’t had to talk to the people inside, but I couldn’t believe it.  I was angry, though I had no right to be, it isn’t my house.  I was sad, so much so that it just broke my heart.  I know it shouldn’t, Andrea didn’t like the house, she didn’t want to live there forever, or even much longer when we were together.  But now, the piece she liked, the bit that made me smile every time I marched up the walk to the door when I got home, was gone.  Not just gone, but ripped up, torn out and tossed aside.

I wasn’t bawling, not screaming or beside myself.  But it affected me.  I took the box, my eyes watering and sniffing a little as I walked up to the car and couldn’t bring myself to look back at it.  It’s not that the house had changed it’s that I just couldn’t face it.  I realized I was just starting to fall apart.  Simultaneously I was turning into the teenaged wallflower and angry, simpering man.  I realized that I’d weighed myself down this whole time.  I could tell you more about my shoes and the sidewalk than the world around me because I look down and trudge along like a man weighed down by a cord of wood.  After putting the box on the passenger side I looked up.  I inhaled a deep breath, opened my eyes, and realized I’d been staring at the ground wherever I went for the last nine months.  So I looked up and noticed up there, nearly at eye level, was the moon, nearly full, orange, and beautiful.  The woman’s profile staring back at me in the right lower corner and the stars around it.  The crisp air made the night clear and I saw the stars, brilliant and twinkling at me.

It made me think of her, of how her eyes sparkled like those stars when she smiled and of how the first time we visited my folks and it scared her because there was no light, just the stars.  I looked around me, seemingly for the first time in months, and realized even the neighborhood was dead.  Our home sat there, the lights and Christmas decorations still gaudily glinting there.  The house across the street empty, dead.  The neighbors selling, another house, vacant.  Andrea wasn’t here anymore, but she really never was.  I’d prayed this would make me more hopeful, but in the end it just resigned me to the truth.

All of it had changed.  We left and left it all behind.  The house wasn’t the house any more.  It felt like the place was just standing there while we moved.  Like Andrea, we’d left it behind, like so many crepe myrtles in a dumpster.

I try to hold on to my son’s analogy, that she’s there, in my heart, the biggest portion.  But I have been looking back so much to try and keep standing, to shoulder it all that I haven’t just . . . looked.  It’s really hard, nearly harder now than we even thought the holidays would be.  I think I realized, as I drove away, that it was because we want so badly to hold onto what is back there, but the more we move, the farther it falls behind us.  It made me feel even worse to finally realize it, and I had to pull out, into a Target parking lot, wandering the store aimlessly, because I didn’t want my daughter to feel like I’d been so affected by a simple package retrieval.

After a short while I composed myself, headed home and went to our new house.  I had to get the boys ready for bed, the midnight snacks going.  I had to get moving to the daily routine, knowing full well that with each little action, I was pulling us farther away from the world I’d just revisited.

And I took some solace knowing that even though it was left behind, Andrea’s body lies under two new trees, the same kind, those beautiful crepe myrtles, and at least there I can visit and know she might see them, wherever she is, and smile.