First After Miserable First

We survived our first holiday season without Trey.

As Halloween approached, we elected to not make the costumes we had all been talking about as a family.  Then we elected to not make costumes at all, but to buy.  Mr.K finally decided to just wear last year’s costume, which was the moment I realized that he was not as excited about the holiday as he wanted to be.  We had several parties plus trick-or-treating.  Each Halloween event began jovially, but ended with K feeling sad, removing his costume, and secluding himself.  He says he may not dress up next year.

Mr.H made a Thanksgiving project at school – a poster on which we all were to write what makes us feel thankful.  We all wrote something about family, but I felt dishonest because our family is missing a piece.

Tension built in the days leading up to Christmas, as Mr.K grew more and more insistent that Santa could bring his dad back.  He would not be disabused of it.  The whole thing terrorized me that he would wake on Christmas morning and fall to pieces because his wish had not come true.  Thankfully, on Christmas morning he accepted what I am sure he already knew — that this was not possible.  We had a lovely day, but partway through it Mr.H got really upset about a gift he though his dad would have gotten him.  I hurt for him so much.  After a snowball fight in the yard, Mr.K laid this one on me:  “It’s sad that dad couldn’t be here for this.  That’s what’s so bad about when people die.  They miss out on all these things.  I mean, Dad is never going to have another Christmas.  I don’t even have to get very old — just 41 — and I will have more Christmases than he did.”

Ouch, kiddo.

New Year’s Eve arrived, with nobody to kiss.

Close on the heels of New Year’s was Trey’s 42nd birthday.  It also would have been our 19th wedding anniversary.  Even though I was certain gravity had doubled due to the heaviness of my entire body, I managed to bulldoze us through that final day of the Wilson Family Holiday Season.  We enjoyed breakfast at the pancake place he used to take us.  We honored his memory by once again visiting the root beer store.  Mr.H and I cooked a birthday cake for Trey.  Mr.K, who originally suggested the cake, found himself unable to move forward with it.  We didn’t sing “Happy Birthday.”  We baked the cake, iced it and ate it.  K joined us for the eating part, and we didn’t talk about why we had cake.

Everybody is extremely sympathetic toward me right now.  I appreciate this. I am fortunate to have so many people in my life who care about me and who are thoughtful enough to realize how difficult the holidays are.

The first holidays, in particular.

For every first holiday, however, there are countless smaller firsts.  Innumerable times my heart protests that the last time we did this, he was with us.  At the beginning of widowhood, these firsts are a daily assault:

The first time I put the kids to bed and came downstairs to nobody.
The first time I made dinner for just the three of us, knowing he would not return.
The first time I went grocery shopping without buying his favorite staples.
I watched a TV show we always watched together.
I picked up listening to the rest of the audoibook we were sharing.
I went to bed.
I woke up.
I rented movies.
I cleaned the kitchen.
I hung up clothes in the closet.

Everything in my life was something I was doing for the first time since he died.

After a while, the basics of living had run through a couple of cycles.  No longer was each day a constant chorus of “this is the first time . . . ”  The firsts continued to batter me, however.

The first time I took them to a movie just the three of us, I couldn’t figure out what to do when I had to use the bathroom — make them both come with me, or leave them in the theater while I went?

The first time I took them to get the Slushies Trey always got them, I managed to get Slushie all over the place.  I could not get the hang of filling the cups the right amount before causing major overflows.  In some cases, the stuff keeps expanding after you stop pouring, turning your cup into a volcano science experiment smelling of blue raspberry.  I’d had no clue it was that complicated.

The first time we went to one of their school parties without Trey was the Neon Glow Party.  It was just a week after he died, but we’d been talking about it for weeks.  The neon party is always eighties themed, and I’d said we needed to all dress up like the eighties.  Trey had responded, “So you’ll just be wearing your regular clothes, then?”  He had a point.  Looking back, I can’t believe we made it to the party.  I was still in such a fog, and didn’t want to disappoint the kids who still wanted to go.  They were dancing their butts off, and I was glad to have brought them.  I just kept thinking it would be okay as long as we avoided the photo booth.  Of course then K really wanted to do the photo booth.  So we did it.  And we got the pictures.  The same pictures we get every year, but with Trey conspicuously missing.  K deflated and wanted to go home.  We went home.

The first time we played our favorite four-player video game with just the three of us, we realized one of us would have to log in as Trey in order to keep our game progress.  As uncomfortable as it was, I logged in as him.  It’s commonplace for me to do that now.

The first time the three of us went on a road trip together, I wondered if it was safe.  How can a woman and kids drive over the state border and get a hotel room and be safe?  I’d never traveled without a man.

We went to our first soccer game, and to our first hockey game.  Without their dad.

These small activities that we find ourselves in, that remind us that Trey was here last time, they are growing more and more infrequent.  Maybe there will come a point when there are no more.

The final kind of first I will address is the worst, as the frequency of it will keep growing at least for a few years.  Instead of protesting that we did this last time, my heart screams that Trey never had a chance to do this with us, to witness this event.  These milestones and first experiences will always be accompanied by my ghost of him, seeing his reactions inside my mind.

I joined the kids on their first airplane ride.  They had never heard the safety speech before, and K paid careful, solemn attention to the flight attendant.  They delightedly opened the tray tables, exclaiming, “Hey, look at this!  A little table!”  Trey never got to experience this with him.  I could almost feel his laughter.

Harry hit his first baseball.  Then stood at the plate, not knowing what came next.  At the urging of his coaches he ran toward first base.  Still carrying his bat.  The coaches yelled at him to drop the bat, so he ran back to home plate to put the bat down, and then back to third.  Trey would have told me that only my kid would be doing this sort of classic move.

Korben played goalie for the first time.  Trey never got a chance to see his son so enthusiastically cheering on his team mates even when they were not near his goal.  He never got to see Korben save a goal.

He won’t be there for their first girlfriends, their first school dances, their first day of every grade, their first kids, first auditions/tryouts for various activities, first play or first academic bowl or first recital or whatever we have in the future — these firsts will keep coming.

Battle Bots of Love

The kids’ birthday is coming up so naturally I’m pushing forward as if everything is normal, you know, calling twelve different venues to find a place to have the party and Pinterest-ing like crazy for cake and decoration ideas.

Then I am punched in the stomach.

Last year we held the birthday at a robotics place called Robot Roundabout.  It was awesome.  They had a lot of different kinds of robots to play with, but the big attraction was the Battle Bot cage.

Inside the little arena are two bots.  Each bot has a spike on the front and balloon on the back.  I’m sure you can do the math on that one.  Well, the second Trey and I saw that, we were like, “You and me, bud!  As soon as these kids have all had a turn, you are going down!”

Sure enough once the kids had all had a turn and were happily eating pizza and cake, Trey and I raced to the Battle Arena.  The guy running the place was thrilled.  We battled and hollered and smack talked and the kids cheered and then my balloon got punctured.  But it was a slow leak!  The judge’s determination was that I was still in play until it fully deflated.  I chased Trey around and popped his balloon before mine ran out of air and I whooped and did a victory dance and it was so awesome.

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Trey and Korben Battle Bots for H&K’s Seventh Birthday at Robot Roundabout

Afterward the guy who runs the place said that he always asks the parents to have a go at the battle bots because it’s fun for the birthday kids to see his parents battle.  He said that he usually has to work to talk them into it, and we were the first couple he’d ever seen that ran over to it and wanted to play and had so much fun.

We were so confused.  How could anybody not want immediately to kick their significant other’s ass at battle bots?  We told him that if he would let us, we’d kick all those kids out of there and just play the two of us for the next hour.  Who wouldn’t want to play robots with their best friend?

Do you see why I’m bawling?

The Little Things That Kill

You think you will be destroyed by the enormity of the situation.
By the knowledge that he will never see his kids graduate or marry.
That he will never be a grandfather.
That you will not grow old together.

This, however, you can survive.

It is the little things that crush you.
The little things rob you of your breath and sting your eyes.

Requesting a table for three.

Sorting laundry without his clothes.

The stockpile of hot sauce that only he liked.

Feeding his cat.

The unused passenger seat in the car.

Getting rid of things we kept out of habit.

Keeping that hideous Scarface poster he loved.

Moving the lamp to my side of the bed.

Helping the kids with their math.

Baking cookies using his recipe.

The empty half of the dining table.

Taking the kids on their first plane ride with my dad instead of with theirs.

Leaving his token in the box when we play board games.

Putting away the Cards Against Humanity we used to play in the evenings.

Watching our favorite shows in silence, alone.

Coming home from the store.

Fourth of July fireworks.

Watching previews for movies we were going to see together, movies that still have not come out because it was so recently that we were sitting together planning our summer.
It’s the daily details that get you, not the grand plans.
We miss you.

Kokomo

This one time recently I came downstairs and Trey had paused the TV show. He started it up, and the characters were talking about vacation and said, “Aruba, Jamaica . . . ”
The show went on with some other conversations, but I didn’t hear any of it because obviously I was now singing Oooh I wanna take ya to Bermuda Bahama Come on Pretty Mama
. . . And right there, on cue, two completely different characters on the show holding a completely different conversation said, “Key Largo, Montego” The timing was perfect and I was ecstatic. I clapped and laughed and was absolutely delighted by the whole thing.
Because I’m a huge dork.
Trey had seen this part of the show while I was upstairs, had known that I would sing, had known that I would be delighted and would applaud when the song was continued on the show so he rewound it and paused it and waited for me just so he could watch me be a dork.
Because he thought it was adorable.

El Debarge

Just a couple of days before Trey passed away, it was my birthday and it was also President’s Day so it was a holiday. We were sleeping in late with the dog happily snoozing on the bed with us.
Trey woke up and said, “Well, El Debarge, I guess it’s time we get up.”
I said, “Did you call me El Debarge?”
“Nope. I called the dog El Debarge. You’re Johnny.”
“Who’s Johnny?” I asked.
“Aha! Maybe you are El Debarge!” he responded.
We laughed until we cried. I exclaimed that I knew the second the words were out of my mouth that I had walked into that, and he said he’d been waiting for a time to use that and that I had responded exactly perfectly. It was one of those perfect moments. We laughed about it all the next day.

Two Months

It’s been two months, which seems crazy both because it somehow feels like I’ve aged a lifetime and also because I am still always surprised and saddened to not find him here when I get home. Two months feels like it can’t be right because it simultaneously feels much longer and much shorter than that.

I remember that the second house we bought together- our house in Tulsa – we bought without him ever seeing. I had fallen in love with the house, and that was all he needed to kno

Easter

20170416_004039Trey wasn’t into holidays. This worked out, because I am SUPER INTO holidays. We would have been full-on Griswold for every one of them if he had been as enthusiastic as I am. I had actually been thinking we should start decorating the house and yard for Fat Tuesday, and almost had him on board.
He didn’t ever stop me or act grinchy or comolain about my holiday preparations, and I didn’t ask him to help decorate. Invariably, however, he would wind up doing most of the hosting and final cooking on the day of the holiday, as I had exhausted myself in preparations.
He never seemed to mind. He liked hosting, even if he didn’t care for the trappings of the holiday. My enthusiasm, however, seemed to perplex him. He never could get excited about a holiday like I did.
I choose to think that he found my love of the holidays to be charming and not irritating.
Tomorrow will be our first major holiday without him. Easter was his least favorite. Coloring eggs put him to sleep. Literally. Every year he dozed off while we were coloring eggs. He wasn’t a fan of ham, which I insist is the only meal to have for easter. He did love the ham salad my mom made with the leftovers.
Our Easters were subdued, me saving my crazy holiday credits for christmas and halloween.
So this is not the worst holiday to tackle as our first.
One time, when the kids were three, I had hidden the easter treats by leaving them.in the truck. When I went to grab them on easter eve, I found the chocolate bunnies had melted and looked pretty gruesome
Trey went i-don’t-know-where in the middle of the night and scored us two new chocolate bunnies for the easter baskets

My Hero

One time Trey thwarted a would-be mugger with sheer Okie attitude.

We were in Las Vegas, and were approached by a scraggly, somewhat frightening looking man. He asked for some cash and when we replied we had none on us, he responded by showing us his knife. He proceeded to ask us if we knew what it was like to have things taken from us.

I was in an all-out girly panic, but Trey just pushed me back out of the way a little, then took two steps TOWARD the mugger. He put his face an inch away from that man’s face, ignoring the knife completely. In a very calm voice but with the deep Oklahoma accent that arose from him when he was angry, Trey said, “Look here, F***er. Here’s what’s about to happen. We’re gonna go this way. You’re gonna go that way. I’m not gonna see your f***ing face again. Got that?”

The guy couldn’t run away fast enough.

He had brought a knife to a Redneck fight.

Kokomo

This one time recently I came downstairs and Trey had paused the TV show. He started it up, and the characters were talking about vacation and said, “Aruba, Jamaica . . . ”
The show went on with some other conversations, but I didn’t hear any of it because obviously I was now singing Oooh I wanna take ya to Bermuda Bahama Come on Pretty Mama
. . . And right there, on cue, two completely different characters on the show holding a completely different conversation said, “Key Largo, Montego” The timing was perfect and I was ecstatic. I clapped and laughed and was absolutely delighted by the whole thing.
Because I’m a huge dork.
Trey had seen this part of the show while I was upstairs, had known that I would sing, had known that I would be delighted and would applaud when the song was continued on the show so he rewound it and paused it and waited for me just so he could watch me be a dork.
Because he thought it was adorable.

Eulogy

We held the memorial reception for Trey this weekend. I deliberated carefully on what I would say. I wound up unable to say anything at all.

Trey didn’t believe in obstacles. He believed in the power of every person to better themselves, to achieve success according to whatever standards by which they measure it. He believed everyone could be happy. Time after time, he would meet someone who was unsatisfied with their life and feeling unable to change their situation. Sometimes the person had made mistakes in the past, or survived a trauma, or was dealing with physical or emotional factors that they felt were trapping them. Trey’s response was always the same: “How are you going to use that to your advantage?”

He didn’t see flaws – he saw beauty. Every scar, every piece of baggage, every hidden pain – he saw them as signs of strength and sources of power. He believed in wabi-sabi, the perfection of imperfection.

Trey saw potential in everyone. Within ten minutes of meeting a person, he would have outlined a life plan for them. If you wanted to live outside of society and join the circus, he would give you the steps to own your own circus.

As people share their memories of Trey with me, themes repeat:

-Trey encouraged and coached me to achieve what I never thought I could.

-I felt judged/outcast by a lot of people, but Trey always accepted me.

-Trey made me laugh.

I believe he would be pleased with this legacy.

I never stopped seeing him as that fifteen year old boy with long bangs and purple shoes, acting tough. He was my universe.

So many people have offered support to me and to my family, for which I am humbled and grateful. This is harder than I could have imagined. We are taking it one day at a time, sometimes one minute, one breath.

Thank you to all for the support, well wishes and for the memories.