Tuesday marks the anniversary of The Norwegian’s death. You might believe this to be a somber day in our home. Parts are, to be sure. Mostly we will spend time together, toast his memory with champagne and share stories. And laugh through our tears.
We laugh because we were blessed. I was a blessed girlfriend, wife, mother of his children, business partner and widow. My children were blessed to have this man be the one who held them first. They were blessed that he was the man grasping their hands as they took their first steps. They were blessed that he was the man to cheer them as they learned to throw a proper check, shoot a perfect three-pointer and stand en pointe.
Oldest Chicken was blessed after suffering a third concussion in college football; his father told the NCAA trainer he would not risk his son’s brain for a silly game. And when a son called his mother in fear that no longer playing the sport he loved would make him less in his father’s eyes, the boy’s father cried. Despite my assurances, our son welled up as he told The Norwegian he had to quit the team. His father, my husband, said, “I have never been prouder of anyone in my life. Hard decisions grow extraordinary men.” As always, he was correct. Our son is strong, wise beyond his years, hard working and kind beyond measure. He is also equal parts stubborn, quick to anger and impatient for his life to be larger than his dreams. He is the man his father molded.
Middle Chicken was blessed when she tearily explained to her father, her biggest supporter, that perhaps medicine was the wrong choice. He searched for the best law school prep tests and timed each one as her scores climbed. The day he died she sent him her top score, a few points from perfect. He never saw it. He planned a political future including strategic condo placement, the best handlers and a heart bursting with pride. He said, “After all, how is a girl terrified of getting a shot gonna be a surgeon?” She fulfills not only her dreams but his as she soars through law school making Law Review, snaring an amazing fall externship with a certain prestigious department of our government and a dignity known only to those who have lost their best friend, confidante and advisor. I see him in her every day and he, no doubt, travels on her shoulder.
Baby Chicken was blessed to have the example of a man so in tune with her stubborn streak he taught her to use it to her advantage, never compromising who she is for anyone. He could not have been prouder to have a child marching to her own drummer; rarely swayed by the opinions of others. He counted this a strength as big as any talent. When she, cheering on the sidelines of a football game, watched her team’s quarterback throw another interception, her frustration reached its peak and she left the game. He followed her. “Baby Chicken what are you doing?” Her convoluted explanation of a quarterback not recognizing an open back down field and giving up yet another game pissed her off so much she was just done. “But you’ll be in trouble with Coach,” said he. “Doesn’t matter. I’ll just have to run laps. But this is a disgrace.” She wasn’t that nice. Her father laughed aloud in the retell, “This girl just doesn’t give a damn what you think.” Pride beamed through his smile. And now when she watches her team it’s Alabama. Roll Tide. And, yes, she criticizes AJ’s passing.
On the sidelines of their lives, my husband was the father who went to the front row, the fifty yard line, the red line or the floor in front of rowdy student section to have the best view of his children; the only children he saw in the stadium, on the stage, the gym or the classroom. He believed they were the the best and the brightest, gifted with a golden touch in whatever they might pursue. He had the ability to convince them as well. I believe because the man took one look at each upon their birth and fell deeply, passionately in love with the little trio; they, in turn, had the ability to steal his heart in a glance regardless of age, ability or talent.
You can write? You will be one of the world’s great novelists. Is there such a thing as writing camp? You want to study law instead of medicine, let’s readjust and make sure you go to summer school to get those extra credits. You want to spend your first year after college in Australia. That’s fine, however, you’ll have to earn the money to get there. And remind the child as he boards a plane bound for the other side of the world, “I won’t pay for you to leave but I will always pay for you to come home.” And tear up in the car.
I married a man who rented a restaurant to propose in private. His carefully worded speech, on bended knee, was lovely and tear inducing. I don’t remember a word of it. Working through college as a bartender, I met the love of my life. He placed a single yellow rose on the bar each day as he left; for five months. It took that long for me to agree to venture out with a man so much older. When you are 21 and he is 29, the years are cavernous. We eloped in a private library surrounded by the books we loved as our parents argued over wedding details.
My beloved said only, “Are you crying because you don’t want to marry me or because of the wedding plans.”
“It’s not you.”
“Then I will take care of everything. You just need to find a dress.” Squee. My favorite. And shoes. And a hat. It was the eighties.
The first business trip he took, a year into our marriage, found me openly sobbing in the airport and upon his return we vowed never to spend days apart. Our little family became a group untouchable by the outside. Our priority was each other, creating an almost intrusive entry into each other’s lives, grades, friends, school, jobs. Dinner conversation revolved around politics, both nationally and of the Scottsdale variety, books read and unread, futures, failures and the ever popular, “Put that damn phone away.”
We are not a perfect family–no family is. We are just us and now we walk with a limp. Sometimes we move forward boldly, more often skittishly. Our friends provide us the crutch we need. Sometimes even that is not enough. We cry. We remember. We need our friends to remember. We need reassurance that he was who we thought he was. We need others to smile and tell us stories we don’t know.
All I can say to my children, and often to myself, is that somehow we will be all right. All will be well because we were well loved. We will move forward, albeit unstable with arms wrapped about each other wiping tears from our faces. Other times, we lift a glass as we remember his lessons:
Go with the flow.
Red wine is the only fine wine.
Boys are bad; stick with dad.
Life is fabulous.
And, most importantly;
The way we treat each other is the only measure that matters.