Tag Archives: Steely Dan

Go back, Jack, and do it again . . .

Noah, in a happier moment
Do It Again by Steely Dan

I’ve been through the ringer this last couple weeks.  I had to beg, borrow and coordinate picking up sick children from school.  I’ve fought a fever at work while re-writing scripts and shooting follow-up stories to investigations.  I’ve had to drive an hour away from my house to drop off, then pick up one son in order to make sure I could work at least my full 8-9 hours.  (which was more like 9-10, but it’s not a complaint, just reality)

I should have seen this coming.

Today I was at work, in the middle of a meeting, when the phone rang with a familiar number.  Sadly, after all the sick calls and child pickups during the middle of the day I now know the school phone number on sight and it was ringing not long into the work day.  By the time I’d gotten into the hallway to answer the phone it had gone to voicemail so I waited for the phone to give me that signal that the message was there, fully prepared to hear “_______ is in the office and needs to go home.”

I would have been happy if it had been that, in hindsight.  Instead, it was my son, Noah, in the principal’s office.
Noah had done a decent enough job of controlling things since my last episode.  If you haven’t read it, you might consider going back and looking.  Noah had an issue with a couple boys that followed him around the extended day room and he just lost it and started lashing out.  I had to have him write letters to the kids, their parents, and then to his Mom, and we delivered it to the cemetery so she could get it as well.

(Here’s the link to that story, if you want to read it)

Noah was on the playground at recess playing kickball.  He was out, the kids, as they always will, shouted their catcalls, poking fun that he struck out, and Noah lost his temper and threw the ball, hitting a kid in the face.  Another boy went to tell a teacher and Noah threw a piece of playground bark.  He lost his temper, couldn’t calm down, and then he spiraled out of control.  It took a parent volunteer, who also happens to know our family well, to pull him aside from the class line and calm him down.  He didn’t want to get into trouble, he was in a panic, he was so angry nothing would calm him down, and he was angrier that nobody would listen to him.

I didn’t have to be there to see it to know that’s what happened.  It’s just like his Mom.  When Andrea would get into a panic or have her anger spark too brightly, there was no debating or arguing with her.  The only thing that would alleviate the situation was to let her calm, give her a hug, tell her I loved her.  Then we could finish what we were trying to discuss and go from there.

But Andrea didn’t do this at school and she didn’t do this in front of others.  It also, I’m sure, wasn’t the kickball game.  I know for a fact, and I should have seen this coming.

Noah is a sweet boy, he really is.  He loves his family more than anything.  When Andrea died, he was the most sympathetic, loving, sweet little person in the world.  He saw me upset and told me that I should not be sad because “Mommy is in your heart, she has to be because she loved you so much.”  When Andrea’s best friend was sad he told us all that “Moms are important because without them there would be no people so they get the biggest parts of our hearts.”  Where we wanted to falter and cry he was philosophical and caring.  When we wanted to be angry he was loving.  When we wanted to be loving he was empathetic.

He is smart as a whip.

So when he gets in trouble again, I feel my heart break.  He cannot do these kinds of things, he has to control his temper, he has to control his impulses.  But I also know what did this.

Noah felt alone.

I have spent the last couple weeks dealing with his oldest sister’s school play, Sam’s illness and staying at his Aunt’s house, his middle sister sick, the school, work taking me extra hours . . . he got literally no attention.  I didn’t see it but should have seen it coming.  Abbi would tell me he was a pill, that he was acting out, that he was angry, and I was sick with the flu so I put them to bed and fell asleep myself.  I should have seen that he was asking for me to just pay a little attention to him.

He just wanted a few minutes with me.  I didn’t give it to him.

Now, this poor little guy, with a reputation that is now bigger than what he initially did because of the past transgressions, is paying the price for my ignorance.  He sent signals.  He gave signs and I ignored them.  I let him sit next to me last night while we sat on the couch.  I had to talk with him about what happened at school.  I had to tell him that if he didn’t control his anger they might very well kick him out of the school.  He looked up at me, his eyes welling up, and he knew.  He told me so.  He didn’t deny any of it, he didn’t even argue, which I was hoping he would do.

He only said “I’m sorry Daddy.”

I could have handled anything but that.  The “I’m sorry” pushed me over the edge.  I gave him a hug, not letting him off the hook, mind you, but telling him he has to be twice as good now.  Otherwise he’ll get into trouble immediately whether he’s the instigator or not.  They will immediately look to him as the one who started it all if he’s even in the vicinity.

This is where I failed.  I got sick, sure, but it’s no excuse.  He needed me there and the days of selfishly looking at myself and saying “woe is me” are gone.  These four kids – all four of them – need me.  I cannot afford to let one slip or down the hole they fall.  I am working on getting him counselling, but I also know what he wanted, he tried to tell me.  He just wanted a little bit of time.

I need to go back and do it again, but I can’t.  It’s not that I would give him more attention than the other 3, it’s that he got no attention from me in the last few days in particular.  All he needed was a game of cards, a silly few minutes of Madlibs, even a game on the Wii.  Hell, he just wanted a hug here and there.

It’s hard to know you’ve failed so spectacularly.  It’s harder to know that the consequences are his and not mine.

No We Can’t Dance Together. No We Can’t Talk At All.

Years ago, when I was still climbing out of the hole I’d dug for myself, I used to tell Andrea that dancing wasn’t something she wanted to see me do.

“I make music specifically so I don’t have to dance,” was my line.  It’s not really as though I hated it, I just thought I looked reaaallllly silly doing it. I just hadn’t really taken the time to see that, unless you’d taken lessons, gone to Arthur Murray or something (look it up, I know some of you don’t know who that is) EVERYBODY looked silly dancing.

But it’s funny, there are two kinds of people that push and push me to move on.  The funny thing is, they both are just trying to make themselves feel better, and it annoys the hell out of me, it really does.  I’m not trying to offend, just educate.

The first are absolutely determined that I can’t possibly handle this.  I HAVE to get to counseling, now, immediately, quickly.  I’m insane if I don’t because the emotional anvils, boulders, shock waves will come falling down on me like so many Acme devices in Wile E. Coyote’s desert.  Why?  Because I’m taking too long.  I’m not fixed.  I’m still here, the guy that’s alone, lost his wife, annoying them with his calm daily work and refusal to be whatever the hell it is they think I should be.  Sorry folks, I didn’t conform to social criteria as a kid, what makes you think it’s happening now?

The second group are the people I like to call the “Sleepless in Seattle”-ers.  They are determined to convince me that I’m going to move on.  I use the movie because it simultaneously gets the grief part right and yet throws me toward the whole “magic” part and never remembers the ghost of Tom Hanks’ wife lingering in his life.  I get a lot of lines from these folks: “you’ll start to heal, eventually you’ll start to date, you’ll meet somebody . . . ”   Those folks are trying to be subtle, creeping the idea into my head.  Then there’s my least-favorite: “Those who have loved before are TWICE as likely to love again!”


Now, I’m not saying it’s a bad movie, it was actually one of Andrea’s (OK, mine, too) favorites, but now, when I’m actually in a similar position to Tom Hanks’ character (ironically named Sam, my son’s name) it’s got a whole different feel and is very hard to watch.  The sleepless nights, the daily activity but melancholy nights . . . those are all spot-on.  But what it doesn’t really delve into is why everyone wants you to get there.  What Nora Ephron DOES get right is the beginning of the film.  The “don’t mind him, he’s just the guy who lost his wife” part.  I agree with how he feels at first, it’s hard to imagine how this would work, because as Ephron’s line puts it, “that’s fine, no problem, I’ll just grow a new heart.”

I guess that’s why getting that second chance at what they deem “Magic” seems so incongruous.  Andrea and I got together in spite of ourselves, let’s face it.  I mean, we almost never went out again.  We’d gone out, had a lot of fun, even stayed out having a couple drinks and seemed to click.  She loved to stay up, be out with friends, and I thought we might actually start going out.  A bunch of guys from my speech class in college heard I was in a band and during one of our study sessions, at 9:30 at night, decided that I should grab the ugly, Peto-Bismol colored Ibanez guitar one of them had laying on the floor and we should hit up a jam session at a nearby bar.  So in a brazen state of self-confidence, I hit the pay-phone in the front of the bar (Yes, they had those, well before cell phones, you had to have change and everything and pay physical money to make a call) and fished a piece of paper in my pocket where Andrea had scrawled her number.  I actually got through all seven digits, not hovering after six, in a panic.

I asked for Andrea, as one of her roommates answered.  When she came on the phone, I told her I’d headed out for drinks, was going to actually play guitar on-stage, would she like to join us?  Her answer . . . “oooh.  Yeah.  You see, I just washed my face and . . . geez, I don’t know, I just can’t.”

Yes, yes, I get it, women of the world.  This actually WAS a legitimate excuse.  She’d taken off all her makeup, she’d done her whole bedtime routine, it was fine.  But to 20-year-old Dave who actually took the leap and made the call . . . it sounded like the equivalent of “I’d love to, but I really need to wash my hair”.  The funny thing is, I took this guy’s ugly, awful guitar, got my spot with the band, called out the chords, and just beat the crap out of the guitar.  I played a couple Hendrix pieces, a Muddy Waters cover, and finished to see my speech buddies’ jaws hanging open.  The head of the jam session gave me his card and begged me to come to the next jam.  I, however, downed my drink, laughed as 5 guitarists tried to play “Free Bird” and wondered how this amazing woman could have given me her number, told me to call, then just blew me off.

But she hadn’t.  She must have sensed something, probably because I closed down and hid in the control room, but she did what Andrea did . . . wouldn’t let me hide from it.  She had a knack for hitting me in the head with the proverbial 2×4 to make me see reality.  I just had stewed for a few days because she had some time off.  Just when I was about to give up and chalk this up to my being . . . well, me, she tracked me down and said she’d have done it ANY other night, she just couldn’t that night.  I gave her crap about this nearly every year.  What she didn’t know was all she had to really do was flash that smile and I melted anyway.  You want that movie magic?  That’s where it was.  One flash, one twinkle of her smile and I didn’t have a care.

If you’ve been part of the magic, why would you rush back into the sludge that led up to it?

There’s just such a huge push to make sure that you move on.  You’re still sitting there, cleaning up from the day, basically dying for that second wind and the coffee to take effect so you can take on the 3rd job of the day: maid/butler/chef/laundress/sock darner/pants mender/counselor/dishwasher/repairman.  People also seem to think that because I talk about all that work that it’s simply a matter of having someone there to help you that’s making things so hard.

Get over it.

If that was all I needed, I’d find a way to just hire some person to come in and do all this stuff.  It’s not at all about the work, the activities or raising the kids. I actually like to cook.  I have always loved being with my kids.  They’re the greatest thing in my life, and quite frankly all I have left of my wife.  What I miss is just so intangible.  It’s not as simple as Tom Hanks saying “ah, babe, I miss you so much it hurts…” that’s a given!

It’s the stupid little stuff, the things that hurt and depress and aggravate you all at the same time.  It’s seeing a drawing your son did on the floor, picking it up and looking up to say “look at this” and realizing there’s nobody there.  It’s reaching over to the spot where you held her hand when the house finally went quiet and realizing you’re not going to find those fingers.  It’s wondering how you’re going to help your daughter deal with the problems unique to being a girl and realizing you are all she has.

I guess what I’m saying is what all that symbolism of marriage and relationships is about – symbols most people don’t realize are truly appropriate.  The thing that your wedding band represents isn’t just some big old rock that’s sitting on top some gold or platinum, it’s supposed to be a circle.  It’s supposed to represent one whole life, unbreakable, binding, one blending to the other.  The idea given that you no longer are two people, you are one, that’s something you don’t really realize until it’s gone.  We were still individuals, we kept our characteristics.  We had our own jobs, our own likes and dislikes.

But Andrea was ripped away from us – and that’s the appropriate descriptor, ripped.  If you’ve ever had a piece of your skin torn away, or a nail tear through your skin, it’s the emotional equivalent of that kind of pain.  It’s deep, it’s hard, it’s really, really painful and takes forever to heal.  So if you’ve been through that, if you’ve been so invested and bound to this other soul for that long, why would your first inclination be to jump directly into finding someone else?  I found the person that – forgive the cheesy analogy – completed me.  I had the circle, the combination of souls, the person who finished my thoughts.  The person who inspired me to write intense, creative words; to make music and write songs; to influence my thoughts and put them into some sort of artistic endeavor is gone.  I’ve had as many years with her as I did without her, half my life.

I cannot see the future because for decades that future included Andrea.  Now I have to come to terms with that.  I can’t say I’ll never date someone or that the spark, the magic won’t happen.  But having someone try to force me to make it happen won’t work either.

So you’ll excuse me if I’d like to think about and absorb the fact that I’m now half the man I used to be.  Maybe not that much.  She was part of me.  When the music played, she laughed, sang off key . . . and she danced, whether it looked good or not . . . and by then she didn’t care if she’d washed her face or not.

But now, if Donald Fagen will forgive the reference:

“…we can’t dance together.  No we can’t talk at all.”