I’ve made no secrets about the so-called “musicality” of my family. We live in a musical household, my kids grew up with it and for years saw their father leave on many weekend nights to go play whatever gig paid a small amount of cash for his services.
Some would question whether all that effort was worth it.
The thing is . . . the last two years have shown me it’s completely worth it.
There aren’t a lot of things that you bring into a relationship that remain specifically and only yours. That’s a good thing, for the most part, but my late wife’s inability to create or even understand the creative process for music was a hindrance at times. A basis for knock-down drag-out arguments at others. Why? It wasn’t, for the two of us, a communal thing. When we were dating it was neat, quirky and fun. When we were raising a family she saw it as a nuisance. That was her and I don’t say it as a criticism. She had a million amazing things about her . . . that just wasn’t one of them.
But then she left. Simple as that. Not on-purpose, it wasn’t her fault, it wasn’t really anybody’s fault. Just one day she wasn’t there. Suddenly everything that had become such common-ground for us was now a hindrance. It was a reminder of her and the loss and the end of marriage and all of it.
Music helped me heal. Hell…it helped all of us to heal. In the week after Andrea died I picked up my guitar and just played it. Christ, I even beat on it. It’s a wonderful testament to the Fender company that my green Eric Clapton model Stratocaster (affectionately dubbed “dot” from the green 7-up can color) survived those weeks. I was soft, hard, angry, sad, and just miserable at times. It got wet with tears. It suffered indignity of broken strings from massive power chords beaten too hard on the pickguard. Scratches still mar the 7-up green surface of the guitar with waxy residue from the picks I destroyed scraping the surface.
I have only begun to piece together the songs from the massive amount of writing and playing I did in those weeks. Some have no lyrics. Some were re-written. Others had pieces of inspiration that can lead to better things. It took me two years to come to terms with the fact that it’s okay to be where I am. Sadly, only one song of mine was completed so far, but it will make the newest recording session for my brother and I to release in the Fall.
But music wasn’t just written. It was listened to, near constantly. I decided if we didn’t have it playing and swirling around us before it should now. When we eat dinner it plays – on the stereo, on the cardboard radio with an ipod. Hell, we sing, we jam, I teach Hannah songs. It’s one thing that ended up being communal. Abbi sings. Sam is in the school musical. Christ, I even jammed with a singer-songwriter who I now consider a friend. (a term I never use lightly)
Music helped us heal. We do make beautiful music together, even when we’re off key or off beat or what have you. The world may never hear it, nor long remember what we play. But play we do.
Nothing about what we’re facing is perfect. But it wasn’t two years ago, either, so why try and apply life in the past to the future? At the end of the day we have to do what works for us.
And for us . . . it’s making beautiful music together.
It is late, insanely late, on Thanksgiving night. I had vowed that I wouldn’t, couldn’t, post tonight, there wasn’t a reason, I’d get through the day, it would be fine, everything OK. But I just hit my same routine. I sit here in my bedroom, a “Friends” marathon seemingly on multiple channels. (Who knew that show was on long enough to have a marathon of just Thanksgiving episodes, by the way?)
My theory had been that if I held Thanksgiving at my house, cooking it, putting everything together, doing the work myself, I wouldn’t have time to think about another holiday coming and going. I wouldn’t have to face yet another signpost flying by me knowing that Andrea has left the path and headed somewhere else.
Wednesday night I headed to Target to pick up some last-minute stuff for our dinner. I had not realized that – even though I’d posted one of those past, amazing Thanksgiving memories on this blog already – the day was already weighing heavily on me. The thing is, and I know I sound like some sort of strange, mutated version of the Cake Boss meeting Martha Stuart, Andrea did the holiday right, and I mean right. Things were decorated, the table set perfectly, the china, the silver, the wine and water goblets, everything in its place and set up just so. I did the cooking, nearly every year, but she was the brain behind it all, even determining the side dishes or the desserts at times – much to my consternation when it was a chocolate-crusted bourbon pecan pie with homemade vanilla whipped cream. Yeah, she had ideas, just ideas well beyond our station. Remember this, because it’s not just important, it’s a part of our everyday lives, something that led to a lot of problems for us as well.
I saw just how little I had to make it the Thanksgiving that Andrea would have done. The table would be decorated, the house feeling like Fall even if we were in the warmest of climates. I wanted nothing more than to channel my wife, the beauty and color, the vision of the world she saw. I found a good tablecloth, the other stuff and as I cooked, up until about 1am Thursday morning, I put the table together, nervous and annoying my oldest daughter because I thought I’d done a piss-poor job of putting the table together.
I wanted to create a Thanksgiving that was ours, something that the kids could think wasn’t any different than years past. I also thought that if I made dinner myself, at home, I’d have so much on my plate – pun intended – I’d have no time to think about the fact that I’m doing this all by myself. That Andrea’s not here, so there’s no way the evening can be perfect. I had her parents, which is never comfortable for me, my sister-in-law (who is amazing) and her husband, three kids and all coming over. We had a 21 pound turkey, homemade bread dressing, homemade rolls, mashed potatoes and my sister-in-law brought over green beans and sweet potatoes. By 1am, I was completely exhausted and had made 3 pies and the dressing with the fixings for the turkey made.
The dinner worked well, my food palatable, the company was good and the kids on their best behavior.
But no matter how well I did things, it wasn’t beautiful. It was nice, it was decorated, but it wasn’t perfect. That’s what my wife brought to the table: perfection.
But don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t always happy with that perfection. Let’s call it what it was, too – an obsession. Andrea had to have straight A’s or she wasn’t happy when she went to Pharmacy school. She had to be able to get the outfits or table linens she wanted or she’d find a way to get them.
Where this was problematic for me was my own fault, my own problem. I couldn’t tell Andrea “no”. My kids can tell you I have no problem saying that to them. I can tell my work if I can’t do something or “no”, I am not able to stay late, what have you. But there was something about Andrea, a thought, a feeling, whatever spell she had over me, I did whatever she wanted or found a way to make it happen if I couldn’t. She was just so amazing to me I couldn’t refuse her. When she wanted to go back to school, regardless of the massive school loans or lack of her income, I delivered newspapers at 2am, worked my day job and gigged to make ends meet, and not very well. With a new baby, a house, all of it, we needed the money but didn’t have it.
On one particular week, I had to work my day job, gigged at a local bar, unloaded my gear, then headed home, showered, went to the warehouse, loaded the car up and delivered newspapers. I got home later that morning, around 6, showered again, ate a bagel or something, drank a ton of coffee, went to my day job, worked until 6pm, got home grabbed my gear, headed to the bar, gigged, finished up and was readying to go to the papers again. My brother was worried and wanted to ride along so I wouldn’t fall asleep in the car – by this point it was hour 32 I was up – and fell asleep in the car as I delivered papers, finishing with more than 20 undelivered in my car, got home, showered, then had to go back to work again. By the time I’d finished it all up, I’d been up nearly 48 straight hours. I started to see people in driveways that weren’t really there.
Was it painfully hard? Difficult to do to the point of burning out my memory synapses and causing me to walk around in a state of near constant exhaustion? Of course. Would I do it again if Andrea was there, wanting to better herself, show she’s not stupid and become a Doctor of Pharmacy again? Yes.
My biggest fault, the one I hated the most was the fact that, even if it was for her or my own good, I couldn’t tell her “no”. The look of disappointment, the drop in her voice, the anger or sadness that might accompany it was so hard for me I had no self control when it came to her. If she wanted to get something, I tried to find a way to get it. If she wanted to go out, no matter how tired I was, I went. If I was exhausted, after delivering papers all night and gigging through to the weekend and she wanted to grab my hand and keep me up so she could lay her head on my shoulder, I’d do it. I never wanted to see her disappointed, but it was the worst thing I could have ever done.
It’s not co-dependence. I didn’t have time apart from Andrea and obsess about what she was doing and wonder when I’d see her again. I missed her, of course, a lot. I didn’t have heart palpitations worrying about when I would finally be in her company again. The reality is I loved her. It’s really that simple.
The song I add to the beginning here is particularly heartfelt. I found myself able to listen to it, though it makes my eyes well up when I hear it. The song makes me emotional, but it doesn’t have that connection to Andrea because she was never a big fan of its writer, Stevie Ray Vaughan. She couldn’t listen to that much guitar and so little vocals. She was a jazz fan but not a blues fan. Whenever I had this song on the radio in the car she never knew it was him because it was such a soulful piece. It speaks of the loss of a dear friend, the description of life with them, then life without them.
He says what happened for me: A long look in the mirror and we come face to face
Wishin’ all the love we took for granted
Love we have today
Life without you….
All the love you passed my way
The angels have waited for so long….
Now they have their way
Take your place….
Here’s the thing, whether you’re religious or not, I called her my little angel. I felt she was like the woman in the BB King song, my sweet little angel . . . I was sure she’d made me a better man and the angels waiting for her was just such an appropriate line. It hurts to think I had an angel on my shoulder that I could touch and feel, but that’s who she was. I wasn’t ready for her to leave. It’s really true how I feel like the love we had we just took for granted. I hear this and look at the table after we’ve eaten, that song playing on the radio while I cooked earlier.
If she’s a gaseous mist, or up in heaven, on another plane, meeting the souls of the greats, I hope after she found the spirits she missed all these years she stumbled upon a tall man with massive fingers, a black hat perched on his head him why he’s there, this man with a feather standing tall from his black Hendrix-like hat. The gentle, beautiful musician who came through so many hardships only to die too young whose personality and music connected with my soul – I dream he somehow knows how much she meant to me as well. I hope he smiles at her with the Strat slung over his shoulder and tells her:
We’ve been waiting for so long . . . come take your place.
Happy Thanksgiving. Fly on, Andrea, my sweet angel. Fly on through the sky.