Tag Archives: sweet angel

Happy New Year . . . Sort of. . .

My family, taken by Amy Renz's Hunny Bee Photography

My Sweet Angel, by Manoucheri: Andrea’s Song, rewritten

I have to admit it, there has been an overwhelming amount of support and an outpouring of thoughts for me and my four children after we approached and now passed the anniversary day. I give it only that title because, quite frankly, it’s the day I both gained and lost my wife. Not sure how often that happens, but I am fairly certain the odds are pretty astronomical. If I had bought a lottery ticket that day I might have had better odds.

Yesterday was as I’d assumed it would be: lots of anticipation and worry for a day that came and went. There were obvious signs that it was weighing on us. Hannah slapped her brother in the arm hard enough to make a mark and only said “I don’t know why” when I burst into the room in a fit of parental rage. She lost her game boy and sat in her Grandma’s office for awhile until she could stop it. This coming after she’d spent the entire day at the county museum helping one of the women there she’d befriended and become pen pals with.

Abbi, my oldest, spent the day in bursts of isolation, in her room, playing a drawing game and words with friends on her phone. Ever connected through this interweb to the people more than a thousand miles away.

Which brings me to another point. I can only imagine how hard this might have been at home. Surrounded by Andrea’s family, friends, acquaintances, all of them her friends and life. We’ve made a life in California that is ours, sure, but the move to California, to be close to family, job, all of that was so that we could make life easier for all of us to get established and make our lives together. We did that, but my anticipation, which may have been worse than reality, told me we’d get inundated with phone calls, visits, all of it yesterday. Beside that, the people who helped us get through all of our trials and tribulations were my folks, who live several states away. As it is, the day came and went, the kids seemingly OK with it all. They did not dwell on things, they had helped make the video, and in a way I think that was cathartic enough for them.

For me, I had several days with my folks and younger brother. His trio came out and I sat in, making it a quartet, and we played into the late night banging out “Dear Mister Fantasy”, “Sunshine of Your Love”, even obscure jams like “Do What You Like” as well as nearly 3/4 of our first album, “The Blind Leading the Blind”, which they play as a trio. You may work out, go for a run, beat on a punching bag, what have you. Nothing is better for me than this. I played Adam’s guitars, breaking a string on his black Clapton Strat; punching the air with the speaker cabinet ringing out his Les Paul Special; and ended the night with his ’73 Stratocaster. I was sore, my fingers hurt and I was dripping in sweat, and it was the best thing in the world.

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Social media helped to spread the word of our loss and the tribute to our beloved Andrea. Where in years past, though, we might have disappeared, it amazes me the draw that those applications, web pages and social interactions draw us. Abbi was connected and pummeled with well wishes and emails. We both looked at Facebook and Twitter and saw the thoughts and wishes of everyone. Unlike being at home, though, we could bask in the glow of the lives Andrea had touched and not wallow in the misery of losing her.

Like being at home, though, once the house went quiet, I was left to my own devices. Each tick of the clock moved to another moment 19 years ago. The morning, where the temperature was much like yesterday, unlikely warmth, and the snow melting. The morning with my wife and her bridesmaids, still in our apartment when they should be at the church, hung over from whatever debauchery they’d managed the night before. The early afternoon, with my brother, best man, leaning over right before Andrea entered the row of pews and whispering “it’s not too late if you want to make a break for it” and grinning behind his mustache. My father, as Andrea got halfway down the aisle, making me smile so much my cheeks hurt leaning in and saying “son, as of this point, you will have no opinion” and giggling.

As the house was empty and everyone in bed, I sat looking at the clock and realizing we’d have been leaving the reception and heading up to the Red Lion hotel and our room, which cost literally the last pennies I had. I sat and realized I was more like the year ago than 19. One year ago, at that very moment, I sat on the couch, alone, unable to sleep, staring at the wall and unable to fathom what comes next. I was awake for 72 straight hours. I couldn’t sleep. I watched every single episode of HBO’s “The Wire”.

I stayed up until this morning, around 2:30am, but that’s all I did. Unlike 365 days before, I knew what was coming. That’s the advantage, I suppose, of marking this day. The fact that it isn’t just a hard day to mark, the day we lost the bright star of our home. It’s also the mark of success for us, if you can believe that. We made it one year. Second by second, minute by minute, then day by day, we got here. We’re still looking at things each day as it comes, but it starts over. We made it through the boys’ birthdays first. My and Hannah’s birthday; The fourth of July, our favorite holiday; Andrea’s birthday, Halloween, Abbi’s birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas . . . all of it on our own, my decisions guiding us.

We made it . . . sort of. Sure, we had help, but that’s the new part of our lives. We made it because of that help – something I’d have been loathe to ask for a year ago. Now, I know what it is to do this. It won’t make this day any easier when we reach it 364 from now, it still marks the best and worst day of my life. But now I know I’ve gotten through it, I can do it again.

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Fly On My Sweet Angel

Exactly one year ago, I lost the love of my life, my very best friend, my wife, Andrea Andrews Manoucheri.  We lost so very much that, by all accounts, this could have been the year everything fell apart. Instead, it became the year our story began.  We have not lost the feeling of loss, the hurt of missing her so very much.  What we did learn, though, was that we are far better together than we ever are apart.

The kids and I did this video, with the pictures and words made by our own hands. It’s purposely low-tech.  It’s meant to show you how we scratched our way up day by day on our own.  We could have done a bigger, fancier, more produced version, but that’s just not us.

The one thing that’s not low tech is the song. When I started dating Andrea, she playfully said to me, “Write me a song!” When I looked at her flabbergasted, she simply said, “You’re a musician, they write songs for their girlfriends all the time. Don’t I rate a song?!” She was kidding, being silly and pushing my buttons with a mischievous grin. Two days later I played the song for her. While my brother and I recorded it for a previous incarnation of our band and it got minimal airplay years ago in the Midwest, I never felt like I’d gotten the song right, not really. So when I started this project, as hard as it was to do, I wanted to get it right.  She deserved so much better. I changed the lyrics to match where we are today.

I miss her more than you can possibly imagine. It’s literally like a piece of myself, the part of my soul intertwined with hers, was ripped away. leaving a wound never heals. She wasn’t just my wife.  She was my love, my life, and my best friend.

It’s like she came here long enough to give me what I needed then left, abruptly. But I hear my kids laugh together and the timbre of their giggles is her laugh. The smiles they have radiate their Mom.

I had it good and perfect for a while. It’s a hard life to come back down with the rest of the mortals. Particularly when she helped me learn to fly up with the angels.

 

We miss you, my love.

Fly on, my sweet angel.

362 Days

Being at home I find amazing things: like this photo of us on our wedding day!

Sweet Little Angel by BB King Live at the Regal Theater, 1964

At the ripe old ages of 20/21 I had the confidence and maturity level of a 16-year-old.  That’s not self-deprecating nor is it me looking for compliments or sympathy.  It’s a mere fact.  It wasn’t some amazing epiphany that changed me, though.  There was no shining light, no medical breakthrough, no therapist that unlocked the key to my inner “Dave.”  Two words can tell you what happened: Andrea Andrews.

Going home was the best idea to deal with these memories.  Not because I didn’t think I could handle the anniversary date, three mere days ahead of me.  I know full well that the anticipation – like it was for Andrea’s birthday, Christmas, New Year’s even – is far worse than the actual event most of the time.  For me, though, that anticipation is secondary.  I don’t have a singular event to prepare for.  I have a day that I should celebrate as well as a day I have to endure.  The day Andrea passed away, you see, is also the exact day of our wedding anniversary.

Andrea, you see, was this amazing, gorgeous, California girl who by all rights should have been like every other woman I’d met.  She should have taken one look at me, heard me stammer like the nerds in every romantic comedy, and chuckled as she walked back to the party.  Oh, she walked back to the party, but not until she’d wrapped her arm around mine and dragged me into it with her.  I knew the person she saw inside me.  I was just too scared, too damaged, too used to being let down and hurt to let him out to see the light of day.  The fear of embarrassment was greater than my desire to know any woman.  That is, until this woman came into the picture.

Andrea looked past the awkward small-town guy with the pre-Bieber haircut.  She didn’t let up.  She simultaneously frustrated and intrigued me.  When we worked together in Council Bluffs, Iowa, we decided that there was no need to subject ourselves to the leers, stares, even ridicule that would come with dating a colleague.  We’d seen other colleagues date, have their “nooners” and return a little flushed and a lot disheveled and we were determined not to live up to those low expectations.

Andrea had this grin, a mischievous smile that showed she was thinking something she knew would cause some sort of mischief but she wanted to see what would happen when she did it.  It was never anything crazy, not like a gut-wrenching “hangover” kind of event, but always memorable and always what I needed and not necessarily what I wanted.

Before we started dating she and I worked at this TV station and had a thousand things to do on a daily basis.  She was a reporter and Entertainment anchor.  I was a photographer and director and sometime reporter/anchor.  I would shoot a story for her, sometimes for me as well, then go back, edit, put pre-production together, then direct the whole newscast at 6pm.  When Andrea was finished with her story she would run a studio camera.

Directing for me was a combination of so many intense, concentration-sapping puzzles that took all of my synapses that the little switch inside my brain that turns on the buffer to prevent cussing, yelling and chastising people was shut off in order to allow me to use that processing power to handle concentrating on the monitors, timing, rundown and cameras.  When the camera shot would be off I wouldn’t immediately yell, but the average conversation on headsets, particularly with Andrea would be:
“Pan left, camera 3.”  No answer.
“Three, are you there?”
“Who?” would be Andrea’s answer.
“You, Andrea, you’re camera three.  Pan left.”
“Say please.”
“Dammit 3, pan left.”
“I will, say please.”
“What the fuck is wrong with you Andrea, I said pain the hell left”
“Well now you have to apologize.”

More than a few newscasts had off-center or graphics covering the anchor shots because Andrea would play with me crazily while my blood pressure soared and my eyes bugged out of my sockets.  But I soon came to the conclusion that when I was working late on a story and a backup director was in there she didn’t do the same things.  There was no prodding, no call for apologies, no seemingly indifferent thoughts to the production value of our nightly newscast.  She panned, tilted, and adjusted shots without question.  She simultaneously frustrated and intrigued me.  At the time I couldn’t understand what she was thinking or doing.  I’m a guy, you see.  We need a 2×4 slammed across our foreheads to understand the obvious.  Had I not had the lack of panache or self-confidence I mentioned up there, I would have realized long before I asked her out that she was messing with me to get my attention.

I’ve chronicled her thoughts and attempt to move and how she stayed with me instead of moving for her career.  We weren’t just in love, we were madly, hopelessly entwined with each other’s personalities and souls already.  She decided to stay, after just a couple months of intense, passionate, pleasurable dating.  We decided during the company Christmas party to go ahead and go together and let everyone see that we were, indeed, together, and not just together, but joined at the hip.  (like best friends, you creeps.  Get your minds out of the gutter!)  When we walked into the bar that night, hand-in-hand, there were a handful of people we knew that had no idea we’d been dating and were sitting there with their jaws wide open, nearly to the point their tonsils were visible.  It was obvious I hadn’t just given her a ride to the party, we were an “item.”

Fast forward a few weeks, maybe a month.  We’d been dating just a few months and during her wait to get on the plane home for Spring Break I took her by the hand.  She was wearing a small Black Hills Gold ring I’d given her for Christmas to show her I loved her, she wasn’t just a casual date, she was someone special.  I took that ring off her finger.
“Dave, what are you doing?” she asked.
“I don’t want you to wear this ring any more,” I told her, and I could see she was unsure.  Understand, her parents, sister, friends, all of them had told her that on Valentine’s Day I would have to be asking her to marry me.  I was not one to go with tradition and social expectations so part of me refused to do it on heart day simply because everyone wanted me to.  I hadn’t realized that she would take that as a sign I was backing away from her.  We still spent nearly every hour together.
“Why don’t you want me to wear the ring,” she asked, and I could see she was both excited and scared.
“Because I want you to wear this one,” I said, and I took out an engagement ring from my pocket and put is 3/4 of the way on her finger.
“Andrea, I looked at what my life was like before I started going out with you and what it’s like now.  I looked ahead and realized I don’t just love you.  I can’t see life without you.  It would never be the same.  Andrea, will you marry me?”

Now, you might see this as romantic, but it was really not.  I was stupid to wait until then.  I thought I was being cute.  I had told her Mom and sister, who were picking her up at the airport.  They’d told her friends in California.  She was one of the only ones who didn’t know of that circle of people.  The mistake I made was after she cried and said “yes!” they boarded the plane.  Nothing’s worse than a rush and wave of love and emotion and they you have to be apart for more than a week.  She was both ecstatic and insanely angry with me because now she wanted to stay with me but couldn’t.

The co-workers and friends from Omaha who only knew we’d been dating for a few weeks had no idea.  A few days before Andrea was to return I pulled aside our News Director and friend and told her that I’d asked Andrea to marry me.  Not because I wanted the attention, but because I was sure they’d see her back and notice the ring and think “Oh my God, she met some guy in California and got engaged . . . poor Dave!”  I also thought they deserved to know.  Our friend looked at me and at the top of her lungs shouted “WHAT?!”   

I think “Oh my God!” was the general consensus.  But in the end, I could tell.  Most of the people we knew, even some of Andrea’s old friends, thought there was no way it could last.  It was like love at first sight, sure, but most of the time that sight fails and the marriage goes with it.  But here’s the thing: Monday would have made 19 years of it working.  The day I lost her is the same day I made official my love, honor, and cherishing of this amazing, confusing, confounding woman who made me so much better than I was.  The love story, the storyline we’d started, ended abruptly.  The story ended and I have to angrily admit, the ending was less than satisfactory.  It’s like the book ended abruptly so the sequel could begin before it was ready.

There are, as you all know, 365 days in a year.  8,760 hours.  525,600 minutes.  That’s how many new starts I had to face.  The moments after losing my wife mark exactly that: moments.  In that first day it was seconds I faced.  86,400 seconds in that day.  It’s not that I faced only part of that, I faced exactly that many minutes.  I stayed awake that entire 24 hours, unable to close my eyes and unable to see beyond the next second.

As I moved past those first 86,400 seconds, I started to look at the 1,440 minutes.  Then the 24 hours, next came the days . . . and that’s where I’ve been since.  I haven’t looked ahead to next week, next month, next year.  This 365 days has flown by because all I have been able to do is look day to day.  Only now do we feel like a slight routine is hitting its stride.  I came home, visiting the parents who lived with us for so many months after Andrea’s death so we could start writing our story and follow some sort of story line that made sense.  I came home specifically so that we wouldn’t obsess about the seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks and months that led to here.  These amazing parents helped me to see I have these amazing children, family and friends.  As I said before, the anticipation was far worse than the actual event likely will be.

Sure, at home I find pictures and moments captured in singular frames of those photographs from the last 41 years of my life, 23 years of them knowing Andrea.  But today I can look at those years, and as the wound in my soul bleeds a little and continues to feel raw and empty, I can smile, proud that the woman who needled me to get my attention still weighs on my mind.  In your life you meet so many people, but only a small number have a massive impact, a paradigm shift on your life and story.  Hers altered mine forever.

Only now, nearly 362 days after her story ended, do I realize that no matter how much it still hurts, that shift was for the better.

Please log on this coming Monday, day 365, to Our Story Begins to see the video I created with my children in celebration of that life.  We are proud of the work we’ve done and the song I wrote for her and re-recorded to match our lives today.  I hope you celebrate her and our lives with me . . . and see how our story begins.

…Second Guessing Me, Every Minute.

“Life Without You” by Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble

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.

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The decorations and table settings for our Thanksgiving

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.