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When You Never Get It Right…

An amazing fall picture of Andrea

Today would be Andrea’s 41st birthday.

That would be difficult enough, like every first holiday without her, but this was the day I’ve been dreading since she passed away.

You have to understand, Andrea’s birthday was the day I never seemed to get right, some of it because my job had me forced to work late almost every birthday, and a lot of it because I just screwed it up.  That’s a hard legacy to live up to.

I have to admit, there were times I don’t think I could ever have gotten it right.  Days that she asked, even begged me to stay home all day.  One year, that was her only wish, wanting me to stay home and be with her . . . even admitting at that point she wanted me to be home to entertain her.  Andrea had a horrific fear of being alone.  I work in television news so November, even today in the daily monitoring world, the most important ratings period, the one that sets the biggest ad rates for the year, is November.  It usually starts on a Thursday, the last week of October and goes until right before or after Thanksgiving.

The way I avoided most of the holiday problems was to work as an investigative reporter.  The payment you have to make for that is the fact that you end up working every book and guaranteeing that every story for the opening of the book gets put together right.

But it’s more than that.  I never got it right.  I’d tell her I’d do my best to be home by 6 or 7 and be late.  I’d try to get her the right present and we’d be out of money or would start looking too late.

In the end, I just never got it right.

The inevitable arguments ensued.  I’d see the disappointment in her eyes, the smile in that photo you see disappearing.  Now, that’s all I see.  I’m sure there are a number of birthdays – in early years – that were just fine.  I managed to get other holidays, even our anniversary right.  I just kept messing it up.

That makes this day so much harder.  We all felt this coming, handling it differently.  Hannah wants to go to the cemetery.  Sam doesn’t.  We all want to celebrate, but what do you do?  It’s hard to celebrate the birth of someone who will never age.  She lives with us, in our hearts, attached to our souls.

The best I can accomplish is to just celebrate it.  We have a cake – a fancy one, I made and decorated for Halloween.

So I’m doing the only thing I can think of.  I’m making Andrea’s birthday our own holiday.

It’s not huge, but I got the kids each a present.  We made a cake.  I’m going to make a nice dinner, something Andrea would love.  It’s not an effort to buy my way out of things, if that’s what you’re thinking, because that would never work.  Especially for MY kids.  Instead, I want to make want to make this day a celebration of their mother.  A day that we take to think about her, do the things she’d love, and just think about what she brought to us.

It’s my only way of trying to make up for what I did wrong for so many years.  This is my only way to make this right.

Today is her birthday, and she’ll never see it.  I loved her so much and only wish I’d done this right all these years before.  I’m making up for it . . . but to the kids and myself since she’ll never know it now.

Happy Birthday, Andrea.  You’ll live on, a little stronger this day, the one you deserved when you were with us.  I got it all wr0ng, but maybe this time I might actually do something right.

20111030-001805.jpg

Almost Level With the Ground . . .

Thorn Tree in the Garden, by Derek and the Dominos off the album \”Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs\”

There are a number of really strange things that have happened since our new story began.

Obviously, there’s the strange events of the hospital.  When Andrea passed away, the doctors were fantastic, all supportive, worried that I hadn’t told the kids yet.

But After they took me into a room, I thought to give me privacy but now I wonder if it was so I’d stop being so loud and calling attention to the fact that someone died in their hospital, they showered me with platitudes, brought in a chaplain, asked me if I was OK, even gave me a glass of funky tasting water since I’d gotten a little dehydrated.

But the thing that bothered me the most was that about 20 minutes to a half hour later they just started inundating me with information.  They wanted me to decide on a mortuary – then and there, no holds barred, immediate decision – and get them started in dealing with Andrea’s body.  I know this will sound crazy, but it seemed like a bunch of little kids worried that they might get “cooties”.  Oh my God, there’s a body in there!  I hadn’t even had a chance to say goodbye.

Then they gave me a full list of everything I’d have to do.  I have to be honest with you, they beat the mortuary drum loudest, and I picked one.  The one closest to my house.  I got insanely lucky that the people I chose were great people, worked with my church, and were sincerely wanting to help me.

But 20 minutes after Andrea’s death, I’m getting pelted with things I have to do.  I haven’t even had time to fathom she’s gone.  I didn’t know HOW I was going to go home and break my kids’ hearts.  I didn’t know what to do.

I asked to say good-bye.  I went in the room.  I heard some nurse complaining that I hadn’t put on the scrubs, rubber gloves, all the crap I wore for days because she had some sort of infection on her leg they never figured out.  I ignored her.  They were in a gigantic hurry to get me moving so they could process her body, but she still had the IV hooked up, the syringes and wrappers still being picked up, and she had the tube in her mouth.  I couldn’t kiss her goodbye.

I don’t remember what I said.  I put my forehead on hers, said a prayer to myself, and told her goodbye.  I didn’t want to stay, it was just so hard, but I didn’t want to go, either.  This was the very last time I’d ever see her.  I made my peace, took a deep breath, and steeled myself for the trip home and what I had to do.

Then the chaplain grabs my hand . . . clamped around my wrist, and just says “pray with me” . . . and starts chanting the “Our Father”.  I’m sorry, I’d said my words.  I had prayed to God, talked to Andrea, begged him to make sure she was finally safe and happy.  I told the chaplain I’d said my prayers and stalked out of the room.  I wasn’t going to let these people drag me through any more emotional sludge.  I had enough pain to deal with now.

I got home and intentionally waited until right before their closing to call the mortuary.  If they wanted her out that badly, they’d have to do it on MY timeline.

The next few weeks, though, showed some of the most amazing pieces of humanity I’d ever experienced.  My parents were the first.  You have to understand, my father absolutely despises California.  He hates the scenery, the people, the attitude, everything about it.  Just coming here is hard for him, I can tell, but he doesn’t stay away.

The night Andrea ended up on a respirator the hospital called me at two in the morning.  I’d actually just gotten into bed, and Hannah and Noah were sleeping in there already.  They told me the nurses laid Andrea, a patient who can hardly breathe and fighting pneumonia, the weight of her body pushing on her lungs making it harder to breathe , on her back to clean her up.  Instead she went into respiratory arrest.  They said she was on sedation and respirator but they couldn’t calm her down and could I come there . . . it was really bad.

I called my Dad and Mom on the way.  It was raining, pitch black, and I’d had to leave Abbi to watch the kids.  I was a mess.  I didn’t know what to do and I was freaking out.  I knew what respiratory arrest meant and they didn’t know how long Andrea had been without oxygen to her brain.  I told Dad, near hyperventilation what had happened.  Dad is usually my voice of reason, my calm in the storm.  They had left Nebraska, were on their way to visit my older brother in Texas and had stopped in Norman, Oklahoma to spend the night.  I knew I was in trouble when Dad just said “Oh, God.”  That was it.  Dad is never without an answer, but this night, he just said we’d have to hope she comes out of it and that the doctors are helping her fight.  “Oh, God,” he said again.  I told him I just needed him to calm me down, which he did.

“We’re on our way, son.  We’ll be there in a couple days.”

While I was on the phone, they’d gotten dressed, packed up, and just jumped in the car, at 4am their time, and turned the car West.  They got to our house just a couple hours after Andrea died.

At the funeral, it was hard.  At the cemetery was harder.  People wanted to crowd into the tent with us and I kept them back so the kids and I could be there.  I got through the prayers.  Andrea’s sister got us all flowers – roses, her favorite – that we could put on the casket.  Everyone left, and something inside me just collapsed.  I lost it, hysterical, to the point I started to fall.  And there . . . was my dad.  He grabbed me, held me in his arms tighter than he had in years.  He told me he knew, it was OK.  I could take as long as I needed.  When I was able to stand up again, apologizing, he chuckled, picking up his handkerchief, saying “dammit, I thought I was going to make it through this.  Showed me, huh?”

He knew just when and how much to lighten me up.  He put his arm around me and helped me so I could walk back to the car.

They stayed until the weekend after they kids got out of school, literally months living with us and taking care of us until we could start walking again by ourselves.

Andrea’s best friend, a person I went to High School with, showed up and helped with the kids the day Andrea died as well.  If she’d done nothing more than be the godmother to Hannah that she was, we’d have been blessed.  Instead, she helped us get organized, and was yet another pillar holding up our foundations.  I know it wasn’t easy for her.  We were selfish, wallowing in our grief, and only now realize how insanely difficult in different ways this had to be for her, Andrea’s sister, all of them, it was.

That was the finite, emotional and physical help.  We go so much help to pay for things from others.  I didn’t have to cook for weeks after the funeral.  We paid for the rest of tuition and expenses and bills with help from friends I haven’t seen in years.  For every crazy, awful person that just wants to make themselves feel better by throwing cliche’d statements at me there was the friend who just wanted to take us out for pizza.

Then there were the crazy things – an anonymous donation to our bank account of a thousand dollars.  A thousand bucks!  Who does that?!  I don’t know, but if I’m ever in a position to do it, I will.  I was completely blown away by the support we got from our church community and those who loved and cared for us.  It was phenomenal.  I got two insanely expensive boxed sets – the 40th anniversary of Layla . . . the Deluxe Edition of Traffic’s “John Barleycorn Must Die”.  To this day, these insanely expensive sets, filled with 180g vinyl, dolby surround mixes, bound books and artwork, sit anonymously given, no name attached.  Sure, Clapton’s a given for me, but Traffic?  Only someone who knows me will knows I have the respect I have for Winwood.  I have no idea where these came from and I kinda like it that way.  It is help selflessly given, and make no mistake, to listen to Layla, or hear the last phrases of “Thorn Tree in the Garden” (even if it is about Bobby Whitlock’s dog) are amazing things.  Both albums gave me cathartic, new ways to look at this story of lost love.  The Majnun, the madman, dying himself lying on the grave of his love because they’ll never be together.  That’s profound.

I know I’m not the subject of a Persian love story.  But I do have love around me.  When I’m having an awful day and randomly this friend sends a text saying “love you, my friend,” I am pulled back up to ground level.

The old song says “I’m tore down . . . almost level with the ground.”  That’s the thing I have to remember.  I’m almost level with the ground.

But not quite.

One of the legendary 3 "Kings" of the blues, Freddie King

Things Stolen from Me When She Left…

You never realize how much of the world centers on love stories until you realize that your story has ended.  At the very least it’s on hiatus due to the fact that person – the amazing woman whose gravitational force kept you orbiting perfectly – is gone.

There were a lot of things that I brought into the relationship that I cannot bear to face.  Not now.  Maybe not ever.  I don’t mean arguments or artwork or physical things.  I mean parts of my life that eventually became parts of our life.

There are pieces of music that I cannot bear to hear, and as a musician, that’s awful.  Everything’s a song to a musician.  I see the world in terms of melody and harmony, but I feel pieces pulling away from me and leaving with her.  My best example: I, as many of the people who grew up with me will roll their eyes and attest, am a Clapton fanatic.  I think he and Carlos Santana are musicians that, when at their peak, have an ability that is innate and makes them almost one with the guitar.  I hear their music, particularly their live guitar solos, and I can feel emotions well up in me.  So I brought that to our relationship.  Andrea’s favorite song, the one we played for our first dance at our wedding, was “Wonderful Tonight” off the album Slowhand.  It didn’t matter how angry we were or how many arguments we’d had, if that song came on the radio we softened.  Now, I can’t bear to hear it.

It’s not just the connection we had to the song.  The day I had to go to the funeral home to make arrangements was a horrific blur.  It was made worse by the shock of how insanely expensive dying is.  The bitter irony, the last hurrah of the tribulations of our marriage, was the fact that a day before Andrea ended up in the hospital she’d looked over my benefits statement from work.  Somehow, I’d missed adding Andrea to my life insurance policy.  I literally told her “I’ll call tomorrow.  If I can’t get you added I’ll just call our agent and get a separate policy.”

The next day she went into the ICU.

My Dad came to the mortuary with me.  Andrea left on a Saturday.  It was Monday morning.  I don’t think I’d slept more than an hour or two in the days after she died.  I sat on the couch.  Watched the entire series of “The Wire” – not a season, the whole series – and simply…existed.  My folks cared for everyone, letting me deal with paperwork, Thank You cards, death certificate applications, car titles, changes in accounts…I am not even sure how much I did.  So when I had to go to the mortuary, my Dad didn’t even ask, he came along.  If he hadn’t, if he hadn’t helped me, we’d still be lost.

After we finished there, the costs and decisions, the preparations for a memorial and the decisions about the funeral – do you embalm her or no?  We need to change caskets, you can’t use that one.  Where do you want to have her plot? – I was wiped out.  I’d held off weeping uncontrollably by just a hair, and remember the walk back to the car feeling like I had fifty pound weights on my legs.

Dad started the car, and “Wonderful Tonight” came on the radio.  I tried, I really did, but I turned to him and said “Dad, can you change the station, please. . . ” and I couldn’t finish the sentence.  My Dad, much like when I would drive around with him as a kid, just patted my leg with his hand, changed the station, and said “of course.”

These are the things she’s taken with her.  Maybe she needed them, I don’t know.  But I can’t listen to a lot of the Clapton stuff I adored then.  I can’t hear that song, nor “Tears in Heaven”, much of the album “Journeyman”.  When Clapton did that tour, all the way through the “24 Nights” era, he had a backup singer named Tessa Niles.  The woman was a dead ringer for Andrea.  That’s all I see when I watch on YouTube or listen to the disc . . . it’s shot to hell for me now.

And it’s not just music, a big part of my life for sure, but television shows, foods she loved, drinks she enjoyed…and as I’ve said before, the seasons we enjoyed.  You can’t avoid the change in seasons.  I watched a show the other day that had a camera shot from a helicopter showing the changing leaves in a forest somewhere back East.  I don’t remember much of the show, it transported me to Omaha, the years we spent there.  Fall would come, we’d dress warm, Andrea in a big over-sized sweater, and walk through the neighborhood, or go to Fontenelle Forest.  I can’t hear the leaves crunching under my feet without that pang in my heart aching just a little more.

Last night, in the middle of a million daily problems, Hannah just looks up and says “Christmas won’t be the same without Mom around, Dad.”

I can avoid certain songs.  I can change the channel.  Unless we move to the Bahamas, we’re not avoiding the Fall.  Unless we switch faiths, move to some isolated land, we’re not avoiding Christmas.

She took these little things, the amazing, beautiful parts of our lives, and stole away with them.  I know she didn’t mean to, but like a thief, she took away the most precious things of our relationship.  I’m not sure I’ll ever get them back.

I don’t know that I’ll ever listen to those songs again, let alone play them.

Somehow, we’ll make Christmas our own.  We’ll do things during the Fall that are ours.  That’s what hurts the most.  For some things, it’s not that she took them.  It’s that we’ll somehow manage to get them back. . .

. . .and they just won’t be the same.

(Eric Clapton’s “Wonderful Tonight”  from the album 24 Nights.  You’ll see the blonde backup singer, Tessa Niles, who bears a similarity to Andrea.)

It’s Only a Matter of Time . . .

Consider yourselves lucky . . . the title was almost “Time Is(n’t) on My Side” but thought that was a little too much, even for me.

Working in television news is a difficult lifestyle juggle on the best of days.  I seem to have 5 things I’m juggling every day, and that’s even before I get to the daily work grind.  Breakfast for the kids, backpacks organized, projects finished, the money for “Halloween-grams” (whatever the hell that is, I don’t know, but I had to give each kid a buck to buy them) and hopefully get a couple cups of coffee in the house and on the way to the school.  Then I have to pray that the traffic isn’t so God awful that I can actually get to the station in time for my 8:30am meeting with the News Director and Managing Editor.

That’s a good day.

Lately, though, I’ve had to meet with one of the kids’ teachers at 7:15 so the morning routine has to get bumped up in order to get EVERYONE out the door in time for me to make the meeting.  The two littlest ones have to be in the Extended Day room for an hour . . . a service that cost me nearly six hundred bucks last month.  (That’s not a complaint, it’s a service I gladly pay for, it’s all I have.  Without it, I’m SOL)

Here’s the thing.  It’s hard enough being Dad, Mom, taxi driver, tutor, chef, maid, butler, and role model all before 8am.  Then I have to turn around and be producer, researcher, journalist, advocate, and expert.

Don’t take that above statement as ego, by the way, it’s not.  For all those jobs, it’s impossible that all of them are actually accomplished in any particular day.  In fact, if they were, the meeting with the teachers wouldn’t be happening.

So in the last week, I’ve had my middle child so far behind that she’s failing multiple classes and still doesn’t understand why she needs to turn in the homework that is due each day.  I mean, I hated homework.  I even hated a number of my teachers.  Hell, if my kids think they had it bad, I had Sister Mildred, a crazy woman who today would have been placed in the sanitarium for the mere fact that she thought Nixon was still in office and didn’t realize that when she was stapling posters to her bulletin board she was actually forcing the staples through the blackboard.  She took pride in throwing hardcover books at kids and rapping our knuckles with the back end of a wooden hand broom.  (I’d show you the scars, but I already had some, no room)  It can’t be the teachers.  In fact, I can’t believe that in some instances she’d even do the work but not turn it in!  Thus, the meeting.  Now, the whole family is aware that they have to wait, patiently (ha!) for dinner while I look through the planner, which every teacher signs, and make sure that EVERY piece of homework is accounted for before we eat each night.

Then, there’s Noah.  I set up several interviews, work through a conference call . . . and the school calls telling me Noah is sick.  My commute, with traffic, is such that by the time I got there to actually pick him up school was out anyway!

So you’d think that would give me a reprieve, right?  Umm . . . no.  I had 2 calls come in for work, all while trying to keep the kids quiet so I can get things moving with them.  I had a source unexpectedly call.  I had a former colleague needed help with something.  And I had a script I was trying to write . . . which I got about 1/4 done.

It’s only a matter of time, right?  A matter of time before it all comes together?  No.  A matter of time before they find me in the corner sitting criss-cross flicking my lips sounding out thpppppthhhppppp.

There aren’t enough hours in the day.  I don’t even know how we did it with two of us!

Before all the offers come in, I realize that there is help to be had.  I know I just have to ask for help.  But for what?  I won’t ask someone to come to the house and do the laundry or cook for me.  But those are the routines that I need to make, well, routine before the other projects can balance in the air like one of those carnival guys spinning plates on sticks.  it takes a lot of concentration to not drop one of those damn plates.

If only there was a way to make them out of plastic somehow.

But I digress.  It’s a matter of time.  There just isn’t enough of it in the universe to handle all this.  That, and the fact that I can’t end up in the corner catatonic.  Those four kids really need me.  If I do that, they truly are alone.  The one thing they need more than anything in the world is the assurance, whether obvious or implicit, that I’m stable, strong and able to carry whatever they need to put on my shoulders.  Even if it’s not true.

I miss Andrea more than anything in the world.  But weeks like this, I realize I missed her more than just in my heart.  My shoulders are aching because, even in the worst of times, she was able to lift a little of that weight off my shoulders.  She also had an uncanny knack of helping to force time to slow down yet allow me to work at normal speed . . . so that we just never appeared to be dropping those plates.

So now it’s a matter of time.  Time I just don’t have, but need to gain anyway.  Some days I just don’t know how to do it, but I guess I have to know which plates to let fall . . . so they do the least amount of damage.

It Is Little, and it is broken . . .

Let me start by saying I absolutely despise the Disney Channel. Apart From Phineus and Ferb, I don’t really think think there are any redeeming values on its programming. (and that show is only because Bowling for Soup are OK with their song being used for the theme)

In fact, when Abbi was just a little older than the boys, she started acting crazy, totally unlike herself. She started talking back, even yelling that she needed privacy, rolling her eyes when I told her to do something.

I quickly realized she was mimicking the behavior of the shows she watched on that channel. If you don’t have the joy of seeing these shows, they all have a common theme: parents are stupid, they come up with bad ideas, the teenage kids are smart, and in the end it is only that Disneyfied pre teen or uppity kid that comes up with a plan to save the day and the parents gush in stupefied pride over the fact their kid is smarter than they are.

Abbi used this mentality yelling, nay, screaming for privacy. She got angry with her sister Hannah. She slammed doors to make her point, an action she was warned would have dire consequences. One particular day she got in a Eisner-esque argument with her mother about wanting to be alone in her room and that she hated her sister and everyone needed to stay out of her room. She slammed her door with such force that her sister’s trophy shelf on the adjoining wall flew off the wall anchors holding it in place. Hannah’s soccer trophies, a tribute to the “everybody wins” mentality in my opinion, flew to the ground. Hannah was beside herself. Didn’t matter what I thought, Hannah thought she was the greatest soccer player ever, and she had trophies to prove it.

My answer? I blocked all Disney channels from all TV’s. I also took Abbi’s door off the hinges, leaning the door against the wall facing her bed so that she had to see it no matter where she sat in the room, a reminder of her misbehavior. Suddenly Dad didn’t seem. So stupid, he was a force to be reckoned with and the plot of her shows was nowhere close to reality.

Her attitude was fixed in just about a week.

So imagine my surprise when Disney helped us today.

Noah has had a rough couple weeks. He got in fights. He had to apologize to his mother, taking a letter and placing the envelope on her grave so the consequences hit home. Now that he has NO wiggle room he knows he has to work twice as hard to just stay away from trouble.

So for the second time in as many weeks, this girl who loves to push
His buttons comes up to him and says in the most mean way possible: “my life is better than yours. I have both parents and your Mom is DEAD!”

Here is where Disney came to play. The boys wanted to watch “Lilo and Stitch” this weekend. Toward the end, the nasty, chaotic little alien looks at everyone and says “this is my family. I found it all on my own. It is little, and…it is broken, but it is still good. Yes, it is good.”

So when Noah’s sister brings up that this girl was trying to get Noah to react again today, to get him to push back and get in trouble, he didn’t. At the dinner table he says, “oh, yeah, she said it again.”
“Are you okay, little moo? What did you do?”
“I didn’t do anything,” he says, rather dull and matter of fact, taking a bite out of his hamburger.

“You know if she really had it so great she wouldn’t have to say anything about how much better her life is, right? I mean, we aren’t perfect, but we are OK.  I know it would be perfect if Mommy were here, but since she’s not, it’s not horrible, is it?”

He just looked at me and in unison, nearly all the kids said, “it is like the movie!  This is our family!It is little, and it is broken . . . But it is still good. Yeah, it is good.”  Bear in mind, they’re my kids, so the statement came with the obligatory voice mimicry.

Damn you, Eisner! Just when I was enjoying hating your world-dominating ways you have to help my family.

Next thing I’ll have a bumper sticker that reads “Ohana means Family!”

But, hey, we aren’t perfect. I would argue, though, that we have bent, not broken. The fact is we are starting to stand back up. It really is dysfunction of the highest order, but in the end, we are still good.

Yeah…still good.

…Things Have a Way of Growing Downward.

It’s funny the way our brains and emotions work, it really is.

I mean, things are crazy.  It doesn’t just rain, it’s rain forest monsoon pouring.

I have one child that is now marked – he can’t even be near trouble at school because the tendency will be to assume he’s part of the problem even if he’s just standing on the corner of the playground with nothing to do with the fight.  I have another that has showed me her planner for all her assignments but actually didn’t write them down, so I wasn’t even able to see all the assignments she had NOT turned in.  She doesn’t turn in her homework.  Now, she’s at a point where the possibility of her even moving on to another grade is in question.  That’s on top of facing the fact that my oldest daughter is dealing with her raging pubescent hormones and trying to figure out life in a public high school surrounded by both sexes.  All of this is occurring on the busiest, most stressful time of year for someone in TV, the buildup to the November ratings period.  Due to family dramas I’ve had to take a week’s vacation I didn’t have, burn sick days that didn’t exist and take at least 2 days without pay.

Remember that scene in “Romancing the Stone” where Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner have the ground fall out from under them and get swept down a cliff on a rushing river of new water?  That’s me right now.  I’m at the point where fighting the current has pushed me against so many rocks and tree branches that I’m now getting hurt just trying to fight the raging rapids.  It took me too long to realize I need to just ride out the water.

And we’re exactly a week from Andrea’s birthday.  She’d be 41 this year.  So I must just be missing her so much that it makes my head explode, right?  Well . . . yeah, that’s right, but not the reasons you’re thinking.  Not the reasons you’d suspect looking at the way things are playing out above.

I miss her more than anything, but it’s not that she would have backed my discipline.  It’s not that she’d have a great, amazing idea to fix Hannah’s lack of academic ability.  (She would, by the way, so don’t think it isn’t on my mind)  It’s not even that she would know just how to handle the life of a 16-year-old because she knows just how to handle everything and help our daughter get through all the problems and now how to flirt and figure out how to be the amazing young woman I know she is.  She’d be all that, absolutely.

No, the curious thing I am missing most isn’t really tangible.

I miss that feeling.  I was never a fan of the Righteous Brothers, and excuse my bastardization of their intellectual property, but I’ve lost that fuzzy feeling.  That fuzzy, hazy, warm feeling that grows inside you as you get closer to someone you really love.  It’s not that intense butterflies-in-your-stomach feeling you get when you’re first dating someone.  Sure, that’s a wonderful thing, but I’m way beyond the age where puppy love really approaches enjoyment, don’t you think?

No, I mean the happiness I got knowing I am about to see the person I love, and knowing full well she really does love me.  I had a long time coming to terms and belief that it was true, but you get past that.  You throw everything at them and they at you.  Not that you’re pushing them to take on your stresses from work but that you need to talk things out and there’s just nobody who gets what you’re going through like they do.

Andrea and I took way too long to get there, by the way.  It’s not that our marriage took us on a long winding path.  It was getting to engagement.  Understand, our friends and family all think we met, love at first sight, and loved each other madly.  Sure, I think that love was there, but neither of us acted on it right away.

I miss the things that should be ingrained in my DNA: how her lips felt on my cheek; the feel of her arms when they wrapped around my waist or neck; the press of her skin as she lay next to me in bed.

I can remember so many random things, things from early on that are burned into the back of my retinas so I can seen them when i close my eyes.  I can remember the first time we went out. I’ve said that the first “date” we went on was to see the band Rush at the Civic Auditorium in Omaha.  That wasn’t the first time we’d gone out together, though.  The first time was very different.  Andrea started her life in television doing Entertainment for the station where we worked in Council Bluffs, Iowa.  The particular day I remember (one I’ve chronicled before in briefer form) involved her review of an Alec Baldwin movie.  I arrived early to work, which was typical for me, and she was heading out the door quite late, which was typical for her.  I was painfully shy, and she was insanely beautiful, so I was not able to muster much in terms of trying to flirt or make conversation.  I was able to ask how it was going, polite as part of my Midwestern upbringing.

But she just wasn’t having any of it.  That simple line, the phrase I knew was absurdly pathetic “how’s it going” was not going to be enough for her.

“I’m so late, I have to review this awful movie, I have free passes, and I have to get going all the way to Indian Hills!”  If you ever made it to Omaha in the ’60s through the millennium, you’d would know that we were sitting a good 20 minutes inside Iowa, then having to drive from there, across the river, and another 90 blocks to the West side of the city to a theater that had several screens and was showing an advance screening of the film.  Andrea stopped herself, looked me in the eye and said with a mischievous grin, “want to come with me?”

I was the only director.  I’d come straight from school, had no place else to go and was planning to get to work on a school project.  It was close to noon.  If I didn’t make it back by 3pm my life would be hell if I tried to put an entire newscast’s pre-production together in that time frame.  No sane person would even think about it.

It’s precisely why I said “yes”.

I knew I looked silly, by the way.  My hair was awful, I wore a dress shirt with a colored t-shirt or concert shirt underneath (typical for the era, though I didn’t pull it off well) and topped the fall look off with a black trenchcoat that I thought made me look like Dickey Betts on the cover of the latest Allmann Brothers record.  She drove with me in a rose-colored 1985 Oldsmobile that I owned and happily drove along.  She had shoulder-length blonde hair that a stylist the station had a contract with convinced her to put in a perm.  She hated it, telling me so during the drive, but I thought it made her look amazing.  She had a black blazer covered in white polka-dots and silk pants that flowed very well behind almost like a Westernized version of Ali Baba pants and they accentuated her height.  (She was tall, 5 foot 10)  She had a tendency to wear t-shirts from Express, a store where she worked to supplement her income, with what they called a “sweetheart” neckline.  I am slightly embarrassed to admit that the very neckline drew my attention, but she was amazing in how she just blew through the formalities of being with someone and just talked like we’d been fast friends for years.

The movie, coincidentally, was a horrible flick called “The Marrying Man”, an excuse for Alec Baldwin to get in a movie with then-wife Kim Basinger.  I remember nothing about it.  I remember, though, watching her, taking notes, sitting next to me, the looks in the audience amazed at the woman and who she was with.  I remember her grabbing my hand, laughing at some lame joke.  She bent over to pick up a notebook and looked up to catch me looking down at her as her t-shirt bloused outward just a little.  Instead of chastising me she smiled at my red face, made more silly by my olive skin.  She was absolutely brilliant.

There are more intimate memories.  The night we first kissed . . . she’d spent the entire night talking with me, about where I came from, why I played music, how I ended up here.  About how she met Leslie Stall, towering over the woman but feeling 3 inches tall next to her.  How her Mom was from Nebraska, even lived down the street from my grandparents during WWII.  We talked about our families and she brought up a problem her sister was having.  She laid her head on my shoulder, upset by whatever it was her sister was going through, a tear coming down her cheek.  I already had my arms around her.  I kissed her forehead, and she looked up at me, a moment I truly wish I could just freeze and live in for eternity, those amazing greyish-blue eyes looking through mine like they could see inside me – see the person who really was sitting there, not just pandering to her to get her to like me.  It was a moment filled with wonder, and I didn’t, for the first time in my entire life, have to think or try or anything.  I had this amazing woman looking at me, so close I could feel the brush of her nose against mine . . . and I kissed her.  I can’t imagine it was a phenomenal kiss worthy of note to most people, but I thought it was amazing.  And that’s all we needed.  In fact, that night, it’s all that happened.  We had stayed up talking all night, drank a couple too many Miller Lites, it was late, nearly 3am, and I had kissed this amazing, beautiful woman.  She fell asleep in my arms.  I know this all sounds too silly, romanticized to the point of being maybe a bit too romantic.  It’s too contrived to be true, but it’s absolutely how it happened.  I can close my eyes and see it all.

That’s the problem.  I have to close my eyes to see it.  I don’t see her in my dreams like some people have told me they do.  I don’t feel a brush on the back of my neck and think “She’s standing there watching me”.

I am truly here, without her.  I didn’t get the “grow old together, love each other, sickness and health, watch each other as our kids grow older” lifetime.  I had it good and perfect for awhile, but that was it.  Awhile.  I don’t get the rest of our lives.  I got ’till death do us part.  I don’t get to come home and feel that warm comfort of knowing that those eyes will look into mine again.  I remember these amazing moments and it kills me that I write them down now and never told them to her.  Did she know what those moments meant for me?  Were they as insanely amazing for her as they were for me?

Sure, I see the pieces of her, the brilliant parts of Andrea that walk around in our kids.  It is a comfort to have them around me and know that they don’t think I’ve screwed up too badly, even though I have – for their school, for personal projects, financially, emotionally (for Noah especially) but they don’t come at me like I’ve hurt them too badly, or strayed so far off the road that it’s not within sight anymore.  I just don’t have the person waiting for me at home, the warm feeling I got, the closer I approached my house, waiting to feel her arms around me, that has left a terrible emptiness.

The attached song has hung over me a lot this last few days.

In my life, things have a way of growin’ downward.

So I don’t know if I can watch myself be a coward . . . again.

I only use this line because she made me a better person.  She made me stronger.  It is so true, I don’t want to watch myself turning onto that fork she veered me from.  She can’t save me again, she won’t be around.  Why did’t I ever tell her that?  Why didn’t I remember all these amazing things about her when I could say them while looking inter her eyes?  What do you do when you face the hard reality that you have nothing but your own two feet?  I have to find out, I just don’t want to right now because I’m afraid what the answer might be.

11 In My Life by Gov’t Mule, from the album Life Before Insanity

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.

When Do We Stop Touching the Street?

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Abbi at 6, realizing she may be small but is a giant inside!

I took this photo probably ten years ago, maybe more.
I had just bought a medium format camera, a Yashica, from a colleague for a decent price and I was experimenting with the camera.

As I was staring down the top of the little box, watching the reflex prism and getting used to the strange counter intuitive movement I heard “Daddy! Look at me! I can touch the street!”

As I turned around Abbi was standing next to the concrete steps that led up to our little home on 50th street in Omaha. Her arms were up, and she was giddy that she could look at her shadow projected in perfect position so it looked like she was touching the street. With the hand rail, steps and her shadow, the lines were just perfect to snap a photo.

The thing is, she was a tiny little girl, the kind of kid Andrea and I both needed for our first.  When Andrea got pregnant with Abbi, she wasn’t happy.  She wasn’t indifferent.  She wasn’t even pensive, much like I was for both Hannah and the boys.

She freaked out!  I mean, catatonic, hair on fire, a hare’s breath from falling off the ledge freaking out.  You know what, I got it, even then.  We were only 22/23 at the time.  We were young, stupid, and married only a year.  We had amazing plans, travel we wanted to do, and a whole life that wasn’t planned out, but we weren’t ready to be parents.  Still, she was freaking out, and even though I wanted to freak out too, one of us had to be calm.

But something happened after Abbi was born.  She was this adorable little thing, hungry, helpless, and the strangely perfect combination of the two of us.  Sure, she had problems.  As a baby her GI tract was so messed up she had vomiting episodes that make the exorcist look like and episode of Sesame Street.  She needed handmade formula because she was allergic to EVERYTHING!

But she was also the best kid, which was what we needed.  Sure, we had our battle of wills.  We had our crazy arguments.  But she always was this smiling, bright little star that made both of us beam.  While Andrea swore that Abbi was distant from her because she was so anxiety ridden through the whole pregnancy, she would be heartbroken to see how much her daughter misses her.  Abbi doesn’t have breakdowns, doesn’t burst into tears.  But I can see the missing pieces when I talk to her.  When she has a problem with her math homework, when she’s having boy problems, when she can’t get a date for Homecoming.  Still, there are times when she does something silly, not the adult Abbi she sees herself becoming, but the goofy, funny little kid – the same silly things that her Mom would do that made all of us love her so much more than we already did.

And I’ve noticed something, being the only adult in a house full of children.  They have this amazing ability to look at the world with amazement.  They can see their shadow and say “hey, I can touch the street”.  When I walk with the boys they see a rock in front of them and they kick it.  They don’t run, in fact they keep the pace, moving slowly right or left to meet up with the path of the rock . . . and kick it again.  I get that it’s a rock, but it’s still a great indication of how they keep imagining the way things should go.

It’s made me think of something.  The best times in our lives, the ones that we remember, laughing, falling over giggling, and loving every minute of it are the ones where we suspend our reality to look at the world through their eyes.  It’s why we love going to theme parks.  Take the analogy further – it’s why we ended up on the freaking moon!

Now Abbi is 16.  I see some of that imagination wane.  The small twinkling of that brightness comes back sometimes, and I see it: when she’s singing in the choir; when she’s dancing with the iPod in her room (and thinks I didn’t see her); when she gets an invitation to a party some popular kid is throwing and other people didn’t.  I realize that those horrible ’80s movies we all watched as teens aren’t popular because they were amazing films.  I mean, look at Ferris Bueller. Like he could jump on a parade float, get the crowd singing and get away without one bit of police brutality?  But what made them golden – what makes us keep loving them – is that suspension of disbelief.  We never thought Molly Ringwald would end up with Andrew McCarthy, but then, Ducky never lives happily ever after either.  But we have just enough of that little kid left in us to still think those are the greatest moments ever.

I’ve realized it’s OK to think that, too.  Why kill the one thing that keeps us from falling off the cliff ourselves?

I wish I knew when we stopped trying to touch the street.  I’d stop it, and challenge us all to reach for the moon instead!

You’re Gonna Carry That Weight

I'm not carrying the weight of the world, but it's enough...

I carry a lot of weight on my shoulders every day.

That’s no mere metaphor, it is literal as well as figurative.

When I met my lovely wife I weighed a mere 180 pounds.  I fluctuated, sure, going up and down, 190, 180, 197, 195 . . . no massive surges in either direction that would cause me to even track my weight every day, though.  That is, until about a year ago . . . maybe 18 months.

I gained a substantial amount of weight.  In fact, by the time of the funeral, pictures of which now horrify me for vain reasons as well as emotional ones, I had ballooned to a whopping 250 or 270.  Not sure, by that point I was too embarrassed to look.  It’s painful to carry that much.  Walking was slow, I had a hard time catching my breath, and I could tell my metabolism had changed to the point that I can’t eat whatever I want and assume my body will just burn off whatever I need.

That’s changed.  Not because I’ve taken control, focused my mind and body and begun a stringent training routine that involves drinking some sort of green, grass-flavored liquid and running before the sun rises in the East.  It’s changed because I just don’t have the time to sit on my ass and munch on crap while watching television.  I also have a job that gets me out of the building and isn’t stuck dealing with turning a million stories with too few resources and too much pressure.  Yeah, the pressure’s there, but last week I was riding in a boat while interviewing a guy on a story out in the Bay.  What other job lets you do that?

I’ve lost almost 20 pounds since then.  The other weight isn’t coming off, not anytime soon.

I’ve done my best to make decisions that I thought would create the least amount of chaos; inflict the least amount of damage.  Hasn’t always worked out that way, and the road is paved with my good intentions, as they say, but it’s the best I could do.

When Andrea first went into the ICU, we didn’t have the kids come in.  Andrea was very weak and she just needed to get stronger to handle the pull and need of the kids, both emotionally and physically.  I’m not sure if we ever had a discussion that said “keep them home for now,” but I did anyway.

When she went into respiratory arrest everything changed.  I’ve described the panic, I won’t relive that with you.  But in that first day, nervous, hurried and hyper to the point of talking for every single second, I made a lot of decisions I regret, but don’t know that I’d change.  Whether it is true or not, I believe that those in a coma, or in Andrea’s case, sedation, can hear us.  I hear the kids in the twilight of my dreams when they come into my room just before they wake me up.  Why couldn’t Andrea?  So as a result I didn’t stop talking.  Not from the minute I arrived through my way out the door each night.

It’s also why I kept everyone away.  With the kids it was for two reasons: first, I didn’t want them to see her that way.  If you’ve ever seen someone intubated, on a respirator and fighting for every breath, you know it’s horrible.  The medical dramas make it look so romantic, a frenzied operation that pits the nurse or doctor above the patient’s head, the scramble of activity and the rush to get the tube inside and get the person breathing just in time . . . believe me, that might be the first few seconds.  The rest aren’t.

The tube is all the way down the throat.  So when the nurse comes in, sedated as Andrea is, they touch, move or adjust that tube, Andrea feels it.  She jumps.  She cringes.  She grimaces.  Nothing about it is comfortable for her or for me.  I saw it when my Dad was recovering from heart surgery, and it’s one of the few times I’ve seen my mother cry.  I watched it, every time they came into the room with Andrea, and I faced it because I felt like she needed me there.

That awareness is also why I kept most everyone out.  Andrea’s sister Amy came, and that was fine.  She was always a comfort to Andrea, who loved her deeply.  Andrea also had a connection with her sister, loved her children almost as deeply as her own, and was comfortable around her.  She told Amy things she didn’t tell anyone else.  Her visit was welcome.

But I kept Andrea’s parents away as long as I could.  Andrea always tensed up, with every visit when they were there.  Andrea’s mom, you see, had come down with a degenerative brain disorder, something akin to Parkinson’s but faster acting and harder hitting.  Andrea would visit their house and I would take her call on the way home, in tears, often distressed either by the further deterioration of her mother or because of some argument with her parents.  Neither made things easy on her.  It was this stress, this tensing that I thought she didn’t need that I tried to keep away.  They did visit once, and Andrea’s body was more rigid, the seemingly reflexive movements growing faster.  Andrea didn’t need to be subjected to this every day, and neither did her parents.  I was there, I didn’t like what I saw, but you don’t abandon someone you love because you’re uncomfortable.

You have to understand, I sincerely thought, even by then, she would get better.  It was just pneumonia.  I know it’s horrible and that people can still die from it, but I thought we’d come through it and be stronger for it.  I had no idea that it would just be . . . over.

Now, I wonder where the kids’ heads are.  Are they mad at me because they didn’t see their Mom those days?  Do they wonder if she was thinking about them?  None of them act out to me or seem like they are upset about it.  But the signs creep out that they wonder.  I was determined, though, that their memory of their mother be the best memories, the ones that revolved around her dancing in the middle of the living room with them to some goofy little song.  The woman who sat at the table with her huge mug of coffee and infectious laugh.  I didn’t want them to see or remember her with the plastic tubing snaking around her like tentacles; the black marker on her leg to indicate which one had an infection; the tube full of greyish crap that they pulled out of her lungs through it all.

After the funeral, the hospital let me know there was a bunch of stuff of Andrea’s that I had left behind.  It took a lot for me to go to the hospital then, but I did it.  I wasn’t going to leave any of her behind.  I was pretty proud, too, I’d done fairly well and held it together.  That is until they handed me the items.  They’d taken a bunch of her stuff, her clothes, shoes, even the copy of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” and tossed it into a clear plastic garbage bag.  That wouldn’t have been so bad, except in the bottom were the get well cards the kids had made for Andrea – cards that she’d been able to read, just hours before she took her bad turn.

They all seemed, at least at that moment, to plead for her to come home.  They told how much they missed her, nearly begged her to come home, that they needed her.  It was like a visible representation of their hearts ripping in two.  The weight got a little heavier, as did my heart.

Now, when I’m home and Sam’s playing upstairs or reading, he’ll shout down every 15 or 20 minutes:

“Hey dad?”

“Yeah Sam?”

“I love you!”

Hannah will stop me in the middle of walking from the flour to the sugar while making cookies to hug me, in the most inopportune moments.

Noah wants to be around and have some sort of activity every second of every day.

Abbi, well she has a lot of responsibility she shoulders now, whether I pull it off of her or not.  All of this is a result of my decisions.

Were they the right ones?  I don’t know.  I will never know, I don’t think.  It’s a very solitary thing, to carry this weight.  My parents helped carry some of it, holding me up after they arrived.  Still, the decisions I made, alone, when nobody else was around, I have to live with whether they’re right or not.  It’s one of those horrible points in life, where every decision will have bad consequences, you just have to measure which decision has the fewest.

I am fortunate to have 4 amazing children, who tell me things, who let me know if they’re down or miss their mom, or just need help.  I can live with Sam freaking out in a store if we’re not all together or Noah constantly under foot.  Why?  Because we’re far stronger together than individually.

I make no decision about our family without their input now.  I don’t care how minute.  They’re involved, and they’re part of it all, which is as it should be.  It’s not because I want them to shoulder the burden, it’s because they should never have to feel left out again.  They should not be alone in the dark.

But mostly, I just want to make sure they don’t have to carry that weight.  Pick your musical metaphor, use whatever philosophical platitude suits you best.

No matter, I’m going to carry that weight . . . a long time.

Isn’t It a Pity

I started writing this blog for a couple reasons.  The first, of course, was selfish.  It’s helping me, giving me an outlet to sort through everything that’s going on in my household and my head.  I talked with Andrea about everything, so when you go from having that adult who shares all of your thoughts, feelings and helps you decompress from the day.  You have no idea how important that is and how much you miss it when the most intelligent conversation you have is with four children and not with another adult of similar ilk.

Another reason is to try and touch, if just a little, the memories and history of the first half of my family’s journey.  I have to do this now because I can see the small pieces of her falling away, disintegrating an atom at a time, the memories flying away like pieces of pollen in the wind.  I hope only to retain some of those particles so that they don’t disappear altogether.

The last reason, and the one that pushes me to connect with others via this blog, is to remove the lid from this box that some people (emphasis on SOME people) want to throw you into.

There’s a tendency to ask someone like me how you’re doing, which is fine.  But the next step is always to say “it will get better,” or “you’ll heal, you will meet someone, you will find another person . . ” insert your own cliche’d moment here.  The reality is, it won’t get better, nor should it, and I don’t want it to.  This is what people just don’t seem to understand.  We have such a need in society to want everyone to be OK, but not actually face the things they are going through.  I don’t want to think you will be sad, depressed, stressed out, or even hurting.  I don’t want to face that you might be alone, so damn the consequences, I’m telling you that it will pass and you will get better and you will fall in love again and the world will be bright, full of rainbows, sunshine and unicorns.

Isn’t it a pity.

If I touch even one person to face reality . . . I feel like this has been worthwhile.  Here’s what I want everyone to face, and this isn’t easy for me to write, but if I can face this, I think you can, too.

After Andrea took a turn in the ICU I went into a frenzy of panicked activity.

I spent the next two days talking until I was hoarse.  I took so many phone calls I couldn’t handle it.  I eventually forced people to look at my Twitter feed because my phone kept dying.  I started reading “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” out loud hoping that I was just so annoying that she’d wake up and tell me to shut the hell up.  I hid in the corner of the room, behind the curtain, hoping they’d miss me and I would stay for longer, maybe the entire night, in the hospital.  I asked her what she thought we should do for our anniversary, what I should bring to her here in the hospital.  I needed her to stay around for our anniversary, it was 18 years after all.

We got married young, and we were stupid.  We were still kids at the time, and I was just so insanely paralyzed by shyness, brought on by a paralyzing lack of self-confidence, and it translated to most people that I was awkward, even uncomfortably silent.  But she never saw that, she saw the person I was at home, the guy that could be normal and boisterous and emotional when he was behind a microphone with a guitar.  She saw that, even when I wasn’t hiding behind the Stratocaster and tweed amplifier.

She made it to 18 years.  Barely.

This is a long setup, I get that, but it tells you what I was going through when the world started trying to shove me into a box.

Saturday morning, March 26th, 18 years to the day that I wiped the emotional tears from Andrea’s eyes as we told each other “’til death do us part”, the hospital called me and said Andrea was “in some distress”.  No big deal, right?  That sounds pretty basic.  I was already on the way and they didn’t sound like it was a big deal.

Until I got to the hospital.  When I buzzed the doors, they got strangely quiet and I heard the nurses scrambling, saying “it’s her husband” in the background, unsure what to do.  The doors opened and I walked into the most chaotic, insane situation I’ve ever experienced.  3 nurses were taking turns pumping up and down on Andrea’s chest, injecting medications to the Y-shaped connector where the IV tubing that snaked its way to Andrea’s arm.  They were doing that CPR count as they pushed, her chest caving in with each compression.

Everything around me started to swirl.  You know how people say they actually see everything turn red when they’re really angry?  Mine went white.  Don’t ask me why, it just got covered in a milky white haze.  The doctor was calmly shouting commands to the nurses.

If all you have seen of this type of scene is what’s on TV, it’s just so inaccurate.  The room had a flurry of activity, but it was oddly quiet, which was even worse.  As they worked on Andrea I could hear one of her ribs break.  I was a mess, begging her to stay with me.  I was in a mad-dash panic and all I could think was “stay with me, please!”  As each piece of medical equipment ticked away, I was thinking how I can’t do this.  I can’t break my kids’ hearts.

Then the doctor came over and told me they’d been doing this for more than half an hour, maybe longer, and that even if they kept going they didn’t know how much oxygen her brain had been deprived of.  He’d keep going, but it was really up to me.  I reached up, held her foot, and saw every horrible thing that was happening to her.  I just couldn’t take it anymore.

Here’s where the lid of the box opened.

The hospital chaplain too me into another room, as I nearly hyperventilated in emotion.  I haven’t cried in years, but I was a mess.  Here I thought they were going to help me, try to give me tools to move forward.  Instead, they literally overwhelmed me with crap.  I had to start looking at decisions.  I had to pick out a mortuary.  I had to look at a string of things that needed to be taken care of.  It wasn’t an hour since she was gone and the hospital told me I had to start making arrangements.  The kids didn’t even know their mother was gone yet.

Then came the string of phone calls.  Lots of them were really sincere, helpful, and seriously emotional as I was.  Others gave me awful platitudes and talked to me only so I could make them feel better.  This is what I’ve dealt with, a metaphorical version of the hospital.  Get the person out of this room, make the room look empty, make this go away.

Where I’m comforting my kids and trying so hard to keep daily life just daily life, many people just don’t know how to handle that.  Why doesn’t he just stay in the box?  It makes them feel better to think that I will get over things, that the wound will heal, I will move on, the world will get better, and everything is perfect.

Sorry, it doesn’t work that way.  God help me, sometimes I wish it did.  The kids just don’t have a Mom.  No other woman will be their Mom.  No other person understands me the way Andrea did.  This isn’t life the way it had been, it’s a new life and a new story.  People cannot seem to accept that for right now we have to do this without her and have a hole in our lives.  It’s easier to try and tell us that “all wounds heal” and “everything will get better”.  I’m sorry folks, it won’t.

That doesn’t mean we can’t do it.  We don’t lose the pain, folks.  We learn to live with it.  I don’t crave the day that I don’t think about Andrea all the time, I dread it.  This woman was one of the greatest part of our lives, so why would we want to make it disappear?  Yes, right now it hurts like hell.  But we also have amazing memories and wonderful fondness for her.  It bothers people that we can have both.  People want you to fit the mold.  A mom and a dad.  Parenting the kids.  This isn’t a diatribe about single parenting.  Divorce still leaves two parents.  If you have a problem you can still call that other parent, whether you are friendly or not, because the greater good of your children is there.

But people just can’t seem to handle that life is so complicated.  We just don’t fit in the box.

I know this is the second post in as many days to use music, but to use a former Beatle’s line: “Isn’t it a pity.  Isn’t it a shame.  How we break each other’s hearts.  We cause each other pain.”