Tag Archives: Robert Cray

Before You Accuse Me

When I was just in a rock & roll band in 1989 I owned a Fender Stratocaster – because it was Clapton’s guitar of choice.  But when I found out he had a signature model – one that came with a warning sticker that Fender, the guitar’s maker, was not responsible for the damage that the guitar could do to your amplifiers – I was starry-eyed!  I saw Clapton onstage with a fiery red one.  He favored a pewter/silver one.  I tried one out, turned up the bottom tone knob and the amp blew even more volume and distortion out its speakers.

I wanted one!

I spent weeks . . . months even just scrimping and saving.  Every penny from every gig that didn’t go toward guitar strings and new guitar cables went to savings for that guitar.  Finally, at the end of the year I made a trek to Kansas City – the only dealer that had Clapton Stratocasters in-stock.

I walked in and went straight to the expensive, hands-off section. While it was a year old, never bought from the dealer when I got it, I had no intention of buying the sparkly, bright-green strat. I walked in looking for a Torino red or a Pewter colored EC. Then I saw her . . . a 7-up green strat, lace sensor pickups covering the normally exposed pole pieces, and it spoke to me. I had to ask to try it out and must have looked like a non-sale because they handed it to me and walked off.  I plugged it into a Fender amplifier like my own and started to play.  It didn’t take me five minutes.

I was hooked. Just a few weeks after owning it it fell off its guitar stand on stage and the wood of the neck split, right in the middle.  Fenders are known for durability.  I was beside myself.  I called the dealer who told me “too bad.”  I called Fender customer service, angry, and was connected to a man I thought was simply a member of the company.  He asked me the dealer’s name.  Then he asked me to send him my Clapton Strat.

“That’s an expensive strat, it shouldn’t do that.”  I agreed.  I sent it off and a couple weeks later I got a call . . . it was Fender’s custom shop.  A few minutes later I was on the line with the very man who’d taken my initial phone call.  He was one of their chief luthiers.  They’d “taken care of” the dealer, which made me smile.  Then he informed me that my strat had shown a flaw in their design . . . the bodies were routed wrong and put too much tension on the neck.  They could split.  He personally crafted a new body for me, grabbed a new neck off the line and then asked me what color I wanted.

I still said green.

It’s my favorite guitar, my old standby, the wood aged, the pickups perfect, and the neck fitting my hand like a glove. A couple years later my older brother looked at it and remarked that it was like the 7-UP commercials and their campaign with the “dot” in them.

From that point my EC was affectionately dubbed “Dot.” It’s been the reference ever since. I’d never seen a video of Slowhand playing a green one . . . until now.  To this day, it’s my old standby . . . and I pair it with the amplifier my brother Adam built . . . and it’s perfect!

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Bouncin’ Back . . . the track

There’s been a lot of traffic on my post for Good Enough Mother called Bouncin Back.

That being the case, you should all hear the track that inspired the piece.  If I can ever get my act together and finish recording and move ahead I think I’d like to cover the tune.  Until then. . . here’s the Strong Persuader himself:

Bouncin’ Back

I posted a piece on Rene syler’s Good Enough Mother today.  Have a peek!

While I know holidays are hard for people with loss . . . you can still bounce back.  That’s the point of this week’s post on her site, and you can visit.

Amazing you can get inspiration from so many places, and mine came this week from Robert Cray.

Bouncin’ Back: Good Enough Mother

 

Our Tree
Our Tree

Bouncin’ Back

Bouncin’ Back by Robert Cray from the LP Midnight Stroll

About a year ago . . . maybe a little less . . . I posted the above song and said that I couldn’t see the events in the song happening at that time.  If memory serves (and it’s been decreasingly subservient lately) I didn’t think I could ever see things improving to that point.  It was a fairly bleak outlook on things, I have to admit.  But the thing about grief and loss is that you never really know how you’re going to handle it.  I wasn’t putting on a brave face, if I had been I’d have jumped into the waters again and started seeing people and acting like life was normal.  I was smart enough then to say I wasn’t going to put myself through that kind of psychological labyrinth.

But now, after hearing the song again . . . first time in a long while . . . I realized things are truly getting there.  No, I’m not perfect, but then I never was so it’s not like I had far to go.  I’ve managed to stop the last bastions of mail from coming.  The solicitations for Creighton University’s Pharmacy School have stopped when I inadvertently made the young student trying to raise money cry.  “She’s no longer with us,” was my line.  Not sure why people who can be so smart can be so thick.  “Can you tell me where she’s moved to, just for our records?”
“No, miss, you don’t understand.  She’s no longer with us.  She passed away.  Andrea died nearly two years ago now.”

In my head – and this is how warped I am . . . and how far I’ve come . . . I wasn’t crying or sad.  I just had a massive urge to quote Monty Python: “this is a late parrot.  Ceases to be.  Not pining but passed on.  Bereft of life moves on to join the choir invisible. ”  But after having – for god knows how many times – to explain what happened and the girl not getting the hint that I was not only disinterested in going through this yet again I had started to lose patience.  Yes, Andrea went there.  No, I didn’t want to give money.  No, it’s best if you take our name off the list.

After we moved into the house and I set up the pictures, shelves, all our life together in this new space, the kids and I had found a box full of stuff from when Andrea was a kid.  Paintings, which I knew she’d made but hadn’t realized we’d obtained, were in a box full of High School memorobilia.  At the kids’ behest I had put them up on the dresser in my bedroom.  That, by the way, was a hard phrase to utter in those first months – my bedroom, not our bedroom.  Now it rolls off the tongue without pause or consternation.

In the last six to eight months I’ve changed things around.  New pictures have entered the wall space.  I took down the paintings because . . . well, to be honest . . . they held no special place for me.  I didn’t know her when they were made.  She never gave me an indication she’d ever had an artistic bent, other than writing.  I had pictures of my own I wanted to put up – not family portraits or other things, but my own photography and memories.

Fall Picture . . . my favorite time of year

I came to the realization this last few months that while I spent half my life with this woman I have only seen half of that life.  So if I want to go out of town and see a friend or what have you . . . I should do it.  My kids are amazing and I care for them and love them more than anyone.  But . . . I have about 9 years left and then the house is empty.  So as the song says, I took the picture off my dresser.  Took the name off the mailbox.

The influence is there.  I have confidence and maturity from this amazing woman that I would never have had without meeting her.  I am not trying to forget her or push her aside.  It’s more like the analogy of this blog . . . she’s stopped, her book in the series is over.  Like a major character in a Joss Whedon film her story line has ended but is referred to and influencing the rest of the characters throughout their actions and movements from here.

As Cray aptly put it – I have the urge to sing again.  I saw a friend a week ago and confounded myself with the desire to actually dance.  (I didn’t.  I may have rhythm but I have two left feet.  It wouldn’t have been a pretty sight)

Fall – through most my life – was my favorite time.  The colors on the trees and the bite in the air are things that give me both a nostalgia for my childhood and the start of the seasons that bring my whole family and friends together.  Last year all I could think about was the fact that Andrea – in those big, fuzzy brown sweaters – wouldn’t be there to sidle up next to me and seek warmth and as me to hold her.  When we dated I used to take walks with her and feel the leaves crunching under our feet.

But this weekend, with a major number of leaves and the first cold day . . . I didn’t think about Andrea.  Not that way.  We piled up the leaves so the kids could jump in the piles with their cousin.  We opened the windows and let the cool air in.

The kids in the leaves

We just felt like it was Fall and Halloween and . . . wonderful.  I hadn’t realized how much I was enjoying myself until the end of the night – and it didn’t make me sad.  It made me very happy.  One of those things that I’d lost . . . one of the things Andrea had taken, the Fall season and the love of the time was back.  I’d finally taken it back.

Like the Strong Persuader says . . . I’m finally bouncin’ back.

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.

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.

 

You Never Know What You’re Going to Get.

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Andrea allowing a rare moment of public affection

No, this isn’t an attempt to get at the Forrest Gump in my life. I will not say “run, Forrest, run!” nor will I mention a box of chocolates unless there really was a box of chocolates involved. The quote, however, is appropriate to the end and beginning of my week.

My weekend was a whirlwind. I’ve had to be father, friend and disciplinarian all at once. I know that’s the life of a parent, but it’s still the craziest set of circumstances when your favorite part of the weekend is that you get to sleep in until 8:00am!

My oldest daughter’s birthday carried over into this weekend. It’s her first one without her Mom, and it’s a little crazy because I’m the one who implemented all the birthday parties, but I wasn’t actually the one to plan them. Still, I’ve added another proof to the theorem I postulated so many years ago that the home-bound birthday party is so much more expensive than going someplace to hold it. It’s particularly true if you decide to do it at home in order to save money! Abbi wanted to do flag football at the park for her friends in order to have the opportunity to hang out with them, have some fun, whole nine yards (pun intended).

But where the bank account started to whittle away was the fact that nearly 50 people RSVP’d her Facebook page for the party. This is where social media is a bane, not a boon. It’s so easy to simply click “yes” or “maybe I’ll attend” without giving too much thought to the situation. You don’t have to pick up the phone and call the person to say you’re coming or to bow out and say why you’re not. It gives some responsibility. But a button on a website for a party is the equivalent to saying “yes, I’ve read the above and wholeheartedly agree to the terms of service!” You’re agreeing, certifying you’ve read it, but let’s face it, it’s the biggest lie on the planet.

So fifty people, whittled down to 40 that would actually attend, equates to 50-60 hamburgers. Buns to go with them. A box of chips for the kids because I’m not cooking french fries on an open fire. Charcoal. Starter Fluid. Grill cleaner (you’ve seen the grills at the park. I defy you to say you’d cook without cleaning it!) Cookies. Pop. Ice. Plates, buns, napkins. Then two of the kids are vegetarians, we HAVE to have veggie burgers! (Welcome to California) Oh, yeah, the piece de resistance . . . bandannas for the flags. Just when you thought it would be safe to leave the house, you’ve got to go yet again to the dreaded bane of your existence: Michaels. About $75 for bandannas later and twenty-five kids show up. Many of them late. I made about 20 hamburgers and only about 1/4 of the chips were eaten.

By the time the game started, the sun had already sunk behind the homes on the topmost portion of the hills in our neighborhood. The kids managed to start playing before light had faded, but when they finally had enough to make teams they’d really only played for a little while. They barely had time to really sort out playing the whole game.

You know where this is going, right?

The kids all ended up at the house. Before you come down on me as being the cynical, horrible, evil father who is no fun, I didn’t complain, nor did I tell them they couldn’t come. By this point the money’s spent, the food in the house, what the hell else am I going to do? The poor girl’s in a new school and she’d gotten more people to show than I would ever have managed at her age. I stayed down with the kids, managing to stay within earshot but not view so they’d feel like they had their own non-alcoholic party but could still let their folks know that a parent was there in case they needed one.

But the routine had to continue as well. The other three had to stay upstairs. I hooked the Wii back up, something they’d lost weeks ago due to arguing. The boys and their sister were doing so well considering how tempting it was to see all these near-adults standing around downstairs. I also had to throw in a load of laundry due to the fact I smelled like a chimney from the open fire I cooked burgers over at the park. (remember this, it’s important)

The kids stayed until after 10pm. It was exhausting, stressful and amazing. I hadn’t seen Abbi so happy since before March, when her mother died. For that it was worth every penny, it really was.

Then came Sunday.

Abbi informed me how much homework she still had and how little of it was completed. We had Sunday plans, which I was willing to cancel, but it seemed no big deal to her, so we went forward with them.

Sunday night, though, it was hours and hours of homework with no relief in sight and not enough time to finish unless she stayed up all night, which she couldn’t do. This is where it’s not easy or fun being Dad. It was surely going through her head, it was through mine. Had I known just how far behind things were, and I told her this, the party would have ended at the park. Pure and simple. I know she needed to vent, I know she wanted to complain, I know that she was looking for an out . . . but I can’t be the friend all the time. Sometimes, you have to say “coffee maker’s over there, coke in the fridge, caffeinate yourself and get started.” Nothing makes you more college preparatory than dealing with the aftermath of partying all weekend.

Where the night took a turn, and why I sit here at midnight writing, is after I went to swap out the laundry in the washing machine. As I put the denim, sweatshirts and uniforms into the dryer, a “clunk” hit the bottom of the washer tub. As I looked down, the bright red phone – Abbi’s old phone that Hannah inherited so we could call/txt her to make sure that choir, basketball practice/EDP are finished and she’s in the right spot had gone through the wash. This shouldn’t have been such a big deal, Abbi had dropped it in the toilet once and got it out before the water soaked through. However, it wasn’t about the accident, it was about responsibility. It was about respect for the expensive equipment she had been given. It was about taking responsibility for your own mistakes!

And it was about the fact that I just didn’t want to go through her Mom’s phone so she could use it for the day.

A couple months after Andrea passed away, I accidentally stumbled onto a voicemail. I actually hit “play” by accident on it and it shook my world for the rest of the day.

“Hi, Dave, it’s Andrea. Can you give me a call?”

Ten words. Ten short words in her voice that were so simple, so routine, yet it’s the routine that made it so hard to hear. It is the perfect example of what you take so for granted. The voice. The sound of her smile. Maybe you can’t hear it, or maybe you don’t have a spouse that has this, or maybe it’s just that synesthesia-like ability of mine to hear the world, not just see it, but I could hear my wife’s smile in her voice. I could hear the tears in her sadness. I kept the voicemail, only to realize after a phone software update that it’s gone. Disappeared for good and in the ether somewhere that I can never hear it again.

That first day I must have listened to those ten words a million times.

“Hi, Dave, it’s Andrea. Can you give me a call?”

Now, the little one has lost her phone to the wash and you’ve got to go through your wife’s phone. The personal stuff, the text messages, all of it has to be gone through in case something’s important. I’m having to peek into my wife’s head at a point where I’m still trying to imagine life without her – unsuccessfully. I’m not mad at my daughter for letting the phone go through the wash. I’m mad I have to face this task when I didn’t want to face it.

You have to understand, I faced a lot already. I got rid of the old clothes, threw out the old paperwork and shoes. I gave away decorator items we didn’t have room for. I took the preserved wedding dress and stored it in a safe spot. I emptied out the dresser and took it for myself and polished the jewelry, giving myself a plan for every piece for when each kid gets bigger. I even took the St. Anthony medallion and wear it around my neck – refusing even to take it off in the airport. It’s all I have left. I don’t see her when I sleep, like some people do. I don’t get signs from her in the stranger on the corner or in the giggle attacks we have at home. Most people say they can feel their loved ones watching over them, almost daily. I can’t. I see it here and there, but the permanent, ghostly oversight just isn’t there. I’m glad it’s not, to a degree, she deserves to finally be happy – to finally be able to rest without stress or anxiety. The one thing I was hoping to avoid, one of the few hard things I didn’t want to face was now forced upon me.

It’s part and parcel to the way things go as a parent, I know. You face things you never wanted to face and deal with emotions you never thought you’d feel. But sometimes you don’t get to do the nice things. Sometimes you have to be the bad guy, stating the obvious because they won’t accept it. Sometimes you have to comb through the snapshot of your wife’s telephonic life when you haven’t come to terms with the fact that she’s gone yet.

It’s that twist of the story I was expecting but was hoping to write in later pages. I’m not at the point where Robert Cray says “I’ve been away too long, way off track, but I’m finally bouncin’ back.” I’m still running off the rails, still off track.

But that’s the problem with life as we’re living it now. You just never know what you’re going to get.

\”Bouncin\’ Back\” by Robert Cray from the LP \”Midnight Stroll\”

The Forecast Calls for Pain…

One of the HR people at my old shop used to tell me she thought a dark cloud just followed me around every day – like a depressed version of “Pig Pen” in the Peanuts strips.

This week was when the cloud caught up.

Once it does, it takes twice as long to get ahead of it again.  When Noah hurt a little kid in the EDP room this week, in fact, it didn’t just drop a cold mist on my head, I could see the lightning and hear the thunder.

The Forecast Calls for Pain, as the great Robert Cray says.

To begin with, the first indications that there was anything wrong came from Noah’s big sister, Abbi, not the teachers.  Understand, now, that I don’t dispute that Noah was wrong, nor do I think any kid deserves to have somebody bigger than them push or hurt them.  That’s just not right and I won’t put up with it.

What makes me angry, though, is that the first I’d heard of this was when it was already too late.  Noah is like a pressure cooker set too high.  It doesn’t take much more pressure to make it go off, so if he’s bothered, even if it’s not meant to be bothersome (in this case, he was dead wrong, Noah should have just held his temper) he reacts.  He’d been reacting this way for nearly a week, I think.

I heard about it Tuesday.

Worse yet, I talked with him, and he then goes to school with the promise of behaving.  He didn’t.  In fact, he moved directly from yelling to hitting, pushing the kid over and pinning him to the ground.

I could see the lightning flashes.

We went through the apology letters and the letter to his Mom, and then one of the teachers, a person I trust and admire had a talk with Noah about his behavior and told him how he needed to find other ways to work out this aggression.  She gave him a journal to write in, helped him find ways to work out the anger, everything he needed.

Then the school called because the principal had a talk with him as well.  Parents had complained.  He was getting a disciplinary form, nothing for his permanent record, in the backpack.  Was he getting counselling?

And there was the thunder.

He is a loving, wonderful, funny little boy and smart as a whip.  But he likes being the center of attention – not as the class clown but just as a matter of fact.  But he has been through this once before.  He just needs to be able to control his actions better, which I know is reaaallllly hard at the age of 8.  It’s hard at 38.  (No, that’s not my age, don’t send me messages, please, I know how old I am, it matched the point I was trying to make.)  I know it was wrong, I feel awful that others are having to deal with this too, but he’s also not a kid that can be so much more than the reputation he’ll get.

Now, of course, he can’t even be near trouble when it happens.  It’s like the corollary to the “Boy who Cried Wolf!”  Someone gets in a fight, Noah’s nearby, he’s part of it.  Kid yells at him on the playground, he’s going to be questioned what did he do to start the shouting?  Now, as a result of his lack of control he’s going to have to be TWICE as good to avoid getting in trouble – when it’s deserved and when it’s not.

I’m not going for dramatics here, Noah’s not getting suspended, he’s not going to be on anti-psychotics or anything, the principal’s being very nice about it and seems thankful I’ve responded quickly.

But I have to ask this: why is everything about their mother?  Here’s the thing nobody took into account: Noah had this problem well before he lost his Mom.  We had issues in Kindergarten, even had problems last year.  I know that it’s a contributing factor, it’s the 800 pound gorilla standing on top the white elephant in the room every minute of every day in our house.  I have no doubt that it helped spark this latest storm front, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s not the biggest factor in it all.

I honestly believe that it’s not just my son who used his mother’s death to try and get out of trouble that first day.  I think it’s an easy answer to the problem for everyone.  If the kid is misbehaving, it’s an easy thing to say it’s because he’s upset about his Mom.

Of course he’s upset, wouldn’t you be?  But is it the chief cause, the main determining factor?  Are you kidding me?

Believe me, I wish it was that.  I wish it was the fact that his Mom passed and that he missed her and had closed down without talking about her, it would be SO much easier.  It’s just not right.

Guess what, everybody, he DOES talk about it.  He misses his Mom SO very much.  My worst example:  We were on our way home from Nebraska, just a couple months after Andrea had died.  We needed something to eat and in the Denver airport your choices are ice cream or the freaking Clown house.  So it was a happy meal.  When he read on a McDonald’s Happy Meal box that “Little Ryan (name changed to protect the innocent and because I can’t really remember his name anyway) was gravely ill.  Thanks to the Ronald McDonald house, Ryan had his friends and family near him and he was able to get better!”

I watched his face blanch, I really did.  His eyes got glassy and watery, his gears were turning – I could see it.  He could easily have just sat there, holding it in, but I have told ALL of the kids that we’re in this together.  If they need ANYthing at ANY time, call, email, text, or just come up and talk to me.  I’ll make the time.  If I need to stay home, work be damned, that’s what they mean to me.

He looked up at me and I knew something was wrong.  He simply asked “is that why Mommy died, Dad?”

“Is what why, kiddo?”

“The box here – it says that because his family was there with him he lived.”  His voice grew a little more frantic . . . his thoughts were getting erratic.  He started to stumble to put his thoughts together.  “I wasn’t there with Mommy, and that’s why she died.  If I had been there, would Mommy still be alive?!”  (It’s here that I have to tell you how much I sincerely hate McDonald’s – worse than I ever did before.  Not the food, which is horrible for you; not the atmosphere, which is chaotic; it’s that they would write this kind of thing on a Happy Meal box like it’s the ONLY thing that helped a cancer-ridden kid survive.  Not the doctors, medication or the little boy’s flat out tenacity and strength. )

Yet Noah talked with me and asked me about it.  You may see this as unreasonable or silly, but in the 8-year-old mind of a little boy who saw his Mom on a Tuesday morning and the next time he saw her, she was closed in a casket – that’s not silly.  It’s scary.  Horrifying.

I told him that it wasn’t his fault, it could never . . . ever . . . be his fault.  I looked at Sam and he did what he always does, closed down, his eyes now glassy, too.  “Sometimes bad things happen,” I told them.  “They aren’t nice, they don’t make sense, and it’s really, really unfair!  But I never want you to believe that this was EVER your fault.  Mommy got sick, it’s that simple, and no amount of company would have helped that get better.  She tried so hard to stop it but her body just couldn’t fight any more.”

I told him that his Mommy would never have left us if she thought we couldn’t do this on our own, something I truly do believe.  That, and she wasn’t alone.  I was there – the day she went in, the moment she left.  She was NEVER alone, and she would never have thought it was his fault.

As much as she wasn’t alone, neither is he.  I don’t work for 90 hours a week and I don’t get home insanely late.  I don’t come home, expect my daughter to cook or do laundry.  I don’t plop on the couch and stare at the TV.

From the moment I got home from the hospital, I had to buckle down and show these kids that they were going to be cared for.  I don’t break down in front of them.  I keep the routine, I try to get them to activities we wouldn’t have done before, and I make sure that they know they’re not alone and they are supported by me.  Sure, the horrible quiet of the evening makes me think about these things, but I’ll be damned if THEY have to face it alone.

I don’t write this in an effort to say I won’t take Noah to counselling nor do I think it’s a bad thing.  I’m just saying – to paint this little man, hell all 4 kids, in a corner and say their behavior, let alone their lives are defined by the fact that they lost their mother is so painfully wrong.  They’re defined by us both – hopefully getting the best parts of Andrea and me, the pieces of their lives put together by the influence, affection, activity AND events in their lives.  It’s that box everyone talks about.  The problem is, we don’t fit in it.

Still, it doesn’t change the fact that I can see the cloud following us around – the Forecast Calls for Pain . . . but if I can hear the thunder and see the lightning, maybe we can handle the storm.