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Put the weight right on me . . .

The Weight by Aretha Franklin, Written by Levon Helm An alternate version of this classic song, with Duane Allman on slide guitar!

I knew Christmas was going to be hard, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist (do we even have those anymore?  Now that NASA got rid of all our shuttles?) to figure it out.  What I figured was that it was going to pull on my heart and drain me emotionally.  Don’t get me wrong, it does, but I never expected the physical difficulties that go along with it.

I have four kids, not like you didn’t know that, but I emphasize to make a point.  3 of the 4 are in the same school and Grade/Middle school age, so the whole Christmas season is there for me to tackle.  It actually starts with my middle child (I call her the middle, she came 2nd, the boys 3rd, kind of count them as a package deal) and her start for Confirmation.  It’s a Catholic thing, you really don’t need the details.  What you do need to know is that, unlike when I went to Catholic school, where the lessons, preparation, all of it came during the religion classes and in extra school day work.  Now it’s on the weekends and they prep you over the course of a couple years.  Hannah started that in November, moving onto December. Being the child with the worst procrastination tendencies in the world, she forgot to fill out her forms, have her sponsor inform her the information she needed, and neglected to find the Catholic Youth Bible she needed until . . . of course . . . 2 days before the meeting.

Then there’s Christmas.  I love Christmas . . . the whole Christmas season.  (Please don’t ask why, no one quite knows the reason . . . you get the point)  But with children it’s not without its stresses.  I have two boys who have to have secret Santa gifts . . . My middle daughter, she needs one too, though being Hannah, she didn’t inform me what we need to get.  That all starts in the next few days.  There’s the Christmas play . . . which of course the kids have to have clothes for.  Since the boys and Hannah have both grown exponentially in the last year, there’s no wearing what we have in the closet.  This has been on top the fact that they come home every day with their white shirts brown or black from playing soccer on the playground.  There are holes in their uniform pants.  The brand new jeans have holes in the knees.

I have to buy Christmas presents.

I’m not complaining about the cost, don’t get that impression, I get it.  It’s part of the cost of having kids and I have four of them.  (Before they come, I know there are ways to either prevent pregnancy or “choices” that we could have made.  That ship has sailed . . . on both counts . . . I’m not making a political statement, get over it!)  What you don’t realize is just how much you share that burden when you have the other person there.  If you have two parents, and they’re both involved in raising the kids – I don’t care if they’re divorced or still married – it’s amazing you accomplish everything as it is.  I just wasn’t prepared for the holidays like I thought I was.

After the Confirmation chaos, I had to start with presents.  Andrea spent a lot of weekdays with the kids, so much so that she knew exactly what they wanted, or what would be best for them.  I have to ask what they want and get the inevitable child’s “I don’t know” (in that mumbled, half-talk, Harrison Ford in the current era marbles in the cheeks voice)  Four kids, no ideas.  I mean, I got ideas, I figured it out, but the days of sitting on the couch with Andrea and talking out what the kids each want and what they get are gone.  My closest person is Abbi, and I don’t want to talk too much about this with her.  She’s still 16.  Even if you do or don’t believe in Santa any more, there’s just something magical about NOT knowing everything.  You shouldn’t be part of the Christmas preps if you’re not the parent.

It’s all about time and my lack of it.  I have to steal time to go to Target or surf Amazon after I make lunches at night.  Even now I have presents hidden and few wrapped.  I finally got the Christmas play uniforms, but we ate dinner at almost 8pm as a result.

Jolly isn’t the adjective for me right now.  Stressed out and gaining more white than black hairs is.  I look at the tree and see a pathetic few presents wrapped and stay up past 1 wrapping a few each night so the kids can see I haven’t forgotten.  I can see the anticipation on their faces and there’s part of me that sees them look at me and wonder if we’re going to make it through the holiday.  I have to put on that face that acts like I know what I’m doing and say “we’re not done yet, there will be a few more under there soon.”

I know somehow there will, but every time I get one thing done, three more things land on my plate.  I look around at things I have to take care of and realize that they’re the things Andrea took care of and I was blissfully unaware what she did.  I had my own part of the bargain to deal with.  What do you get a teenage girl?  Andrea would find great makeup or jewelry or perfume or something.  I am a Dad.  Worse than that, I’m a Midwestern corn-fed, football watching musician of a man.  All I know about those things is if the person’s wearing too much of it.  She’s past the age when Barbies and Legos are wonderful.  So how do I make it magical for her?  Andrea left and took those secrets with her.

I look at Christmas as the first big Litmus Test.  I mean, what happens when Hannah hits puberty hard and heavy?  When I have to talk to this kind, naive, beautiful girl and let her know that the guys she looks at as best friends will eventually have only 1 thing on their minds.  If they don’t already.

“Tis the season, sure, but the season is a test.  If I fail, it sets the tone for the rest of the story.  I’m straining under the pressure.  I never realized how much Andrea and I relied on each other.  Now I truly feel the absence.  It’s so true, she let me put some of the weight on her shoulders, so we could both stand up straight.

Now, I hope that all I do is bend.  None of us can afford for me to break.

I’m Not Drowning . . .

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

It happened this weekend.  The transition, that is.

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

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

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

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

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

And you like it.

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

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

It would be so easy to stay there.

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

It’s the imperfections that make it perfect.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I can feel your body, when I’m lying in my bed . . .

Andrea - my perfect fit

When was the last time you kissed her?  I don’t care if it’s your wife or girlfriend or even that first date you went on, when was the last one?

The reason this sticks in my mind is because I took a survey for a friend’s site (www.goodenoughmother.com  will be contributing to this wonderful, well-known site starting in January) and one of the questions asked when I was happiest.

The answer wasn’t particularly hard for me, it really wasn’t.  There were others that were, things like where I see myself in the future, questions about how I see myself.  But the easiest question I had was simply when I was happiest.  It popped right into my head the moment I read the question.  Without a doubt, it was the moment I’d kissed my girlfriend – the woman who would become my wife – for the first time.

Now, it’s funny, I can remember it was not after that first “official” date, the cold and icy night we saw the band “Rush” in concert at Omaha’s Civic Auditorium or another night.  She saw the band, but to be honest, even then I knew she was humoring me.  She listened to James Taylor and Toad the Wet Sprocket.  She loved Morrissey, for Christ’s sake!  But we found common ground in bands like The Doors and she absolutely adored old Santana.  Not the newer stuff, though she didn’t mine that in later years, but put on the first 3-4 LP’s and she was in heaven.

It wouldn’t surprise me if we had kissed after that concert.  She was dressed so pretty, wearing a black coat, velvet bordering the collar and a black hood hanging off the back.  She looked amazing and we’d both gotten a beer and had a little to drink.

I do know that after that show we went out and continued our retinue of alcohol-soaked evenings, but not to the point of being inebriated.  We were simply enjoying ourselves, something I had not done in all my time up to then.  She made me feel like loosening up, being happy, and being flirtatious.

I remember the night, though, the night it happened, and I ache because I can actually feel it as well.  I know for a fact that before we’d headed to my apartment we’d been at the restaurant “Grandmothers” in Omaha, right off 90th and Dodge streets, just a few blocks from my apartment.  We loved to go there because, being college students, we could order a pitcher of margaritas and get a free plate of nachos at the bar.  We ate the greasy, horrible chips and drank the pitcher dry.  This after a full day’s work.  You have to understand, after that concert, I wasn’t sure if she’d enjoyed herself.  I was the dumb ass, after all, who picked an insanely noisy auditorium filled with 10,000 other people and meeting friends from work who were standing there as well.  It was far from an intimate evening.  She was flirtatious, but at evening’s end she went home to her apartment, which was nearby, and I hadn’t ended up there or met her friends.

But the next day, at work, we were business as usual.  She was getting ready to go on the air, I was working on a story that we had shot together, and I was so sure that I’d messed up that I was convincing myself that it was all wrong and telling myself that she was just too pretty and too outgoing to go for someone like me.  I was not anyone’s idea of Prince Charming.  Around the corner from the studio’s control room was the community bathroom.  It had a big mirror, those massive light bulbs used by makeup artists.  There was a single stall with a toilet in the corner, but that was it.  The door normally hung open and the reporters and anchors put their makeup on in that room.  If you couldn’t find them, the odds were pretty good that’s where they were.  I headed in there, told her how long her story was and just kind of stood there.

“Did you have a good time last night?”
“I had a wonderful time.”
“Oh, great!  I wasn’t sure if you liked them or not, but it was a good show.”

There was a bit of uncomfortable silence and I watched as she started to lean into the mirror, putting her mascara on her eyelashes.  She hadn’t said anything else.  I was directing that night, so I had to head in to start preproduction.

“OK . . . well, I better get the pre-pro going then.”

I had walked out, heading to the adjacent control room when I heard it.

“Well, Dave . . . ”

I nearly ran back to the bathroom, trying to keep my composure.

“Yeah?”
“I was hoping you’d ask me out again.  Was I wrong?”
“No!  I mean, absolutely.  I would love to go out.  Are you free tomorrow night?  We can have dinner!”

She hadn’t remembered that we’d met at M’s Pub in Omaha’s Old Market once before, talking about her best friend and reminiscing about small town Nebraska Christmases.  But I did.  I asked her to go there again.

We ate our dinner, both of us having pasta with a pesto sauce, grilled chicken and fresh bread.  I ordered that flourless chocolate torte and we inhaled it the dessert tasting so good.  We went and saw a movie, though I’m not sure what movie we saw.  I know, how can I remember what we ate but not that detail?  I don’t know.  Certain things stick in your memory.  A dark movie theater with no conversation and no way to look her in the eye isn’t something that is very memorable.

I DO remember that after we saw the movie, at the Indian Hills theater on 90th and Dodge as well, we went back to my apartment.  I know you’re thinking I had only one thing on my mind, but I didn’t.  I was out of my depth, way up over my head.  I had grabbed a 6-pack of Michelob and another of Miller Lite, both bottles, and had them in the fridge, knowing she’d want a drink.  I opened two bottles and we talked, all night.  The movie had ended at 11 or 12, a late evening, but we’d had dinner first.  She sat on my couch, wearing a fairly simple outfit, I suppose, but she was just so gorgeous.  She had on a silky par of pants taht felt so soft when I put my hand on her knee to make a point.  She wore a t-shirt that had what they called a “sweetheart neckline” which curved below the shoulders but met at a dip right in the center of her chest, giving just a hint of cleavage – nothing salacious, but it sure made it hard for me to concentrate on the conversation and keep my eyes on hers.

But all she had to do was laugh.  I stared at her eyes, and I noticed that they sparkled.  You’ll think I’m crazy, I know you will, but when that woman laughed, with her brilliant, beautiful smile, her eyes, a grey-blue like the sky after a thunderstorm, twinkled.  We talked about work a little, school a lot, the future, what we wanted to do, the fact that she wanted to do a semester at American University and intern at CNN, and listened to CDs.  I had a mixture of songs, Bonnie Raitt, Clapton, all sort of romantic, programmed into the player and playing on a 6-disc changer on my stereo.

Eventually the discussion turned to family.  She had a lot of good, and a lot of bad to say about her family.  The pull that they had on her was painful, I could tell.  She said how she must have been a horrible date with that kind of conversation.  I made a crack about a bad joke George Carlin had made during one of my horribly failed dates and the topic made Andrea think of her sister.  She’d been going through a tough time and it was sincerely weighing on her.  So much so that her entire mood shifted.  I felt awful, I had done my typical move, screwing up what was supposed to be a perfect night.  I moved over to her, sitting next to her, trying so hard to apologize.

“I’m so sorry, I had no idea, I would never had said anything if I’d known, I’m so sorry, Andrea.”

She leaned into me, and I could feel her body press next to mine.  She was so gentle, so soft, and she seemed to fit perfectly next to me, the curves of her body fitting perfectly as she laid her head on my shoulder.  I didn’t think it was possible for anyone to physically touch me like this, to have such a perfect fit, to be so amazing, and I was screwing it all up.

“It’s not your fault.  It’s just so hard, and I can’t do anything to help.”

I told her she had nothing to worry about, that I was sure she was doing everything right.  I put my hand on the back of her head, I felt the soft stands of hair, like silk, and I leaned over and kissed her on the forehead.  I tried to be as gentle as I could, she was so soft and perfect in her movements.  And then it happened.

Andrea looked up at me, half of her laying on me, those beautiful eyes staring straight into mine.  I didn’t think I had done something right, I was sincerely trying to make her feel better.  It was like a John Hughes film.  She probably didn’t look for very long, but I studied her entire face, it was just so perfect – perfect for me.  I moved my face closer to hers so I could feel the brush of her nose next to mine, waiting to see if she would pull away.  When she didn’t . . . I kissed her.  Slowly, passionately, I kissed her, amazed again at this wonderful woman, holding her and hoping she’d never leave.

She didn’t.  Now, I know I’ve given a lot of very vivid detail here, but it’s all that happened.  It obviously wasn’t the only kiss we shared that night, but it was all we did.  By this point it had already been close to 3am, we’d been up most the night.  I fell asleep on that same couch, with her next to me, her body fitting perfectly. It was as if I’d been missing a piece of myself and never knew it wasn’t there until she had shown up.

This is the point of my story here.  When is the last time you kissed the person you love like that?  When did you look them in the eye, pausing, reading their face, so close you can feel their breath as it touches your face?  If you haven’t, if you don’t, or you can’t remember, I want you, tonight, to do it.  Go up to that person, put your hand on their cheek, or run you fingers through the back of their hair and look them in the eye.  Live your own John Hughes film and kiss them, like it’s the first time you’re doing it all over again.

You see, I don’t get to do that anymore.  I didn’t get to.  That last day, believe it or not, in the room for the last time, seeing her body there, cold and so completely opposite of the woman I’d met twenty years before, and I couldn’t even go through the motions.  They hadn’t removed the breathing tube.  She was covered in equipment, and I had yet to go home and tell my children she was gone.  Like that first kiss, I had to lean over, and gently, deeply, kiss her on the forehead, this time the tears coming off of my cheeks, and tell her goodbye.  I couldn’t tell her before, not while they worked on her, tried to keep her alive.  I looked and truly did remember that very first kiss, the press of my lips on her forehead, and I was dizzy, hoping I could see those beautiful eyes, that michievous twinkle, just one more time.  I didn’t get it.

I can’t tell you the last time I got to kiss her like that, to feel her press next to me, to touch her hair and feel her head on my shoulder.

Just like that night, where I realized that this person, this amazing, wonderful woman, was the perfect fit to me, she fit me perfectly.  Not just emotionally, but she fit next to me, her physical presence the missing puzzle piece to my life.  I go to bed and I can feel her body when I lie there.  When I close my eyes and remember that night, I can feel her, the press of her lips, the soft press of her skin, the gentle caress of her cheek as it brushed up against me.

People say that times will change, things will smooth over, that life won’t be so difficult.  But I don’t want it to go away.  I don’t want to wake up tomorrow and be OK with it, or to go back to the feeling I had before those pieces fit.  The moment I can’t close my eyes and physically feel her lips against mine is the moment that I’ve truly lost her.

So for me, just this night, this one time, find the person you love, remember that first night, that first, second or third date . . . and kiss them.  Not a peck on the cheek.  Not a quick smack that ends with “luv you.”

Kiss them.  Mean it, feel it, and tell them.  Tell them you love them and that you miss this.  Because take it from me, it’s just like the song says: I can feel her body when I’m lying in my bed.  There’s too much confusion going ’round through my head.

Give yourself that memory – not the vision, the muscle memory, the feeling, the press, the touch.  You never know when you’ll need to close your eyes and go back there yourself, because one day, it may very well be the only thing you have left.

Memories in a Red and Green Box . . .

So we finally decorated the tree.  Well, trees.  Over the weekend we went to a tree farm and picked out a tree, something we all agreed on and got it into the house, put it up, got the lights on it and . . . ran out of time and couldn’t decorate it.  It was as if I’d shot all four of them in the chest with a spear gun.

“Daaaaaad!!!!!”

I’m not Ebeneezer here, I love Christmas, but we have a LOT of stuff.  While the outside of our house may not show it, step inside and there’s garland, Santa figures, snow globes, stockings, manger scenes, all of it.  When we were in Texas Andrea worked for Target so she’d waited until a week after Christmas and bought an artificial tree, lights already on it, for 70% off.  It was important because we just didn’t have the money to buy a tree every year.  Sure, there are those places that have the discount trees and low prices, but we did that one year.  Apart from the tree falling – 3 times – on my head as we tried to get it stabilized in the rickety stand we had, the tree had been cut so many weeks before getting to us that it was already dry and the needles falling just a week or so after we bought it.

So artificial was the way to go.  It was our second, actually.  Years ago, when we were first married, my Dad got us an artificial tree.  We didn’t even have Abbi, but we were both barely scraping by, living in an apartment, and my Dad felt pretty sorry for us, I think.  At that time he owned his own Pharmacy and store in a small town in Nebraska.  He had one tree left, one he was reserving for the store itself, to decorate, put up on the floor, but instead he showed up in Omaha and gave it to us, lights, tinsel, all of it.  It wasn’t an amazing tree, but we loved it.

Last year we had a little money so we’d gone to get a real tree.  This year, we don’t have a little money, but I got a tree anyway.  We had to keep things as normal as possible, and as much as it hurts, we have to do the holiday.  We picked it out, put it up, and after getting the lights on the outside of the house, the kids went to bed.  I then went about the task of trying to decorate with the materials their Mom left behind.  Leopard spotted bows, red velvet ribbons, garland with lights on it, all being put up wherever I could find a spot for it.  It’s all been squished and wrinkled in the move so I spent an inordinate amount of time smoothing out the creases.  Every time I’d try to say it was good enough I remembered the arguments and grumpy comments I’d made in past years, re-doing those same decorations because Andrea said it didn’t look right.  I was so persnickety, offhand comments coming out of my mouth.

Last night I realized how right she’d always been.  Every time I tried to leave one that wasn’t quite right I could see how awful it was.  How right she was.  By the time I’d finished some of the first night’s decorations it was already past Midnight and I still had to do the night’s routine.

So last night we moved onto the trees.  That Target special we put at the top of the stairs, the tree visible when you walk in because you can see the upstairs landing.  We put the real tree by the door.  I’d made that awful, aching decision about their Mom’s stocking yesterday.  I thought that would be the worst of it, now we’d just decorate the tree and it would be the first semblance of Christmas spirit and fun in our house.  We put “Charlie Brown’s Christmas” soundtrack on the computer, which is near the tree, and listened to it while we decorated.  (If you don’t have this, by the way, you’re a damn fool.  It’s the greatest Christmas album ever)

What I hadn’t realized was how many memories were waiting for me in the tissue-wrapped treasures inside those red-and-green tote boxes.  I’d forgotten just how we’d celebrated every year, it was so natural and we never really had to think about it.  But as we started taking the ornaments out of the wrappings, the glass and delicate wiring exposing with each fold, I started to see them: the dates.  The names.  The dedications on all the old ornaments, one for every year.  The hand-made star with Abbi’s picture in it, the back saying: “1997: To Dave, I love you, Andrea” . . . in her handwriting.  The little kids sleeping in their chairs, a little black-haired boy on one side, a blonde little girl on the other, sparking memories of her telling me “I’d wait up with you every year.”

The kids don’t have these memories, they are part of them.  Little picture frames with their photos in them.  Andrea’ remembered the year we got married that I loved the classic “Winnie the Pooh” book because my Mom read it to me – not the Disneyfied version, the original, classic drawings.  There were little ornaments, things she’d taken time to hunt down that had a frame with that classic character just because she remembered an offhand remark I’d made.

She was everywhere.

I did my best to give the kids the regular, nondescript ornaments so they didn’t have to go through deciphering the past, but I’m not sure if they would have had the same connection to the ornaments I did.  I knew doing this would be awkward, but I just hadn’t thought about everything.  There were Mikasa crystal ornaments – really expensive ones – that my Grandma had given us for our first Christmas.  Another one from her that was for Abbi when she thought it would mean something to her.  Snowmen with the year and her name on the back.

Christmas cards drawn at school that say: “I love you Mommy.”

I’ve said before it’s not the days themselves that worry me so much, it’s the stuff out in left field that just hit us between the eyes.  I didn’t see this coming, though I should have.  The cards pushed me over the edge.  I’m not upset that they didn’t make “I love you Daddy” cards, it’s not that at all.  I’m torn up because I know what she meant to them, the fact that all this stuff is here is proof.  Each of them is like a little ghost, floating on the green needles of the tree, pulling a little bit of me away at a time.  They loved her so much and now I’m all they have left.

There’s a tremendous amount of pressure right now.  Pressure to make sure they have a good Christmas.  Pressure to keep their spirits up when you know they’ll be down.  Pressure to get everything decorated and put together right.  Burning the Midnight Lamp.

Pressure to get it right, because like everything else when she was around, Christmas was always perfect.  So how do you celebrate this amazing season when she’s not around . . . when you know it can’t be perfect by the mere fact of her absence?

I don’t.  I let the kids put up the ornaments, wherever we could without bunching them all together.  I hung up the stockings my Grandma made even when Andrea wouldn’t because they didn’t “match” her concepts.

I did the only thing I could.  I took what I loved about her and her ideas and changed them.  This is going to sound a little harsh, but I took what I loved of her from the season and did what I wanted.  She probably wouldn’t be particularly happy with how I’ve decorated the house or where the ornaments are placed, but there’s part of me that cannot care about that.

The reality is, she is gone, she left us.  We’re left to do this alone, without her.  I hate it, as much as I hate going on without her.  We’d have perfection if she’d been here, but she’s not.  Instead, we’ll have everything I can muster.  We’ll have a mishmash of ideas, a house splashed with memories.

It will be perfect . . . for us.

The Grinch Who Stole Christmas

You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch

A while back I mentioned the things I felt Andrea had stolen from us when she left. It’s not that I think she’s a thief and had any kind of malicious intent, nothing like that. It’s more that she was part of me and as such had access to the most intimate, deepest loves, fears, traditions, all of that.

But she stole Christmas. Not like the Grinch, though it might be an apt simile, but she took it and it will never be the same.

My family doesn’t just like Christmas, we really live for it. Not like Clark Griswold, (though my Dad get razzed that airplanes might land on our lawn because of all the lights once, but we lived on 3 acres in the country…) just that overall, happy, almost bubbly feeling. I think the adjective “joyous” is over-used, but it really does fit for the holidays in our house.

It always was that way for me. I put stockings up in my apartment when I was in college, even if I was going home for the holidays. I bought presents, no matter how cheap, just to give something to my friends and family. We always had a big dinner, opened presents late on Christmas Eve and then went to Midnight Mass in order to get to bed. My brother and I would get up at 3 or 4 and sneak down, flashlights in hand, and look for what Santa brought us and then sneak back up, trying not to wake Mom and Dad, just so we knew. We just couldn’t wait. One year my Mom took us out into the country where my grandparents owned some property: an old farm that was now abandoned. I didn’t know at the time that it was because we didn’t have a lot of money, we just thought it was fun. We had thermos of hot chocolate, we had on big, poofy snow pants and coats, gloves, whole nine yards. When we got there we looked in the shelter belt for a great tree. We did find one, too. We sang “O Christmas Tree”, drank out cocoa, and each took a turn with the saw on the tree. We cut it down, took it home, watered it, all of it. Even shook the snow off the needles before we took it inside. It was probably pure necessity for my Mom, but it was magical to us.

It took a little while for that to hit home when I got married. The first Christmas I remember with Andrea started off really poorly. Getting our tree wasn’t at all like the search above. We picked up her sister, who lived with us in Omaha at the time, and went to look for the tree. It didn’t start well, and at the time I just didn’t get it. I was SO happy. I was married, we were together, we were on the way to get a tree and look for everything. We were getting new ornaments. I already had presents. Hell, we even had stockings.

Andrea and her sister weren’t having it, though. The moment we left the house something was wrong; horribly wrong. Andrea looked at me with all I can describe as disdain. I hadn’t really seen this. I mean, we’d had arguments. If you don’t have disagreements or arguments as a couple you’re not really in a healthy relationship. But this was just pure, unadulterated anger. My driving was wrong. I was going too fast. I didn’t open the door for her and her sister to get in the car. Why was I choosing this tree lot? What is wrong with you, this kind of tree won’t hold ornaments right! Andrea and her sister started yelling at each other, in public, at the lot. Not making a scene, just mad. Arguing. Poking at each other to see who reacts first.

I couldn’t take it.

“What the hell is wrong with you two?”
“What do you mean,” was likely Andrea’s answer, and I remember she had the look of someone who didn’t want to admit there was a problem, but knew there was, digging in and holding her ground.
“You two have been at each other’s throats, yelling, it’s like you’re trying to get into a fight and I don’t get it. This is Christmas, it’s supposed to be happy. I love this stuff! If you can’t do this then go to the car, I’ll get a tree and you can help decorate it when I get home.”

Later they apologized. You see, Christmas, holidays, none of that were fun or positive experiences for her. Her memory for every Christmas was getting in fights, her parents yelling at each other on the way to the tree lot or a tree farm. Her sister and she getting into fights then getting spanked. Her Mom yelling at her Dad and telling him to knock it off. Christmas wasn’t fun in her house. She dreaded it, and that had carried over to me, even though the catalyst for their animosity wasn’t there.

Both of them saw that they’d never had a good memory of getting ready for Christmas. They loved the day, had great dinners, all of that, but the season . . . they didn’t have a connection. That’s where we came in. After that first Christmas, Andrea joined in, hook-line-and sinker. Where we got out of control, she became the decorator. Matching ribbons and bows on the tree instead of tinsel. We still had our little homemade ornaments, but by the time we’d hit last year Andrea was just as giddy and happy in the season as we were. Santas on the ledge. Everything. Like so many things in our house, she made it . . . perfect.

The perfection is hard to live up to. Like I said, she became part of the holiday. Now, we can’t go get coffee at Starbucks without her. The music in the background is that old Christmas music, the Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole that Andrea used to play in the car. My oldest broke down on Friday because she couldn’t take it any more. Andrea was part of the season and the season was surrounding and overwhelming her. I can’t blame her, I feel it too.

I took the kids this weekend to get a tree. They were all really excited, but I could see it was weighing on them. The arguments started. The boys started fighting with their sister – and not the normal amount, every boy hates their sister when they’re a kid, but they still love them a lot. This was reminiscent of the first Christmas with Andrea. It only got better when we finally went to get the tree. They all lost their anger and stress and raced through the rows of trees to find one to cut down. It was up in the mountains at this little place we found by accident last year and they wanted to go back. We even bought a tiny little tree in a pot that looks like the Charlie Brown tree just so they’d have something more.

I got out all the stuff to decorate, ornaments and all. We plan on putting those on tomorrow night. (Monday) Today we did outside lights and garland, all the stuff that Andrea left behind. The kids are ecstatic about doing the decorating but they’re so tenuous about it they just can’t help but poke at each other. It gets to me and makes me lose my temper.

Then tonight, as they were drifting to sleep, I put the stockings up on the fireplace. We had these stocking holders, the metal kind that have a hook that hangs down from the mantle, spelling out the words “NOEL”.

We had stockings with all our names on them. I didn’t know what to do. There are six. Abbi, Hannah, Noah, Sam, Dave . . . and Andrea.

I actually stared at her stocking for quite awhile trying to figure out what to do. I really didn’t know. Still don’t.

It has so many things wrong with it. If I put it out, what happens then? Santa put stuff in everyone’s stockings. Even Mom and Dad. So put the stocking up and Santa doesn’t fill the stocking – it reinforces that Mom’s not here. Fill the stocking, it confuses them and they won’t know what to make of that. If it’s empty it really does represent an emptiness for them, their Mom’s not here for Christmas. But leave the stocking off and you’re making it real. It’s really Christmas, it’s actually here.

And it’s actually here without her.

I know, you think I put too much thought into this. It’s too much philosophy for a stocking. But look at what the season alone has done to these four wonderful kids. It’s tugging at them in ways they can’t describe, not like their oldest sibling, and they act the only way they can. They act out.

So I left the stocking off, as much as it hurts. I never shared this decision with them, it wasn’t something that we needed to do together. Sometimes you have to do things that hurt because they’re what’s best for everyone.

Like I said, she took Christmas with her. I didn’t want to leave her out, but somehow I had to try and steal it back.

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The five remaining stockings...

 

Distant Early Warning

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One of the things I'd miss if I'd never met her.

Yeah, I know, the 2nd Rush reference, but it fits.

A friend of mine has a website called “Good Enough Mother” (http://www.goodenoughmother.com) and she posed a question the other day whose answer did not come easily to me. If I had a crystal ball, would I want to know the future, a finite point in distant time.

It’s not an easy thing to think about. The reason being the first question on everyone’s mind when they see these things is sadistically curious: if I had known what would happen to Andrea would I change how things came to pass? I’ve actually had someone pose this question to me before and I hate it.

Let me preface my comments with the fact that I truly do hate the way I feel right now. People who don’t know how to handle knowing someone who has lost their spouse try to get me to act like I’m normal and happy and everything’s OK. People who miss Andrea want to commiserate about how much they miss her because it makes them feel better, never mind how we feel. Others just don’t want to deal with it and use the old “you’ll get through this” or “those who loved once are twice as likely to love again” cliches. I hate that. I really mean it, I can’t hide my disgust and disdain for it. I know they have the best of intentions, at least in their own minds. In reality it makes them feel better because they’re uncomfortable around someone who is just not feeling whole anymore.

So in order to answer the crystal ball question – on both ends of my hypothetical life – let me start with the conundrum that I face when I approach this question. There truly is a part of me that absolutely wallows in the sorrow and thinks that nothing is worth this much pain. It really hurts, like nothing I’ve ever faced before. It’s funny, because all those studies that talk about how breakups and heartache can have the physical symptoms of real pain make me laugh. They’re the product of people who live in a clinical world and have obviously never, ever, faced any kind of relationship or breakup. But add to that the fact that I’m not just facing discomfort but the reality that I’ll never see the woman I love again and you scoff at the studies because nothing I’ve ever faced hurts that much.

Yes I’m avoiding answering the question thus far. But here’s my mindset: part of me thinks that if I’d known what would happen and stopped myself from going out with her and avoided all this she might still be alive. She might never have been here, never had 4 kids, never had the liver problems, circulation issues, none of it. She might have been a TV anchor living in DC or New York and one of the most successful people I ever met.

But look at the things neither of us would have had: no kids. No life together. She used to tell me she was on a self-destructive path, that she was falling apart and I came in at the perfect time to stop her from going down that road. I used to tell her that I was a shadow of who I am now, the real person buried under tons of emotional debris. She might have left us earlier had I not been around as well. I might never have moved up in my career, never done anything but shoot video in small town Iowa.

Then there’s the most important thing: I would never have had those four amazing children.

So what about my distant future? Don’t I want to know if my kids made it, if they’re OK, if they’re successful and able to function on their own?

No.

Neither option works for me. Here’s why: as much as it hurts, and it is awful. It’s like the arrow pierced my heart and was ripped out, leaving shards and little pieces of her behind, but never enough that it stops from hurting. The scar tissue hasn’t even come close to growing around it yet. She’s gone, there’s nothing I can do, and it hurts. But I still have the most amazing memories.

I have the story of our lives up to this point. I see its tragic end, the horrible, awful moments in the hospital, hearing her ribs crack as they beat on her chest and seeing the doctor ask me to make the choice for them to keep going or to stop. It’s a position I hope none of you EVER face in your lives. It’s awful, it’s painful, and it’s messy. But if I saw only that without seeing the amazing night we spent together after her sorority formal, or the first time we made love realizing we’re both awkward, uncomfortable and breaking out in laughter that made us both starry-eyed, changing our feelings to honest-to-goodness love, I’d be missing so many things. I’d never see that beautiful baby Abbi coming out, fighting everyone who tried to hold her only to snuggle up to me and fall asleep in my arms and my arms alone. I’d never have a daughter whose birthday is also my birthday.

I’d miss the pain but I’d miss the memories more.

So if I saw that finite future, the ending to the kids’ stories or the way my life plays out I have no idea what the rest of the book says. It’s like looking at the end of the book before you even read the first few pages. Sure, you may know that butler did it, but what if the dead body was someone who tried to kill the butler’s daughter and he killed the man to save her life? You have no idea.

I don’t like the idea of knowing the ending. There’s far too much left out in that finite moment.

I hurt, a lot, and I wish it would go away, but I wish it would get worse, too. The pain is awful but it dredges up those memories and reminds me that she was here, it wasn’t all a dream. The better I feel the less her presence is in the forefront of my mind, and I don’t want it to fall into the background. I loved her, I miss her, and I see her slipping away day by day. This will be our first holiday without her, and when we get through it I’ll have been through almost every holiday without her.

I don’t want that. I have to have it, but I hate that it’s happening.

So keep your crystal balls. Tell your psychics to stay away.

I’m much happier here, looking at the anticipation of what happens next – waiting to find out how our story begins.

 

Everybody’s Workin’ for the Weekend . . .

Yeah, I know, Loverboy as a headline, but it’s appropriate, I promise.

My weeks are crazy, they really are. I’m not looking for sympathy, just trying to give you some context. I work a job that allows me a 40 or 50-hour work week, something that was unheard of even a year ago for me. So to be able to get on the road home at a seemingly consistent time each day is really a great thing for me.

But even then, my evening is spent getting the preparations for the next day all situated. I have to cook dinner, get the kitchen cleaned up, and then get the kids ready for their showers and bedtime routine. Once we get through that we do our “midnight snacks” of cereal with banana and then head upstairs to read a chapter from their book of the moment. Once that’s complete I head downstairs to make their lunches for the next day, maybe make a sweet snack to add to that lunch. I might have some time to play a few songs on my guitar but usually it’s a case of getting some stuff completed, head upstairs, do a load or two of laundry, write here, then try to get some sleep. I get up in the morning, make breakfast for the kids, make sure the lunches are in their hands, get Abbi’s lunch out for her, then head out the door and start the whole thing over again.

It’s just reality. What I hadn’t realized until recently is that I’ve been forced to face these things, the routines I always fought and pushed against. I don’t have a choice, and it’s so interesting to me that I don’t fight them anymore. I guess you always, as a couple, vie for who does what they’re best at, trying to put the other, less desirable things off and hope they get done. I don’t do that at all, I simply get things done. It’s a mentality my wife had when she was here and now I realize how much of her rubbed off on me and I never realized it.

The weekend is our chance to be together. It’s not a mandate, no forced togetherness whether the kids want it or not, it’s just the only time we have. Even then, it’s the time I have to vacuum, dust, do some laundry I didn’t get during the week, but at least get together and do something as the family we are now. Abbi gets to do things with her friends, sometimes the boys and I will go to the park without the girls, but the weekend is our time.

It is hard for some people to understand, but we’re not anti-social. We don’t spend any time just the five of us for fun during the week. Not right now. So the weekends are the time we want to spend with each other. We’ll go to events, visit someone’s house, you name it, but it’s not our priority. My hope is even that, once I get vacations and other things planned, we’ll visit places we’d never dreamed of doing before. We’ll get on a ferry to Alcatraz. Maybe we’ll go to the battlefield at Gettysburg. Hell, maybe we’ll go next Fall to Maine and see the leaves change.

Why? I have to. I can’t keep trudging through the life we were trying to make as a family before Andrea left. I wish we could, I wish we could see the future and she’s there with us, but that reality left with her. What I want now more than anything is for the kids to have their own memories, to have thoughts of life and vacations and fun that don’t have to think about the fact that their Mom isn’t there. Maybe it’s going to Disney or Leggoland, or maybe it’s just taking a picture of each of us standing on a corner in Winslow Arizona, but I want them to be the things we do together.

What’s hardest for people to understand is why I think this way, why I keep us together. Yes, it’s been 8 months, but no, we’re not totally healed. I made a comment months ago: “we’re stronger together than we are when we’re apart.” It’s totally true and absolutely crucial. When I thought we weren’t going to make it here in California, there was not thought about moving while leaving any of the kids here to finish school. We’re together or we stay. Pure and simple.

Life is about the memories you remember on the way to growing up. I may do more and more things without questioning them, but I still play my guitar and there’s a tiny person inside me, the 18-year-old Dave, that still hopes I’ll be a professional musician, though I know it probably won’t happen. But if I stop that younger version from coming out, our journey is over, and that’s the best part. I don’t want this to be over. I can’t let it be. The kids need to walk this road, making their own signposts and taking their own snapshots in their mind’s eye.

So every week I am working for the weekend. I had those opportunities, the times I could play my guitar, join my brother for a gig or just have fun. For that very reason I look forward to taking the time with my kids. I may do nothing more than make a pile of leaves in the back yard and watch them jump in them, but at least we did it together.

Take It Easy by The Eagles. See if you can get the connection tot he post above.

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My younger weekend days - with my bandmates

Scenes of unimportance, photos in a frame . . .

If you talk to most real estate agents, you’ll be told how much they hate family photos and mementos hanging about, on the walls, propped up on the bookshelf. I never understood how having indications that you’re comfortable enough in where you are that you’ve made this part of your family; part of your life.

I always liked a line from an old Genesis song (I know, Phil critics, but I always thought he was insanely talented and oddly poetic, Susudio aside), even though it’s a lyric in a strangely creepy song. “Scenes of unimportance, photos in a frame, things that go to make up a life.”

To anyone else who walks into our home, looks on the wall, sees the photos hanging up, there’s no indication that there’s anything different. I hung up our family photos, the pictures taken by our friend who has a business called Photographer in the Family (her link is on the top of this blog) dotted throughout the house. It’s a snapshot of our lives, a rare moment without exhaustion after the twins were born, even Andrea smiling after half her face suffered paralysis by the virus attacking her nerves.

I worry about what happens next. Every day it’s like we grow a little stronger and our memory of Andrea grows a little weaker. We’ve managed so many major events in our lives, it seems like it’s impossible that in 3 short days it will be 8 months since we lost her.

We made it through her birthday, a day that was always unnerving for me anyway, but the next big holiday, the one that Andrea did up brilliantly every year is tomorrow: Thanksgiving. I’m having the dinner at our house, cooking the turkey, making my Mom’s famous dressing, all of it. But I ache as I make all these preparations because I know it’s not going to be the same, it just can’t be. I can put out the china, I can make the food (I always did anyway, no change there) but it’s her presence, that essence of Andrea that was always so pervasive in the holiday that’s gone.

Years ago, in that little house in Omaha, we had everyone over. My family, Andrea’s, her best friend, so many people that we put all the leaves in our dining room table. So many that you couldn’t get through the dining room to the kitchen, you had to go out the front door, around to the back yard and enter the kitchen by the back door. It was a crazy, mixed-up holiday, but it was beautiful. She had the table wrapped in gold, off-white candles burning with gold bows around their holders and white flowers on the table. Abbi was tiny, sitting in a chair at the table but so small you could barely see her above the level of the wood. It was insane, cramped and perfect.

Now we have to face these holidays without her. I’ve had to face them without her. The person who helped plan all these events, that woman’s touch to those scenes of unimportance, is missing. She’s not here to make the room bright. She hasn’t been for the major events this year.

Just a couple weeks after she died, I had to celebrate the boys’ birthday. I had no idea how I’d get through that day, particularly since Andrea was always so integral, so brilliant at coming up with ideas for their birthdays. In the end, I chose to have a simple party, just our family, their cousins and Aunt coming over. I didn’t want them to have to deal with everyone acting awkward and crazy and insensitive on what was supposed to be their day. They’d only just gotten back to school after the funeral and were dealing with everyone handling them with kid gloves. Nobody knows what to do, not that I blame them, when they see someone with such a senseless loss. Perhaps the better adjective is inexplicable?

There’s simply no explanation to why something like this could happen. Andrea didn’t get someone so angry they killed her. This wasn’t a stalker; not an ex-boyfriend; no drugged out oxycontin hooked thief shooting her for narcotics. She died in a hospital of an infection. One day she was here and the next, quite literally, she was gone, leaving the 5 of us to try and figure it all out.

People don’t know what to do, we don’t fit into one of their neat, easy categories. It frustrates them that we don’t fit into the box. Andrea wasn’t murdered, so they can’t be horrified. She didn’t have cancer so they can’t pronounce their support for a cure. She didn’t jump off a bridge so they can’t discuss her personal demons. Never mind him, he’s just the guy who lost his wife. Never mind them, they just lost their mom.

He’s a single parent now. That fits. Put him in that box.

We have a family friend whom I have gotten much closer to since Andrea passed away. The reason being that she faced the same thing – she lost her husband. She’s light years ahead of where I am now, physically, emotionally, mentally even, but has been invaluable in understanding the frustration and madness. She told me something I think is the most brilliant and insightful thing I’ve ever heard.

We aren’t single parents.

Do you get why that is? Those two words: “single parent” have a completely different connotation. In today’s society it implies choice. It implies that my four children are the product of a marriage that fell apart because the husband and wife couldn’t get along and it broke apart their home. It implies that there was a choice made, a thought-out decision based on the actions of two people.

I’m not a single parent. I didn’t choose this. I certainly didn’t want it. We may have had our problems, the valleys to our hills in the path of our lives, but at no point were we on the verge of divorce. I spent every waking moment they would allow in that hospital. I took care of her when she was sick. I clenched my teeth when she would get upset for what I thought were pointless reasons. I failed her on nearly every birthday. But I never thought about leaving her.

No, I’m not a single parent. I’m their Dad. I’m their parent. Out of the box.

What I worry about now isn’t planning the events or even making them happen. I can get a birthday party to happen. I can cook Thanksgiving dinner, maybe even decorate the table and make a nice presentation. No, I’m not worried about the event itself, I’m worried about what getting through that event or holiday means. I’ve told you before that I loved the Fall with Andrea. Each event, particularly Thanksgiving and the upcoming Christmas, prove not only that we can do this without her, it shows that we can. I have to do it, but I absolutely hate it.

We have these holidays because they’re supposed to be our family, but our family’s different now.

No longer do I look up and see those pictures and see them as scenes of unimportance. They’re not just photos in a frame – but they are the things that go to make up a life. Our life. It’s a snapshot of so much promise, so much foresight and anticipation.

We think of these things and those times and realize that the life we were seeing in those moments is not the life we’re living now. We keep those photos in the frames to remind us of how wonderful it was when she was around.

I can only hope that someday we can add to them, putting other pictures on the wall, the scenes of a different life.

I can only hope that we can have that anticipation again without the kids feeling like they are just so many scenes of unimportance.

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One of those NEW scenes of unimportance

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Every Picture Tells a Story . . .

One of the few smiling images of mine

I’ve seen a number of descriptions of my writings here but none touches me as much as the thought from a number of people that his is as much a love story as it is a story of grief, loss or flat out manic depressive family panic.

I truly hope people see that is the fact, I did love Andrea, more than anyone. But I do have to admit something, whether it’s right or not; whether you believe it or not.

I got far more out of this relationship than Andrea did.

I’ve given glimpses of myself, expressed how awkward I was, how much of a geek I was . . . none of that gives a true picture.

If you’ll forgive the photographic theft, I’ve attached a few pictures above and below. I think you should all see the transition and hopefully you’ll see my point. I wasn’t just skinny, I was gangly. I can use the excuse that I had moderate asthma, took medication that sped up my metabolism to the point that I couldn’t sit still for more than 2 minutes at a time and burned an unhealthy amount of weight, but that isn’t all of it. Not by a long shot. A friend described me recently, and I’m paraphrasing, as very talented but also quiet . . .extremely quiet. I don’t dispute that it’s true, but that statement could also be read as shy.  Paralyzingly shy.

I also was filled with anxiety and fear, brought on by a tremendous lack of self-confidence. If you look at pictures of me, you see me through the years. As a kid, with a Bieber “do” far before Bieber was a twinkle in his father’s eye. Maybe before his father even hit puberty. I had a massive obsession with Eric Clapton and Fender Stratocasters. I own a Dr. Who Neckerchief/Scarf from the Tom Baker era. I was introverted to the point that after the unfathomable reality that I’d actually asked a girl to the Junior prom it didn’t mean that I was an enjoyable date. I shudder to think how awful those early, awkward evenings – evenings I had such romantic and amazing plans for – turned out to really be.  And sure, they were bad memories for me, they must just be unforgivable for some of those unfortunate enough to have gone out with me, let alone just hang out with me.  There are days I cannot believe I actually survived those years with any friends still willing to talk to me.

Before I met Andrea, the only time I was able to actually be myself was on stage, in front of a microphone with a guitar slung over my shoulder. There, I was myself, even freaking out some of the people who knew me before this, showing a side of myself they never knew existed, maybe never got a glimpse of.

A rare likable photo of me . . . at Septemberfest

Yet I’ve heard from friends that never knew me in those years who say they cannot picture that version of me. (No, I won’t go on some “look at me” rant here, I don’t have that kind of ego)  Colleagues who say they can’t even imagine the person I’m describing.

The answer to the dichotomy is pretty simple – it’s the other picture(s) . . . the ones that have the amazing blonde in them.

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This was at the station where we met. Just a quick flash of me.
A look at the changes...in me, not the beautiful woman on my arm

I know I play up her looks, and sure that’s the first thing is the physical attraction, but she gave me so much more. I wouldn’t say I changed, because I think the fundamental person that I am was always there. But Andrea found that fundamental person. It wasn’t a few weeks and I changed from the kid with the Beatles-haircut-on-sterioids look to the guy standing next to her in Geoffrey Bean shirts and short hair. There was something fundamentally profound for a guy like me to not only go out with Andrea, but to know that when you walked into a room, the room changed. All because of her. If you’re standing with someone amazing, smart and beautiful, it’s funny how your own barriers start to fall down. But it’s more than that. Whenever I’d get quiet, she’d nudge me . . . “you OK? You’re awfully quiet.” If I got down on myself, she’d tell me I was wrong. If I just had a rotten, God-awful day, she’d just smile at me. Any coldness left inside of me just melted away.

Every picture tells a story.

You can see the transition, it isn’t subtle. I went from shy, combative, grumpy, stick in the mud to a little less grumpy, stiff or quiet. I went from being a behind the scenes guy who dabbled in television stories to the guy who produces the whole thing, writing documentaries, travelling to Germany and Afghanistan. If you’d told people who knew me back then, I don’t know that they’d have thought twice about how things went.

But the pictures diminished. Not for me, but for her. She always fought what she called a weight problem. I never looked at it that way. I know that, because of some liver issues and medicines, in the last few years the problem became reality, but it wasn’t something permanent and we were working on fixing it.

The terrible, horrible thing I have to face now is the fact that I have no record of those years. She wouldn’t allow photos or video of her. We went from having a photographic history of our life to rare moments where we captured her without her knowledge and kept the photos to ourselves. Sure, I gave her things, wrote her a song, but what does that compare with what I got . . . she gave me my life back, the person I saw in the mirror but couldn’t bear to let everyone else see. She was brilliant as the sun, smart as a whip, and she gave it to me without reservation.

How do you remember someone you lost?  I see that amazing woman, the outgoing person who wouldn’t let me hide behind the wall any more.  Do the kids see her?  Do they remember that woman?  Will their image change to the ones that are left behind instead of the Mom they knew?

I hope as long as I continue to push the amazing things she did for all of us they’ll remember the person I saw, the one who did far more for me than I can imagine I EVER did for her.  It’s evident, my friends, there’s no disputing it.  Even if you don’t believe that, no matter, the evidence is there. Just look.

Every picture tells a story, don’t it?

Every Picture Tells a Story by Rod Stewart

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