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Holy Jeans and Towels You Can’t Use

A Towel You Can't Use . . .

Try a Little Tenderness by Otis Redding

It amazes me the amount of damage to simple cotton and polyester that a little boy can do.  I mean, I started noticing how my son, the silly, funny little guy, would jump onto the ground, slide on his knees, skid in the grass not matter what his pants or his knees looked like.  I am constantly amazed he doesn’t have rug burn or scars on his knees, but like I was at the age of 8, he’s got joints of cast iron, it seems.

That doesn’t mean his stomach is, though.  So on Friday morning, after spending the entire night up with Sam throwing up, I stayed home to take care of him.  By noon, Noah had a 100 degree fever and was at the school office.  The Friday catching up on a lack of sleep and cleaning after Sam took a nap was no longer feasible.

The weekend led to some of that catching up.  You see, those holy knees were in all but a single pair of uniform pants.  One pair, too big, and kindly donated to us by another family.  I know I shouldn’t complain about having to buy uniforms if I pay to put my kids in a Catholic school, but there’s a reason for it.  I put Abbi all the way through a private education.  We did it in Texas until the Fall of our last year, the year we moved.  We couldn’t afford the massive, insane cost the parish priest foisted on the parishoners.  We had Italian marble statues of the apostles lining the driveway up to the church, but we didn’t have a gymnasium.  We didn’t get much of a break for our tuition if you had more than one student, but he drove a Mustang every day.

So when we moved to California I expected more of the same.  Instead, we found a far better, far more welcoming situation.  The cost for us to have four kids, if we were active in the parish, was far less.  The pastor had a reputation from some of being a bit of a curmudgeon.  I found him to be funny, surly, and right up my alley.  When Andrea was sick in the hospital, he came to us.  (Beckoned, yes, by a family friend, but he came nonetheless) What I thought was a formal ceremony where he said her name but didn’t seem to be as friendly or outgoing so I assumed he didn’t recognize her or me.  We hadn’t been active for some time and he probably knew our children better than me.

But after the sacrament he walked up, put his hand on my shoulder and handed me a slip of paper.  “If you need anything, call me this is my cell phone number.”  That alone would have been enough for me.  But then he added “I’ll make sure we keep an eye on Noah, Sam and Hannah at the school as well.  They’ll be in good hands, you just be here with your wife.”

I’m not trying to convert you.  I’m no missionary, I’m not a man of God or a convert or born again.  It meant a lot to me that he remembered and thought enough to say something, and evidently it did to Andrea, too.  You see, that morning, the doctors had told me that even though they had been the ones to sedate her to put in the breathing tube, they couldn’t wake her back up.  Nothing worked.  They weren’t sure what to do but they didn’t know if she was really hearing them or what.  When the Monsignor did the anointing and then I said the prayers along with him, then had the conversation about the kids and talked with each other her eyes flickered.  Her hands moved and squeezed mine.  I make no assertions, maybe it was the anointing, maybe it was just hearing my voice, or maybe it was the realization her kids were still here and needing her that woke her up, but wake her up it did.

The reason I tell you this is because it’s this scenario – this particular situation that makes me push and save and scrimp in order to keep the kids in the school.  Andrea wanted them to go to this school.  She saw this school on the hill and immediately said it was the place for her.  We put the kids in here because she had a public school education and she wanted a private one, something she thought she’d needed.  There is a contingent that says I should have kept my oldest in the private high school as well, that was insanely important to Andrea as well, but I cannot afford it.  (It actually costs more than sending her to college would and I’m now a single-income family, so reality has to set in at some point)  The decision was that she got through grade and middle school so her siblings would as well.

So here’s where the holy pants come in.  While I pay for the school, we started the year with literally 4-6 pairs of pants for each boy.  It was amazing.  By this week I had 1.  A singular pair of unholy pants, a tribute to durability, you might think, but no.  A tribute to the fact they’re too big and didn’t fit.  So we went to the store to buy new pants, 2 for each boy.  When they looked and saw how much money the pants were per pair the boys were stunned.

“It costs that much for one pair of pants?”
“Yeah, what did you think, Sam,” was my response.
“Wow.  No wonder you yelled at us when we ripped the knees!”

I took a bit of pride to realize they finally saw the damage they were doing.  That, and the fact that we’d had so many accidents, vomit, shoes and trips on the bathroom rugs that we needed those as well.  I’d been through the whole store, bought the boys their clothes and realized I needed the new rugs.  I got one for the toilet only to realize that it didn’t match the rest of the stuff.  So I got ones for the bath and shower.  Then I heard Andrea in the back of my head – it won’t match, we need the towels to match!  Inexplicably I was at the checkout aisle with towels, hand towels, rugs and carpets that went together.  I was scratching my head when I got to the house.  I put the stuff all out and found myself lecturing the kids:

“We have plenty of towels.  Do NOT use the ones here!  These go with the rugs, they’re not for drying off, so don’t!”

I suddenly realized that I was doing what I’d poked so much fun at Andrea for: towels you can’t use.
“What good are towels if you’re not supposed to use them?” was always my interrogative to her.
“Beside, what do you dry your hands on if you can’t use these towels?  It makes NO sense!”

I was like a man possessed.  I stood there with towels, striped and solid, decorating my own bathroom.  I had, in one day, in one fell swoop, already duplicated my wife’s mantras.  I yelled about the laundry and holy knees.  I bought towels you can’t use!  (But I have to admit, I bought towels I couldn’t use, but it was far better than before.  You see, Andrea had a thing for leopard spots at one time.  I just couldn’t bring myself to continue living in my own bathroom with leopard spotted towels.)

It is by no means a symbol of anything.  I don’t try to convert my Muslim, Protestant, Hindu or even atheist friends.

It’s simply that, for the first time in more than 10 months, I heard her.  I felt my wife’s presence, and finally, inexplicably, among the holy knees and towels you can’t use, I found comfort.  I also got it all on clearance, so I know she’d be happy!

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.

Jam Sessions and Chocolate

Our Little Jam Session

Owner of a Lonely Heart by Yes from the LP 90125

I had made my way home, a little sore from the accident yesterday and trying to get the energy to buck up for the routine today.  I had the kids all home, the kitchen was still a mess, and the laundry almost manageable for the first time in over a week.  (Doesn’t mean they put the laundry away, it just means that it’s clean)

We were all tired, all grumpy, and it was just a hard couple weeks.

Everything about this last week has pulled us backwards, but none of us can quite put a finger on why.  I know when I write here it must seem like I’m in constant pain, emotional turmoil and just wallowing in every detail of the past never thinking of the future.  (Get the song tie-in yet?  Do You?)  You have to understand, I write here in the dark of night, sometimes in the empty living room with the television on, sometimes in my bedroom with the sounds of my daughter snoring in the next room starting to lull me into an exhausted sleep.  It is when the forward motion of the day starts to slow that the pull of the past starts to draw me in.  While there is so much talk about dating again or moving forward or starting over what most people neglect to remember is that I’ve spent more of my life with Andrea than I did without her.  That’s an odd statistic to fathom, knowing that more than half your life you’ve spent with someone else by your side, there, constant companion.  If you have that history, that timeline, why would it be easy to just “move on”?

It isn’t.

The funny thing is, our days aren’t spent wallowing and reminiscing and my drinking whole bottles of wine while looking at our wedding pictures or crying over the pinot noir.  Our days and nights are fairly mundane.  That’s almost what makes it so scary.  We don’t sit and wallow, though there are days I think we should.  I get home after the kids have gotten home, unless Abbi has a rehearsal of some sort, in which case I’m the one home and she gets home to have dinner with the rest of us.  While it seems a strange circumstance that we’ve got a new home, a new routine and a new life, we do it anyway because we have to.  Sitting and bemoaning our situation doesn’t change our situation, it just makes it worse.

There are glimmers.  The kids watched “Once Upon a Time” with me on the TV last night (God love our DVR) and the whole episode centered around pain and a broken heart.  Noah made a comment about me, the other kids looked over at me, the subject sensitive, all of it just danced around a little bit.  None of us really wants to be sad, we want to be OK with things as they are.  We want to enjoy things.  It’s hard, though, not to feel guilty about having fun and enjoying ourselves knowing that she’s not here to enjoy it with us.

But I have two cures for everything in our house: jam sessions and chocolate.

Yes, my friends, those two things hold the key to all happiness.  Don’t get me wrong, the kids all have their individual ideals.  Sam can’t play an instrument, but he sings.  Abbi wants to play, but after decapitating my hollowbodied Dot ES335 some time ago she is loathe to touch any of my guitars.

So imagine my surprise when Hannah asked, after I picked up my guitar with its new pickups (still waiting on that endorsement deal, Lindy Fralin.  Money?  Endorsement?  Hell, new pickups??!!  I’ll take a couple Pure PAF”s for my other Esprit!) why you’d ever tune the guitar differently.  I tuned to a “G” chord, played some slide (Walkin’ Blues, Muddy Waters, great staple); played  “Come and Go Blues” by the Allman Brothers Band.  I tuned to a “drop D” and played  Just a Little Bit by T-Bone Walker and started to strum the harmonics to a song I’d written Andrea when I started dating her.

Soon after, I looked up and Hannah had her guitar and wanted to show me a lick.  Noah had grabbed his and wanted to know if I could “teach him some jazz or blues?” and Sam and Abbi were singing.  I showed a D7 to Hannah and showed her that by moving that same fingering up and muting one string, you could play “Soul Man” by Sam and Dave.  Abbi sang, we played, Noah strummed.  I taught Hannah her first Bar Chord.

The routine was interrupted, but we went on anyway.  I asked Abbi if she remembered a song I’d played years ago, one she loved, and she started hollering out “ain’t nothin’ in the world that a T-Bone Shuffle can’t cure!”  (Albert Collins, Robert Cray and Johnny Copeland, T-Bone Shuffle )

Then routine started again.  We went up, read half a chapter, tucked in, and I came downstairs.  I looked in the bare cupboard and realized we needed something different.  The routine was changed, so breakfast, just for a day, would too.

So I looked up a recipe and made chocolate waffles.  The smell wafted through the house and up the stairs.  I cooled them, packed them in the freezer, and readied the plates full so that the kids could have them tomorrow.  Whipped cream, bananas, and chocolate waffles, something I’d never made before and new memories.

So you see, we are making new memories.  It’s not just some random set of circumstances.  We’re not wallowing in self-pity.  We, sometimes, are simply stuck in routine.  So what do we do about it?

There’s nothing that a good jam session and chocolate can’t cure.  That, and once in awhile, a T-Bone shuffle.

The Curse . . . Again

She Loves My Automobile by ZZ Top from the LP Deguello

A new car.  It’s not too much to ask, it really isn’t that I have a new car.  It’s not even new, really, it’s used.  It has 36,000 miles, it’s in good condition, lots of nifty gadgets, but just big enough for us.

I made the mistake of thinking to myself how it was nice to have something decent, taking care of it, making it a comfortable car, and mine.  Truly, and really mine.  I did the research, I looked up the prices, I found the money, it was my car.  The first major decision of my life without Andrea and I was actually starting to enjoy having it.

It’s been two days past owning the car a month and I’m driving down the freeway on the way home.  I put my phone inside the console, listened to the radio, and drove a little more cautiously because it rained.  The traffic did slow, in fact it came to a quick screeching halt, the guy in front of me slamming on the brakes.  But I had 3 car lengths between me and him, slammed on mine, missed hitting him.  Unfortunately, a mere few seconds after I felt my tension relax it happened.  A kid in a white Subaru slams into my car at 40-50 miles per hour.

My back  bumper is beat up, the exhaust bent, and I had to help the kid push his totaled car off the freeway.  My back, elbows and knees hurt.  The Manoucheri curse has come full circle again.

I write about this not because I want your sorrow or your pity but because it is yet another event that drags me back into the past no matter how much I want to look forward to the future.  I hurt, my body sore, my whole being shaking from the tension and the adrenaline.  I called my daughter from the freeway to tell her that I was going to be late.  I should have realized then that it was going to freak out the kids as much as it did me.

I got home and was sore, angry and started to snap at the kids for the smallest things.  After I pulled the frozen pizzas out of the oven I realized just then that it wasn’t the wreck alone that had me upset.  What bothered me more than anything was that I didn’t have Andrea here to tell about it.  I had one of the worst nights of the new year and I was alone to my thoughts, which I must tell you all, is never a pleasant thing.  If for nothing else, I needed her here to help me to come down off the ceiling, to process what I need to do next, to help me figure out how I’m supposed to get this brand new car fixed and still have money to leave town for the end of March so I don’t have to deal with being here on my anniversary thinking about how she passed away.

I hated the fact that I’m alone in this and have to figure it out.  Sure, if it had happened a year ago I still would have done most the work, gotten the estimates, been angry at the kid who was probably singing with his buddies or texting or God knows what else.  The difference is there would have been that person, that stabilizing force, to help me find the right thing to do at the right moment.  Sure, I’d know what it was all along, but she’d help me to recognize it so much faster.

So now I face the next big leap.  The first car, and a month later, the first accident, something I’ve avoided for so long I think I was a kid when I had the last one.

God help me, every time I try and move forward, she’s there, yanking on the rope and dragging me back again.  I swear if I didn’t know better I’d think she was haunting me for selling her Suburban on Saturday.  If I’d kept that at least I’d have something to drive around.

Now, the car is broken.  It’s bruised, no longer new.  it will have to sit in the damn shop for a week while it gets repaired, painted, cured, and the paint won’t match.  It will always have a record of being in a wreck.  The airbag light won’t turn off.  The muffler is bent, and I ache everywhere.

It’s the curse.  That black cloud hanging over my head.  I thought for once, just for a short time, I’d avoided it.  Now I know, without a doubt, I just was kidding myself.  The difference is, last year the curse didn’t bother me because there was someone there to help me shoulder it.  Now, with all the stuff I’m supporting, I wonder how many times I can hold it up without feeling the burden?

Maybe this is what it’s like to be haunted, to have the spirit of your loved one holding you down.  I feel like every time something new happens there’s a reminder of the fact that she’s not here.

A lot of philosophy to put on a new car, I know, but like the five of us, it’s now bruised and battered.

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.

But I’m a Man, Yes I Am . . .

My little Baby Bear, Hannah

I’m a Man by The Spencer Davis Group

Yeah, yeah, quoting Steve Winwood, I know, but hey, it fits.

So last night, it happened, one of those moments I was dreading after Andrea’s passing: Hannah hitting puberty.  She was already getting there, things going steadily, slowly hormonal.  She was getting forgetful, not turning in homework, her attention waning worse than usual.

I, of course, hadn’t put 2 and 2 together.  I came home tonight, frustrated because I had left my house keys in . . . the house. I got inside and the chores were never completed, laundry was spread out everywhere, mounds of it, the kitchen table covered with books, papers and old homework, and I just got curmudgeonly grumpy.  I was snippy, biting off the kids sentences as they talked to me.I was cold, my back hurt, I was angry, and . . . as if you couldn’t tell from the last couple nights’ posts . . . I really have been missing my wife this last week.  I don’t know why it has been so hard, but it really has. I’ve felt very lonely.

So I did what I always do.  After grabbing a trash bag, pulling up all the crap and putting away everything that the kids had strewn across the floor I got out my guitar and started playing, trying to drown out the screaming in my head.  I had my eyes closed, the amp turned up, playing “Ain’t Superstitious” by Howlin’ Wolf on my own on the Eprit (with new Lindy Fralin Pure PAF pickups – sponsorship opportunity Lindy??  Maybe??  Just new pickups??) and I felt a tug on my shirt.

I Ain’t Superstitious by Howlin’ Wolf, performed by Jeff Beck off “Truth”

“Dad, I need to take Hannah to the store.”
It was Abbi, and she was sheepish but had a shy, small, almost embarrassed smile on her face.
“What’s wrong?  Is everything OK, does she need something for school?”
“No, Dad, Hannah just got her first period.”

Now, no, I’m not squeamish.  I’ve been to the store, I’ve bought tampons and panty liners and picked up Andrea’s birth control pills when she needed them to control her acne.  After having two girls as a parent, your level of humiliation decreases significantly.  I was never the outsider Dad, I was always there.  I changed their diapers.  I fed them bottles, I traded feedings with Andrea.  I would have gone and done whatever she needed.

“Actually she got it earlier today, she just didn’t want to tell you.”
“Why?  Did she think I’d get embarrassed, or mad, I’d never get mad at her about something like that. It’s OK!”
“No, Dad, nothing like that.  You’re Daddy.  You’re a guy, she didn’t want to talk to a guy about it.”

I couldn’t be mad at her about that.  I understand.  I’m not Andrea, nor could I hope to truly understand what she’s going through.  I’ve been around it, a bunch, through Andrea, Abbi too.  Andrea had a lot of hormonal adjustments after Abbi was born, thus the birth control pills, but she also had the massive cramps, the pain, the aches and I learned how to massage her back and relax her shoulders – all things you just don’t really do much to your daughter.  It’s a little . . . odd that way.

But this speaks to a bigger issue, not just my being a guy.  Hannah was joined to Andrea at the hip.  It’s not that I didn’t take care of Hannah.  We have the exact same birthday – she was my present on my 29th birthday.  The doctors messed up on the delivery and nicked an artery during the c-section and Andrea nearly died on the table then.  She got a post-op infection and for the first 2 months I took care of Hannah and Andrea.  Hannah had contracted RSV and had to have albuterol treatments every 3 hours, so I got up, gave her the treatments, fed her, put her to bed only to have Andrea need to get up, so I lifted her off the bed, brought the portable IV (with antibiotics in it for the infection), got her to the bathroom, put her back to bed only to have Hannah cry again.  She and I spend 2 months of intense and painful life together only she – even then – wanted little to do with me.

Now, she cuddles me, hugs me, wants to spend as much time as she can with me, but I have 3 others to spread that time around with.  She’s such a beautiful girl but it’s still clear that, even without her presence here, she misses and wants her Mom.  There are just some things that, even as knowledgeable as you think you are, you can never understand because you’re not just her Dad, you’re a guy.  You don’t have those parts, you don’t feel the way she feels.  All you can do is to listen, if she’s willing to talk.  I can’t force her to do it.

So now I know that the “talk” I’ve been putting off is no longer something you can put off for awhile.  Where I used to have that amazing woman, the Mom who would be blunt, giving advice and being the capable, delicate, understanding person that wanted to get it right (because she felt her own Mom had done it wrong) I have myself.  Where I’m lucky is that I have my oldest, Abbi, who can help cushion that.

By night’s end, after I’d cleaned up the dinner dishes, tucked in the boys, read “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” and come back downstairs I saw Hannah standing there, waiting for me to say goodnight.  She had her hair, wet and stringy still from her shower, her shoulders hunched down and bags under her eyes.  She looked tired, emotionally drained, and worn out.

“Good night, Baby Bear”
“Good night, Daddy Bear”
“You OK?
“Yeah.”

I couldn’t help it.  I had to show I knew a little bit, that I could help if she needed it.
“If you’re sore, or you get a little cramped up, there’s Naproxen in the cupboard.  That will help the best.  Come wake me up if you need anything.”

She smiled, her shoulders raised a little, I could tell she wasn’t as down as she’d thought she was.  She kissed me on the cheek, hugged me, and headed up the stairs.

Understand, I didn’t make a big deal of this, didn’t make it some massive rite of passage for her.  It was a signal to a change in her life that was bound to happen, hell I’m surprised it hadn’t happened before now.  But I could tell that no matter what happened, she wished her Mom had been here to help her get through it and understand: no books or videos or talks can describe it unless you’re going through it.

But in the end, I guess she just needed that reassurance that I’d do whatever she needed, even if she does feel more like talking with her sister about it.  That’s OK.  But as she went up the stairs tonight, I could tell she knew that even if Abbi hadn’t been there, she knew it would be alright.

That’s worth more than anything in the world.

Things I wish she knew . . .

I've posted before, but my favorite pic of Andrea when we started dating

Give Me Strength by Eric Clapton from 461 Ocean Boulevard

Throughout my marriage my wife, Andrea, had a hard time coming to terms with my family.  She didn’t hate them, nor did she have a massive love-fest, I suppose.  But there are a few things that I wish she’d realized before she left because she’d be so happy, in fact I can see her crying there now just thinking about it.

Andrea knew I was close with my family and sometimes that led to difficulties when I would talk with them.  My Dad is someone I trust and someone with whom I rely very heavily.  In fact, I haven’t told many people, but when I was lonely and depressed in college, working at my first TV job, my Dad saw Andrea on a tape of my work and asked why I hadn’t asked her out.  I came up with some excuse, but at the time I was certain I wasn’t even on her radar.  I was . . . well, me, and she was . . . Andrea.

But I did.  My Dad’s voice nagging in my head.  He may have regretted it years later, having dealt with me and my wife through the years, but he was the reason we were together.  She had no idea.  The people she thought didn’t accept her were responsible for us being together.

I wish she’d known my Dad put us together.

I wish she’d been conscious, aware of what was going on the day she started to go downhill.  I told her but she wasn’t hearing, I don’t think.  I told her that my Dad and Mom had stayed up at 4am and gotten in the van, in the middle of their trip to see my brother and started racing in their car straight West, heading for us instead.  They asked no questions, and when I said I didn’t know what I was going to do he said he’d help me figure it out.

I wish she had seen how they walked in the door and we all took a cleansing breath, realizing someone who knew what the hell they were doing were there.

I wish she’d seen how torn up they were by the entire thing, that she’d heard my Dad’s voice crack when I told him, broken and crushed as I was, that she hadn’t made it and that I was at the hospital and lost.

I wish she’d seen how personally my Mom and Dad took her death and how he was just as angry as I about it.

I wish she had seen how the funeral and the mortuary were taken care of because Dad helped, and how he helped me to get out of the cemetery when all I wanted to do was collapse on the ground.

I wish she’d been able to see them take over for her, for months, living with her children and helping them to adjust to a whole new life – a life without her.

I wish she’d seen her best friend from college arrive and help us all to get through even though we never asked her.

I wish she’d seen the boys’ school projects of an apple tree and a UFO as a book report.

I wish she’d seen her daughter’s face when she got the prom dress she’d dreamed about from Santa.

I wish she’d known how much my family loved her and how empty it’s been without her.

I wish I could tell her how happy I am to be at my new job and writing in the evening, and how she’d inspired me to write this, about her kids, about me, and about her . . . every night.

I wish she’d heard me tell her I loved her about a million more times.

I wish she had realized just how important she was to us, even though she tried to say she wasn’t.

More than anything else, though, and beyond all other things . . . and this is the most important:

I wish she’d seen her children become four of the most amazing people I have ever met.

Can You See the Real Me?

The Real Me by The Who from the LP Quadrophenia

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One of the First promo photos of the band

One of my favorite songs is actually one of the least played for the group: “The Real Me” by the Who, from their often-underrated album Quadrophenia. I’m not some renegade on a scooter driving around looking to avenge the destruction of my machine, though, I just always related to the tone of the song.

Can you see the real me, can you? Can you?

When I was young, and I’m talking very young, high school and early college, I really didn’t think people could. I knew who I wanted to be, I even could see myself, guitar slinger extraordinaire, with the writing and journalist thing on the side to keep me grounded. We had a consultant once tell us that, other than praying we wouldn’t lose it and just fall apart going to black instead of on-air, we needed some sort of real goal. Something that was finite we could strive toward. I jokingly put I want to win an Emmy and a Grammy, not necessarily in that order. The consultant thought I was dead serious, looking to that as a very lofty but worthwhile goal. We all laughed.

But when I met Andrea, I really didn’t have to hide my thoughts and ideas with that kind of sarcasm or humor. She saw the real me. The one thing that kind of got pushed to the side, though, was the musician part. Not music, it played throughout our house, I had my Dobro hanging on the wall, but Andrea just did not anticipate what it would be like being married to a musician. When we first started going out, I was in a band, paying an ill-fated gig opening for the one-hit-wonder a*%hole band Foghat (who stiffed us the mere pittance of $3-400).

But once we were really going out, the times where we spent nearly every night together, the whirlwind, amazing, emotional time where you think all your love’s flaws are actually cute, I’d left that band. I wasn’t a gigging musician any more. Then we were married, and while I had that old band play my reception (their wedding gift to us!) and my brother sat in with them, it still hadn’t sunk in to her. Even after I wrote her a song and (yes, I did, you can’t ignore it!) serenaded her on the dance floor, she always thought it was just a phase.

Still, the itch hit me hard, and I started playing with that same-said Omaha band again, and Andrea even helped me gain the confidence to start my own group, something that got a gig far too quickly and with only me and drummer at the time. I was starting from scratch and it drove her nuts that I was working on starting this band on my own. We started getting contracts for gigs, even playing a lucrative night on . . . Valentine’s Day. Now, most guys will say the same as I do, I think, when you ask if it’s OK and your wife says “sure, no problem, what a great opportunity,” you should know full well that even though you know deep down, in your heart of hearts, that this is a made-up Hallmark holiday, that she would want more than anything else for you to NOT be at a gig but at home. Last-minute, the night of Valentine’s Day, the bar had over-booked the night. The act they had before us decided to go very long, have technical issues and the bar was a mess. Nobody stayed, even our fans had left thinking they’d gotten the night wrong. When the manager asked us if we could wait another hour before we hit the stage I told him to stick it and we left. I still had time to head to the store, get something for Andrea and have a semi-romantic evening.

We did, of course. She kind of forgave me, but not fully. I made a fancy dinner, filet mignon, asparagus, whole nine yards. I’d gotten her a bracelet, something I had seen her looking at through the jewelry store window about a month before. If you wonder how I could be so insensitive, so stupid, so naive, you have to see things from a 22-year-old Midwestern boy’s perspective. I had gigged and taken all these nights playing to pay for said diamond bracelet. I was hoping it would lessen the blow, not that it would take the place of the night. My reasoning was that I had a contract, a full-on legal commitment to play unless they screwed up and we were able to leave, which happened.

Andrea, you see, had a paranoia about musicians. She’d married one, even if he was part-time, but her father had informed her that the life was horrible, the hours awful, that they’re never home, that I couldn’t make it and gave her horror stories of what her life would be like. None of which, of course, took into account whether I would actually think of going on-tour or the fact that he’d been a musician prior to marriage and in the 1950’s. So many incorrect factors but the influence your father crushing her heart into getting angry with me for every transgression that involved music.

But this night, that first Valentine’s Day as a married couple, she wasn’t mad I was a musician, she wanted me to spend the whole night with her. She didn’t want surprises, but I wanted to give them to her. I gave her the bracelet, which she promptly returned to get the one she really wanted. It didn’t make me mad, just made me wonder why she’d been looking at the thing in the first place. She didn’t really have an answer for me. But she came over, sat on my lap, and kissed me, finally apologizing that the show got cancelled, and I think she really meant it.

She also unbuttoned her shirt a little and showed me the lingerie she’d bought me for my gift. It was worth far more than the diamonds.

Then we had Abbi . . . November 3rd. (I won’t do the math for you.)

I worked in an industrial video department at an insurance company and I realized it was going nowhere. I was watching my life rust. I decided it was time to do something drastic. So I went back to news, back to storytelling. I worked part-time at the first station I’d worked all over again. I delivered newspapers at 2am, just so Andrea could go back to school and become a Pharmacist, and gigged as many weekends as I could get. We ate some weeks because of those gigs.

As time wore on and I moved, the musician in me glowed but hadn’t burned for some time. The guitars were relegated to a back room, often kept in their cases, played occasionally. I hated it but was never well enough established to be able to play even part-time again.

But after I lost Andrea, the one thing I gladly made that adjustment for, I needed something, anything to figure out what I was doing. In the days and weeks after the funeral I found myself, during my inability to sleep, holding and playing a guitar again, like it was part of my arm, an outlet that I didn’t have. I wrote songs, a lot of music, one full piece that I recorded with my brother just a couple months ago. It was like, without Andrea here, the literal better half, I needed something to release that part of my day. I’d never thought I’d be a full-time, touring, massive star of a musician. I just felt most comfortable there, on a stage in front of a group of strangers. It’s easier than laying your soul bare in front of a single person. Andrea didn’t make me feel that way. I told her everything, made decisions, felt like myself.

She saw the real me.

Adam laying down rhythm track for my first song since the funeral

Now that she’s gone, I can only do what I know. I can keep the house – well, a lot of the time. The laundry’s a mess and the kitchen needs cleaning, but we’re able to walk in the house – but I still need that something, an outlet, something to push those problems out and away. So I went to what I know, what is part of me. I am not the person I was before I met Andrea, I didn’t revert to being too shy, too quiet and without any self-confidence. I need to lose some pounds, need to feel better about myself, sure, but I’m not afraid to talk to people or have a pleasant conversation. I’m . . . me.

So last night, I set up the last of the guitar stands and put what I have out for me to play when and wherever I wanted. My amplifier sits in the living room under the alcove with our television, directly between the stereo speakers. “Wow, it looks like a museum in here,” said Sam, meaning it in the best of terms. They knew I had the guitars, and they’re not sprawling in the house everywhere, they’re just accessible now. Part of me.

Tonight, my kids all helped me, one with pliers, another with a flashlight, one with parts, another collecting the leftover stripped wire, and I replaced parts of one of my guitars with new pieces. They all watched, it’s now normal. Where they fought thinking it a little unlike our normal lives, our normal lives changed, drastically. There’s no reason for us to live in the past, though I still…do more than I should.

But as I put the last pieces back on my Fender Esprit, they all looked at me and asked “well what’s it sound like Dad?!”

It may be a little different. May not be the typical household you might all think about, but we ceased being that normal household in March. It is one of the things that separates this story from the last one, the move to try and get going to where we need to be. To laugh, to love, to sing, and make new memories that don’t have us looking backwards and wondering how much better they’d be with her here.

Now our home is what it needs to be and my kids can see it. They understand, and they see the real me.

 

Leave the World a Bit Better…

Lonely Boy by The Black Keys from their LP El Camino

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Those Damn Cookies I Had to Make!

I was in a mad dash scramble tonight from the moment I entered the door. It also came after a day when one interview cancelled and I was running around crazy, so my mood had not been particularly pleasant. I hadn’t even taken my coat off and standing above me, looking through the banister, was Sam hollering “can we go to the school’s International Passport night? We get a free dress pass tomorrow if we do!”

If I hadn’t needed to eliminate a load of wash for the evening I wouldn’t have even considered it. On top of scrambling to fry a bunch of burgers and cook fries for dinner, I had to head to the grocery store to get the ingredients for a recipe of Persian cookies that I’d volunteered to make for “International Meal” at Hannah’s class tomorrow. I stood there, wool P-coat still around my shoulders, looking into the kitchen, out the front door, and still hadn’t put my briefcase down from the work day. You know what happened next, I was doomed.

But the stress didn’t end. First, Hannah informs me that there are more than 30 kids in her class alone, therefore I have to make 3 dozen cookies. I’m running around realizing I don’t have hamburger buns. The kids are all shouting that they want to go because it starts at 6:30 and I haven’t even half finished with the dinner yet . . . and I suddenly realize the “lesson” I’ve been trying to teach Hannah about not doing her chores has backfired. Not only is there no room at the table, the entire kitchen is a mess. The more I clean the angrier I get, and I was already angry.

Little did I know that the dreaded and well-known Manoucheri curse was going to rear its ugly head soon.

We all went to the evening, running into parents I hadn’t seen and walking through the chaos of the gymnasium filled with maps, games, foods, all of it from around the world. It was a little bit of pride that took me when the kids had to put dots on where they were born and we had two separate states, neither of them California, and the people around looked like we’d just landed here in our shuttle craft from the Martian mother ship. (not the parent running the booth or the teachers, but there is a contingent and pervasive mentality that if you’re here in California why would you ever want to leave?) But seeing the map, the little dots on Keller/Ft. Worth, Texas and then Omaha, Nebraska, I didn’t just think about the fact they were born there, there’s a flash of memories that rush through your brain. You get overwhelmed with memories.

Noah is still processing the latest string of emotions that hit all of us, I think. He didn’t want to go to the International Night because he was worried he’d get lost in the mass of people and not be able to find me, a fear that he’s gotten in just the last couple months. A fear that I can only help him to face, but he’ll have to tackle it at some point and I can only help him get the tools, I can’t face it for him.
“Will you stay with me when we go to the tables?” he asked more pleading than anything else.
“Of course, Monkey, I’ll be right next to you. Don’t worry.”

It wasn’t painful, it was fairly easy and we saw friends who make us smile. I loaded everyone up, now hopped up on lemonade and sugar cookies and went to Safeway. I went in to get cookie ingredients and Noah got out and came along with me, leaving the other 3 kids in the car. He reached up, put his hand in mine, and quietly said “I love you, Daddy.”

It melted some of the stress.
“Love you too, Monkey. Very much.”

It was the drive home that was hard. Abbi nearly lost it. Yesterday I bought tickets to see the band “The Black Keys” during a presale for registered users of the band’s website, and since I’d gotten their latest album on presale for Abbi for her birthday they gave me a password to order tickets early. I’d gotten three, one for me and the girls, who love the band. On the way home, her friend had informed her, after her very short period of bliss, that the concert was on the same night as the Prom. The Prom which Santa had gotten a very expensive, very nice designer dress that was an insane amount of stress and difficulty for both me and the re-suited fat man!

“Maybe I’ll just skip the prom. Nobody’s going to ask me anyway, and I want to see the Black Keys!” was her response. I looked at her and had to say something.
“You know, I can’t say for certain that the Black Keys will be around in 20 years, but I can say that if you skip the prom, you’ll have to deal with that forever.”

Her response is one I’ve heard and told myself countless times. “I won’t get asked” or “I’m always second in everyone’s mind” or “I’m a good friend but they never think of me as a date” all things I don’t agree with, but what can I say? I was the same way. All I could say was how, even in my youth, when I was shy, quiet, lacking self-confidence, I asked a girl to the prom. I never took a date to Homecoming, Sweetheart, none of the other dances. I always went, but I never took a date. The Prom . . . prom was different.

You have to understand why this was such a big deal for me. I’ve recounted before how I couldn’t ask a girl out easily. I had paralyzing fear and shyness. I’d dial 6 numbers and never get to the 7th. I’d ask then panic wondering how I could have gotten myself into the situation. I think they were going out with me because they felt sorry for me. None of these things were true, at least I don’t think, but I thought them nonetheless. But I overcame that, just long enough, to ask a girl I had a crush on to the prom. I rented a tuxedo, talked with friends about what they were doing, and then asked, quite unsuccessfully, my father if I might drive the convertible to the dance. (I knew the answer, but hey, you gotta ask!) I may have been an outsider, so to speak, but even I asked a girl to the prom. Me, the geeky, lanky, shy boy. Abbi’s none of those things. She’s outgoing, happy, funny, and smart. One of the good things, I thought, of going to this public school was that she’d get to have a social life and interaction with boys, much as that bothers me as a Dad. She gets a taste of real life, to live her own John Hughes film.

The boys then asked the question that started the philosophical thinking in my head: “did you know mommy when you asked this girl to the dance, Daddy?” Of course, I didn’t. I lived in Nebraska, Andrea grew up in California, we were literally a world apart. I was in a small town she was in Sacramento, a large town trying to act small.
“What happened at that dance, Daddy?” I couldn’t lie. Sure, I got the courage to ask someone to the dance. Didn’t change that I was still shy, geeky, lanky, and not the most confident of people. Not the shining moment that I would have hoped, but I went. I asked someone, and good or bad memory (it’s not all bad, take it from me) I went.

Then they asked what I’d been thinking: “but Mommy didn’t have a bad time when she went out with you?”
“No, she saw something inside me, something I don’t know I even saw myself, kiddo.”
“So what did she do?”
“She was you Mom, guys. She showed me who I could be. She didn’t let me be shy. She was tall, beautiful, and funny.” Abbi looked my way and saw I’d noticed and she turned away. The boys asked . . . “so is that why you married her, Dad, and not that other girl?”

“I don’t know that marrying anyone else was ever on my mind, kiddo. I loved your Mom, and she loved me…all of me, she didn’t even see the things I worried about, she just blew past them and brought me up next to her. It’s like she’d known me all along, even if I didn’t know the person she saw, she let me be who I’d always wanted to be. She saw who I really was . . . even if I didn’t…”

I could feel my eyes welling up and I was glad it was dark.
” …and I miss her. I miss her a whole lot.”

When I got home the reminiscence didn’t stop. Abbi was still horrified at her luck of losing the concert to the prom. So I solved the problem. I got tickets to the show the night before, with the little I had saved for new pickups for my guitar. I told her to find kids who would want the Sacramento tickets, the presale for Oakland hadn’t ended and we got tickets for there instead.

“Mom always said that you were the best at solving problems,” Abbi told me. Andrea did used to say that. She thought I should have been an ER doctor, or some other high-stress job because she always thought I thrived on the problems and coming up with ways around them. She’d once said that if we’d had to fight on the battlefield that she knows I’d be more like the guy who took the reigns when the Colonel was killed and got his men out of harm’s way. I still feel like I’d reverted to being the kid who barely asked the girl to the Prom.

While I made the cookies for school the next day, running the dishwasher full of old dishes Hannah had neglected, I had the TV on to a random channel. On it, a person brought up a very old saying: “the main thing is to leave this world a little better than when you entered it.” It’s a saying I’ve heard before, one that I always liked, but it really made me think.

There’s the what-ifs . . . how many more amazing things could this beautiful woman have accomplished in her time? What more could I have expected from just being in her sphere of influence? I don’t lie when I say I am the man I am today because of her. Then I started to think about everything.

When we met, I was a technical guy. I did the occasional reporting, but more than anything I was a photographer, nothing more. Now, I’m an investigative journalist. I’ve won awards, I’ve met world leaders, I’ve seen amazing things. I would never have done any of it, I wouldn’t be the writer I am today, if not for the woman who never bothered to look at me as less than I was. She just saw . . . me. I so wish I could have seen what more she would have done, what she would have given the world. The Alzheimers drugs she’d helped research in school. The lives she might have saved catching drug interactions. The materials she might have written in some sort of drug research.

But in the end, she did leave the world better than when she found it. At least my world. I’m here, today, writing and solving the “Manoucheri curse” yet again because she showed me I could.

When I came up to start writing I checked my Facebook page and saw my daughter had posted a message:
“Who has the best Dad in the world?! I do!!!!”
Really, that’s all I needed. She’s more like her Mom than she ever realized.

 

Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More

Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More (Live) by the Allman Brothers Band (I suddenly realized I haven’t put an Allman Brothers track in the headline before…so here ’tis!)

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Our own little fork in the road

I spent the evening sitting in a meeting filled with people I didn’t know in order to supposedly get information on what my child’s high school play will be about. Unfortunately, I don’t think I could tell you a singular item from the meeting. I would hear one thing only to realize they’d backtracked to something else and then completely negated anything that had been said prior. I was tired, stressed out, had to leave work early, and had all 4 kids with me because, let’s face it, there’s simply nobody else around to watch the kids when you are the babysitter. Abbi, my oldest, is the normal babysitter.

It was after the meeting, which left me thoroughly befuddled, that I realized I had no idea what I was going to make for dinner. I looked over at Abbi, my oldest, and informed her of said condition and informed her it was 7:30 in the evening so it would have to be something quick, easy, and could not involve going out to eat as I don’t get paid until Friday. As the words were leaving my mouth, I realized it was silly of me to ask. She had the blank look she always does when I ask if she has a preference for dinner. I should know better, but like the guy who keeps hitting his hand with a hammer “because it feels so much better when I stop”, I ask anyway.

Fortunately, if you sell something as a great treat, it becomes a great treat. “Let’s have breakfast for dinner!” was my idea. It was met with a hearty dose of enjoyment by all, which was fortunate because, quite frankly, I wasn’t sure what else I’d have done. Nothing is that quick and I’ve hit a wall in terms of my planning for the week. That same said high school play has caused me to pick up the kids from the Extended Day Program (EDP) myself, early. That, in turn, means I have to get into work early so as to complete the tasks I’ve got in front of me for the day. I mean, let’s face it, if I said I’d do them when I got home getting the work completed is about as likely as my fixing the nuclear reactor meltdown at Chernobyl.

So you might wonder what makes me use the title I did when I seem to be spiraling just a little out of control? The reality is I’m not wasting the time. The chores, well, they’re not getting completed, but I’m not doing them any more. When my daughter couldn’t find a place to eat breakfast this morning because the table was so messy . . . guess whose fault it was? Suddenly, when I got home, she had unloaded the dishwasher and cleaned it off. Amazing!

But more, it’s to try and get us back onto the path, start us writing the story without the “Lost” flashbacks. I write those here. I think about those in the waning hours of my day, while I sit alone. It’s not healthy for them to just stumble, just walk and go through the motions. So we attended this parent meeting with no semblance of order and no indication that anyone had an idea what we really did need to know that was so vital this evening. Why? Because I am not wasting any more time. I sat in that room and realized, no, I didn’t know these people, neither did my daughter before this. Should I? Maybe. But we won’t start turning pages, she won’t leave behind her old school, one we cannot afford to return to, unless we stop stumbling blindly in the dark.

It’s time to take those small, baby steps that take us away from the fork in the road.

So no, I didn’t know what to make for dinner. I wasn’t sure how to proceed. I still have a hard time keeping up with getting the laundry put away. I can’t get the kids to complete their chores. But I have to get all these things working. If I don’t, we’re stuck here, going in circles, returning over and over again to the fork in the road.

Years ago, when Andrea first got pregnant, we had hit the morass of repetition. We’d only been married a year and we’d had all these amazing plans, ideas and thoughts about what our lives were going to look like. I was going to keep playing my guitar in my own band. She was going to be a network anchor. Andrea sat in the bedroom of our apartment in a desperate panic when she’d missed her period. She’d come home with a brown bag with a pregnancy test in it. It contained two of those little sticks and we sat there, on the edge of our bed in a small two-bedroom apartment, like a bad version of the EPT commercial waiting for the timer to go off. She took the first one and started to cry, in a panic, running into the bathroom grabbing the second little white stick from the box and once again peeing on it and waiting.

The timer went off and she watched as the little blue line turned into an = sign and said she was pregnant. Andrea nearly hyperventilated. She sent me, now angry, to the store to buy two more boxes of tests.
“Maybe I did it wrong,” she said. “Maybe I contaminated the sample. We have to do this again!” So I went. Would arguing with her have really accomplished anything? All four new sticks said the same thing. One said =. One of them said +. Another just said “yes” or “no”. Didn’t make a difference, they all meant “pregnant”.

It was the only time Andrea ever faltered. But I was there, like so many other times when she had her head on my shoulder, telling her we’d be OK. We’d reached that fork far sooner than we’d thought or wanted. We thought of ourselves as kids still, just figuring out what it was like to be with each other, still desperate to get home at the end of the day to see each other, and now we were about to take on the responsibility of another, helpless little person. It was awful, at least for me, because I had to resign myself to being a Dad, a caring support system for a pregnant wife, and I wasn’t remotely ready for it, but I did it. I dealt with the tears followed by arguments followed by crying apologies for 10 months. I spent so many days running to “Garden Cafe” to get a piece of sour cream chocolate cake that the restaurant just cut a piece and had it in a bag for me so I could walk in and buy it without waiting. I did all this because Andrea needed to feel like we could accomplish this. She thought, for the longest time, that she didn’t have the close relationship I have with Abbi because she fought the inevitable so much.

I’m now faced with a similar fork in the road. I have so much to face, so many awful details in front of me and I put on the face like I know what I’m doing. I’ve decided I can’t waste time any more. The kids need to move on, even if I’m not ready to, because this last few months to the anniversary of her passing will set the tone for the rest of their lives. My kids need to know that I have us moving forward down the path, even if I’m not sure that I do know all those things. I may lead them in circles, but at least I’m leading them. So I arrange for getting the other 3 kids so my oldest can do a musical. I hit up contacts and friends so I can get tickets to “The Black Keys” at Arco for the girls. I take the boys to see the movies they want and help Noah learn to play guitar. I help Sam kick the soccer ball and play basketball because those are all lines we need to write on the page. I’ve spent 9 months just trying to keep us on our feet now it’s time to stop.

It’s time to turn the page. It’s time to stop wasting time.