Tag Archives: synesthesia

Never Cast Adrift . . .

Bold As Love by Jimi Hendrix, performed by Robben Ford

Anger he smiles tow’ring in shiny metallic purple armour.
Queen jealousy, envy waits behind him.
Her fiery green gown sneers at the grassy ground.

The lyrics up there are from one of my favorite songs of all time.  The funny thing is, I had never thought about why I liked it, I really thought it was just another example of some of the most amazing songwriting and playing by Jimi Hendrix.  But realization dawns and lets me see that it’s not one of his songs ever played on the radio and it’s not close to being popular, not like “Purple Haze” or “Wind Cries Mary”.

This weekend I had a conversation that made me suddenly realize why I actually liked this song so much.  In fact, it dawned on me that I had started to listen to it more and more and love it more and more from the moment I first met and started dating my late wife, Andrea.  You’d think it’s a strange thing, to be enjoying this song after speaking or thinking about my wife, but there’s a serious reason why.  You see, this song is a brilliant interpretation of the emotions and feelings that we all go through, sometimes on a daily basis.  Anger, envy, happiness, euphoria – they’re all there and they were perfect examples of the amazing woman that was Andrea.

Andrea, you see, had a condition called “synesthesia” (hopefully I spelled that right) where sounds, movement, emotion, they all come to the brain in association of color.  Happiness had one color.  My voice had another.  Everything that she heard or saw had a color associated with it.  My wife, Andrea, never realized exactly what made her see and think of the world so differently.  I’d heard of and thought about synesthesia before.  It’s an interesting prospect, that of having such a different view of the world.  I always thought it must be why we ended up together.  I didn’t see the world in views of color.  I saw it in terms of rhythm and melody.  Music is everywhere and I live it.  I cannot work in pure silence.  I cannot survive without a song running through my head, something usually I’ve heard or mostly invented in my head inspired by what’s around me.  I usually write with headphones on to prevent myself from being distracted by it.

Andrea suffered a horrific bout of clinical depression.  At one point, in a throwaway comment, she mentioned how the color had left her world.  I hadn’t really thought about it until I realized that the chemical change in her head that was part of the depression also removed the colors of her world.  It affected the synesthesia somehow and as a result, she was unable to cope.

But I’ve talked about that before.  It’s what drew me, I’m sure, to that song.  But I thought more about it this weekend as I had a conversation about my son, Noah.  Noah has had lots of problems controlling his impulses.  Anger, in particular, builds up in him and he cannot control it once it takes control of him.  He’s very specific, controlling, and thoughtful in every move and decision he makes.  But still, anger is the one color of the world he doesn’t understand fully.  Andrea was exactly the same.  It’s for that reason I seem to understand Noah more than so many other people.

I’ve made no secret that my relationship with Andrea’s father was strained at its best throughout the years.  After Andrea passed away it’s been far worse.  I don’t hate the man, though it would be very easy to.  However, I cannot bring myself to forgive transgressions of the past that lead me there.  I’m not going to troll that emotional well for you, unfortunately.  This is about the conversation and not my inability to let go of a grudge.

You see, today, Mother’s Day, was hard enough.  The world and the greeting card companies reinforce the whole thing and try to turn what should be a day to honor these amazing women into a massive scheme to make tons of money and let people like me fail even more miserably than normal.  We’ve been struggling to keep food in the pantry this week because the IRS seems dead set on keeping my refund, though I’m not certain they would ever make much interest off of it.  But in spite of the cost of gas we went over to see Andrea’s Mom, whose neural disease is taking a horribly bad turn.  I’m not sure how many, if any, Mother’s Days she has left.  So I brought the kids to see them and we got onto the topic of school, Noah, his struggles with his temper, and the sometimes over-reaction of other kids, teachers, and particularly parents.  When Noah, Sam, Abbi or Hannah get hit or argue I tell them to buck up and fix it themselves.  Find a way around the situation.  The world would be so much easier if more parents understood and dealt with their children rather than going off the deep end when things happen yet ignoring their kids when they get home.  Noah is a kid who is so smart and sees the world so differently – much like Andrea and I did – that he doesn’t fit in.  Rather than leaving him alone others pick on him.

I made the comment about how Noah will hold onto the control as long as his little body can do it and then he loses that control and therefore control of his reactions as well.  Noah is much like his mother in that once he gets into that situation and loses the control it’s like he gives into it all and loses himself.  I know how to calm him down because it’s exactly the same as his mother, my beautiful wife Andrea’s issues.

Andrea’s father made the comment about how Andrea was the same way.
“You’re the only one who could stop her,” was his response.  “What did you do?”

When I am lost and out of control, there have always been three people who could fix it for me.  Andrea first, because when anything went right or wrong, she helped me talk it out.  When I couldn’t get her, my Dad and then my Mom were the next in line.  My parents knew exactly what I needed.  All I could think today was how tragic it was for Andrea that she couldn’t count on the two people who she should count on above all others, all her life until she met me, to get her out of that situation when it hit.

Andrea and I had our arguments, that’s no secret.  In fact, there were some doozies.  But we always came through on the other side and my kids always knew that no matter how much we might have gotten on each others’ nerves, we always were able to fix it.  We were home waking up together the next morning.  Andrea, and Noah now, would get to the point where she wanted to get her point across.  She’d get angry.  She’d get upset.  Then she’d give in to the anger, the man in the shiny metallic purple armor.  There was no reasoning or control at that point.  There’s only one thing you can do at that point.  There was no magic trick, that’s what her parents never got and it makes me so sad.  When she was that upset, the tears coming down her face – coming down  Noah’s face – and all I had to do was go up and grab her.

There is a big difference between a hug and an embrace.  A hug is a pleasant, quick, loving thing.  An embrace is more.  It’s an unspoken sentence; it’s a silent understanding.  When Andrea was lost, an embrace, tight, loving, and beautiful was like a rope tethering her back to the shore.  It was the lifeline that brought her back to me.  It’s so easy when someone is angry to give into their anger and let it build.  I did that early on and learned to notice the point where she was drifting away.  Arguments are hard when you both want to entrench yourselves in your position and never let go of what you think is right.  The true test of whether you love someone is knowing when the argument has gained control and realizing when you need to just . . . stop.  Stop and assess what is wrong and whether you’re getting anywhere.  For me, it was stopping the poking and prodding and realizing that I’d gotten us to the point where she was beyond knowing what the fight was about, she was simply lost.  Not mad, not angry or evil, she was lost.  Not out of control but not unable to maintain control.  The best spouse recognizes this and stops everything knowing that she needs you.

I wish more couples would understand and notice that point.  I think it’s probably a good reason so many people divorce or children end up distant from their parents.  You just have to notice.  If, in the throngs of passionate and angry discourse you cannot see what’s in front of you you’re not arguing, you’re yelling.  I grew to realize there was more to our arguments than just the key thing and that pinnacle, the horrific point – one I didn’t see a ton, but did see – I could come to her, the anger making her get angry and push away until I put my arms around her shoulders and pulled my forearm and elbow around her chin, so my hand could hold the top of her head, play and caress with her hair, and simply say “it’s OK.  We’ll figure it out.”

That’s all she wanted.  It’s all she ever wanted.  Someone to tell her she was OK and cared for.  She wanted someone to bring her back.  Noah is the same way.  You have to be able to let go of the control yourself.  You have to give in to the emotion yourself and realize that you’re not going to get anywhere.  That temper and anger are showing you they need to be reassured that you love them unconditionally.  I think about that and it makes me so sad that for 20 years of her life she felt like she couldn’t get through to the people she needed to give her that the most.  We moved back here and that same little girl, the one who couldn’t control her impulses came back and I am angered and saddened myself because I think it’s also what made me lose her.  The color of the world disappeared and I was her sole tie to the shore.  By the end I was the only line and it was fraying as other lines broke.  Eventually I couldn’t hold on any more and she left me, stranded by myself on the shore.

I see what happens with my son and as hard as it is to deal with I see his mother in him and realize that this is the most important thing.  All 4 kids have a bit of that control issue.  When their Mom left, they had one lifeline break.  Two of their grandparents want more from them than they get themselves.  I’m having to weave a larger and stronger rope to hold them here to the shore.  I throw other lines from my Mom and Dad.  But I’m the key line holding them here on the shore.

Now, my kids all come to me when they need something.  I never tell them I don’t have time.  I’ve seen what not spending the time does to someone and I lost my love as a result.  I won’t let them do it.  I know what Noah, Sam, Abbi and Hannah need when things are bad.  If I don’t know, I plead for help to get it.  It’s what you do as a parent.

I want them to feel the embrace, even when physically my arms aren’t there.  I want more than anything for them to create more lines to the shore as they meet and love more people.  No matter how difficult the situation I want them to know they’re not adrift.

Down in the Flood

Down In the Flood by Derek Trucks from the LP “Already Free”

Our home after the move - start of the first waves . . .

I never used to be one that bought into constant analogies and metaphors for daily life.  I just went on with my daily activities, stressed out much of the time, and not really understanding what I was going through.

But now, the idea of being caught in a flood really catches my eye and is without question one of the most apt descriptions of how I think we’re going right now.  In the beginning, you see, we were just starting, the water trickling in, the dampness sort of permeating small, unrealized areas of our lives and we thought it was OK.  We could easily mop it up or bail it out later.  We had bigger things to contend with.  The dam had to be built or repaired in other places.

I’m not just giving you metaphors here.  I have examples.  Where daily things like laundry, dinner, picking up the kids, how to deal with school, all those things were decent sized problems, particularly for someone who wasn’t used to doing them every day, there’s the fact that I had to move our entire house just a couple months after losing Andrea.  I had to get a different job because my boss didn’t want me working with them any more.  I had to seem like I was a really strong and capable Dad able to take care of my children and seem like where they were a wreck I was OK, strong and able to handle things so they could feel safe.

But I had to give up a home that would work because I was losing more than 1/3 of my salary.  My children were a mess because, under the deal we’d made, we had to be out of our home in a very finite amount of time.  With no home to move into, my father offered to let us live with them, in Nebraska, as long as we needed.  We could pay for food with Social Security and unemployment.  I could write.  I could get us through the 2 remaining years of high school for my oldest, Abbi, and then decide what to do.  It was so tempting, to the point I was nearly resigned to do it.

You have to understand, in those first weeks, the point where my writing was stiff, stilted and jerky on the page, I was lost.  I was down in the flood, missing my best friend.  The person who helped me make decisions was gone.  I was alone, fumbling around waist-deep in the water not knowing what I was feeling.  Ultimately, I decided that, under all the changes we’d had to face, including moving my daughter out of her school and going to the public school, the last horrible thing that would break my kids would be moving them from the home they know right now.  Living in Nebraska, in the calm, safe, security of a home that was mine, that was my life alone, was tempting and would have been wonderful for me.  But it really wasn’t about me.  Not any more.  It was about those four kids and moving four kids from California to the Midwest, putting them in a school where their class might be 30-40 kids at most, was setting them up for ridicule and scrutiny they really didn’t need.

So I was resigned to stay.  I got so lucky, I was offered a job that paid me better, was friendly toward my family where the previous one wasn’t, and let me be a journalist, not a virtual traffic cop placing and rearranging other people’s stories to fit someone’s schizophrenic idea of a story calendar.  My father, still living with us, said “it’s about time.  You’ve been so due for even the tiniest break I couldn’t believe it.  I didn’t want to ask what else could happen!”

Once we started trying to find a house the market was insane.  One house I went to said he would open the house for fifteen minutes and I could fill out an application.  Little did I realize it wasn’t just my 15 minutes, but me and 20-30 other couples, all of whom started negotiating higher rent with the owner because they were desperate, just like me, to get into a home.  I was lucky that a property manager who I had been dealing with prior to getting pushed out of my job remembered me and had set up with the owner that we could move in, if we wanted the house, with no advertisement on the home.  If we wanted it, the owner was fine with us already.  The water pouring over the dike was so heavy by that point I was literally feeling like I was drowning.

Once we moved there was stuff everywhere.  We had to move from a place we called home, with tons of stuff, a lot of it Andrea’s, and go through the materials before we were even ready.  Again, the major wash of water overshadowing the routine.

The major change now, though, is that I’ve hit a wall.  Where 8-9 months ago the water was washing, like a tsunami dragging us out to sea, now it’s been a sneaky, rising flood that has come up from underneath us.

You have to understand, I’m not really stressed out, not like I was.  I don’t hate my job, in fact I love it, quite a bit.  So the daily dread of getting in the car and driving to work wasn’t there.  A year ago I was racked with worry.  Financially we were unstable.  Andrea’s knees were shot and the bones were literally grinding against each other when she walked.  I was so hurt watching her struggle to even walk from the car into Target for the day.  Liver problems and medical issues had caused her to gain a bunch of weight that made it hard for her to sleep in our bed.  The light of her smile had dimmed.  The depression she was feeling had taken, literally, the color from all the sound and vision of her world, it was all muted tones of grey.  She told me as much.  But where you might think, “he’s happy she’s not suffering any more” you’re wrong.  You see, she’d turned the corner.  In the last few months, nearly a year, she’d gotten so happy.  She was smiling more, dancing again, singing off-key and giggling like the Andrea of old.  Just when we were poised to get her better it all went away.

So the stresses are gone.  Sure, I should be happy, but I’m not.  You never realize how much water has overtaken you until you look and see that your body is wet.  Now, I am seeing the daily laundry overtaking me.  I can’t fold it all, can’t iron my shirts, fold towels, even get it all in the washing machine.  The boys have ripped holes in nearly every single pair of pants.  Hannah has gone to excessive eating again, to the point I have to force her to get outside and walk around with me so we both get a decent amount of exercise.  My poor Abbi is in a school she didn’t want and we both know she has to attend, but she doesn’t know how to let go of her past.  Noah doesn’t want to do things separately so he knows what is going on every day.  Sam, he just doesn’t want me out of his sight.

And I work as hard as I can to stay together.  I work until my body tells me it’s had enough and needs to stop and then I sit up in my bed and watch TV until I can’t sit any more.  Like yesterday, we’re walking just off-kilter, seeing the world from the periphery.  I’m treading water.  The massive panic went away and I realized it masked the rising flood waters below us.

That, and I miss my best friend now.  It’s been a long road these months to come to the realization that I had to take the mantle of authority.  Now, I realize nearly too late that I make the decisions.  Right, wrong, good, bad, I make them.  We’re down in the flood and it’s my own fault, but the solutions are there.  I’ve got the kids doing more.  I task out what’s most important and let the leaks lie while I fix the cracks.  I’m slowly getting my head above water.

But it still doesn’t fix the one big thing yet, that I’m missing my best friend now.

Falling Slowly

Falling Slowly (Live) by The Swell Season  One of the most beautiful songs ever written/performed – by the REAL artists, not the crappy Fox American Idol version . . . 

Abbi and my son Noah, in a happier moment

It’s funny, the holidays came and went and by that I mean not just the holiday itself but all the buildup, the decorating, the seasonal songs, the feeling in the air, all of it, and we seemed to get through.  But it’s exactly as I’ve told everyone before, it’s not the major events, the massive holidays or birthdays and major events that are hard on us.  It’s the little things, the stupid, silly routines we’ve forgotten about that make us turn around to say “hey, Andrea did you see . . . ” only to falter realizing she’s not there that make you sit and fall apart for awhile.

It’s also true that we’re not really getting “better” as many people want to quantify it.  In fact, now that we’re through the holidays, it’s kind of like  things have gotten a little bit worse, something I wasn’t really prepared for, I have to admit.  Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s not like the first month or so after she passed away.  Things then were a haze of torment, depression, exhaustion and dehydration.  That first week, even up to the point of going to the mortuary and all of it I spent on the couch.  I sat in a daze, unable to sleep, unable to really move or do much.  I sat up most of the night, in the odd stillness of the late night/early morning and couldn’t process what I was going through.  I go through emotions, pushing to resolve to succeed with my kids so they would feel safe then falling forward with my head in my hands wanting to just roll into a ball.  I tried to read.  I watched the entire series “The Wire” (not a season or a few episodes, I watched the ENTIRE series) via download.

One of the things that people don’t grasp is the fact that this isn’t a typical wound.  This isn’t like you’ve been shot or stabbed.  Sure, the bleeding may slow, but the wound never closes.  The hope and feeling by most people is that you get through it.  If you’re solid, Midwestern stock, like I claim to be, you just power through.  If you go to therapy you talk out your problems and the TV version of your life shows how everything gets better and eventually your life is rosy pink and you move on.

It’s not how it works, though.  I can’t blame people for thinking this, I don’t think most people are exposed to it very often.  We don’t live in the times of the prairie when Scarlet Fever and Tuberculosis would sweep through and take a number of people, leaving families to struggle on their own.  Modern technology and medicine help us to live longer and survive more, so we aren’t exposed to the life and death struggles our ancestors did.  We also are so much more surprised when we lose someone to something like pneumonia, a curable disease most of the time.

No, as a friend once put it to me, you don’t get better.  You just don’t.  You learn to adjust and you learn to live with it.  It’s your ability to cope that changes, not your physical or mental wounds.  Maybe some learn faster than others.  It’s clear we haven’t gotten it right yet.

I knew this already, sure, but I saw the physical signs over the last couple weeks as they appeared.  Today when we went to church, the kids usually break from the parents and go to a children’s liturgy, partly so they learn the readings easier, partly so they’re not bored stiff in the church and bothering everyone while the priest gives his homily.  Neither of my sons would leave.  They stayed rooted to the pew, steadfast and tears starting to form in their eyes.

“I don’t want to go!”

Their sister, Abbi, tried to make them go, but even Hannah, our middle, wouldn’t budge.  They wouldn’t say why, but I got it.  They seemed OK up until the last couple weeks, but now they want the security.  They don’t want to be away from their family, particularly me.  The boys have asked if I actually have to go to work every day, could I be home when they get back from school?  Do they have to go to Nebraska for the summer?  They’d miss me!

None of these factors came up before this last couple weeks.  But I know why they have, I feel it too.  My daughter tonight had a long discussion with me.  “I feel like I’m just kind of askew,” she says.  Not upright, not quite on the regular path.  From my own perspective, I feel like I’ve been going through the motions, and even then, not very well.  I started off with such a massive surge of energy, the push to get it all right, to do it all.  I got up really early and stayed up really late, which I still do, but I made breakfasts from scratch every day.  I made dinner in the morning so it could be heated up that evening to have dinner at a decent hour.  Now I can’t.  I just can’t keep up the routine.  I burned out too quickly and it kills me.  The laundry for 5 people is massive.  I run the machines daily, at least 1-2 loads, many times more.  Now, instead of getting it all done, I feel like i’m falling, slowly and surely, watching the world blur as I go.

Worse, I feel like the daily requirements make it so I can’t talk to the kids or do anything.  Abbi is not doing as well as she should, I can tell.  As close as she is to me, she had her Mom to help her through all the things you need when you have to talk to your Mom.  Particularly when you are a girl.  Andrea was uncanny with those things, knowing exactly what was going on, what to do.  It was like she was inside her daughters’ heads.  I know it, because there were so many times I felt the same way, when things were wrong and she knew exactly what I was going through.  You have no idea how hard it is to cope when you have that and then it’s snatched away from you.  Abbi lost her Mom and then I had to take what was her normal life, her high school days, and snatch those away.  I couldn’t afford her school anymore, and she didn’t want us to pay for it, but I see it.  She is having so hard a time letting that go, and having such a hard time getting the new school to accept her.  I can’t fix it, I know that, but it hurts both me and her, I think, because I want to try, but unlike her mother, I don’t know what to say.

We went right after Christmas to see the movie “The Adventures of Tin Tin” because Noah wanted desperately to see the movie version of the books he’d read over the summer.  When we go there, the parking lot was packed, insanely filled with people.  I had Abbi take them up, pick up the tickets from the ATM/kiosk, then send in Hannah and the boys to get us seats.  After finding a parking spot, getting my tix from Abbi and then going to get food, I’d come into the theater already through many of the previews. (Including, to my chagrin, one on the Hobbit, which I was dying to see!)  Noah was in tears.  Not the tantrum, angry or sad tears.  These were panicked, scared tears.  As I walked up I could see him stretching, trying to see us walking into the theater.  He stood up, sat down, was looking back and forth through the theater, trying to see with his little form, the gap between the wall and the front of the theater where I’d come in to walk up to the seats.  When I got there he shrank back into his seat, turning his head so I couldn’t see.  Noah had taken his hand the back of his wrist, and rubbed the tears away.  He was a bit embarrassed, which he shouldn’t have been, and a little angry.

“He was really worried, Dad,” Hannah told me.  “He thought you weren’t going to make it.  He thought something had happened.”
“I just thought you’d miss the movie,” Noah spat out, a little angrily, and I almost broke.  The little guy was panicked and he was angry at himself and me for getting that scared.  I sat next to him, moving one of the other kids over a seat so I could sit by him, and put my hand on his head, squeezing a little, gently, to let him know I was there.  He looked up a little, but turned back to the screen.  It wasn’t until something he recognized from the book that he warmed back up.

I don’t have the answers.  I really don’t know what to do half the time.  The days I feel straight and upright are so few it really is, as Abbi put it, like I’m looking at the world from a slant.  The trees growing diagonally, the world moving forward and us moving sideways.  The wound doesn’t heal, we learn to live with it.

It’s obvious this last few days that I still have a lot to learn.  Until then, I’ll fall, slowly, until I can pick myself back up.

Wax on . . . wax off . . .

This morning I was taking three of the kids to school and had to break the tension.  They’d been at each others’ throats all morning, fighting, hitting, yelling, just making everyone crazy.  I looked at Hannah, the middle daughter, and told her something was wrong with her nose.

“What do you mean?”

In my best Mr. Miyagi face, I reached over, slowly hovering my hand in front of her nose and squeezed it, saying: “honk”.

“See, you really need to get that fixed.”

“What the heck?!”

“You need to get that fixed, it could really lead to problems.”

I squeezed it again, giving her an ahooga noise like an old car and told her it’s getting worse.

Hannah busted out laughing, as did the boys in the back.  Hannah shouting “what is wrong with you?!”

I asked her if it was so strange why was she laughing?  “I don’t know!!!”

This was the only thing I could think of to do to calm them down.  I’ve been here before.  I’ve been in this very situation, threatening them, yelling at them, only to get the note or phone call later in the day that states I have to keep my kid’s behavior in check.  Usually it’s Noah.  Sometimes it’s Hannah.  Sam . . . well, he just needs to toughen up a little.  His is usually an injury report because he got hit with a dodgeball or basketball and cried.  The kid’s built like a 1930’s professional wrestler but has the constitution of a marshmallow!

These are the things I have to do.  I need to see the kids laughing again.  I need them to feel comfortable and not go to school with worried feelings and feeling tense, on-edge.  They may have argued before, but their mom always forced them to come over, give her a hug, patted their bottoms and the problems melted away.  They stopped fighting (well, sometimes).  I don’t have that.  I don’t have the aforementioned twinkle in my eyes that hypnotizes you (particularly boys) and gets them to do whatever you want.

I have to go Miyagi on their asses.

I know that they feel this way, they told me so.  Every night we have the same routine: after dinner they get to play, usually not with the TV on, and around 8pm they start the showers.  After that, we have a “midnight snack”, a habit my mother began with them of getting a small bowl of cereal, usually rice crispies with bananas.  They brush their teeth, head to bed and I head up there, if things go on-schedule (not usually the case) and read a chapter out of whichever book we’re reading this week.

This week Noah’s been telling me he’s having problems with a couple kids at school.  In my paranoia I always think they’re getting in fights or arguments, but the way he tells it, they blame him for things, he gets called up to the teacher, it’s found not true but another kid vouches for what the accuser says and it all just sits at a stalemate.  All I can do at this point is tell Noah that his behavior to this point has made others wary of him and teachers ready to believe he’s doing something wrong even if he didn’t.  I told him a couple days ago that, unfortunately, he has to be better than his best.  If anything goes wrong, he’ll get the blame, that’s just the nature of things so far.

Then he just knocked the breath out of me.

“I prayed to Mommy this morning.”
“What, little man?”
“I prayed to Mommy.  I asked her to help me be good.  I wanted her to help me so I could ignore the other kids and just do my school work.”

I don’t think he noticed my eyes getting a little glassy.

“What did you say, Monkey?”
“I just asked her to help me so that I can be good.  For her. ”
“Did it work?”
“I don’t know.  They still were mean to me.”

But he didn’t get into trouble.  He kept it together.  I didn’t get any behavior reports, he didn’t get in any fights, it just played out and he let things be.

But I could tell he was hoping for more.  He wanted what he was missing.  He wanted that presence, the warmth that we all felt when she would put her arms around you and say the absolutely perfect thing.  He asked for it, but he didn’t get it, at least he doesn’t think he did.  I don’t think she came down and visited some sort of patience on him, though I ache knowing that it would mean so much to him if she did.  I do think that the shards of her that are left, the little pieces left behind when she was ripped from all of our souls, the fragments that drift around in the wound are there and I hope that’s what he is thinking about.  I hope that he’s remembering what she said and felt.

Andrea had a way of coming up with the perfect solutions.  When we first moved to town, Abbi wanted to do something for the school talent show, but the group she’d joined with to perform couldn’t agree on what they wanted to do and she had her name in and nothing to perform.

“Do something with your Dad,” was Andrea’s answer.
“What?!  Nobody does stuff with their parents at these!”
“Doesn’t mean you can’t.”

I looked at her, and we both figured, why not?  My big thing was I wanted this to be Abbi’s moment, but for years she’d sung along with my music on the radio.  Sang to the point that Andrea, her dad, everyone told her she was too noisy and to knock it off.  But one of her favorites was a fun old Buddy Guy tune, performed by Stevie Ray Vaughan – “Mary Had a Little Lamb”.  It didn’t even take much rehearsal.  I took my Dobro, an acoustic guitar that has an aluminum cone – like a speaker cone – instead of a sound hole, and headed to the show.

Abbi was nervous, very much so, and I took a chair back behind her so she was able to be out front.  We followed a lot of really talented people and she was just a little freaked out by the fact that her friends had played classical pieces on the piano and complicated magic or juggling and she felt like she was singing a nursery rhyme.  But her Mom told her it would be OK and that she had a bluesy voice and they wouldn’t know what hit them.  When I finished the intro, she belted it out, growling out the song, sassing a little when she called: “tisket . . . tasket, baby.  A green and yellow basket.”  The crowd went crazy, and she had a huge grin painted on her face – again, that twinkle in her eyes.  We did it again the following year, allowing her little sister to sing, too.  That year, Andrea pushing us both – wanting Hannah to sing “Bein’ Green” the Kermit the Frog song.  It may seem a simply, jaunty little tune, but it’s actually filled with more chords than I’ve played before, contorting my fingers to play Kenny Burrell style jazz while she talked about being the color of the leaves.

But we did it, pushed ourselves, strove to be better with the help of their Mom.  With the support and smile of that amazing person.

Noah had the most disappointed look on his face when he finished his sentence that night.  He was crestfallen knowing that he’d reached out to his Mom and had it reinforced that she’s just not there any more.  Not in the physical sense, and I’ve been there where he is.  He wanted to have his Mom reach out from up there somewhere, to feel her presence and get that calm.

The best he gets for now is Mr. Miyagi.

Wax on, wax off.

Reversion Therapy

Believe it or not, I think this is actually from the show I saw – my very first concert!  Gotta love YouTube.

Don’t worry, I’m not sitting in some sort of isolation tank with a bag of ‘shrooms and de-evolving to my Neanderthal ancestry.  (If you get the reference, I’m impressed.  As a teenager I always thought Blair Brown was gorgeous)  But I have found myself dwelling a lot on things that swirled before and after the last 20 years.

I’m not sure why that is, frankly.

OK, I’m lying a little bit, I have an idea.  Just like the title of my blog and the sign on our wall says, “The Place Our Story Begins”, there’s a new story begun in this part of our lives.  Others try to tell me that it’s simply another chapter, but I just don’t see it that way.  A chapter is a part of the story, something that pushes the plot, either by giving you background or furthering the device so you ultimately move forward toward the end of your story line.  The events of the last eight months have – in no way at all – furthered our story.  In fact, if anything (if you’ll pardon the cliche’d use of an old phrase) for every step forward we think we’re taking, we end up taking two steps back.

No, we’re not in another chapter, this is absolutely another story.  I guess the best way to reason this out for you is that we had mapped out the previous story.  The chapters were laid, the road of our life paved right there in front of us.  Andrea changed my life, for sure, and the diversion from the road I’d been on wasn’t a poor one.  It was the proper choice, a change for the better that put me onto the right path.  It was another chapter.  This amazing woman had found the person inside me that was hoping to see the light of day and helped him to come out.  She put us onto the path together so that the stories merged – kind of like those old ’70s and ’80s dramas or when CSI Vegas ends up in New York and another series emerges.  Same producers, similar writers, but the story changes a bit.  That was what happened with us.

But we’ve burned that chapter outline, like so many bridges on the road we’d paved.  (Remember that line, it’s a lyric in a forthcoming song I’ve written)  Our story was all but written.  Sure, there were some dramatic plot twists.  A year into marriage, we were pregnant with our first child.  We were young, at least for us, having a daughter at the age of 24.  Andrea, I can say with utmost confidence, was totally freaked out.  As much as everyone was excited and happy, throwing baby shower after baby shower and inundating her with gifts, she was scared and didn’t think she could handle it.  Sure, I was scared, but we couldn’t both freak out.  So I didn’t.  I didn’t think at the time that I wanted to be a parent, I still had so many amazing things I wanted to do with my wife.  I was just getting used to saying I was married; just getting used to feeling this amazing woman’s skin next to mine as I drifted to sleep each night.  We were still crazy in love, hungry for each other, and we were now throwing a baby into the equation.

But here’s the thing: I always thought, and said to myself: “no big deal, we’re having the baby young.  We can still have those adventures, those trips overseas or goofy idealistic projects once she grows up.  We’ll still be young enough.”  At no point did I ever think that we’d never get to have those times together.  We were supposed to pick up the giddy adventurous life again later, when we’d grown up a little ourselves.  That was the way the story was supposed to go.  We were supposed to get our “happily ever after” but instead we got the Shakespearean tragedy.

I’m not asking for your pity or people to think about us like we’re so messed up we can’t function, that’s not the case.  Nor do I want anyone to get the mistaken impression that I didn’t or don’t want my children around.  That’s about as far from the truth as you can get.

But we didn’t always see eye-to-eye when it came to how we became parents.  Andrea wasn’t happy, in fact, she was hyperventilating when she saw that little “+” on the pregnancy test.  I think she took three of them, asking me to go out and buy another set of tests so she could make absolutely certain that she hadn’t messed up somewhere along the line.  Not that she could, you pee on a stick and wait ten or twenty minutes.  It’s pretty simple, I think.  It was one time of many that I had to talk her down, explain how we’d do this, tell her what we could do, how we’d live, what would happen.  It was the first and only time she’d freaked out when pregnant.  It was the only time I didn’t.

With Abbi, a name I liked but would have changed had I known then she was named after a soap opera character, I did tons of prep work.  I stenciled roses on the ceiling of what would be her bedroom in our apartment.  I helped pick out a crib.  I set up the room, rocking chair and baby monitors included.  I did a ton of work to prepare for the arrival of this tiny little person.  What Andrea didn’t know was how freaked out I was, too.

You have to understand, with each pregnancy I saw our time together pushing farther and farther away.  I saw dollar signs flying out the door.  Where she freaked out and couldn’t understand how we’d survive I was fine.   But with Hannah and the boys I was in a panic.  She was ecstatic, happy as a clam.  If she could have had 4 more kids I think she would have.  I was scared.  I couldn’t tell Andrea “no” and we were already in trouble financially, losing ground on our bills, living at times off our credit cards.  I couldn’t see an end in sight.  I wasn’t happy.  I didn’t, nor would I ever, consider aborting the pregnancy.  I’m not taking a moral a political stand by saying that, I just couldn’t have done it.  The only time we even had the discussion was when they thought Hannah, our middle, had some major genetic abnormalities because of anomalies on a hormone test.  For a month, while we waited for the results of an amniocentesis, we were scared, not for ourselves but for the baby and what might happen.  Again – freaked out.

Now, the story’s over.  It really is, and that’s so very hard to accept.  You have to understand, we were supposed to do it all over again.  I didn’t want the kids to leave quickly and I really don’t want them to now.  But I wasn’t scared and panicked about it like other parents.  I was looking forward to it, almost.  I wanted to go out to dinner, go to concerts, go see the pyramids at Giza!  I was really just dying to see that first week alone together when we could go out, hold hands, and jump off the cliffs of insanity together again.  I didn’t have major plans, I just knew that once the children were gone it didn’t matter because they were still my kids – like me with my parents, they’d call me and talk.  Regardless, I’d have Andrea, the love of my life, to lay on my shoulder, figuring it out as we went.

So it’s all the more confusing to me that I watch myself delve so far back.  I’m telling stories to the kids of my first concert, with my older brother, seeing the band Kansas at Omaha’s Civic Auditorium – the band amazing, but dual headlining with Heart who were so awful that night that we left 2 songs into their set.  I sit in the car with old Robert Cray CD’s in the player, discs that I had bought before I ever dated her.  Even my high school and early college years are creeping in.  My childhood.

I’m not sure if it’s the realization of my own mortality that is weighing on me.  The optimist – the guy inside that’s been most absent in the past few months – thinks I’m just retelling the other stories.  I’m looking at the story of my life and finding the happier moments.  I’m avoiding the last chapters as my brain processes its day when I lose the grip on consciousness.

I know why I’m doing it, it’s just hard to admit it.  I don’t want to act like my sons, who buy a new book and immediately skip to the end, reading how the wizard defeats the evil nemesis.  I don’t want to look at the end of the story.

Problem is I already know how the story ended, I read it once before.

I just didn’t want it to end.

…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.

 

The Soundtrack to the Colour of the World

Most days I stumble along, keeping my mouth and nose just above the surface.  Now, that’s not to say I don’t occasionally swallow some water.  If the surface is calm, I can keep my nose and lips above the water, watching the surface tension hold the flood that could pour into me and drown me in a sea of difficulties.

Not that a wake doesn’t push through and rise the level above my head.

I get that I’m over-doing the drowning analogy here, but it’s apt.  Believe me.  The biggest wave to hit is almost always the kids’ school.  The number of half-days, holidays, breaks, long weekends, in-service programs and faculty retreats is so high I can’t seem to keep up.  This week is the perfect example.

Tuesday the boys remind me that there’s no school on Friday.  None.  No extended day program, nothing.  Don’t get me wrong, the reason is very noble, it’s a good cause.  They help what is called a “mustard seed school”.  Basically it’s a way for our parish and school to give help, supplies and anything else to kids and schools who don’t have the resources.  Every year we all pitch in, buy backpacks, get extra school supplies and help the students less-fortunate than ourselves.  It’s very noble.

But as this event swishes through my week, the wake it leaves behind is killing me.  I no longer have that partner.  The ability for one of us to shift our schedule, or take half the day, what have you, is gone.  On top of that, the last few half-days and days off I had to take off.  We’re in October, the push to November ratings, and I’m already 2 sick days and 5 vacation days in the hole.  I’m only 4 months into this new job, I can’t afford to make them angry or miss more work.

I get that we have that Catholic missionary charity mandate, but this is starting to wear on me.  I can’t stay home, I can’t get daycare because I can’t afford it and my oldest has school all day.

I find myself, again, begging my sister-in-law to take the kids.  This isn’t a criticism of her, she’s amazing, wonderful, helps whenever I need it, and is constantly telling me to let her know if I need anything.  But I hate having to ask.  She’s got her own 3 kids.  She has my in-laws living with her. (An issue for another entire post I won’t subject you to today) Sam is a little freaked out by one of their dogs.  Don’t get me wrong, I take her up on it, I have to, but it kills me to ask and put my burdens on someone else.

This is where missing Andrea approaches the practicality of every day life.  If you have your spouse you can plan, bargain, schedule, even argue, but at least you get the solution and can make something happen.  There are days that I wonder how many more times I can beg for help?  When does taking people up on their polite offers of help turn into burdening them with your difficulties?  What happens when Abbi leaves for college?  She’s only here another 2 years and Hannah won’t be old enough to drive!

Andrea was always a great problem solver.  It was a boon and a burden, though.  There were times we absolutely needed it.  There were also times that her drive to solve what she saw as a problem created bigger problems.  Andrea was brilliant, even though she was told she wasn’t.  She wanted to change careers but I don’t think she ever forgave me for the fact that she did it.  I wanted her to stay in journalism, but it didn’t make enough money, fast enough, for her tastes, so she went to pharmacy school.  The thing is, everybody told her she couldn’t do it!  I knew she could.  I didn’t think we could pull it off, but I knew she was smart enough.  Much like my brother Mike, she took the prerequisites she needed and tested out of others in record time.  She got into Creighton’s PharmD program.  She was, in the end, a Doctor of Pharmacy.  She knew more than I ever did, was able to use the logic and even got an award for her help in researching new treatments for alzheimers – a drug I see marketed today and know she played a role in it.

But to pay for those initial two years of undergrad extras I had to supplement our income.  I worked as many hours at the small-market television station that employed me as I could.  I delivered newspapers at 2-5am.  (Not kidding.  Really did it) and gigged with my band as much as I possibly could.  Andrea hated me playing with a band.  It was the one thing we had the hardest time reaching a middle ground.  I couldn’t get her to understand, nor did she want to, I don’t think.

Those gigs, that music, actually fed us in those years.  We had groceries some weeks from the 4-hour gigs at the BBQ joint or the 415 Club.  Music is a huge part of my life.  It’s here in this blog, and there’s a lot of musical references in everything I do.  If you told me I could pick losing a leg or losing an arm, I’d pick the leg so I could still play guitar.  It took the revelation that Andrea had a condition known as Synesthesia – seeing sounds and objects as colors – for us to meet halfway.  We both came to the realization that we had similar syndromes – hers with colors, mine with sound.  There isn’t a time in the day where some tune or musical note isn’t running through what’s happening in front of me.  For her she saw varying colors with the way people talked.  As a result, if something was wrong with me, she could tell, even if I tried to shield her from it, because the tone of my voice visually betrayed me to her brain.

So early in our marriage she would jealously feel that when she arrived in a bar where I was playing I should have focused my attention on HER, not my playing.  In the last half or so, she realized that to pull me out of that world – much like removing the color from hers – would drive me mad.

I sincerely believe it’s what made her so wonderful.  She was fanciful.  She was fun.  She had a beauty that sparkled in her eyes when she smiled.  That twinkle, some of the color, started to disappear when she became clinically depressed.  You could see it dull when she fell into that darkness.  What irritates the hole in my soul is that I saw that spark returning bit by bit, and she was laughing, sparkling more in the months before she died.  The woman who got angry and finally went back to school, damn the consequences, damn the cost (which was the downside to her pharmaceutical decision) she would prove them all wrong!

Yet some in her sphere of influence (I won’t say here) wouldn’t even ask her questions about the prescriptions they were given when she got her DOCTORATE.  She just wasn’t “smart enough”.  In a room full of people – the people most important to her – some of those closest to her would ask people with no medical background about the medications they were taking, right in front of Andrea, ignoring that she had taken 4 years of pharmacology.  How many years do you live with that kind of subtle psychological nose tweaking before you give in to the insanity?  Before you lose the colour of the world?

So she embraced those charitable events and had a strong faith.  But where that improved our lives when we were together it is such a big stress now.  I get that they have to help others, it’s a Catholic thing, faith, love and charity wrapped in one giant guilt burrito.  But I’m one burrito away from falling under the surface.  I miss the practicality of having that cohort to bounce ideas and solutions off.  But more I miss the comradery.  It isn’t that I miss her every day.  I can’t picture any portion of my day that isn’t missing her presence.

But when the practical daily routine is so out of whack it’s an obvious, immediate, machete instead of a scalpel kind of reminder of what’s missing in our lives.

I often use the phrase that everything’s a song to a musician.  It’s still true.  But we look for things we wanted to do but couldn’t because Andrea wasn’t able or didn’t want to . . . because without her here, we have a soundtrack to our lives, but we’re missing some of the colours of the world.

The sparkle in her eyes said it all