I decided, after much deliberation and fretting and sweating and stress, that the first single from our recording session should come out. This even though we’re still in the process of rehearsing and recording the rest of my record.
Because I . . . and frankly all the musicians in the Ain’t Got No time (Rock and Blues) Band were moved by the results. That’s not something happens all the time. The mixture of the acoustic guitar along with the beautiful vocals that Matt Retz and Eric Rosander arranged for the tune were so stirring I felt that the time was right to release it.
When the Morning Comes will be the first single, released April 22nd in iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, YouTube Music, iHeart Radio, whatever the hell that thing Jay-Z and Beyonce have is called . . . hell I’ll beam it to Pluto so the aliens can broadcast it to the computer chip in your fillings if you want.
So let me regale you with the background of this song, if you will.
I came up with two lines in the very beginning, and that was some time ago, not long after losing my wife, Andrea. She passed away on March 26th, 2011.
I’m broken and bent, beat down ’cause I spent my time fighting my battles of the heart.
I also had the chorus:
I see the moon…rising in the midnight sky, I see your headlights as you pass me by. Though I wait here for you you’ve left me behind
Some years later the aching and pain started to fade and were replaced with some yearning. Not for who I lost but for wanting to find someone else. When that came I realized that meeting, seeing, hearing someone new was just as exciting and lovely as what I had. So the last line of the chorus just fell into place: And she’ll be here when the morning comes
The song is about loss, about love, and about the drive and enjoyment of moving ahead. Sometimes you lose and you never recover. Sometimes . . . life catches you by surprise.
This project…it’s just such a personal one, and as a musician that’s what you want, I suppose. You grab deep into your soul, find themes that are universal, and bring them to the fore. You don’t have to lose someone . . . we all have had breakups, arguments, divorce, loss takes all forms and faces. I feel like this song could apply in so many ways.
My colleagues and fellow musicians say they can hear so many of my influences, from the Allman Brothers Band (particularly in the guitar solo) to The Black Crowes to The Eagles (particularly in the harmonies). In the end, though, that combination of all of those makes this uniquely our own creation.
April 22nd the song drops. I hope you are touched by it as much as we were.
Things have been a bit radio silent here for the last several weeks. It’s time you knew why.
The picture up there is from last Monday, the 28th of March. Just two days after the anniversary of my wife’s passing . . . two days past what would have been my 23rd wedding anniversary (we married young, and yes…they are the same day) I was in a recording studio.
Fancying myself a bit of a storyteller let me give you the long-winded explanation of why this is significant. It comes, essentially, in two parts.
First . . . this whole thing started in the week or so following my wife, Andrea’s death. I binge-watched in a sleepless week the entire TV series The Wire, which was good, from what I remember. Then I did something my wife disliked…I picked up a guitar, in the living room, at 3am. A song started to form and the anger and frustration I had got my blood going and in my sleepless state I had inspiration for music. All the anger and emotion flooded out and I wrote a song about where I was at.
Then the writer’s block hit. For more than a year-and-a-half I was unable to write music. It was frustrating. After that time, though, the dam burst and I was nearly prolific. The result was close to a dozen or more songs that I was constantly honing and re-recording in demo form.
Fast forward a few years . . . my oldest daughter was struggling with what her career choice would be. Deep down she wanted to do one thing but was clinging to what her mother wanted: something in the medical field. She would have been good at it, it’s a noble thing to do . . . but I knew she didn’t want to. So I told her to look at herself, her life, this was her time, after all. “Find something you love, what you’re passionate about and work really hard at it and you will be happy. Maybe not rich, but you will be fulfilled.” (Or words to that effect) My daughter turned that around on me a year later. “When are you going to do that, Dad?”
I was floored.
“You need to go into the recording studio again. You’re too good and you talk a good game . . . but don’t use us (the kids) as an excuse. Find a way.”
So I have taken my own advice.
I joined a band . . . the Ain’t Got No Time (rock and blues) Band. This is a group of some of the most talented people I know. We started gigging first, a couple free fundraisers for charity.
Then I asked them if they’d record an album with me. I even considered, at their suggestion, whether or not this could be a band album. I almost did that . . . but a couple things stopped me:
Much of the material (most of it, in fact) helped me get through the struggles, the grief and confusion. I wrote what I felt and this was a very personal project.
I wasn’t going to say this was “the band’s” record when I wrote all the material. These guys all write and they write amazing stuff. The world needs to hear a full band record, too. That will come later.
We started rehearsals:
And the band seriously became nearly de-facto producers of the record.
Here are the cast of characters of AGNT:
Kevin Mooney is the drummer. He basically looked up, said “who do you want this to sound like,” and counted off the beat. When we said more he gave more. When we needed a break in the song he hit it dead-on.
Eric Rosander plays bass and sings backup (at least here). He sings in an a capella group so his vocal arrangements are strong. He plays upright, and is one of the best bassists I’ve ever played with.
Matt Retz plays guitar – rhythm and lead – and sings. He and Eric arranged backup vocals for my first single that sound like a full chorus of people behind us. It simultaneously evokes gospel meets The Eagles and I’m so proud of it all. Matt took some of the reigns and helped produce an amazing three songs.
Then there’s Robert Sabino…our keyboard player…though he’s so much more. A resume that includes Bowie, Madonna, Simon and Garfunkel, Mick Jagger, and a who’s who of people from the 70’s-90’s and beyond. Rob helped so much with arrangements that made the songs so much more than I ever thought they would be. Between Rob and Matt the material didn’t just get better, it sang.
So two days in the studio, a massive amount of guitar amplification and a set of torched vocal chords by the end and I have two full songs and an acoustic instrumental that may be my proudest work so far in my life.
This was certainly something I did for me, for sure. But without this band and these people it certainly wouldn’t be the material it is. I love them all and they are truly magical people to be around.
So . . . that said . . . instead of working toward a full record and holding off, I’m so proud of this material I’m going to release a single in the coming weeks. I am simply waiting on the publishing and copyright paperwork to clear.
Stay tuned for updates . . . hopefully the term “radio silence” will not be applicable is so many more ways.
Today my wife, Andrea, would have been 45 years old. For me and my kids it also marks 4 1/2 years, 5 birthdays since she passed. I wouldn’t say every year has gotten easier, that doesn’t feel quite right. Perhaps it just means . . . each has been different.
October 30th is always a bittersweet day, particularly for me. For most people this is the day before Halloween, nothing more. Unfortunately, for me, it has a couple more realities.
October 30th reminds me of my late wife, who you see up there. She passed away in 2011, on March 26th. But now it’s a day I celebrate with those closest to me, immediate family, so to speak. They could be related by blood or they could be family because we love them.
The day also reminds me, annually, that I screwed up, a lot, on more birthdays for my wife than I succeeded. There were some, like the weekend overnight in a B&B in Napa. There was the earlier part of our relationship and marriage where you are so happy you give them a card and it’s amazing. However, I didn’t make the time I should have. That hurts.
But we don’t dwell on the bad. We dwell on the good. We call it, as I posted last year, Celebration Day, which is, of course, a Led Zeppelin reference. (Ever the musician) But we have tons of reasons, most are amazing, some are shallow, all are wonderful. They are the reasons we celebrate.
My wife was a force of nature. My brother used to have a reference “a bottle of fire.” That was Andrea, a woman who grabbed you by the hand and barreled off the cliffs of insanity, damn the consequences, enjoy the ride! For the most part, I really did enjoy the ride.
That Smile – Some people smile and they have great teeth or great personality. My wife smiled and her whole face smiled with her. It lit up a room and my heart. Friends tell me I’m a sucker to this day for a great smile – a whole of your heart smile – and they’re right.
We didn’t celebrate enough before – this is one of those selfish ones. I didn’t celebrate enough when she was around. I want her family and friends to know how amazing we still think she was.
We aren’t sad – This is hard for some people to grasp. OF COURSE we miss Andrea. She was a wife and mom and friend and amazing. But we can remember her, honor her, love her, and still find life, happiness, adventure . . . and even love again. We still love her. Yet she is the one who is gone, she had it easier in some ways. She doesn’t have to miss us.
We Miss Her – Again, selfish, but of course we miss her!
The kids should find this a happy day – How do you hit this day without the kids feeling like it’s yet another reminder she’s gone? You embrace the day. Talk about her. Love her, embrace the goofy things she did and talk about what made her wonderful.
It’s a fun day – You carve pumpkins, have cake and ice cream, and laugh. What’s wrong with that?
It’s a reminder – Not just a reminder of who she was but who we should be. We should make time, and though I am often late from work, even if I’m late on this day we will celebrate.
The Goofiness – While the kids remember parents as parents, they get to hear the silly things. They hear about dancing around in the living room and singing off-key and Halloween nights drinking beer and driving around in a golf cart with Andrea’s uncle.
Warmth – We grieve at different times already. We grieve when the day she died comes, which is so hard for me because it’s also the day I married her. We smell something or see something or hear a song and we get emotional thinking why is this happening now? Rather than do that why not embrace this as a day to be happy?
We celebrate that we had her – We could be sad she’s gone, but how amazing is it that we had her at all? Most people don’t lose a parent or a spouse like this, I get that. But how often do you celebrate without the stress? How often do you look at your wife’s birthday as a celebration you get to have her? Instead you’re probably stressing about getting everything right. Which one sounds better to you?
Why Not? I mean . . . I won’t be able to do those birthdays over and I don’t ever think of it that way. Still . . . why not do it to show your kids what’s supposed to happen? Why not make it an enjoyable day?
Memories – We all have different memories of people and events. This way I get to hear different perspectives from my kids of what their memories are of their mother. Same with family and friends.
Cake and Ice Cream. I mean . . . who doesn’t want a night that ends in cake and ice cream?
It makes you feel good – let’s be honest . . . the cliche’s and tropes are right. It’s so much fun to give to someone and have them have fond memories of Andrea and of the day because you gave them something? That’s pretty damn amazing.
You connect with family and friends – I love my kids to the ends of the earth. Yet this day I get to FaceTime my daughter in college and the kids stay home and we do things. That’s important. My family, Andrea’s family…we all have this day to remember her by.
You Confuse People – This sounds weird, I know, but it’s fantastic to confuse the hell out of people who think you’ll hit this day and just . . . fall apart. I don’t. Okay, maybe a little sometimes. Mostly, I hit this day and smile because I know we’re doing it right. I remember her. It confounds people that you aren’t in a puddle in the corner. I mean, in the beginning you laughed to keep from crying. Now you cry because you’re laughing about some ridiculous story. It’s pretty great.
You Prioritize – Even today I have a colleague who yells at me if I’m late getting out the door for a kid’s event or a holiday or anything. But this day, even if I have to work late, reinforces that I’ve put the kids and family and close friends as a priority. That’s just a good message to send.
You enjoy the day, not the stuff – In the beginning I made cake from scratch and got fancy and . . . it stressed the hell out of me. Then I realized that if I have time, it’s fun to make the cake. If I don’t, a decent cake is good, too. The kids started to ask for things like it’s Christmas…which I quickly put a stop to. It’s not about that, it’s about all of us together. So cake from Freeport Bakery . . . that’s just fine with everyone. It’s fine with me, too.
You make the day about us, not just her – It’s important to remember this . . . it’s certainly about her. It’s not about presents or cake or treats or any of that, though. When the kids start saying “I want (insert toy here) for Celebration Day” you remind them it’s a day about us, not about presents. Then it’s amazing. My son asked if we could call his sister in college and was happy that this year it’s Friday, and he thinks she’ll be around.
You Put Aside the Guilt – Yeah, my guilt for sure. But the kids have it, too. My son, who worried his temper tantrums wore his mother down. How he thought it was his fault she was gone. How my daughter fought her tooth and nail on everything. None of that matters. This isn’t a day to dwell on what went wrong. It’s a day to remember what was right.
It’s not about living in the past – We live different lives now. Far different than the lives we were looking to live a few years back. A daughter who isn’t in a medical field. A son who loves movies. A musician daughter. None of those were expected in the scheme of things from a few years back. Yet we will celebrate those, too. This is as much our day now as hers. That’s a good thing.
It IS about the future – We’ll talk about what’s next. It’s certainly where we’re going now. I have learned through the last few years to be very, very supportive. I am trying my hardest to do that and this helps me more and more to do so.
It IS about those close people – We use the connections we made this day to stay close to those around us. I have a friend who is my friend now . . . who years before would have been “Andrea’s friend.” That is pretty amazing and in a tangiential way Andrea’s the one who made it happen. I am better for it. Others who I might have talked with occasionally I talk with all the time. That’s important.
That smile – Yeah, I know, on here twice. I’m not simply a person about looks or image, but . . . for good or ill, when she flashed that I was hopeless. You have to admit, it’s pretty spectacular.
It’s not loss, it’s leaving them behind – We continue to age. My sons are literally feet taller than when they lost their mom. My daughters, too. My oldest is in college, about to be 21. She will remain that pretty, smart, silly, intelligent woman at the age of 40. She will never get older. It’s like we continued on another path and she’s behind us somewhere. Never meeting up again. That’s hard, for sure. Then again, we remember where we came from and that makes us happy.
Remember it’s about the journey – Part of leaving the path we were on with Andrea is remembering that it’s not about the path or where we are going. At the end of the day, we need to enjoy how we got there. Sure, we got lost in the woods here and there but how amazing was the view when you had to climb a tree to find the path? How close did we get trying to find our way? That is what it’s about.
It’s not about what she’d want . . . it’s building off what she started – No, we aren’t doing what we thought we would five years ago. That’s not a problem, not for us. Yet we know the great things she gave us before now. My girls know they can do anything and don’t get discouraged by others because of her. My sons know that their mother loved them and wanted them to be happy. No matter what the plans were . . . they’re far more now.
It’s okay to be sad – Sure, the kids and I will have moments where we’re sad. How could we not be, it’s her birthday, we loved her, love her still, and we do wish she was here to celebrate. But we don’t live in the sadness. We live and that is part of the sadness. It’s hard to know we’re going to keep experiencing these amazing things – a movie studio tour; homecoming; prom; 21st birthdays; all of the things life brings and know that she’s not experiencing them with us. But this day lets us realize we know what she’d be thinking and doing and loving us all.
Love. In the end it’s love. That’s cheesy, sad, Lennon-esque for sure . . . but it’s about love. I . . . loved . . . her. I still love her, it’s not that I ever will stop. Think about the first man or woman you loved and then it ended. Did you stop loving them, even if you had a terrible, horrible break up? No. You didn’t, stop kidding yourself. But life is about continuing the journey. You keep moving because the world carries you along on it’s crust, spinning around the sun and taking you with it. When they are gone you can try and stop with them . . . which will do more damage to you . . . or you can live. We can honor her and love her . . . but we all change in life. The hard part is that she is now unchanging, where she was in 2011 forever. We are not and we have to move forward. That’s what’s difficult. So we honor Andrea on the 30th to remember what we were and remind us that we can continue to keep living.
This is our day now. It’s also hers. Happy birthday, Andrea. Happy Celebration Day to my kids and my close circle of family/friends. Don’t be sad.
You may never have realized the importance of boxes until, quite frankly, you become the parent in charge of said boxes or, like me, you are a single parent.
I had never quite realized how many boxes, tubs, containers and storage items my own mother kept around the house until I became that sole person, Dad, in the home. It’s not hoarding, though you might consider that the case if you looked into my own closet. It might just bear a slight resemblance to the old picture of a UK shoestore up there.
I don’t have a ton of shoes, certainly nowhere near as many as, say, my wife or my mother did. Bear in mind, though, guys tend to have a pair of black dress shoes, brown ones, tennis shoes and maybe some work boots. That’s about it.
Yet I went to the store a number of weeks ago and bought brand new Adidas shoes.
Bright red Adidas, as a matter of fact.
Yet when I was in my closet this morning I realized, just purely out of a habit I’d acquired from the last few years, that the Adidas box, along with a box for dress shoes was sitting on my closet shelf. This wasn’t because I had some affinity for boxes or thought, now weeks removed from the purchase date, that I might need to return them. No, I have these boxes up on the shelf for one specific purpose: school projects.
These are the kinds of things, when you have two parents and Mom is generally the one to be home when the kids get home from school, that Dad doesn’t contend with. Plus, Mom usually has shoe boxes in abundance. (I know that’s a stereotype, but c’mon…it’s really kind of true, right?) So when I bought shoes for my oldest daughter, my middle daughter, myself, even the boys as their feet grow to adult proportions, I kept the boxes.
Self-preservation, you see, because you don’t hear about school projects until the last-minute. Particularly with boys. So when they come to you the Friday night before the project is due obsessing about the fact they need a shoe box . . . well, you have one. Or two, as is the case for my needs.
But boxes abound for other reasons. My oldest was only home a month before heading back to work on a grant for college. A large number of items left behind need to be sent to her back at school. This is where leftover boxes from moving, guitar purchases, Amazon.com or other areas come in handy.
But I also picked up a habit from my own mother. Storage containers (not big storage unit kind of things, like Container Store tubs) are great for kids’ items. I have file cabinets full of artwork and grades and report cards, things that I think are the history of my family. My mother had one of those tubs for each of us . . . of course mine ended up unceremoniously dropped on my doorstep last visit, but it was a fun walk down memory lane. Some of it . . . well, let’s face it, was painful to remember. Some made no sense whatsoever.
There’s also a box upstairs that I kept but I never open.
Inside a small purple box still labeled “Decorator Items” from the move from my last home, is a box full of materials dated anywhere from March 26th through the middle of April, 2011. Every sympathy card, dozens of homemade cards from the kids’ school, notes, paperwork, everything from the week my wife passed away is in there.
I didn’t bury it, there’s no hiding from those events, the days still burn in the recesses of our brains. Yet there’s no need to post a shrine to the days, either. I remember the last items I placed in there. Just days after the funeral I had to pick up the last of my wife’s personal effects at the hospital. Sitting on the top are three get-well cards that, even today when I think about them, are heart-wrenching.
I don’t open that box. I haven’t in four years.
Yet that box is really the start of our story. It may be the actual spark for the beginning of our story. It’s where we put the past, keeping it safe, not buried, not invisible. We see it, we may open it and reminisce when the mood strikes us, but it’s there.
It’s necessary, just like all those shoe boxes that sit on the top of my closet.
I did something the other night that has become, literally, the most routine and common occurrence in our household. I wouldn’t normally have thought twice about it.
I took my kids to the movies.
I grew up loving to go to the movies, my brother took me to see Revenge of the Pink Panther at the old Royal Theater in my hometown. I saw Ghostbusters and Back to the Future and even 16 Candles and probably every other John Hughes film in my hometown. I loved them then. I love the movies now.
Tonight, though, I walked with three of my kids into the theater and it was different somehow. We went to see Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland. There was nothing in the film that startled me. I wasn’t driven to tears by it (well…much). I just started down this emotional road and, like watching a train wreck, I couldn’t stop moving toward it.
As the film wasn’t boffo at the box office like Jurassic Park or Inside Out we went to one of the older theaters in the area. It was walking around the corner into the darkness of the theater that I was overcome. Inside the darkened room I realized what was getting to me. The upper balcony, the near dollar-theater feel . . . it was like the old dollar theaters from when I was younger. That reminded me of my late wife. I hadn’t been this awash in melancholy in a very long time.
When I was first married I was broke – far more broke than I am now. It’s not that we complained or worried about it, we were broke, knew it, bemoaned it, but still managed to enjoy ourselves with it. Even after our daughter was born we’d spend the money on a babysitter and then go to the dollar theater to see a movie that had been out so long it was probably already on video. We were cheap dates, only a buck to go to the movies was a bargain.
As the lights darkened in the theater this night, approaching the end of the movie trailers and heading to the start of the Disney Motion Pictures logo I took a deep breath and sighed. Loud.
I always sat to the left of my wife. I don’t know why, it just always was where I sat in the theater. It’s an odd fact that I’d never thought about before but it was all I could think of at this moment. Why on the left? Why not the right? I don’t know…it felt weird to think about that, even now.
I looked down at my arms and turned them over, top to bottom. My left arm, as far back as my memory goes, has always had a slew of scars that covered it. The remnants of burns I don’t remember from when I was a mere 12-months-old. It remained the same.
My right arm has one scar, about 3/4 of the way up the forearm, fading now in my fourth decade on the planet. The area above it started to get tender and I got goosebumps on my forearm. It wasn’t a ghost, I don’t pretend that the spirit of my wife was in the room with me. Yet her memory was there. I felt how she used to quietly, near subconsciously move her fingers over the skin of my right arm, sliding her fingers down and merging hers between mine and holding. I had this urge to reach over and put my hand on her knee even though I knew it wasn’t there.
Movies were date night for us. We might have dinner at some bad Tex-Mex place (because it was cheap) and no matter how bad the movie we would navigate around the arm rest and find a way to press next to each other. She would hold my hand through most the movie. She would lean her head on my shoulder only to lift it again because the seat just didn’t lend itself to that juxtaposition of her body.
I was distracted for the full two hours. It wasn’t the need for contact. I suppose I could get that if I really wanted. It was her contact that was missing. When the climax of the movie, the tearful most poignant part came and George Clooney shed a tear on the screen I could only take a shuddering breath and sigh out, stifling the same emotion.
I didn’t miss having someone. I honestly missed my wife. In the deep, buried in the membranes of your cells, tied to your DNA kind of way. I missed those silly, broke, insane days when just being together was enough. When going to the movies brought us together, just the two of us.
I was in this cold reverie of nostalgia when I felt a head on my left shoulder – the opposite side from my wife. I looked over and my son, blonde and growing and such a mix of my and his mother’s personalities had laid his head on me. I reached over with my right arm and rubbed his short hair. He looked up, head still on my shoulder, eyes lifting his top eyelids to their peak, and smiled only to return his gaze to the screen.
I heard him sigh and took that same cleansing breath.
As we walked out of the theater, the memories lingering behind as we moved toward the entrance my other son asked “how did you like the movie, Dad?”
Every brood has a child that, at one time or another, becomes the handful. They want to be the center of attention or be in on the action or just want to be noticed.
When you have a family of five, where four of you are children, the voice becomes that much harder to project. That’s even more the case when your Dad is the only parent and he’s got the daily details to deal with. Then you tend to push and shout and be obnoxious in an effort to get attention.
This weekend it was my son.
It wasn’t that he was being noisy or obnoxious or anything. It’s that I could totally relate to what he was going through and it hurt.
My son is a worry-wart. Let’s just get that out of the way. I know of which he speaks, by the way. When I was little I was shy – painfully shy. Some of that was just being a know-it-all, at times. I had no idea that I was being annoying. When I found something fascinating, I wanted to share it – I assumed the rest of the people around me would find that fascinating, too. It was a cold realization that you don’t always meet people with the same interests. I was young, naive, and it hurt. I grew very shy as a result.
I know you’re wondering, by the way, why choose being in the media then? You have to talk and meet people. I overcame most of that shyness. When I met my wife, Andrea, by the way, I still had a lot of that. I was in my late teens and early twenties, and she had none of it. Took me by the hand and that was it.
Any apprehension that might have remained before 2011, when my wife passed away, vanished.
My son had a birthday party to attend. For a week he was thoroughly excited. Then came the day of the party – going to a basketball game – and he was almost in tears. I didn’t back off, I knew he’d enjoy himself…but he has the unfortunate happenstance of getting the worst parts of both parents. He’s shy – painfully so – and has that habit of thinking everyone will like his interests. He also has the tendency to over-worry to the point of near panic. That was his Mom.
I dropped him off, stayed longer than I should have to that he was comfortable…and then he got to go to a basketball game for a party.
Then I sat and worried. I worried and worried as I sat for dinner with their sister. I worried that the phone would ring and he was sulking or said something wrong.
Then he proved me wrong.
After nine I got the text they were on the way back and as he walked in he excitedly informed he how the game came down to the last shot…as the buzzer went off…and the Kings won!
On the way home he was smiling, happy, and had a great time.
I hoped he got the idea…and the lesson that I did at that moment: sometimes you can worry too much. The rare occasion that something bad happens isn’t the worst.
The worst is the damage you do to yourself when you worry too much.
The line is from a Persian poem, written many years before Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet but dealing with the same themes of forbidden love and loss.
While the theme here isn’t forbidden love, there’s a good deal of loss, even four years on.
The poem, depending on the translation, goes like this:
I am yours However distant you may be There blows no wind but wafts your scent to me There sings no bird but calls your name to me
Each memory that has left its trace with me
Lingers forever as a part of me
I’m a writer, sure, but poetry hasn’t been my forte. (I know, musician but no poetry…don’t start with me)
The strangest things trigger memories. They sit, strong, vivid, painfully obvious when loss first comes. I don’t care if that’s your wife, father, mother, brother, sister, daughter, son…you get the picture. The littlest things are memories. You are surrounded by the person you lost because your surroundings are their surroundings, at least they were.
Years on the strength of the memories isn’t as great. Still, they can come, and at this stage in the game they can come at the most random times from the most random of reasons.
In television and magazine terms, today, they call it a “trigger warning” when the publisher or broadcaster thinks people might have a severe emotional reaction to something they’re about to publish. That is well and good when you know it’s going to trigger something.
But how do you prepare for a smell?
The last couple weeks someone in my building at work has either a perfume or a lotion that – I think – must be exactly the same as one my late wife, Andrea, wore.
It’s subtle, by the way. Some people bathe in perfume or lotion and you can smell them coming from miles away. This isn’t that at all, in fact it’s light and just a wisp, carried in the air for the smallest of lingerings. It may pass by most people with no thought whatsoever.
I hadn’t noticed what it was in the first couple exposures, if I’m being honest. What I realized was that I was a bit melancholy, nostalgic, thinking of my late wife more than I normally did most days. I couldn’t put my finger on why.
This afternoon, though, I was through a hallway and the scent was stronger, making me realize why I felt this way. It was like hitting a wall . . . not a wall of smell but like the hallway disappeared and I was standing in a kitchen that barely afforded room for one person to move and she would move behind me so we’d be stuck, between sink and refrigerator and Andrea would have to put her arms around me, hugging, to skirt by. It was the Thanksgiving where so many people came to our small home that we couldn’t actually get around the table…we had to go outside, into the back yard, and through the back door to get to the kitchen.
It was whimsy and youth and farcical and it was as if those days weren’t really as far away as I had placed them in my memory. As I passed through the hallway and back to my desk the smell lingered. I can’t be sure if it was really there or if it had dissipated while my brain still processed the millions of nodes that danced in the delight of the smell.
The funny thing is, the smell was a delight. I ached to stay in that moment, the memories rushing through like rewinding an old videotape. It’s confusing too, though, because I miss her but I wouldn’t go back, either. It’s a series of great memories and the smell becomes tactile. I feel her hand on the back of my head and the hairs on my neck stand on end. I want it and fight it at the same time. Eventually I take a deep breath . . . and it’s gone.
It could very well belong to some twenty-something intern, which would be odd for me, considering I have a twenty-year-old daughter now. Part of me thinks it would be best not to know who wears it, I couldn’t look her in the eye. I miss my wife, but I don’t want to go back there, either. The upside here is it doesn’t take me to the end. Today, nearly four years later, I relish the good memories and the mere fact of its existence doesn’t make me realize how she’s gone. She’s been gone for awhile now.
In the end, it’s a scent, but it’s a memory…a good memory.
Meet the old dog. He’s the guy up there on the right, with the four kids in a booth at an IHOP over the holidays. Old dog isn’t supposed to have any new tricks nor is he supposed to learn anything about what’s happening. It’s the constant issue, the reverse philosophy that so many Moms go through, I suppose. TV sitcoms talk about Dad and he’s the befuddled, confused, lazy guy who’s always just about two or three steps behind the rest of the household.
That, usually, if you watch the sitcoms, includes the kids.
Old dog isn’t supposed to learn nor is he supposed to be authority figure. After all, if you watch commercials there’s always the Dad/husband/boyfriend/significant other standing in the doorway with a surprised look asking how he’s supposed to do those dishes, make that food, clean those clothes, or just get on with daily life. Sometimes it seems as if Old Dog would forget to breathe if there wasn’t that other person – be it his parents, kids or wife/girlfriend – to remind him it was necessary.
I get it. I have known a lot of those Old Dog men. I’ve seen the kids whose dads were at the soccer games shouting and screaming more because they saw the victory of a 9-year-old soccer star as vindication of their own misspent youth.
But I’m not here to rail against Madison Avenue or Hollywood. My own wife, friends, and sphere of influence have never looked at me that way.
Society in general or casual acquaintances…well, we’ll just say that’s a whole other story. I get the “you must be super Dad” or “I don’t know how you do it” a lot. Here’s a secret for you, I don’t know how I do it…but I do it. Not always well. Not always comfortably. I lose my temper with a teenager and fall prey to persistent pestering by twins. I’m nowhere near perfect.
But I’m not that Old Dog.
So here’s the thing: I have learned some lessons along the way the last 3-odd years.
It’s okay to have a mess here and there. I used to try and clean up everything in those first days. It was a pain in the behind and I never felt like I could keep up. Once in awhile…the papers and dishes can wait until morning. My sanity (and at least a few hours of sleep) were more important.
Don’t throw out the shoe boxes They take up space, are a pain the neck, and they’re just eating up valuable spots on the shelf. However…the moment I recycle those cardboard boxes a note will come from the school that one or all the kids have to do a diorama or other project. Then I’m scrambling to find something to take the place of a shoe box. It’s worth it for the future peace of mind.
It’s okay to go out to eat once in awhile Sometimes even just a burger at Johnny Rockets or In ‘N Out is worth its weight in gold. But…on that note…
Homemade treats aren’t near as hard to make as you think I initially thought that I should make stuff homemade because it was what my Mom did for me. I then realized that if I made homemade cookies or treats my kids were far less hyper than if they ate a bag of M&M’s. (Nothing against M&M’s, they’re great) Somewhere along the way, though, I came to realize that the time it takes to drive to the store, pick up the treats, put them in baggies, whole nine yards…not much less time than making them myself and they taste better.
Losing weight, eating healthy, unfortunately, is a whole change in things God, I wanted this not to be true. I fought it for at least a couple years. I used to weigh about 50 pounds or more than I do now. That whole “eat less, exercise, change your lifestyle” thing is true. I wish it wasn’t. I hate…hate…hate getting up at 5:30am and running. It’s a pain in my ass to lose weight in it. I do it because I just have to do it. I want to be healthy and I still have a ways to go. That wasn’t enough. Those treats I make up there? Those are for moderation, too, not inhaling a whole pan of cookies at once. I switched from hamburger to ground turkey. We eat red meat once or twice a week, that’s it. We eat smaller portions and we go on walks and to the park. It’s just a change in how we live now and we’re getting used to that.
Music is important You may not agree, but how many of those stupid Buzzfeed lists stating “Ten Things You Didn’t Know about ’80s hitmakers” or “Ten things you never saw in a Katie Perry Video” or what have you do you have to click on before you realize…your life has a soundtrack. It might get nostalgic and you’re singing Duran Duran songs or it might be rocking and you’re screaming “Whipping Post” with Gregg Allman. Or you might write and record songs. Either way…it’s a way to accentuate your lives. You should love that.
We can’t do all the things we used to do
I used to take the kids to basketball games, we did swimming, cub scouts, guitar lessons . . . we were exhausted, too. When I lost my wife it was more than just a companion or friend or confidant. She was a co-cab-driver and another person who helped to get the activities of the day going. My kids weren’t insanely excited to be part of them, either. I couldn’t take them to practices or lessons when their sister – with a driver’s license – left for college. I found there are other things to make up for all that, though.
You play in the leaves when you’re raking them, even though you have to get out and go rake them again.
You make music and have the kids participate with you. You even make a video now and then.
Do something you all love…together My kids love the movies. Not all movies, but going to them for stuff they want to see. It’s my splurge for them. That picture was their birthday…and they got to go into the projection booth of the theater for it. (We saw Captain America) Movies we do together, we eat candy (on a rare occasion it’s okay, believe me!) and spend two hours laughing or crying with strangers it’s fine and it’s fun. This one leads to my last point:
We’re Stronger Together than When We’re Apart This is a simple one we learned early. We may not all be in the same place. I may be at work. My oldest may be at school. But there’s a trick this old dog learned as soon as he became a single parent . . . old . . . dog . . . (maybe that didn’t work as well as I hoped). Together we are mighty. Together we can do amazing, beautiful, wonderful things. That’s not together in a room that’s together, united, a family of people. Our family was broken but it was still working. It’s still good. I may not be able to say what my wife did to cheer up my daughter when she’s feeling down and needs words from her Mom. I can, however, share stories about her Mom and tell her how proud I am and she would be. I can see the woman she’s becoming. We’re stronger together and together we’ve taken on the world and survived.
These are lessons we’ve learned. You might very well learn from them yourself. They’re not easy ones and not particularly comfortable.
There are a million things happen after the change from year to year. It’s not as though you wake up on January 1st and suddenly there’s a 2015 fairy floating around your head granting wishes and steering you in the direction you need to go. In reality, it was a Thursday. It was like any other Thursday, too, except we were all a bit tired from staying up too late and the stores were all closed so we had to do without several of the snacks that I forgot to buy the day prior.
There are, though, things that happen that make you see and feel the changes as they come.
The biggest is the clearout. The annual weekend after the new year take down of all the Christmas decorations. We, you see, have a vast array of decorations that I put up every year. When we first moved, just nine months after my wife passed away, the decorations were filled with Andrea’s touches. There were leopard spotted bows and velvet stockings and monogrammed pieces that were scattered throughout the house.
This year, though, more than most, this was our Christmas. In fact, it was mine as much as ours. I bought new ornaments. I moved a tree to the living room so that we had Christmas decorations right where we spent most of our time. Presents were under the live tree and I had an old artificial we’d had for years decorated just so it looked bigger, more festive, and just fun.
I put more lights up than ever. This was a sticking point in my marriage because I wanted to lean more toward Clark Griswold and my wife wanted to lean more toward Pottery Barn. This year I struck a balance and had lights and added to the trees up front. It looked nice.
But the clearout is an annual thing . . . the lights come down, and my son – who’s deathly afraid of heights – asked to come up on the roof and help me remove them. I obliged. Within a few my oldest daughter, home from college, came out to help as well.
The next step, though, was shopping for a white dress for a sorority event my daughter needed. You might think this is no big deal, go out, spend a day being driven mad by the hordes of shoppers at the mall and leave.
Reality, though, is that a white dress – just white, devoid of other colors, bright, pure, simple . . . that’s an impossible task. Everything had spots, dots, stripes, prints and other types of things that made it a violation for said sorority. We found, after two days and walking near 3 miles, one dress. We found lots of other clothes said oldest child loved, but didn’t work for the project. “You’re a better man than I am,” said her uncle.
We also had to remove the tree so the Boy Scouts could pick it up and recycle it for us.
The Sunday routine finished I looked at same daughter and asked “any thoughts on dinner tonight,” realizing as soon as the words left my mouth it was a mistake.
“Umm…not really. I don’t know.”
That, you see, is the normal response from two girls and twin boys. “I don’t know.”
“Who left this on the floor?”
“I don’t know.”
“Whose turn is it to unload the dishwasher?”
“I don’t know.”
“Why is there a bowl on the floor?”
“I don’t know!”
In the end I made spaghetti. I decided. I’m the decider “he said in his best George W. Bush voice”
But the reality is I have been for a long time. Still…help exists. And it helped immensely during the cleanout.
As little as three years ago my emotions were far more understandable. I wasn’t cold, no, but I wasn’t moved in quite the same ways. My wife would watch a sad movie and I could fathom and dissect the motivation in its scripting, acting and direction. Now, I get wrapped up in the same emotions my oldest daughter has when, say, Bilbo Baggins loses it after his friend dies in The Hobbit. (There’s no spoilers here . . . the book’s been out since last century!)
I’d say my brain went a little haywire, which could be the case, I suppose, but I don’t think that’s the case. I wasn’t the grinch, my small heart didn’t “grow three sizes that day.” I just didn’t indulge in those kinds of emotions. Men were men, we didn’t emote that much and we didn’t lose it at random things.
This brings me to the reminiscence of the bottle you see up there. I use the title for a couple reasons.
It might sound very cliche’d for me, a journalist, a man whose heroes are Murrow and Brinkley along with Schieffer and others, to like Scotch. That very phrase, by the way, in quotes, is the last line of the film Good Night and Good Luck. Even Will Ferrell lampooned it in Anchorman as the drink of choice for all real newsmen.
That would be an easy assumption, but you’d be wrong. In fact it’s quite an acquired taste. I didn’t normally drink it as I had not acquired the taste for the hard liquor.
No . . . Murrow and Bradley did not bring me a taste for the drink.
My wife did. She seemed to think that the fact her mother, in an effort to stop her from crying when she was a teething infant, put a splash of Scotch on my wife’s gums. That, she theorized, gave her a taste for the whiskey itself.
This isn’t a celebration of alcohol or its effects. I am careful not to be driving if I have more than a glass and even then . . . I wait some time before I even contemplate going for my keys.
I can remember the very day that the drink seemed to magically sink in with me. I had gotten two tickets to the Omaha Auto Show – a preview compliments of the sales department. Also complimentary? Drinks. Andrea and I were married and she was working, her sister, I believe, watching our daughter. I wandered the place and, feeling entitled, asked for Scotch. It was the most expensive drink on the menu. I had one glass . . . then another . . . and came to realize it was expensive, single-malt Scotch, making it far smoother. It also gave my stomach no problems which, unfortunately, beer and wine did.
This particular bottle, though, is the end of a few things.
About two years before Andrea passed away her parents wanted to give me a very nice gift. It was an 18-year-old bottle of Glenfiddich single-malt. It’s an expensive bottle of aged Whiskey and it…was…smooth.
I kept the bottle for a very long time. My wife and I would indulge when things were particularly stressful, and the last couple years of her life things were really very stressful. So when Andrea passed away I had more than a few glasses, you can be assured.
That bottle wasn’t touched much after that. In fact, there was enough for two glasses sitting in the bottle for the last year. That would push the age to somewhere near 25, I think. Not that it got better the longer it was open.
Last night, the kids – all four of them – asked me to play Wii with them. Bear in mind, as they were little, I used to kick their little behinds on games. I knew Super Mario Brothers better and blew through them with ease.
Last night I found myself pining for my old Atari 2600 or a Nintendo NES as they pounded me in Mario Smash Brothers or Mario World. The screams and shouts from them exacerbated a headache I’d seen coming for some time.
At the end I pulled out the Scotch, not thinking, and drank the last glass.
This brings my post here full circle. In years past I’d have drank the amber liquid and given it not a thought. However . . . this is the last big gift I got from Andrea’s parents. Her father passed away shortly after last Christmas. Her mother passed away earlier this year. It was a rough 365 this round and it’s been filled with a lot of losses.
So I stared at the bottle, the empty glass, and realized that I was more than a little harsh to Andrea’s father in the last few years of his life. We had disagreements, I had my grudges, and like times in my own past I held onto it for a long time. It wasn’t right, I know that, but grief has a way of holding onto things that maybe it shouldn’t. As I took the last swallow I felt some guilt but a twinge of happiness that I had at least shed the last of that anger shortly before he passed away.
So at the end of the night, I took the last of my glass, raised it to my father-in-law and thought very fondly of the woman who gave me a taste of the whiskey.
It may just be a bottle of Scotch…but it held a lot of memories.