Tag Archives: photos

Another Picture, Another Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Missing the Chaos

Our Easter Family Photo this year.

Easter in our house was never an easy holiday.  Never.  I’m not one to push my faith on anyone, and I’m not going to do it here, but being Catholic I do get frustrated when I go to church as often as I can only to break – or feel like breaking – several commandments in the parking lot of the church on two days out of the year: Christmas and Easter.  Those two days are when the holiday Catholics come out.  If you’re not that into the religion or the mass or the routine, why in God’s name do you come on those two days?  I mean, if you go and then it gives you something and brings you back more than twice a year, good on you.  Have at it.  If it doesn’t, I don’t get angry.  Faith, to me, is a very personal thing.  I struggle with it, almost daily now after losing my wife.  Particularly when my wife’s was so strong at the end of her life and then having her lost to us I have very personal and agonizing struggles with it I won’t go into here.

But back to Easter.  This year it went smoothly.  Way too smoothly.  Hannah, the middle girl, was forced to cut her hair, making it shorter and easier to deal with.  She fought every step of the way and now loves her haircut, loathe to admit that her Dad, the male testosterone generator might actually have been right about it.  Last night the girls went upstairs and Abbi, the oldest, started working on her hairdo and got most of it ready.  By morning, she simply had to finish curling it and let Hannah – the tomboy – *gasp* wear her dress!  It was cute, amazing and absolutely beautiful.

Where the hiccups started, I suppose, were that having four children of diverse ages make for masses and changes in scheduling you’re not aware of when you have two parents and shared burdens.  Four kids, two choirs, two masses: that was my schedule today on Easter Sunday.  The young kids in the Church at 9am, the oldest in the band in the 11:15am in the Social Center. Abbi tried telling me that I could stay home but there was no way, when she had a solo, I was going to stay home.  So four hours of church in one day with the same priest, same readings, same homily.  I’m quite holy, all you heathens, so I may as well find some water to walk on.  I left the 9am to come home and see Abbi still readying herself, much like her mother, who procrastinated every holiday, and saying she’s “almost ready.”

We made it, though late for her rehearsal, not late for the mass.  This was different for me and for the kids.  Being late isn’t something I liked, but we had a reputation for it.  Andrea was never on time.  When you’re young and dating it’s “fashionably late” but when you’re a parent and trying to get to Easter Sunday services it’s just plain late.  Andrea was always the perfectionist trying to make all four kids perfect.  When Abbi could do her hair she forced us to endure her and Abbi arguing over the hair.  Then Hannah, who hates anything to do with being a girl, had to scream, cry and force me to come up and supervise because she fought her mom tooth and nail.  By this point, Andrea would be a sweaty mess, unable to get ready and just getting in the shower.  As a result, I’d take the kids to the church for the hour rehearsal before mass and have to come back home, wait for my wife who refused to drive to the church, and then end up so late we were unable to get a seat – which my wife, who could have avoided it by being a bit more flexible – would complain about until the mass was over and her knees and my back were screaming in pain.

Today wasn’t close to that.  I had a seat with friends in the church for the 9am and heard the 3 kids sing and it made me smile.  My oldest sang two solos and it made my eyes misty.  At both masses I was asked by friends how many seats I was saving and it dawned on me, easy as it was to not have to save seats, that I was quite alone.  My kids were up there and I was the sole person out in the crowd.  It had gone smoothly.  No, none of us looked perfect, but even with their perfectionist mother, we never did.  I was just amazed we’d gotten dressed up and gotten there on time.,

But I missed her today, my wife.  I missed the chaos.  I missed being the white knight coming in to save her from the screaming child.  I missed secretly liking driving and getting a stolen 10 minutes in the car listening to my wife angrily tell me not to cuss at the insanely inept drivers who feel the need to back their SUV’s into the parking spaces rather than just pull in because it saves them 10 seconds on the way out of the church.  (and taking 2-3 spots at a pop!)  I realized that I felt that wound dripping and bleeding just a bit more.

A year ago I had two amazing parents with me to help me to get everyone ready and to be with me.  We were just a couple short weeks after losing Andrea and I cannot really say whether I remember much other than getting into the church for mass.  I remember the ache that I felt when I had to sit in the church again just a few weeks after being in there on one of the worst days I had ever experienced.  Today wasn’t the same.  I wasn’t aching as much, but I felt the emptiness.  I had been to the church, we went to one of Andrea’s aunt’s houses to have Easter festivities and lunch.  We played games, got wet with water balloons, and it was fun.  It just was fun in a different way.

As we were readying to get everyone ready for bed my oldest asked if I was OK.  I am sure she meant the pulled hamstring I got when playing football in the park with them, but I told her “I missed your Mom a lot today” and I realized after I’d said it that it wasn’t fair to her.  She certainly misses her Mom, maybe worse.  She’ll experience amazing things and need myriads of advice and no matter how or who tries to help her with those things it’s never coming.  I feel the hole and it’s not fair to let her know that, she needs me to be the man who feels it but endures.  She needs to know that no matter what happens I’ll be there, solid and sturdy.  It’s been more than a year and I still don’t have it right.  The house is a mess.  The laundry’s piled up.  The meals are random.  All the plans and ideas I’d instigated those first weeks have started to waver and I wish they hadn’t.

We’re feeling the chaos, but it’s not the chaos that ends in a sweeping pleasantry.  It’s plain chaotic.  With Andrea it was metered and measured.  We flew around in a flurry of activity and craziness but always ended up figuring it out in the end.  We always ended up together and able to face anything and I stood there holding her hand through the stressful points of the day.

Today I saw my kids and realized I could look to either side of me and the only person I could tell these things to was myself.  I knew it was the case, it’s not a surprise, but I found myself confused and surprised with the way I missed her today.  I just hand’t realized it was possible until this moment that I was missing the chaos.  Worse yet, I am sorry that I don’t know if I want to get it back.

Affairs of the Heart

Andrea when the boys were young

I have made no secret of my dislike for the coming holiday, which as I’m writing this, I guess has arrived already.  Valentine’s day had as many negative memories for me as positive ones.  Sure, there are the failed dates, the awful embarrassments of flowers or dinners that didn’t go well, but it’s not those that sit in my mind.

I dislike the holiday because there was always so much pressure to not only do something but to do something spectacular.  There was the early holiday in our relationship that I thought I’d done perfectly.  I took Andrea to dinner at the bistro in Omaha’s Old Market, bought tickets for a fancy, gourmet meal, jazz playing in the main room.  Instead, the musician had partaken of at least a full bottle of Johnny Walker before hitting the stage so while eating dinner, nearly every couple was interrupted by the sax player who was annoyed that they were paying attention to their date and not him.  He was, after all, a famous person, he’d played with the great Count Basie, he’d played with Ray, why in the hell aren’t you listening to my story that has taken nearly as long as my full set to tell?

There was the night Andrea’s family had told her there was a 100% certainty that I was going to ask her to marry me.  I didn’t, you see, and that just made the night horrible.  I had asked her father if I could marry his daughter, an old, tired, and uncomfortable situation that I’ll likely make my daughters’ boyfriends do as well, but I never gave an indication as to when I would do it.  But the women in her family and circle of friends being who they were, they had all convinced themselves that I had a big, elaborate, fantastical plan that would start at dinner and culminate in my bending down on one knee and asking.  Nobody asked me how I was going to do this, nor did I tell a soul how I was going to ask Andrea to marry me, but gossip being what it is not only did I unwittingly disappoint her, but all her friends played into the notion that I must have cold feet for not asking her then and there.

I had a gig one Valentine’s day that I took because we desperately needed the money.  I had a contract, could not get out of it, and Andrea had said it was OK.  Little did I know, being young, stupid, and let’s face it, a guy, didn’t know that meant “don’t listen to what I say, do what I want, and that’s to not be working on the night of Valentine’s day!”  In the end it was cancelled at the last minute, I had bought the requisite presents well in advance, and . . . well, we had Abbi about 9-10 months later, let’s just say.

Now I hate it because the clock has struck Midnight, I watch the numbers flash on the clock next to me on the nightstand, and I look and see the empty spot on my bed.  It’s not that I simply want to fill the space.  I miss her.  I miss the fact that I was scrambling to get it right even though I never did.  I miss having her being funny and goofy when I act falsely indignant about not getting anything for Valentine’s Day but having to buy her presents.  I miss seeing her face, the sparkle in her storm-blue eyes, as she opens whatever it is I got for her, be it a small box of Godiva chocolates, or on a good year a little blue box from Tiffany’s.

This isn’t a holiday where the kids miss their Mom.  I mean, I’m sure they do, it’s Valentine’s Day, but it’s not like Mother’s Day or Christmas.  This is the Hallmark Holiday that I hated all those years and now I look and realize that it’s a day that pulls at my heart and mine alone.  It’s not a coincidence, I guess, that Cupid uses an arrow. Because when you pull that shaft out of your heart, it tears, rips, and pulls the pieces of you with it as it goes away with the one you love.  I know that sounds harsh, but when I see the commercials, the billboards, the couples holding hands and hear the colleagues talking about dinner with their girlfriends or wives I am reminded what they have and I don’t.

I do have one bright spot, a gift given just today, (well, yesterday now) that I had not expected and was both heartbroken and so very happy to receive.

Sunday I had a column published on Rene Syler’s website “Good Enough Mother”.  It talked about how Andrea hated getting pictures taken and how we don’t have any pictures of the last 4-5 years.

Then a friend from our days in Texas, whose link is up there on the top of the page here, “Photographer in the Family” told me she had a couple outtakes from our last photo session there in Texas.  She had an amazing photo, Andrea with her eyes closed, trying very hard to hide the Bells Palsey she was suffering after the birth of the twins.  She was beautiful, the boys cuddled to her chest, and it made me cry.  I know that doesn’t take much for me lately, I miss her an awful lot.

But it’s not often I tear up and I’m happy about it.  This was such a dear, wonderful gift, a picture of Andrea that she kept from me, that someone had found, buried in the archive of her photos, and it just made me happy to see her . . . It wasn’t a memory of a session where I’d been, Andrea didn’t want me there when she had these photos taken.  It was an opportunity to see her, beautiful as she was, in a calm, happy, serene moment.  I was tearing not from mourning, but because I loved her, and I miss her, and it made me happy to see her.

It was the best Valentine’s Day gift anyone could have given me, even though my expectations are notoriously low.  Thank you, my friends, for making this day bearable.  I’m sharing the photo, copyrighted by them, but I hope they don’t mind.  And if you’re in the Dallas area take a look at their stuff.  I couldn’t recommend them more.

Happy Vaelntine’s Day, my love.  I miss you.

The More It fades Away . . .

The fading image of Hannah's Valentine
The Things You Do to Me by Robert Cray from the LP “Midnight Stroll”

There’s a picture on my desk that – and bear with me here, I know this is deep for a Polaroid picture – seems to fit my mood lately.  If you’ve read many of my posts in the last couple weeks you know that I’ve been feeling the tug of the past.

While I may be at a mere 41-years-old today, I met my wife, then with the perfect television name of “Andrea Andrews” at age twenty.  We started dating that year and I was engaged to her not long after I’d turned twenty-one.  I loved her dearly, and we had a very intense, emotional and vibrant relationship in those first couple years.  We were engaged after a few months, married a year or so after that.

So it should come as no surprise, I would think, that the past seems to pull on me so.  I spent more than half my life in the presence of this woman, near daily.  Hitting just ten months past the day we lost her – tomorrow being ten months exactly – and those memories are nearly as vivid as they were right after they happened.  But it’s interesting how the memories are different from each stage of our lives.

The intensity of those first years has burned nearly every event into my brain.  It’s like a different part of my cerebral cortex is storing the memories so that I can remember conversations, arguments, dates, names, how she looked putting on her makeup.  I remember the day I dropped her at her Grandparents’ house after we’d just started dating and she kissed me so deeply but ran into the house because she didn’t want me to be subjected to her parents’ and relatives’ 3rd degree.  I remember the day she came back to Omaha after her Grandpa’s funeral and came straight to my apartment, not to hers.  I remember her hair, curly, blonde, brushing the side of my face.  I remember the tears that came down her face and how she fell to me and asked me not to try and comfort her, just hold her and kiss her.  I remember hysterically laughing that same day as we both tried to get her out of her black dress that had no zipper and criss-crossed over her chest and each movement she made counter-acted movement I made, and ended up tying her deeper into the dress.

We have lovely memories about moving to Texas.  We had amazing friends.  I remember moving into our house.  I remember teaching Abbi to ride a bike in the circular street that encompassed our neighborhood.  I remember the day she told me she was not feeling well, that she’d had problems bleeding and that the doctors thought she’d had a problem that could lead to cancer and she’d have to treat it for years.  I also remember feeling both relieved and scared when they said “we’re wrong, you’re only pregnant…and it’s twins!”  I also remember her being angry – for years – that I didn’t just embrace her and get excited about having four kids instead of two.  I never said we shouldn’t have the kids, I just couldn’t get excited.  I’m big enough to admit I was scared.

I remember moving to Sacramento, because I told her it was “her turn” to move for a job.  I remember her excitement and enthusiasm about being close to her family.  I remember her thinking that all her problems were over.  I also remember, but try to forget the dark depression she hit and the frustration she had trying to come to terms with the fact that we’d moved here but were juggling taking care of the kids ourselves, without the help she thought she’d get.

I remember the touch of her skin, the look in her eyes, the nervous giggle.

But the closer we get to today, the thicker the veil on the memories.  The ones swirling around my children are just as vivid, both of them and of Andrea.  The number of vivid, brilliant thoughts and memories, though, are fading.   It’s, again, like the picture on my desk.  It’s one made by my middle daughter, Hannah.  It’s also why we call her grin the “Charlie Brown Smile”.  She’s like me, won’t show her teeth, doesn’t like her smile, but can’t help having that straight-line mouth-only smile.  She made it for me for Valentine’s day, obvious because of the hearts all around it.

But the picture, an old Polaroid, the instamatic film now fading, is going with the memory.  None of us can remember why it was taken.  Was it at the father-daughter dance that year in Texas?  Was it just a class project?  Now, it’s just a faded picture saying “Happy Valentine’s Day 2003” on the back.  The more I search for the memory the dimmer it becomes.  In days like the last few weeks, I search, spelunking through the cavernous memories in my head, to find bits and pieces of our time with Andrea.  The farther from her teenage self she got, the fewer pictures she allowed.  The visual and audible stimulation missing the memories fade.  I miss her and I miss the memories as they start to peel away from me and go to be with her.

I see her, always, as that beautiful, amazing twenty-one-year old woman I loved so much.  I see her, occasionally, as the amazing woman who swore she’d kill me if I put cake on her face at our wedding then proceeded to cover my face in cake.  I spy the piece of her in those amazing overalls and wandering a pumpkin patch in Omaha.  I see her hair, short, wisps of it flying away from her face as we lived in Texas.  I see the curves of her body in that white blouse and blue jeans.  I see the grin on her face as we jumped in the moving van and headed West.

I wish I could see all those moments with the crystal clarity in which I see her standing near the rail of the cruise ship on our honeymoon.  I wonder how the kids remember her.  What are their memories, burned into their brains?  I also grieve for the ones that I know they won’t have, worrying about the fact that, at 8-years-old, the memories the boys have of their Mom will be fewer as they age.

I am a storyteller, I write the memories partly to move on, partly because I so want to have them here to remember.  To be able to look at what I remembered when the layers pull more and more.

But like so many things through time, they fade.  I just hope that they don’t fade for good.  There are so many that I would hate to lose.

Tomorrow, ten months on, I am saddened not just by the fading memories, though, but of the realization that we’re actually able to do this without her.

Haunted by the memory . . .

I Can’t Make You Love Me by Bonnie Raitt from the LP Luck of the Draw

Abbi in one of our great Fall Moments

Lately it seems we’re seeing her more and more . . . not a physical presence. I don’t feel a cold chill on my neck or a shiver down my spine.  I don’t hear a strange ethereal voice that won’t stop in my ears.  I just mean the memory creeps in at the strangest and most inopportune moments.

I knew it would happen, though.  I mean, it’s Christmas.  I could make some cheesy reference about family or the “reason for the season” but that all falls short.  I just always had such an affinity for this time of year.  Not just Christmas, but starting in the Fall, with the crisp bite in the air and the changing color of the leaves.  Even though I have the attention span of a gnat some days and I love my music and playing guitar, etc. . . the Fall is the time of year I slow down and appreciate what I have around me.  I miss the Midwest (yes, I do, don’t mock me!) because of the Fall.  We were surrounded by trees.  There were old WPA shelterbelts planted that had a myriad of trees . . . oaks, cottonwoods, ash, elm, maple . . . all of them full-sized and decades old by the time I was a kid.  Come October and November there were flaming colors up in the sky.  Add that clean, clear sky with the sunset and it’s really a beautiful sight.  There are things like that here, but it’s not the same.  That’s home for me, and it was home with Andrea for a long time.

When I met her, after we got married, and even as we moved to other states, we always took advantage of the Fall and Winter.  I would drag her into the car and we’d go walk down tree-lined streets and kick the leaves.  When Abbi and then Hannah, Noah, Sam were born we did the same, extending it to pumpkin patches and tree farms and the Fontenelle Forest.

So now it’s Christmas, the year we lost her, and she’s creeping back in, just when I thought I was doing better.  I’ve said this before, but it’s not the major events – the Christmas, the Thanksgiving, all those momentous days – that hurt the worst.  I know they’ll be bad, I know they’ll change, but I can see them coming.  It’s the times when something sparks a memory that I’m not prepared for that just take me down.  Tomorrow night is the Christmas play for the kids.  Andrea always had things perfect.  I’m now the guy wandering through Target looking for the pieces of clothing for my 12-year-old girl who doesn’t like wearing girl clothes and I don’t know what will look good on her.  I walk through and see a sweater and all I can see is how it would look on Andrea, not Hannah, and I don’t know why.

I’m wrapping presents and in the way I fold the paper I can see her hands moving the stuff around.  I remember the year we were so strapped we used brown paper bags and she wrapped them this way . . . and decorated them.  With crayons, paint, ink, and made the most beautiful tree I had ever seen.  It was like nothing I’d seen before, and then I look down and I have bought paper and sticky name tags because I just don’t have the time to be that creative.

I am making cupcakes (store-bought cake mix.  Don’t give me that much credit) for lunches and CSI is on the TV.  (DVR, it was more like 10:30 when I did this) It’s a random episode.  It’s about a coroner’s wife accused of murder and having an affair . . . and it ends with the two of them drinking wine, on a back patio, and listening to Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me”.  It’s a song we listened to so much I thought the cassette would wear out.  Andrea loved it but disliked the lyrics, she just felt something when it was on the stereo and it made her look at me in a way I can’t describe here.  I saw it in the actors on the TV and I almost threw my spatula across the kitchen.

She’s everywhere.

I mean, it’s not like the last few months, where there’s a memory here or a peek there.  Not like the daily routine where I wake up and remind myself that I’m alone in the bed – again – and start the routine to get the day started.  It’s the stuff we thought we’d left behind when we left the house.  Abbi was hit hardest there.  At one point she told me everywhere she turned she saw her Mom.  I wasn’t sad to leave the house, I was happy.  It wasn’t our favorite place; it wasn’t Andrea’s favorite; we saw her everywhere and we just couldn’t handle it.  Leaving there was a blessing.

But we’re surrounded by her.  The garland has her bows that have a hint of leopard spots in them – that’s all her.  The ornaments on the tree are surrounded by her childhood ornaments that her Mom foisted upon us years ago because she didn’t want to store them.  She picked out the stockings.  She sewed the tree skirt.  Everywhere I turn she’s there.

Now I can’t even go to Target without seeing her.  The kids see her, too.  They’re talking more and more about last Christmas.  They ask about Santa and then talk about Mom threatening to have me call the “head elf” on them.  They see books and clothes from her and talk about it.  It’s not a bad thing, it’s healthy.  They need to talk and I guess I do, too.  But I don’t think I was ready for it to be just so overwhelming.

Then one of the boys asked what we were going to do this Christmas.

“Are we doing things different, Dad?”
“I don’t know yet, son.”
“Holly has a tradition where they open one present before Christmas, can we do that?”
“Not sure yet.”
“Are we opening presents on Christmas Eve, like Grandma and Grandpa?” chimes in Hannah.
“I just don’t KNOW!” is my horribly curt response.

That’s what’s killing me.  I don’t know.  I bought some new decorations.  I changed the way we did things.  But do I change it all?  Do I go back to how I did things as a kid so we make a clean, instant break from the way we did things with their Mom?  Or do we continue.  Is it good to start over or do you hurt their memories and traditions if you do?  Each present I wrap makes me think a little harder and I don’t honestly know what I’ll do until I have to decide.

Tomorrow night, before their Christmas play, I plan on taking a picture of us.  Earlier in the year we’d talked about mimicking an old family photo, but putting a picture of Andrea where she should be.  Now I wonder if it’s better to show everyone that we’re together, that we have had to move one . . . that we have moved on.

I had so many decisions that seemed simple and prudent at the time.  It’s hard to stick to your guns when you’re haunted by a memory everywhere you turn.

Like everything else, I’ll put it off until I have to.  Then I’ll decide, and it probably won’t be as big a deal as I’ve made it in my head, but anything that pushes her a little farther away is a hard decision.