Tag Archives: memories

Boxes…Everywhere Boxes

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Boxes…Everywhere Boxes


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.

Noah Barleywater Project
Noah Barleywater Project

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.

It’s self-preservation.

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.

Only this box has never been empty.

The Memories of a Night Out

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The Memories of a Night Out

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.

Kids at Movies

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.

AndeI 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?”

I looked at him and simply said “I loved it.”

I loved everything about it.


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There are occasions when your children look at you and wonder just what the hell is going through your head. It would be easy to dismiss this as simple misunderstanding or even the hormonal struggle that creates the eye-roll and angst-ridden *sigh*.

Yet I understand what all four of my children meant today, it probably looked like I got this wild hair that came from nowhere.

But nowhere is not where this came from.

For weeks, since I signed a new lease for our home, I have noticed that my carpets were not just soiled but nearly brown from the dirt tracked in to the hallway between the bathroom and the garage.  For years I’d had a carpet shampooer until it broke four years ago when we moved to our current home. We rent, so that’s always a hard thing to adjust. If you have a situation like this it isn’t easy to fix and you don’t own the property at the end of the day.  There are benefits and detriments to this, but those aren’t the subject of this post.

So I bought another shampooer.  No, it’s not as good as, say “Stanley Steemer” or even renting a “Rug Doctor” but they do work well enough to get things . . . well . . . clean enough.

Sure, there was the adventure of traveling from our home to the local Target trying to understand why (why?!) they decided to redo the entire parking lot in the middle of a Sunday…with only one way in…while the entire complex had a farmer’s market.  Then the hour-long trip of everything else we needed to get in the store.

When I got home the cleaning started in earnest.  We moved furniture.  We moved everything . . . and I cleaned.  I got them dusting, climbing ladders to get rid of cobwebs.  I had them dusting the picture frames and wiping up the counters and throwing out all their old school work.

It was after this the purge began.

Aliens on Vacation
Aliens on Vacation

In one corner I found old school projects.  My sons, in the first year in our home (ignore the toilet paper in the corner of the photo, please, part of the purge again) had a book report.  A visual book report. I found the “visual” part of that sitting in a corner.  It had to go.  So did the other son’s.  I loved them, we worked very hard on them and they were kind of spectacular in how they looked and all . . . but at the end of the day they were still just a couple of things eating up space and gathering dust.

Then came the rest of it . . . I found chickens . . . a handful of chickens.  Ceramic chickens, glass ones, ones on a table, ones that are bookends, just chickens everywhere. I put them away resolving to sell them on Ebay.

My kids had these giant baskets under a bookshelf behind the couch. After shampooing carpets we took them out and threw out everything. I do mean everything. Nothing stayed, as most of it was Happy Meal toys and other materials. We took their books out and placed them on their bookshelves in their rooms. I turned the shelf into a repository for my vinyl LPs.

It was in this that my daughter found one of those books with an electronic recording. Years ago, before their grandmother, my late wife’s mother, had gotten very ill she recorded a book called something along the lines of “this is how much I love you.”

My sons simultaneously yelled at my daughter “NO!!! Don’t open it!” It was too late.

Their late grandmother’s voice carried through the kitchen, causing groans to erupt behind me. The boys immediately took their stacks of books up the stairs to avoid it.

“I can’t shut it of,” my daughter said, meekly. She acted like it was an accident, but minutes later, after it finished its reading I heard it again.

And again.

“Why don’t you put it on the shelf,” I told her, telling her she’d be able to hear it again someday and it would make her smile. They’re almost there.

It’s hard, there are no recordings like this of their mother, just old anchoring videos, which we’ve found. Even those make the kids smile, it’s seeing a side to their mother they hadn’t seen before.

But the purge . . . isn’t to purge everything or the memories. It’s to make room for the new ones.

As I finished the day I put new pictures, ones of the kids and I, one of the boys . . . up on the wall of photos that started with their mother.

It’s not getting rid of the past or the memories . . . it’s making room for the future.

You Upset Me Baby . . .

You Upset Me Baby – BB King – Live at the Regal

Well, not really upset so much as . . . I used to be upset.

There were a number of things that used to bother me the first year after losing my wife.  For new readers . . . I lost my wife, Andrea, in March of 2011.  It was unexpected, fast, and like the song says . . . like being hit by a falling tree.

I used to have the hardest time with the smallest things in that first year.  Little things . . . she stole little things away from me.  I used to have the greatest love for the guitar because of the King of the Blues, BB King.  It’s funny, too, because I called Andrea my “Sweet Little Angel” and people always assumed it was because of a song I’d written for Andrea of a similar title.

It wasn’t.

The Live at the Regal LP
The Live at the Regal LP

I called her that because of the King of the Blues.  In that same concert from the song up there Riley B. King had a song called Sweet Little Angel that simply said “I got a sweet little angel.  I love the way she spreads her wings.”  That was her.  His lyric, his line, it inspired me to write my own song for her.

But when Andrea passed away there were a lot of things I couldn’t face and, to be brutally honest, it pissed me off.  I couldn’t (and still can’t) listen to Clapton’s Wonderful Tonight because it was her favorite song of his.  I also couldn’t bring myself to listen to BB King’s Live at the Regal, which bothered me almost more . . . because it’s one of the records that got me wanting to play the guitar.

But unexpectedly, the other day I stumbled on an old interview I was lucky enough to do with BB when I worked in Omaha.

It also led me back to Live at the Regal.  To my complete surprise, I was listening to the album . . . the entire LP, including Sweet Little Angel and I realized that it wasn’t affecting me the way it used to.  Sure, there are memories with it, and many of those involve my late wife.  Many don’t.

It isn’t as hard as it was in the beginning, to see these things come to pass.  In the first year it was like small pieces of Andrea were floating away, like the drifting, wafting embers that float around you when you’re at a campfire.  Each memory that left floated away, you think, never to be seen again.  That’s a hard thing to come to terms with.  You dread sleeping because you’re alone . . . then you dread it because you don’t know what memories your mind is going to purge.  You grasp at them and chase them like Frankenstein after his imaginary butterflies.

But then that thinking changes.  Some take years to do it.  Others never find the peace of mind.  I seem to have gained a different perspective in the last year or so.  The memories aren’t gone, not forever.  They’re just tucked away somewhere.  I also realized, to my surprise, that I know my life wasn’t defined by marriage.  It was part of me, and a part I was sad to leave behind, but it doesn’t – and it didn’t – define who I am totally and completely.  I was still a musician, a writer, a journalist, and a Dad.  I lost a lot, I know that.

I also have a lot of times that hurt.  March 26th will likely never be a pleasant day.  It’s the day I married Andrea and the day I lost her.  October 30th, her birthday, that’s hard.  She took a lot of things with her I thought were mine alone when I brought them to our relationship.

But it seems, just a little, like I finally got something back.  A piece of myself and a piece of my past that gives me a whole lot of joy.

Even if it is from the King of the Blues.

And then you move on…

I’ve been asked a number of times – and this is the most typical question for me: “how do you do it?”

You have to bear in mind, too, that this question encompasses a lot of ground.  It’s the catch-all for a lot of people.  It’s an easy question to cover everything:
How do you raise 4 kids alone?
How do you do have the time to work and raise kids alone?
How do you adjust to not having your wife?
How do you raise kids without their Mom?

The answer’s almost the same for each of the questions

With difficulty
I don’t get a lot of sleep
It takes a lot of time and effort
You just do it . . .

Those answers, by the way, are interchangeable.  How do you adjust to being alone?  I don’t get a lot of sleep.  With difficulty.  It takes a lot of effort . . . and you just . . . do it.

How do you raise 4 kids alone, or without their Mom?  With difficulty, it takes a lot of effort and I don’t get a lot of sleep.  You just do it.

Feel free to play Mad Libs with the answers and the questions as you best see fit.

Understand, if you’d asked me that question on March 27th – the day after she died, I would have told you I couldn’t do it.  Looking at the data from the last year I’ve read through some of my early posts and you can see where I struggled.  I can see that so much of my life had her touch and influence on them still.  Today, though, I realized that the things I predicted for this came true: each little memory or touch of her spirit that faded took small pieces of her away with them.

So does that depress me?  Not really.  I guess you have to look at it like a scar on the pieces of your spirit or your soul.  I used the analogy, and I think it’s still apt, that she tore a piece of me away when she left.  I think that’s true.  What will never happen is letting the marks left by the wound go away.  They won’t, but that’s okay.  The wound will scar a lot, like the scars on my arms and legs from when I was burned as a kid.  (Whole other story, but yes…I have scars on my arms and legs)  Probably 90% of the time I never even notice them.  When somebody asks about them now I can tell them what happened, but the pain was when I was a toddler.  I have vague recollections of the pain as the burns healed but it’s not something I remember with regret or sorrow.

This is the same in an emotional sense.  I found each memory, be it something we did together or something I brought to our marriage, brings a painful twinge like she’d stolen away with them like  a thief.  Songs I’d brought with me to our relationship, books I’d read, movies we’d watched . . . all of them hurt.

Today, though, I noticed something, though it was a small thing.  Each night, as I drifted off to bed in the last year, I told her good night, like I did every night in our marriage.  I realized last night I wasn’t doing it any more.  It’s not a conscious thing, I didn’t make a decision one night to say “enough!”  I just didn’t do it one night . . . and the next . . . and the next.  I don’t know how long it’s been, I just know I haven’t done it.  I tried tonight and it felt awkward and forced.

Does it bother me?  A little.  Does it hurt?  Not any more.  Sure…there are things that make that part of myself hurt all over again.  I doubt there will ever be a time that it won’t, but . . . does it color every part of our lives like before?  No.  It doesn’t.

Part of it is just forward motion.  She stopped making the journey nearly two years ago and we had to keep going.  Also, and this may sound a bit harsh, but she hasn’t had to deal with the havoc her death caused.  How do I do it without her?  Because I have to do it without her.  She doesn’t have to get the notes in the lunch box when her son loses his temper and gets angry.  She doesn’t have to tell the counselor all the details of the last year that have sparked such anger in her son.  She didn’t have to race her other son to get x-rays when he broke his wrist.  She didn’t have to deal with her daughter neglecting her grades or her oldest daughter struggling socially at a new school.  Those are all things I had to deal with on my own, without her, and no guidebook or presence to bounce ideas off.  I did, though, and while I could have looked to the sky and screamed “what the hell do I do?!” asking her for help . . . it didn’t come.

So I took some of those things back.  At a community fundraiser I sang the song we danced to at our wedding: Clapton’s Wonderful Tonight, even though I was loathe to do it.  You can hear my voice crack a little in the recording toward the end, too.  But I did it.  I took the song back from her.  She still gets to have it, but I can hear it again without wanting to tear my hair out.  I watched Sleepless in Seattle – her favorite Rom-Com – with my daughter.  Not because I was torturing myself, but because it’s now a new memory, not just the spark of an old one.

My life, my relationships, my friendships . . . they aren’t always influenced by her, or her death, or what we’ve been through.  Sure, I know we struggle and I know we don’t always get it right.  I know I can’t do it all or afford it all and I need help . . . a lot.  That’s certainly a result of losing my wife.  But I still get it done.  Not always perfect, and it’s certainly not always pretty.  But we’re moving forward.  I have friends and work and people that I can talk to and interact with and while they knew Andrea intimately . . . I know them, too, and I don’t look at them as a tie to those days any more.  They’re part of how I live today.

So how do I do it?  I just do.  And then I move on.

Stop Motion

My son, Noah, has shown yet again just how innovative he . . . and technology . . . can be.

Let me start, though, by telling you how my afternoon every day this week has been spent finishing up work then getting home to a flurry of interrogatives.  Not that they’re difficult ones.  No “Train A leaves the station at 50mph and Train B leaves at 70mph going toward each other what time do they meet?”  No.  It’s usually . . . “Hey Dad, can I tell you something?!”

After the question – which I usually follow with “could I really stop you?” – said child begins talking.  And talking.  And talking.  In the middle of the story, which sometimes is really interesting but more often is the entire plot of every chapter of their latest book, the other two siblings come in.  Most times that’s “can I tell you something funny that just happened on Spongebob?”  My response to that is usually “no.”

Lately, I’ve heard Abbi’s whole story about what happened in drama class.  Last night it involved their improvisation exercises and how she “had” to kiss a guy on the stage.  She shrugged it off acting like it was no big deal but her ears were red.

So here’s the thing.  It doesn’t bother me too much . . . it nags at me.  I am thrilled she had great improvisation – which she tells me she’s not good at doing – but I also have to swallow down the male tendency to be angry she’s kissed some guy.  I’m not naive.  She had a boyfriend last year.  She had one before him.  She’s responsible and loving and I cannot be the typical Dad who cleans his gun when the date shows up to get his daughter.  I have to be both Mom and Dad.  I wasn’t much older than her when I met her mother.

It’s that she’s growing up.  This tiny little girl who stood on the top of the steps to our house and had her shadow touching the street now is old enough to make decisions and take on responsibilities.  That wasn’t supposed to happen.  It certainly wasn’t supposed to happen this way, either. Not without her Mom.  I was processing this when my son, Noah came up and told me he’d made a cartoon, like the old stop motion claymation things.

On his Nintendo 3DS, there’s a way to do stop motion animation.  He spent all afternoon and most the night before dinner making it.  He took Legos and small characters from other toys and made them move, telling a story.  Now, no, it’s not Coraline or Nightmare Before Christmas but he’s also only 9.  For a 9-year-old to have this work out so damn well and have an actual story?  I’m floored.

So here I am watching them all grow up and I realize that the time I have left with them is actually pretty short.  Very short, in fact.  If I look at where the boys are now . . . I have about 8 years with them.  I’ll be 50 and the house will be empty.  The plans I had for the future could possibly still happen, but not the way I’d envisioned them 10 years ago.

It’s funny. I’m simultaneously proud and sad.  All 4 kids are growing up so quickly.

But then Sam comes up and says “I made a video too, Dad,” and shows me.  In it . . . a shot of the TV screen with Spongebob playing . . . while Sam narrates.

Maybe I have a little longer than I thought.

Pronoun Trouble

There’s an old Looney Toons cartoon that has Daffy Duck getting the business end of a shotgun over and over again as he constantly shouts “SHOOT HIM NOW!  SHOOT HIM NOW!”  At a certain point he looks at the camera and says “hmmmm…pronoun trouble.”

I’ve been running into similar grammatical troubles.  Oh, I don’t end up with my mouth upside down on the top of my head or staring down the barrel of a Winchester.  My troubles tend to be more verbal trouble.  Or perhaps most appropriate is tense trouble.

It started – or at least I recognized it – when I was in the office of the monument company trying to hold it together while buying Andrea’s gravestone.  I agonized over the picture that was to be put on the stone.  I could have picked one from our time in Texas, which is probably closer to what the kids will remember her like, but I settled on one from when we first were dating because it just…I don’t know…glows.  Her body language, her smile, the way she looks, all of it are just her at the peak of happiness.

My Favorite Picture of Andrea

When I went in to the company to look at granite colors, costs, installation, all of it, I ended up making the woman at the company cry.  I’m not sure how she does her job because I certainly couldn’t.  I held it together – barely – and then came time for the picture.  She picked it up and immediately said “oh…she’s beautiful!”  That’s true, but I caught myself replying “yes, she is….was.”

Past tense.

I’d been using the past tense for awhile, and I hadn’t really noticed it, I guess.  It’s not that it feels uncomfortable, it’s more that it’s just difficult.  The hardest thing in the world is looking at those pictures and the videos and everything as I dig through boxes and such and come to the realization that where the discomfort was hitting me so hard this time I realized that I only used present tense because the woman in front of me had.  I’d normally have said she “was” all the time.

I also started to – and I know this is crazy – hate the letter “W”.  “Is” become “was”.  She was younger “then” became younger “When”.  She was my best friend…when she was around.  The tense changes the entire characterization and description of life in general.

The thing that bothered me a little wasn’t that I had to use it so much as the fact that I was able to use it so readily and easily.  Part of me thinks that it’s because I was there . . . I saw it all take place.  I saw the color drain and the life pass out of her body.  It’s hard not to have that image creep into your consciousness even when you’re remembering the good things.  The use of the pronouns and verbs makes the image flicker – if even just for a second – and in the blink of an eye the emotions of that day wash over you all over again.

So . . . as Chuck Jones used to say . . . I want so badly to be Bugs Bunny, but in the end, we’re all really Daffy Duck . . . with pronoun trouble.

A visual history

A couple days ago I posted how I’d found these videotapes . . . ones I’d stolen from an old TV station.  For the record again, I would and never have done anything like this again and the so-called crime was far from criminal because the station was prepping to dispose of them all.  Dispose of them meaning they were throwing them out.

Look up at those two clips . . . two flickering moments from the stacks of videotapes I found these in.  They may not seem like much, two minor Entertainment segments with seemingly no value other than their glimpse into the pop culture news of the day.  But I see major events of my life, two massive ones, that are flowing below the surface.  I’ve written about them both before…

Obviously, the anchor for these segments is my wife, Andrea.  She wasn’t my wife during these times, though.  The two segments I’ve hand picked just for today’s blog have pretty high significance for me.

The first, which you see there, is actually a segment that was edited and aired after the event.  I had arrived at work, angry at the world, pissed about life, not sure why.  Maybe the cute red-haired girl in the back of the classroom had rejected me, maybe I was mad I had to work, but I was early for work.  She was late to get to a preview screening of a movie for her segment.  I ran into her in the parking lot of Your News 17 in Council Bluffs, Iowa.  I said the typical ‘how’s it going’ or something and she stopped right in front of me.  I remember vivid details.  She had a black and white polka-dot blazer on.  She had a t-shirt that showed just a little cleavage.  She wore silk pants that just caught my eye.  Not sure why they did, but I had to force myself not to look at her legs or behind or I’d get caught looking at her legs and behind.

She wore this coat…

She stopped dead in front of me and said “I’m late to go review a movie.”  Then she got this look, a smile and twinkle that literally paralyzed me.  I could see the gears turning in her head and she asked “want to come along?”

She hated doing things like this alone.  I hated shirking my duties for preproduction.  I was shy, lanky, horrified, and of course I said “yes.”

The first segment . . . she was reviewing the Marrying Man .  I had to watch this segment to get an idea of what the movie was about.  I watched her the whole film, not the movie.  We got back and I don’t even remember punching the pre-production for that segment.  I was in a daze.

But I didn’t ask her out.  It was months before I did anything.

Which brings me to segment two up there.  Again, strangely I remember the outfit.  I’m not  a clothes hound nor am I fashionable.  But she had style – and it was just past the late ’80s.  I remember thinking I was clever and being the kid who makes fun of the girl he likes.  I called it her Kermit jacket because it was the kermit/Kelley green.  That segment is April 19th, 1991.  I know, because it’s the day the George Foreman/Evander Holyfield fight took place.  I remember, because it seemed she’d moved he attentions to someone else.

By the end of that night . . . and we must have done the segment semi-live because I remember the jacket . . . she walked up to another person on the crew, not me, and said they were going out for drinks later that night and if he wanted to stop by it would be grand.  Somebody else.

Have you ever had that bout of jealousy where you aren’t depressed and shy you get angry?  That was me.  I don’t remember what I said but I do remember being kind of mean to her on headsets . . . which I’m embarrassed to say wasn’t new for me anyway.  I was a nasty director.  I wasn’t mad at my friend and colleague I was mad at her.  But the response was the same . . . you see, I remember the day because that same friend and I were working late voluntarily because we got to watch the pay-per-view fight for free since we worked for a cable company.  We did ad insertion for some sporting event and watched the fight.

Foreman lost, but we got to the later rounds and the newsroom phone rang.  Normally nobody would be there, not even the community at large bothered to call after 6:30pm because even they knew the station would be a ghost town after 6:30 since we had no other newscasts.  I answered the phone and on the other end was noise . . . loud, shouting bar noise.

“It’s Andrea!” was the answer from the other end.  “Who’s this?”
“It’s Dave,” I said and asked if she wanted me to pass the phone to our friend.
“Why?  I’m talking to you!” was her answer.  “We’re at the Bluejay.  I was checking if you were coming over.”
She blew off the fact she’d asked someone else, she simply said “the more the merrier.”

I looked at him, asking if we should go, and he probably didn’t want to.  But he relented and said . . .”ok, the fight’s slowing down anyway.”

We walked into the bar, and it’s about as college a hangout as you’ll ever find.  The wood floors are worn wood with the varnish between the slats now blackened from the beer, food and whatever else spilled all over the floor.  They served beer in plastic cups not glasses and pitchers of .32 beer were plentiful.  I’ll be honest, it was April 1991, so I was 20.  Nobody even checked ID on the way in so it was no big deal – and for the record I was that stick in the mud who didn’t have a fake ID.

I remember the green jacket because it came out of the crowd and came straight toward us.  She gave our friend a hug but then hooked her arm in mine and pulled me into the fray.  I honestly don’t remember if he stayed until close like I did or if he left.  I do remember that I offered her a ride home and she said she’d come with friends and needed to get them home.  She walked up, though, and gave me a huge hug and kissed me on the cheek.  When she pulled back she took her thumb and rubbed her red lipstick off my cheek.

I gave her crap after we started dating about that night.  “You didn’t invite me to the bar that night,” I would tell her.  “You asked somebody else.”
You wouldn’t get off your ass and ask me out,” she said, “and I gave YOU a hug and kiss . . . nobody else.  You think that was an accident?”

She had that mischievous grin again.

Two events . . . one the aftermath of her coming onto my radar.  The other . . . the events leading up to the moment I couldn’t let her go.  I remember walking up not long after that night at the Bluejay and saying “I had fun…” and having her say the same.  She was getting ready to go on air and that awkward, young silence that overcomes you had me walking away from her.

I got maybe two steps when she asked “so when are we going to do it again?”

I know you think I have to have embellished these stories, and maybe I did . . . a little.  But she was a force of nature.  There wasn’t much to embellish, and when I fell…I fell hard.

So when I see those segments, now twenty-one years later, I finally can smile a little because I can see what you’re not seeing on video in my mind’s eye.



Hidden Memories

Hannah with the window in her smile

Black Water by the Doobie Brothers from the LP “What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits”

About eight or nine years ago we bought a 2000 Chevrolet Suburban. I say “we”, but the reality is the decision had already been made, whether I wanted to believe it or not. It just was couched as being mine and I was given the credit for making a wonderful decision because it was a vehicle that had far more space and fit our family, particularly because it was about to grow, even though we didn’t know about it.

Andrea had wanted that Suburban. I had bought her a GMC Envoy a couple years before. It was the car designed prior to the re-design, the kind that looked like a Chevy blazer with more stuff inside. She wanted more room, the ability to carry more stuff, less claustrophobia when the two girls argued with each other, and – let’s face it – we lived in Texas, so she wanted a big, black Urban Assault Vehicle that could blend in with the landscape of big hair, big homes and big money. None of which did either of us have.

The car was in really good condition but it wasn’t low mileage when we bought it. In fact, it was considered a “value” because of the fact it was in such good shape for the mileage it had. But in the last few months tis very car turned over 200,000 miles. I’ve replaced the transmission, the air conditioning, the water pump, the fuel pump, the differential, and the catalytic converter. It was running amazing, leaking a little oil every day, but a great vehicle. But I saw the writing on the wall, at 205,000, it was time to move on, get another vehicle, and think about what was going to happen next.

I had some retirement money and stock options left over from my last job. I didn’t want to keep it, seemed a little odd to me considering the fact that the job had fallen apart so quickly. So I cashed it all in and bought a new car, an SUV, not as big, better mileage, and something that seems, oddly enough, to fit our family now. It’s big, but smaller than its predecessor, it’s nice, but not too nice, and it’s just what we need, even though we hadn’t really wanted to buy anything new at the time, not really.

But I held off on selling the old girl, affectionately dubbed our “Sexy Burbie” by the kids. It sat, for some time now, in the garage, pooling oil onto the cardboard I’d laid under it, battery draining, waiting for me to do what I’d pledged, to sell it. I made the kids clean her out, take out their stuff, clean it up, but I finally decided I should this weekend.

Yesterday I took the kids to a memorial service, one that was for Andrea’s Aunt Karol. Karol, you have to understand, wasn’t Andrea’s blood aunt, but she was so close to the family, so amazing and strong a personality, that when I met Andrea and was preparing to meet Andrea’s parents, she talked more about the fact that she “couldn’t wait for you to meet my aunt Karol!” Not unlike Andrea’s funeral, when we arrived at Karol’s house, we couldn’t find parking. We had to park blocks away, walking up, and barely getting into the house there were so many people. The place was full, packed with people, laughter, tears, and emotions. We saw Andrea’s uncle, who lives South of here, and the kids were insistent on going, regardless of whether it would be uncomfortable or not.

They were blown away by the beauty of the evening, but it was still not without its tug on the heart and they were all pretty beat by the end of it.

For whatever reason, after this whole thing, I had decided to sell the car. One doesn’t lead to the other, I’d just made the decision and come to do it then and there. I really did not think it would be such a big deal, it was old, near decrepit, hard to drive, and more or less a money pit at this point. I should have sold it immediately without giving it a second thought.

It was as I cleaned the car out that things began to hit me. I found old pictures of the kids. I don’t know if you get these kinds of things with your kids but they are these hard plastic teardrop-shaped pieces with your kids’ pictures on them. They have a hole on the top so you can put them on your keyring. As I cleaned out the middle console of the car I found half a dozen of these. There was one for each of the kids, Noah, Sam, Abbi and Hannah, and there were two earlier ones of each of the girls. One in particular, Hannah, with her two front teeth missing, the smile so big you could almost see her tonsils through the window in her smile.

I found all kinds of old cassette tapes. (If you are too young, they are rectangular cartridges with holes in the center to move the reels of tape from one side to the other. You used to record your old records to them so you could listen to them in the car. They were an audible history of our last near-decade. The Doobie Brothers’ “What Were Once Vices are Now Habits” which was there so Abbi could sing her favorite song as a little kid: Black Water. There was a James Taylor CD, Andrea’s favorite artist when we met. She’d gone when she was pregnant with Abbi to see him perform. In fact, in utero, Abbi heard Taylor, BB King, even her father, me, gigging while her Mom sat in the bar drinking club soda with lime and grinning while I sang a song I wrote for her.

Speaking of which, there was a copy of the first CD I ever recorded, with my first solo band, “Nine O’Clock Blues” which had that very song on it.

The car was filled with ghosts. There were receipts, there were scraps of paper, notes, grade reports. The car was an unwilling shrine to a life we no longer lived.

We took the car to sell it, me in “Sexy” and Abbi driving the kids behind me in the new car. I was fine until I had come along a road near Folsom Lake. I had taken the turn to take the lake crossing and felt an immense amount of pressure, like something pushing on me head. It was like a piece of tension gone haywire, like someone put massive hands on either side of my head and started to squeeze, hard, to the point that I was getting dizzy. I could feel Andrea’s hand gently caressing the back of my head. I looked over to my right and saw the spot where she sat, almost constantly, riding and looking out the window. She nearly always fell asleep in the seat as we drove, the motion lulling her into relaxation. I would always reach over and put my hand on her knee and she would stir and hold mine.

Don’t get me wrong, I did sell the car. It wasn’t like this was something that had a death grip on me, it wasn’t stopping me from moving on with my life. What I didn’t think about was how much the simple action of selling something – an action that happens from tons of people every day – would have such a great effect on me.

Every day I reach a new step, move forward with our lives another ghost reaches out and grabs me. Memories stay hidden until I think I’m safe to do something everyday, something normal that most people don’t give a second thought, and then they pull me back more steps than I’ve taken forward.

But I took the car and sold it. However hard it was, the cost of registering, taxing, and maintaining the car would be too much to pay for something that never was driven. Yet still, the mundane becomes massive when you’re trying to move on.

But the car was one of the last bastions of that story. It was another step off the path, the epilogue of the story. Memories are often where you least expect them and you never know when they’re going to make themselves known.

I’m Not Drowning . . .

The new family - I'm a bit skinnier now - a bit.

It happened this weekend.  The transition, that is.

Just about everything we’ve done over the last 8 1/2 months has had the influence, feel and presence of my wife swirling around it.  When I make breakfast for the kids, I take out the kid plates, these day-glo plastic rhomboids made by Ikea.  Andrea picked those out.  They seemed easier and less breakable for the boys in particular.  When we moved here and bought them at the massive Swedish testament to vanilla modernity across the river in West Sacramento.

I tuck in the kids and they all have sheets, bedspreads, dressers, beds . . . all of it picked out (with my “approval” meaning sure, I’m asking you what you think, but it’s the bed we’re going to buy anyway, it just makes you feel better) by Andrea.

Hell, my clothing, haircut, all of it are influenced by her amazing spark of creativity and style.  It’s not that I don’t want it, I loved it, every minute of it.  But the problem is, these pieces are the only things left.  When the plastic starts to thin, the clothing frays, the bedspreads and sheets stain . . . what then?

Well, we move on.  I didn’t want to, and it’s so hard to do it because she’s been the driving force behind my transition in to normalcy.  I was an angry, gangly, annoyingly stubborn kid with a horrible haircut, no sense of style and less than zero self-confidence.  It isn’t a shallow thing to say that this amazing woman changed that – changed me.  With her gone, where do I go from here?  Will I change with the times the way I should, or will I sit here, pining over the loss, will I stagnate and remain the same?

It’s easy to understand how I could do this.  There is something that’s hard to describe to anyone who hasn’t suffered this kind of loss.  I still feel her presence, the physical, tangible, tactile feeling.  There’s the thought she’s in the bed next to me in the twilight of sleep.  There’s the gut reaction to turn and tell her something amazing happened or to vent when the bad did.  But she’s not there, and it’s horrible to realize it because for a fleeting moment you relive the months leading up to that moment all over again.

And you like it.

Yes, you heard me right, I hate the pain and I revel in it as well.  The part people don’t realize is that you are so tied to this amazing person, you love her so much, that you live in and relish the pain that comes with missing her because that’s the only thing you have left.  There’s a part of me, however crazy, that feels like the less the pain hits, the less of her that stays behind.  I want her there.  I am a better man for having met her, so will I keep being that man now that she’s gone?

It would be so easy to fall into place.  I’ve already started.  I’ve been listening to old LP’s, living in the memories of our early dating and marriage.  I pine for the woman who drew me in.  I reminisce on the seductive nature of the woman who just hypnotized me with her smiling eyes.  I have watched John Hughes movies.  I subjected myself to Sleepless in Seattle because it was her favorite movie.  I listen to crappy ’80s/’90s stations because they remind me of her and of that time and I hurt, I tear up and I love it.  I’m inclined to just let the flood hit, drown in the memories.

It would be so easy to stay there.

But there are four little people who don’t.  That’s what pulls me out of the past and pushes me forward.  Andrea strove for perfection, in all things.  If she got less than an “A” in a class, even in Pharmacy School, which she attended after our oldest was born, she was motivated by that perfection.  She rubbed off on me to a degree, but there’s something she just didn’t realize, something that caused arguments; something that I have come to both realize and embrace.

It’s the imperfections that make it perfect.

Our house is now a mish-mash of Christmas decorations.  The perfect stockings on the fireplace, the combination of homemade ones on the banister.  We have two trees, most of the decorations homemade.  I put up my stereo even though Andrea hated it because it was old and clunky and was “obvious” in how it sat in the living room.  I have guitars hanging up and sitting out because they are part of me.  There’s the perfection, too, the decorations, the paintings, the artwork, the sconces, all of it an amazing tribute to this beautiful woman.

Then this weekend we did it.  Something she’d never have bought, something with no connection.  I was buying Christmas presents and needed a piece for our decorations at the hardware store.  They had a little metal fire pit, like a Chimera, for sale and I bought one.  We needed something to just have fun and there’s something about a fire, be it in the fireplace or the back yard.

I lit the fire, we put chairs around, got out the marshmallows, Hershey bars and graham crackers.  I got the skewers from inside the house and we made S’Mores.  They were messy, crazy, hot, silly . . . and it was just us.  Andrea wouldn’t have wanted that fire.  She would have done the food, but not the fire pit.  It wasn’t her.

The thing is, to survive, to help these kids move on, we have to make our own memories, not live in the past ones.  Not keep doing the same old routine or the same traditions.  They’re gone.  Don’t take this too far.  I’m not erasing her, she’s far too special and far too amazing, and every day, I have reason to feel the hurt and let it wash over me in enjoyment.  The kids need to know it’s OK to have an amazing and happy time without her, though.  Not everything has to touch on her.

So we’ve re-done the decorations.  We added more lights, though she’d have hated that.  I’ve bought the Christmas presents by myself.  We’ll open the presents on Christmas Eve instead of Day, because that’s how MY family did, and now that’ show OUR family will do it.

It’s high time I broke out the pen and started writing the story for real.  We’ve had enough flashback, enough recap of our last writing.  It’s just that the hardest part is putting the pen to the page and writing because it makes it real.  She’s actually gone.

But when I look and my daughter posts on her Facebook page for all to see: “Roasting marshmallows in the backyard, making s’mores and going to bed smelling like a chimney…life is good,” I realized we’ve started writing without even knowing it.

I guess, in the end, it can’t happen because today I’m not drowning.

01 I’m Not Drowning by Steve Winwood from the LP Nine Lives