Tag Archives: Love story

Blogiversary

Yeah, yeah, I know.  That’s not a word.  Sue me.  Neither was “internet” thirty years ago so there you have it.

One year ago, on the day (Friday) you’re likely reading this (I’m writing it very late Thursday night) I began to sit down and write about what’s happening in my life and in the lives of my kids.  This came seven months after losing my wife, Andrea.  We’d been married 18 years – she died on our anniversary – and just a few weeks before her birthday.

When I started writing two themes started to emerge from the computer:

First:
The struggles we had in our daily lives.  I didn’t have to learn to cook, my Mom and Dad both were really good at making sure I did that.  I didn’t have to learn to clean, we were inherently scruffy anyway.  I already did the bills – poorly – and do to this day.  The only thing I didn’t do was laundry and I’ve gotten better and the stuff is clean so no complaints, folks. The struggles, though, were with coping.  My kids grew closer…to me and to each other.  “We are stronger together than when we’re apart” is the new credo of my household.  It’s never been truer.  But we struggled, I’ll not lie.  Noah had major issues trying to control his temper.  Hannah nearly failed 7th grade.  Abbi had to change schools and start out as the “new kid” in a gigantic high school.  Sam . . . he had to come back out from behind the four walls he’d built around himself and be the fun, energetic kid he was before losing his Mom.

Second:
The love story.  A year ago I was still feeling the heartbreak.  There’s something about that loss, that pain and suffering, that sparks long forgotten synapses.  The electrical impulses fire to regions of your memory that you’d long thought were gone and you get a rush of events and things that transpired twenty years ago.  I don’t  think, necessarily, that it’s just people whose girlfriend or spouses die.  I truly think that any loss, even a horrible breakup, can spark this.  But in those instances you know why you broke up.  In the other you wonder why it had to happen.  I regained memories from the most amazing early days of our relationship.  I saw arguments that I’m embarrassed ever happened.  I felt the horrible pangs all over again of struggling with a woman who’d been date raped in college and didn’t know how to contend with her own sexuality for years after.
I looked over at the other side of the bed and felt the emptiness every night.

There have been so many posts I don’t honestly remember what I’d written in all of them.  I went through dealing with my own demons and disappointing my own set of close friends and family.  I struggled with the fact that I am no longer married.

Are the struggles over?  Not by a major stretch, no.

Is this blog the same?

No.

Not by any stretch, either.

I’ve noticed a few things since then.  I write for other people now, too, so that tendency starts to filter over to this blog.  I cook and make recipes and I share them.  The kids are growing more adjusted and growing more each day.  The struggles are changing to routines . . . just a little.  Day . . . by . . . day.  (Stop singing Godspell.  I know you’re doing it.  Stop.  Just stop!)

So is the love story over?  Well . . . the story’s over.  The love hasn’t died, it’s still there, but there are no additions to the story.  While one year ago I saw vivid memories, each single day tore another away, like the waves from the tide pulling clumps of a sandcastle off the beach and melting them into the sea.  That’s partly why I wrote them down, so everyone – including my kids – would see why I fell in love.  But I came to terms in all this time with the fact that the love can remain with the story ending.  We didn’t have a fairytale, I don’t suppose, but we did love each other very much.

That, my friends, brings me part and parcel to the blogiversary.  The name, derived from a saying on the wall, looked like one that would have an expiration date.  It doesn’t.  What started as a detail of the struggles of our new life and the influence the past had on that change has become something else again.  Now we look at where we’re going and what it will take to get there.  I see college for my little girl; high school for my middle; middle school for the twins.  All of it changing in just a short time.

And me?

That remains to be seen at this point.  I can say for sure that I’m stronger than I was when I started this a year ago.  I can look at a beautiful woman on the street or tell my daughter that I think Olivia Wilde is hot without feeling guilty about thinking that any more.

The last year saw me coming to terms, finally, with the fact that “our” story had ended.  My story, on the other hand, now has a new beginning-I just haven’t finished writing it yet.

Our Story Begins.  Happy blogiversary, everyone!

It Just Takes One Person . . .

My Entire, extended family, including my brother, sister-in-law and my parents
By Hunny Bee Photography, Amy Renz-Manoucheri Photographer

I have four kids.  That is no surprise to anyone who’s read this blog, but the statement is more about the worries and futures that weigh on my shoulders than it is just sheer numbers.  I never realized what an impact two people raising kids had until I was doing it alone.  It’s not the meals, or the laundry or chores . . . none of that is the main impact.  They all fall together into a big gelatinous mountain of worry, sure.  The fact is I look at all four of them and wonder what impact the last year and next will have on all their lives.

When you have that partner, the one person that you trust above all others, you aren’t alone in this.  The world isn’t working against you – or at least you don’t feel like it is.  When my oldest daughter would get sick Andrea or I would walk in, take her temperature, run the humidifier, or just plain hold her on our lap and put our hand gently on her hair and make her feel secure and cared for.  While I or Andrea would do that, the other would care for the other three.  Maybe give Noah a hug or high-five for a great math test.  Maybe read Sam’s story for his English class.  Perhaps listen to Hannah play some new song she’s played on the guitar.

But those days are over.  I find myself constantly saying “you’re all talking at once, do it one at a time!”  I can see the impact that having to do this on our own has had.  I’ve discussed Noah’s behavior before.  It’s ebbed and flowed.  There was a big lull in the lack of self-control.  I took the time to garner some attention on him and listen to him and do the things he needed along with helping his siblings.  But there are only so many hours in the day and so much attention I can muster before the laundry needs done and the beds need changing and the breakfast and dinner for tomorrow need to be addressed.  It’s not a simple system.  Let one fall the others pile up behind it.

Add to that the fact that, no matter how much good the Diocesan grief counsellors thought they were doing, they have set those two boys back – with one fell visit.  It’s funny because a year ago the boys were doing amazingly well, considering.  We’d established some semblance of a routine.  They had stability with my parents helping us get back on our feet.  Even when they returned in the Fall to school, it wasn’t easy, but they were doing really well.  Talking to counesllors, and even their doctor, they informed me that the grief was . . . well, grieving.  The boys were doing what everyone should do.  They were sad they lost their Mom, adjusting to the new life, and we were starting to look to the chapters ahead, not dwelling on the ones we’d already read.  Sure, you can’t tell a story without the motivation and history to back them, but you look back, you don’t dwell there forever.  That’s what my boys were doing.

But that one moment, the day they were forced to talk about everything that happened the day they lost their Mom, in sordid, painful detail, they both – Sam and Noah – came home like their clocks had been set back by months.  Noah started picking at his sister.  Sam started closing down and spending all his time upstairs again.  They annoyed each other until Noah or Sam would lose it and hit or kick each other.  No, they weren’t perfect before, but they were now at a point that even the grief hadn’t created.

My point here is not to blame someone for the problems.  I know it sounds that way, and I’m still a little angry about the whole episode, but the reality is that I worry about being just one person.  I worry about what example the kids get.  Abbi had 16 years with her Mom.  Hannah had 11.  The boys had almost 8.  I remember a lot from that year, but not as much as I’d like.  I know that major events, happy, sad, traumatic even get burned into your consciousness.  I get that.  But it weighs on my mind that, first, they won’t remember their Mom, not much, and not the woman that they should remember but the one that was coming back from depression and sadness.  They also don’t have that soft, gentle influence that only a Mom can have.  Before all the women I know and women reading tell me that they’ll always be there for the boys, I know that.  I understand and appreciate it.  The thing is there isn’t the constant, daily influence, though.  There’s just something about that second, differing opinion and outlook that evens out a person.  I can try all I want to give that to my sons and daughters but it’s not there.

Some psychiatrist on one of those daytime programs the other day said something about what influence you want to have on your kids.  “Would you want your kids to date you?  Would you want them to grow up to be you?”  They were hoping to spark some deep discussion in :30 second soundbites, I get it, but the thing is, I think their questions are off-point.  I worry not about whether I am the example of what they should be, I worry about whether I’m pushing them to be what they want to become.  That’s a big difference.  I don’t think any parent, unless they’re insanely narcissistic, wants their kids to grow up to be just like them.  While the psych doc on the box proclaimed that “your kids see if you kiss your wife but she’s still sad and wonder why . . . and whether you caused that sadness” it’s not about that.  They don’t get it. 

For me, at least, it’s about making sure they live up to their own expectations and potential.  I can see glimmers of what they want and should be and prod them along, sure, but I cannot be the end-all, be-all for what they think life is about. 

A friend was talking to me today about how I was lucky.  I got to meet the love of my life.  I got that “fairy tale” ending and got it right the first time.  The funny thing is, I don’t know if I got it right.  Sometimes you’re alone, the world swirling around you, and it just takes one person – the one person out there who sees through the melee and joins you in its center, without ever seeing the damage being inflicted around you.  It just takes that one person.  Andrea was mine.  I had given up – at 21 years old, yes given up – and figured that I’d just turn around and ride with the current.  It was at that moment that Andrea, who I thought wanted nothing to do with me, entered my life.  It was never the same.  It had amazing points.  It had horrible points.  But it was there, together.

So what example do I want my kids to take?  It just takes one person, sure.  But make sure it’s the right person.  I could have dated a string of women, tried to get through the insanity by grabbing everyone I could.  In the end, though, I found a love that would hold my hand and understand.  Together, we faced the world.  What I don’t want the kids to feel is that they’re doing this alone.  I don’t want my daughter to think that she’s taking care of her siblings and doing it all alone.  I don’t want my sons to think that the “guy’s perspective” is the only perspective. 

It’s easy to think that you just need to grab love where you can find it.  The whole “Love the One You’re With” idea, but I want my kids to know that they shouldn’t “settle.”  It’s OK to experiment, to date, to see what your likes and dislikes are.  I found my so very early that it burned out too soon.  But I’m not alone.  I don’t lean on my kids, I want them to lean on me.

So tonight, after signing the detention slip for Noah’s acting out I had to try my hardest to give him the best advice, channeling my wife’s thoughts the best I can and letting him know how much harder he’s going to have to work.  Telling him how kids act during PE games and sporting events when they play each other.  Telling him “it’s alright to get mad.  Nobody’s going to fault you for being angry.  You can’t act out on that.  You can get mad, yell, heck even kick at the dirt.  But not someone else, no matter how bad you think they’re acting.”

I worry about the example I’m giving my children.  But I don’t want them to grow up to be like me.  I want them to grow up to be better than me.  It just takes one person to make it happen.  They’re lucky – they each have four already.

The Lines That Give You Pause

We’ve done pretty well since the anniversary of one year came and went.  I hate to say things went better, my step a bit lighter, the kids a bit less weighed down, but it certainly started to seem that way.  That isn’t to say things don’t affect us because they always will.  I suppose that is the one thing that others who have never experienced this will never quite understand.  There are so many random things that will hit us out of left field.  I’ve said before that it’s not the big anniversaries: the day she died, her birthday, Christmas, none of those hit us quite as hard.  People don’t get that.  Sure, they’re hard to deal with but we see them coming from miles away.  We can look to that bump in the road and plan a way around it.

Yet last night is a perfect example of something that we’ve probably watched more than a few times and never gave a second thought.  A few years ago Disney made a movie with the actress Amy Adams called “Enchanted” that had storybook characters suddenly thrust into the real world.  The actress’ character suddenly in the home of a father who is raising his daughter alone, the Mom having disappeared for whatever reason.  That in and of itself isn’t what hit everyone.

Somewhere toward the end of the movie the little girl decides to help the “princess” to get clothes and everything she needs for the “King and Queen’s Ball” by – and I just love this message! – grabbing Dad’s emergency credit card.  At a certain point she’s in a hair and nail salon with Amy Adams and asks the simple question:
“Is this what it’s like?”
(Amy Adams:) “What?”
“Going shopping with your Mommy.”
“I don’t know, I never went shopping with my Mommy either, but I like it!”

Now, bear in mind, the two kids who were probably most affected by this were my sons.  That’s where I’m fortunate, I suppose.  Whenever we were forced to go shopping with my mother we kicked, screamed and yelled through the whole process.  It was never fun, took too long, and we drove our Mom nuts.  “Fun” was never part of the agenda.  Planned torture, for all involved, was more like it.  But the feeling in the room was definitely more palpable than before.  I’ve mentioned before that the thought of future events, the proms, pictures, holidays, marriages even weigh on me fairly heavily because of the fact that so much of my kids’ future is no longer similar to everyone else’s.  Where their friends’ Moms will cry at their weddings they will have me.  (Not to say I won’t cry, the most random things get to me lately) My daughters will have me to walk them down the aisle, but no Mom in the sacristy primping and posing them so that they look just perfect for their day.

The difference tonight compared to the other nights up to this point is that the feeling was palpable, but passed.  It’s exactly as I said up there.  It’s a line that gave us all pause, but that’s all it is, a pause.  If we dwell on the fact that we don’t have these things we’ll never move ahead and that’s the worst thing in the world for us.  By no means should anyone take this as some idea that I’m “ready to move on” and looking to replace their Mom.  I’m not.  She can’t be.  They loved their Mom like they can love nobody else.  I am now thrust into the same roles.

But where my relationship with my wife was so close and so intense, we also had so many conversations, both intimate and mundane, that I have at least some idea of what I’m doing now.  Little things, even “female” things are not foreign to me.  I used to buy tampons and panty liners for my wife at the store, even knowing what she needed.  Her PMS was so bad I knew exactly when it was coming and what time of the month it was likely to hit.  So when my daughter was upset and couldn’t figure out why her jeans fit differently and seemed to gain weight but was working out more and eating better than she has in the last couple years I had the great pleasure of actually knowing that water weight, muscle gain and all the other down sides to being a girl were the things causing her problems this week.  Doesn’t mean she didn’t doubt me, looking at me askew on the couch, but I could confidently say that if she just kept working out, drinking lots of water, maybe adding a cup of coffee or tea extra to reduce the water, she might feel a little better.  The fact that I could have this conversation and make her feel more confident in herself made us both feel better.

It’s the lines that give you pause, the random events – a smell, a sight, a song that fires your synapses, the memories exploding in your head – sometimes even a random line from a movie can force you to think about things you never thought would affect your lives.  Don’t take that to mean we’re healed and everything is perfect, sunshine and rainbows.  I’ve said before, and I believe it, that this wound never heals.  You learn to live with the pain and the sorrow until one day the memories and the thoughts make you smile in memory more than they make you cry in pain.  That day’s not here yet, but at least now we can think it may be coming.

The lines that give you pause, though, sometimes give you necessary time to think.  The best part is, after a full year, that pause doesn’t make us stop, it just slows us down a little.

Every Picture Tells a Story

Andrea, during her East Coast trip

Every Picture Tells a Story by Rod Stewart, from the LP of the same name

I have had a harder time the last few days, maybe even weeks, it seems. Not like the days right after the funeral, but I find myself in a state where I think more and more about Andrea. Losing her the way we did, the way it all played out, none of that helped. I never got a chance to tell her goodbye, not properly. I have my regrets. I have my sorrows about how those days played out.

But just today I was reminded by a very dear friend how Andrea’s and my story began. I’ve always told the story of how we met, the crazy, whirlwind cliff we both fell off. But I posted a picture on this friend’s Facebook page that Andrea had snapped. I remembered the visit Andrea had made when we were both still in college.

The part I had neglected to tell, not even to some of the people very close to me, is that our relationship was almost over as quickly as it had begun. Andrea and I had started dating over a period of months through the first semester of our Senior year in college. It wasn’t something either of us had planned. Oh, sure, we had toyed with the idea of going out. There was the silly first time we’d gone alone to the movies together, her for work, me flattered she wanted my company. But that first semester, Fall of 1991, it was like a catalyst had sparked our interest and taken it from mere infatuation to a boiling point.

I can say with certainty now that I know what that catalyst was. She was moving away.

When we started dating, the first throes of drama and infatuation turned to something more. The wall that stood between us came down because Andrea had already begun looking to her future, one as a journalist and news anchor. Prior to dating me she had arranged to transfer from Creighton University to the East Coast, attending American University for her last semester and interning at the CNN International desk. The job was already arranged. She had longed for this. She’d met Leslie Stahl during a visit to Creighton and was encouraged by her to continue on that path. It was during this time, the turmoil of getting through her last semester in Omaha and preparing to move East that we found how much we really wanted each other.

That was the catalyst. There was little to lose, you have to understand, for either of us. If I was every bit the lanky, geeky, shy boy that I saw in the mirror there was only a few months time and the relationship could falter. She’d be no worse for wear.  If I thought there was risk involved in darting someone I thought was both out of my league and so far removed from my background – someone who burned as bright as the rising sun, let’s face it –  I could live in that shadow for these months and find its end after the Christmas break.

It was here in those weeks that we spent nearly every moment together, awake and asleep. She spent most nights in my apartment, talking about the family histories that seemed to paralell, her grandmother living in myr hometown during WWII. The fact her mother grew up just a couple hours from my town. I even drove her during Thanksgiving break to her Grandparents’ house on my way home. We sat in the driveway of that house for an eternity. She kissed me and said she liked me too much to take me into the house and subject me to her family, likely watching us kiss in the car and wearing nothing but their pajamas and ready to grill me with questions.

By the end of that break she flew to meet our friend on the East Coast to scope out her new life there. I made her a “mix tape” of songs we’d listened to during those long, amazing hours together. Our mutual friend, then a nanny for a family on the Coast, helped her to find her way around and look for a place to live and scope out the area. It’s during that visit that she took the picture up there of Andrea.

During that trip, I spoke with Andrea on the phone. It wasn’t like today, there were no texts, no social media. I told her I’d write, I promised to talk with her every day either she calling me or my calling her. She talked in quiet, scared tones, worrying about how we might not survive being that far apart. Wondering how we were to make this work.

By Christmas we had fallen head over heels. I had given her a small gold ring, not an engagement ring, not yet, but I had grown to love her more than I ever thought possible. What started as a safe bit of dating to have fun in our senior year was now becoming a heart wrenching story about how in just a couple weeks we’d be apart, likely forever. I mean, I was young and inexperienced working in Council Bluffs, Iowa.  She was about to gain experience with international news at CNN, the place that had broken free with the War in the Gulf.

Christmas break hit and Andrea was preparing to leave Omaha and had flown home to California to see her parents for the holiday and talk logistics of the move East. She was a wreck.  The shadow that grew wasn’t so much now because of the relationship but because she’d gotten into an argument with her father. Andrea called me in a panic because her father informed her that there was no money to go to American. He couldn’t, and to a degree wouldn’t, pay for her move out there nor for her to leave Creighton. The problem was, it didn’t change her situation any. At this point she had not registered for Spring classes and informed Creighton she was leaving. The transcripts had been sent to American already. She had no apartment, she had moved her stuff out from her roommates.

Andrea was hysterical on the phone. She didn’t know what to do. I was sitting in my parents’ house, helpless, and knowing what I wanted to tell her but unsure whether she would accept it as a real or true solution. I wanted her to stay. I wanted her to come back to Omaha and live there, be there with me. I didn’t know if we’d stay together, but I wanted to try. But I had told her on more than one occasion that the last thing I wanted to be was the reason she left her career or life behind. If we were together God wouldn’t have put us there just to take us apart. She had to be able to be her own person, not just following me around. I said that and meant it. But I was dying to tell her what I wanted.

My Dad was the one who convinced me to do it. He had heard me on the phone tell her I loved her. It made her cry. I don’t remember if it was the first time I’d said it, but it must have been really early because her reaction was so intense I was overwhelmed. My Dad wouldn’t let up until I called her back.

“You aren’t necessarily stuck, if you can’t go to American,” I must have said.
“Creighton will let you do late registration, you already had started the year, they won’t be able to fill the slot mid-year that easily. You could re-apply.”

I also knew her roommates hadn’t found someone to take her place. They would let her come back.
“Besides, I want you to come back. I know this isn’t CNN, and I know we’re just figuring out what we’re doing, but would you want to come back? I love you, Andrea, and if you feel the same way, this could be a lot better than not being able to go to school.”

I wasn’t sure if she’d already thought of this, or if it was just so much going on it hadn’t come to her mind. Either way, she was crying again, this time happy that I wanted her to come back.
“You really want me to come back?”
I told her I really loved her, missed her, and I just didn’t want to stand in her way. I wanted, more than anything, for her to come back to Omaha so we could be together.

“I wish you were here,” was her answer. “I just want you to hold me.”

Like he’d heard the whole thing, my father bought me a plane ticket, for way too much money that he didn’t have, and flew me out to meet her. I had to ride back to her house with her father driving, due to the fact he wanted to meet this person who he’d never heard about and had no idea who he was. I’m sure Andrea had mentioned me – to her mother – but that the conversations about love and romance weren’t things she discussed with her father.

I arrived in the morning and just a short time after getting to their house – a house that is just a few minutes drive from where I live now – we left together. It was a little chilly. Andrea had on a black wool coat and she took my hand and took me out for a walk. We went to a small park a couple blocks from her parents’ house and before I could say anything she kissed me. It seemed like too short a time and I just couldn’t get enough of being with her. I held her hand, kissed her again, and with that big smile, the impossibly bright twinkle in her eyes, she told me what I hadn’t thought would happen:

“I’m moving back!”

It all fell into place. She’d gotten classes lined up. Her roommates were happy to have her back. Our old shop even had her original job still open.

Andrea planned an entire weekend, a whirlwind to the wine country, out to San Francisco for dinner, and back home…but that’s another story that I shouldn’t write in mixed company.

One week’s time. That’s all it would have been. A simple week that could have changed our entire story forever. So looking at a simple picture, a snapshot that looks happy and fun, there’s so much more background than you can tell.

As the saying goes, every picture tells a story. In my case, an amazing, beautiful love story. I got my “happily ever after” even if it wasn’t as ever after as I had hoped.