Tag Archives: leaves

When You Never Get It Right…

An amazing fall picture of Andrea

Today would be Andrea’s 41st birthday.

That would be difficult enough, like every first holiday without her, but this was the day I’ve been dreading since she passed away.

You have to understand, Andrea’s birthday was the day I never seemed to get right, some of it because my job had me forced to work late almost every birthday, and a lot of it because I just screwed it up.  That’s a hard legacy to live up to.

I have to admit, there were times I don’t think I could ever have gotten it right.  Days that she asked, even begged me to stay home all day.  One year, that was her only wish, wanting me to stay home and be with her . . . even admitting at that point she wanted me to be home to entertain her.  Andrea had a horrific fear of being alone.  I work in television news so November, even today in the daily monitoring world, the most important ratings period, the one that sets the biggest ad rates for the year, is November.  It usually starts on a Thursday, the last week of October and goes until right before or after Thanksgiving.

The way I avoided most of the holiday problems was to work as an investigative reporter.  The payment you have to make for that is the fact that you end up working every book and guaranteeing that every story for the opening of the book gets put together right.

But it’s more than that.  I never got it right.  I’d tell her I’d do my best to be home by 6 or 7 and be late.  I’d try to get her the right present and we’d be out of money or would start looking too late.

In the end, I just never got it right.

The inevitable arguments ensued.  I’d see the disappointment in her eyes, the smile in that photo you see disappearing.  Now, that’s all I see.  I’m sure there are a number of birthdays – in early years – that were just fine.  I managed to get other holidays, even our anniversary right.  I just kept messing it up.

That makes this day so much harder.  We all felt this coming, handling it differently.  Hannah wants to go to the cemetery.  Sam doesn’t.  We all want to celebrate, but what do you do?  It’s hard to celebrate the birth of someone who will never age.  She lives with us, in our hearts, attached to our souls.

The best I can accomplish is to just celebrate it.  We have a cake – a fancy one, I made and decorated for Halloween.

So I’m doing the only thing I can think of.  I’m making Andrea’s birthday our own holiday.

It’s not huge, but I got the kids each a present.  We made a cake.  I’m going to make a nice dinner, something Andrea would love.  It’s not an effort to buy my way out of things, if that’s what you’re thinking, because that would never work.  Especially for MY kids.  Instead, I want to make want to make this day a celebration of their mother.  A day that we take to think about her, do the things she’d love, and just think about what she brought to us.

It’s my only way of trying to make up for what I did wrong for so many years.  This is my only way to make this right.

Today is her birthday, and she’ll never see it.  I loved her so much and only wish I’d done this right all these years before.  I’m making up for it . . . but to the kids and myself since she’ll never know it now.

Happy Birthday, Andrea.  You’ll live on, a little stronger this day, the one you deserved when you were with us.  I got it all wr0ng, but maybe this time I might actually do something right.

20111030-001805.jpg

Almost Level With the Ground . . .

Thorn Tree in the Garden, by Derek and the Dominos off the album \”Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs\”

There are a number of really strange things that have happened since our new story began.

Obviously, there’s the strange events of the hospital.  When Andrea passed away, the doctors were fantastic, all supportive, worried that I hadn’t told the kids yet.

But After they took me into a room, I thought to give me privacy but now I wonder if it was so I’d stop being so loud and calling attention to the fact that someone died in their hospital, they showered me with platitudes, brought in a chaplain, asked me if I was OK, even gave me a glass of funky tasting water since I’d gotten a little dehydrated.

But the thing that bothered me the most was that about 20 minutes to a half hour later they just started inundating me with information.  They wanted me to decide on a mortuary – then and there, no holds barred, immediate decision – and get them started in dealing with Andrea’s body.  I know this will sound crazy, but it seemed like a bunch of little kids worried that they might get “cooties”.  Oh my God, there’s a body in there!  I hadn’t even had a chance to say goodbye.

Then they gave me a full list of everything I’d have to do.  I have to be honest with you, they beat the mortuary drum loudest, and I picked one.  The one closest to my house.  I got insanely lucky that the people I chose were great people, worked with my church, and were sincerely wanting to help me.

But 20 minutes after Andrea’s death, I’m getting pelted with things I have to do.  I haven’t even had time to fathom she’s gone.  I didn’t know HOW I was going to go home and break my kids’ hearts.  I didn’t know what to do.

I asked to say good-bye.  I went in the room.  I heard some nurse complaining that I hadn’t put on the scrubs, rubber gloves, all the crap I wore for days because she had some sort of infection on her leg they never figured out.  I ignored her.  They were in a gigantic hurry to get me moving so they could process her body, but she still had the IV hooked up, the syringes and wrappers still being picked up, and she had the tube in her mouth.  I couldn’t kiss her goodbye.

I don’t remember what I said.  I put my forehead on hers, said a prayer to myself, and told her goodbye.  I didn’t want to stay, it was just so hard, but I didn’t want to go, either.  This was the very last time I’d ever see her.  I made my peace, took a deep breath, and steeled myself for the trip home and what I had to do.

Then the chaplain grabs my hand . . . clamped around my wrist, and just says “pray with me” . . . and starts chanting the “Our Father”.  I’m sorry, I’d said my words.  I had prayed to God, talked to Andrea, begged him to make sure she was finally safe and happy.  I told the chaplain I’d said my prayers and stalked out of the room.  I wasn’t going to let these people drag me through any more emotional sludge.  I had enough pain to deal with now.

I got home and intentionally waited until right before their closing to call the mortuary.  If they wanted her out that badly, they’d have to do it on MY timeline.

The next few weeks, though, showed some of the most amazing pieces of humanity I’d ever experienced.  My parents were the first.  You have to understand, my father absolutely despises California.  He hates the scenery, the people, the attitude, everything about it.  Just coming here is hard for him, I can tell, but he doesn’t stay away.

The night Andrea ended up on a respirator the hospital called me at two in the morning.  I’d actually just gotten into bed, and Hannah and Noah were sleeping in there already.  They told me the nurses laid Andrea, a patient who can hardly breathe and fighting pneumonia, the weight of her body pushing on her lungs making it harder to breathe , on her back to clean her up.  Instead she went into respiratory arrest.  They said she was on sedation and respirator but they couldn’t calm her down and could I come there . . . it was really bad.

I called my Dad and Mom on the way.  It was raining, pitch black, and I’d had to leave Abbi to watch the kids.  I was a mess.  I didn’t know what to do and I was freaking out.  I knew what respiratory arrest meant and they didn’t know how long Andrea had been without oxygen to her brain.  I told Dad, near hyperventilation what had happened.  Dad is usually my voice of reason, my calm in the storm.  They had left Nebraska, were on their way to visit my older brother in Texas and had stopped in Norman, Oklahoma to spend the night.  I knew I was in trouble when Dad just said “Oh, God.”  That was it.  Dad is never without an answer, but this night, he just said we’d have to hope she comes out of it and that the doctors are helping her fight.  “Oh, God,” he said again.  I told him I just needed him to calm me down, which he did.

“We’re on our way, son.  We’ll be there in a couple days.”

While I was on the phone, they’d gotten dressed, packed up, and just jumped in the car, at 4am their time, and turned the car West.  They got to our house just a couple hours after Andrea died.

At the funeral, it was hard.  At the cemetery was harder.  People wanted to crowd into the tent with us and I kept them back so the kids and I could be there.  I got through the prayers.  Andrea’s sister got us all flowers – roses, her favorite – that we could put on the casket.  Everyone left, and something inside me just collapsed.  I lost it, hysterical, to the point I started to fall.  And there . . . was my dad.  He grabbed me, held me in his arms tighter than he had in years.  He told me he knew, it was OK.  I could take as long as I needed.  When I was able to stand up again, apologizing, he chuckled, picking up his handkerchief, saying “dammit, I thought I was going to make it through this.  Showed me, huh?”

He knew just when and how much to lighten me up.  He put his arm around me and helped me so I could walk back to the car.

They stayed until the weekend after they kids got out of school, literally months living with us and taking care of us until we could start walking again by ourselves.

Andrea’s best friend, a person I went to High School with, showed up and helped with the kids the day Andrea died as well.  If she’d done nothing more than be the godmother to Hannah that she was, we’d have been blessed.  Instead, she helped us get organized, and was yet another pillar holding up our foundations.  I know it wasn’t easy for her.  We were selfish, wallowing in our grief, and only now realize how insanely difficult in different ways this had to be for her, Andrea’s sister, all of them, it was.

That was the finite, emotional and physical help.  We go so much help to pay for things from others.  I didn’t have to cook for weeks after the funeral.  We paid for the rest of tuition and expenses and bills with help from friends I haven’t seen in years.  For every crazy, awful person that just wants to make themselves feel better by throwing cliche’d statements at me there was the friend who just wanted to take us out for pizza.

Then there were the crazy things – an anonymous donation to our bank account of a thousand dollars.  A thousand bucks!  Who does that?!  I don’t know, but if I’m ever in a position to do it, I will.  I was completely blown away by the support we got from our church community and those who loved and cared for us.  It was phenomenal.  I got two insanely expensive boxed sets – the 40th anniversary of Layla . . . the Deluxe Edition of Traffic’s “John Barleycorn Must Die”.  To this day, these insanely expensive sets, filled with 180g vinyl, dolby surround mixes, bound books and artwork, sit anonymously given, no name attached.  Sure, Clapton’s a given for me, but Traffic?  Only someone who knows me will knows I have the respect I have for Winwood.  I have no idea where these came from and I kinda like it that way.  It is help selflessly given, and make no mistake, to listen to Layla, or hear the last phrases of “Thorn Tree in the Garden” (even if it is about Bobby Whitlock’s dog) are amazing things.  Both albums gave me cathartic, new ways to look at this story of lost love.  The Majnun, the madman, dying himself lying on the grave of his love because they’ll never be together.  That’s profound.

I know I’m not the subject of a Persian love story.  But I do have love around me.  When I’m having an awful day and randomly this friend sends a text saying “love you, my friend,” I am pulled back up to ground level.

The old song says “I’m tore down . . . almost level with the ground.”  That’s the thing I have to remember.  I’m almost level with the ground.

But not quite.

One of the legendary 3 "Kings" of the blues, Freddie King

Things Stolen from Me When She Left…

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

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

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

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

The next day she went into the ICU.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . .and they just won’t be the same.

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

The Forecast Calls for Pain…

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

This week was when the cloud caught up.

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

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

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

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

I heard about it Tuesday.

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

I could see the lightning flashes.

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

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

And there was the thunder.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is what why, kiddo?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tonight I Feel Broken in Two

20111019-142430.jpg
Noah in a fond, happy moment. Far different from our evening's tribulations.

Years ago, when our oldest, Abbi, was just a kid, I had to do one of the most intense and terrible punishments I have ever devised.

Abbi, you see, was terrible at picking up after herself and keeping her room or the living room clean. This was particularly difficult for Andrea and I considering the fact that this was just a tiny, 2-bedroom house in Omaha. The worst thing in the whole world: Barbie hairbrushes. Those things are like a tiny plastic bed of nails placed strategically so that when you walked through the hallway or the living room in the dark of night so you can step on them and embed the hot pink day-glo plastic into the arch of your foot. I cannot tell you the number of muffled screams escaping my throat during the years we lived in our little 2-bedroom near the Country Club area of town.

The particular punishment centered around those very dolls. We were moving from Omaha, NE to Dallas, Texas where I had already begun work as a producer and photographer for the CBS network owned television station there. We were packing up the bright yellow Ryder truck parked on 50th street, awaiting the house full of items. Abbi had left all the said Barbies lying on the floor. She had been told on more than one occasion that she had to pick them up . . . long before we were to move. Now we were being held up by the fact that she wouldn’t pick up the dolls.

I had already threatened throwing them out, putting them away, grounding her, and last resort that we’d give the dolls away. She didn’t believe that was an option. She was wrong.

The day we were moving, I’d had it. She’d been told more than once that she had to pick them up and put them in a bag so that they could be packed in the truck for the move to Tejas. She didn’t do it, fueling my anger through the day. By the time we had to start mopping up the move I looked at Abbi and told her to tell me which Barbie was her favorite. She grabbed one and I told her to get in my truck. We drove from our house a couple miles down the road to the Salvation Army Hospital, a place that housed kids who for whatever reason did not have insurance and were getting help for long-term diseases. Abbi cried, horribly, the entire way to the place. I nearly caved in twice. It wasn’t even a long drive to the hospital but it was the longest trip I’d ever taken.

I made Abbi walk up to the receptionist in the hospital lobby, handing the doll to her.

“My Daddy says I am not able to take care of my toys so I’m giving this to you so you can give it to a little girl who doesn’t have a doll. Hopefully she can take better care of it than I can.”

She stopped crying on the way home. As difficult a punishment as this was to dish out, it was brilliant in its simplicity. She’d been through a Jesuit preschool and a Catholic kindergarten. They had learned about charity and giving. How do you get angry with your dad’s punishment if you know damn well that a little kid who has never had a doll will love getting this – your favorite. Abbi hated the punishment, but she never forgot it. From that point on, every time I said I was going to punish any of the other kids Abbi immediately told them to listen to me because I would make good on my promise. It was the gift that kept on giving.

Tonight, though, I hate myself for the punishment I had to dish out.

Noah, one of the twins, has been having problems at the school’s Extended Day Program, EDP. He, for God knows what reason, has an issue with another set of twins – kindergarten students. They both followed him around the room quite often, my theory because they both wanted to be with an older kid and because Noah was somebody who reacted when bothered. Noah is reactionary, but he’s never good at holding back his temper. He shouldn’t have picked on little kids.

Worse yet, he made the claim that he wouldn’t get in trouble. His mom died. People felt sorry for him. He was playing everyone, and it really bothered me. Worse yet, I’d had a talk with him the night before about having to be better at the EDP room. It isn’t semantics. He HAS to be good there, I don’t have another choice. I even told him that if we lost EDP, with no other options, it would have a ripple effect (not those particular words, give me some credit for being able to talk at an 8-year-old’s level) on all of us. What happens if I have to ask to leave at 2:30pm each day? Will I be able to keep my job? All these things were truly racing through my head.

Then he acts even worse. He gets in a fight with one of these kids today, pinning him to the ground after yelling at him.

I did what a lot of parents would do. Noah wrote a letter to each of the twins that he’d mistreated. Then I told him he had to write a letter to both the EDP teachers and the kindergartners’ dad. It was in the middle of the last letter – to the teachers – that I got the burst of inspiration. It was horrible, and I had no idea that it would break me in two.

He finished the last letter, finishing it up, drawing a little picture of a jack-0-lantern and a ghost on the bottom, I guess because he thought it would be nice for the teachers, and wrote their names on the envelope. He was about to get up and leave and I stopped him.

One more.

Write a letter to your Mommy.

The look on his face wasn’t angry or sad. It was scared. His eyes went red and the tears started to fall down his little cheeks. You have no idea just how hard it was for me, watching him write to his mother and apologize for using her death as a way to get out of trouble. The bottom of the letter, the blue line of the notebook paper smearing under the salty drops, one by one, hitting the bottom of the page. I looked away not wanting him to see me as torn up as he was.

“I’m sorry, Mommy. I said I would be good at school because you had died, but I lied.”

I hadn’t asked him to write that. He did it on his own. All I said was to write what he would have told Andrea if she was sitting there. I know what was going through his mind. The one thing Andrea wouldn’t abide, not ever, was lying. Not from the kids. Not from me. You could get away with bloody murder, but lie to her and you would have a hard time getting back into her graces. Her anger over lies is equaled only by my ability to hold a grudge.

Then he wrote more, and I lost it.

“I miss you Mommy.”

The bottom of the page had been hit by so many tears it was sticking to the table by now.

You have to understand, I know what he went through, I was going through it there with him. When he couldn’t think, I told him just to think about Mommy, sitting there, right in her normal spot at the table and looking at us.

“What would she say to you, Noah?”

He shook his head not knowing.

“Would she say I love you, little moo? You have to do better, you know that right?”

He nodded his agreement.

Then he added that he loved her so much.

I put my hand on his shoulder, standing behind him, telling him he didn’t have to write any more if he didn’t want to. He didn’t. I had him put the letter in an envelope and put “Mommy”, which he misspelled (in the letter too) Momy.

Then I did something that just ripped what little semblance of control away from my emotions and was the last piece that pushed him over the edge, too. I told him that we’d get up early tomorrow, go to the cemetery, and give Mommy his letter.

After he’d calmed down, I told him to go upstairs and change into pajamas and I’d come up and read. Then I went to a part of the house where the kids wouldn’t see me and just broke down.

I had to do it. I know that. I knew life wouldn’t be perfect, not any better than when Andrea was here, it couldn’t be. I guess I had hoped it just wouldn’t be this hard. It hasn’t. Not for a long time. I don’t know why this affected me so deeply, maybe because we both could just see her there but couldn’t talk to her, touch her, even just say we’re sorry . . . for everything that has been pulling at us since she left. It’s horrible to have a one-way conversation and only guess from old memories that are slowly slipping away what her reaction will be.

Don’t take this the wrong way. Punishing the kids when they are clearly wrong isn’t the issue here. The issue is that they have to face this. I write every day because after the chaos of the day diminishes – after the kids go to bed – I have nobody to face the stresses of the day with. Hell, I’m not sure I’ll ever want to have that again, but regardless I feel like I need to tell somebody above the age of 16 what is going on. More important, though, I realize the kids have to face this without their Mom. You’re supposed to make life for your kids better. Right now, I can only see myself propping them up so they don’t fall, no more, no less. It may get better, but it’s so unfair, so painful to watch them face that “Momy” is gone and they have to face knowing they don’t have her to enjoy their little moments of life with. I wrote a lyric for a new song not long ago – it just wasn’t supposed to be this way. It’s even more evident in this episode.

I had such high hopes for the day. Never realized that instead I’d see the stars fall from the sky. Tonight I feel broken in two.

Autumn Leaves, UFO’s and Pancakes

Aliens on Vacation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That, and her birthday was the day before Halloween.

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

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

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

Noah Barleywater Project