We could write lots of things on this page to tell you about a truly wonderful person, but not much would say it any better then what has already been said. Please read on.
It’s after midnight on a Wednesday morning, and this story just can’t wait any longer.
This story is about a person, who beyond what ever you can imagine has touched thousands of people in her life. Be warned it does not have a Happy Ending, but it needs to be told, and people need to learn from, and understand it.
The story is about my wife, and my best friend.
Throughout your life, certain people come along and leave an impression.Â My wife not only left an impression on everyone she met, but also opened her heart, cared for, and loved everyone she met.
Annette Alison Nichols was born on Friday, September 18, 1964. She was the second child of Dominick and Carole Nichols. She had an older brother “Donnie”, younger brother “Ron”, and a younger sister “Melissa”. Annette always told me how close she was to her older brother, and how her family was never the same when he was killed in an accident when they were young. She often spoke of how close her family was, and how much fun her and Ron had torturing their younger sister Melissa. Family was always very important to her, and after her brother’s death, their family was drawn even closer together.
Annette’s Mother and Father always worked hard to provide for their family, and instilled the highest level of values in each and every one of them. As with all families there were good times and bad, but through it all, they always remained close.
She was born in Troy, and lived her entire life here. Growing up she had many friends, and spent lots of time with them. Friends were very important to Annette, and everyone she met became her friend. She inherited the nickname, “Netters”, and it has stayed with her all her life. Through her High School Years she became very close to many, and when not at home or working she would spend most of her time at her friends house.
During her lifetime, Annette always thought of other people before herself. She would do anything, and everything for anyone, even a stranger. Through her years she worked many jobs that helped everyday people just like you and I. She got pleasure from making people smile when they were down, and never had a bad word to say about anyone. She would always find the positive in whatever situation presented itself.
After High School she worked at Eden Park Nursing Home on 15th Street. She started in the Dietary Section, and eventually worked her way up to Cook. All during her time at Eden Park, she took the extra time to spend with the patients, and made many of them understand that they had a friend in her. To some of them, Annette was the last friend they had.
On Wednesday, February 19, 1986, while home on leave from the Coast Guard, I stopped into Eden Park Nursing Home to see an old friend. I walked into the kitchen and met Annette for the first time. She was dressed in sweat pants, sweat shirt, hairnet, and had mashed potatoes dripped down the front of her. I said to myself if she can look that good the way she was dressed, she must look great all cleaned up.
My friend was making his rounds, and for the next hour we spent lots of time talking. Her shining personality was immediately known, and I could tell right away that this was a very special person. I got the courage up, and asked her to go to the movies.
And this is were the story really begins…..
During the entire week I was home on leave I must have met hundreds of people. I met family, friends, and friends of friends. We spent every minute of the day together. It was a week that I never wanted to end, but I had to report to my new assignment, Cape May, NJ. I asked Annette if she would go down with me, of course she said yes, and a bunch of us went down to check me in.
Over the next 2 years we alternated weekends and drove up on Friday, and back on Sunday to see each other. When the time came to re-enlist or get out, I chose to get out and move back to Troy. To me there was no doubt that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with Annette, and I wanted to get closer to her family and mine.
In the early years of our relationship we made many new friends. There was tragedy, she lost her house to a fire, and she moved a couple of times. She shared an apartment with her friend for a while, but eventually we decided it was time to move in with each other. We rented the apartment above her father, and I don’t have to tell you those were the fun times. Annette always felt that it was important for people to feel needed, and loved. She was very close with one particular friend, and when he needed a place to stay, he moved in with us. It was not all roses, and I made the classic mistake of moving out, but 2 weeks later we were back together again, like nothing ever happened.
Our apartment became the gathering point for many new friends. We shared memories of Picnics, Volleyball, Lake George, Paint Ball Fights, and many other great moments. Eventually our friend got a place of his own, and then he got sick. It was too hard for me, but like the angel that she was, Annette stayed with him in the hospital until the end. Annette had a hard time with that, and after that she was even more adamant about making more friends, and making sure they all knew how precious life is, and that everyone was important and loved.
As our friends grew we did many things like visiting them in Virginia Beach, going to see her Cousin in Daytona Beach. Annette loved Florida, especially Disney, Sea World, Kennedy Space Center, Universal Studies, etc.
Annette always had a great way of looking at things, and it took me a long time to understand. Family was always more important to me than friends. As we grew together over the years, I finally started to understand why Annette had so many friends. She never distinguished between Family and Friends. To her everyone was Family.
Over the next few years we started to get more and more involved in our Community. We rented a house on Euclid Avenue, and eventually purchased it. I joined the Brunswick Fire Company No. 1, and we both played and managed the Mainello’s Pub Co-ed Softball Team. Annette also started working part time bartending at Sluggo’s on 15th Street. Between the Softball and her Part-time job, you can imagine how our list of friends just kept growing bigger and bigger. She changed jobs and went to work for the NY State Higher Education Department, and of course we met a whole new group of great people.
Two loving parents Fran and Eileen had adopted me in 1965, and raised me with many of the same standards, and qualities that Annette has. Their Love helped Annette and I through many of our difficult times, and words cannot express the Love that Annette and I have for them. With these qualities in both of us, we knew that together we could accomplish and deal with anything.
At this point in the story your probably saying, when are they going to get married, well let me tell you. I tried in 1988, but that was too soon, she said lets wait a while. I tried again in 1990, but guess what, too soon. I finally got her to agree in 1993, and we set a date for October 1995. To her we were already together, and marriage was just a piece of paper.
On Saturday, October 7, 1995 we got married, and she became Annette “Netters” Balistreri. I had just started my new job with Rensselaer County 911, so we decided to hold off on the Honeymoon, and just take a weekend and go to Lake Placid. What a weekend! We did everything we always wanted to try, Apple Picking, Horseback Riding, Boat Rides, and all the while I felt blessed to know that I had found my soul mate, and we were going to spend the rest of our lives together. Annette even had this favorite picture of us Apple Picking, and to this day she kept that picture on her desk.
As with most things tragedy strikes when you least expect it. On November 10, 1997 my brother was killed in an Automobile Accident. As expected, I grew distant, and if it weren’t for Annette I probably would not have come back from where I was. She spent every day trying to make sure that I knew there was no way to explain it, and that the hurt I was feeling didn’t get worse than it was. If anything good came out of my brother’s accident, it was that both of our families became bonded so tight, that no one or nothing was going to separate any of us. We started spending more time with my family and hers. She became even closer to her brother and sister, and at the same time our families became close.
Annette changed jobs, and started to work for United Health Care in Colonie. Here she met so many people, and instantly became close to all of them. They closed and she started working at home, she then made friends all over the world.
As with any relationship we had our moments. Most of the problems were stupid, and as with anyone else sometimes they centered on money. Whatever we did, or whatever we felt, it did not change the fact that we loved each other, and nothing was going to ruin that. I wanted kids, she didn’t. She often said with the way things are in this world, she was afraid to subject children to it. She also said that if I felt that strong about having kids, that even though it would hurt, she would understand if I found someone else. I never wanted to find anyone else, and although I wanted kids, I loved her too much to leave her.
As some of you know, Mainello’s Pub closed its doors, and the Co-ed Softball Team moved to the bar Annette worked at, O’Leary’s Tavern. Over the next seven years Annette joined the Fire Department as a Support Group Member. We spent many good times with all our friends at the Fire Department. It was also during this time period that we became best friends with one of our closest friends. He became my surrogate, and did all the things I hated to do, like shopping, etc. He didn’t complain because he knew that Annette was the best friend he would ever have, and every moment anyone got to spend with her was precious. She joined a Dart League, and discovered that she loved to cook. When I say she loved to cook, I mean she would cook for all our Friends. She made the best Chili, Beef Jerky, and once the Food Network started, there was no stopping her.
During the Holiday’s she would make Homemade Bailey’s, and Beef Jerky for everyone. She even started shipping it out to friends she worked with, friends at O’Leary’s, and yes even eventually shipped it overseas to our troops in Iraq. She became great friends with so many people at O’Leary’s, and all the people that came into the Tavern. She even cooked for all of them, and they became the guinea pigs to try the new stuff. She cooked for all the people I work with, as well as, provided Beef Jerky to all our family and friends.
A few years later tragedy struck again, and we lost a close friend to a fire in Watervliet. To Annette this only pulled our families closer together, because remember, to Annette there was no difference between family and friends, everyone was family.
Our family now encompassed so many people it would take forever to list them. Annette always worked with her good friends who owned O’Leary’s and planned Bus Trips, Golf Tournaments, and a Vegas Trip each year. We also went to Aruba with a bunch of friends from the Tavern, and of course Annette was the center of all we did. Whenever anyone needed someone to take care of things, they could always count on Annette.
Over the last few years our house, and our neighbor’s house, became the center of all we did together, and we became very close with our neighbor’s. We would get together for Football; she loved the Indianapolis Colts. We would get together for Nascar, which she loved, and we even took a trip to Dover to watch a race. We took trips to Atlantic City, and down to Pennsylvania to visit our friends and my relatives.
In the down times she enjoyed Oprah, Ellen, the Food Network, and many HBO Shows.Â Her favorite all time movie was “St. Elmo’s Fire”, and she had a big crush on Rob Lowe, Kevin Bacon, and more recently Colin Farrell. Thanks to our friend and neighbor we all learned a new game called Texas Horseshoe’s, and Annette loved to play. She was a competitor, but always had compassion for those who couldn’t really play. She loved walking, especially taking her our dog “Bear” for walks.
Last year tragedy struck again on April 18, 2004 when a very close friend committed suicide, and again this year on February 21, 2005 when my grandmother passed away. Annette again became the pillar for all of us to lean on. She pulled everyone together, and when my grandmother died, we were both by her side.
I don’t like to fly, but this year I decided that Annette and I needed to spend some time together in Vegas, especially with all the tragedy we had been experiencing over the last couple of years, so I went to Vegas. It was the best time we had in a long time. Not because 40 people went with us, but because we got to spend some alone time, and we both realized that back on February 19, 1986 we both made the right choice, and with our 10 year Wedding Anniversary coming up in October, there was no stopping us now.
Annette’s family decided to plan a Vacation to Florida in August. I got a promotion, and was unable to go, and Melissa’s husband was also not able to go. Her family, although very close, had the chance to have a Nichols Family Vacation all together, which they had not done before. Annette was very excited about this, as well as, she was excited that her niece and nephew were going to be there too.
Here’s were the story gets difficult ……..
On Sunday, August 7, 2005 while returning from seeing her cousin in Daytona Beach, with Carole, Dom, and Melissa in the car, a Drunk Driver hit Annette’s car. Annette, Carole, Dom were all killed, and Melissa was seriously hurt.
The killer’s name is David Michael Brown.
Over the last few weeks, the thousands of friends, and family that we have grown with through the years were remarkable. I can’t even begin to put into words what the outpouring of support means to my family, and Annette’s family, but I will say this; apparently, a part of Annette has rubbed off and stayed forever with everyone she has met. She was a great teacher, and everyone realized that he best way to honor Annette was to be just like her.
So where do we go from here, or better yet, what would Annette want us to do?
Why would someone even consider taking her from us, and for what reason?
First things first, David Michael Brown, and anyone who is like him needs to know that this can’t, and with everyone’s help, will not happen to other families.
The anger, pain, grief, suffering, and probably every stage you can imagine are only starting for me, and those who loved Annette.Â To think that someone can get behind the wheel of a car, with no regard for anyone else, and kill a whole family, is beyond any level that makes sense.
I made a promise to Annette, Carole and Dom at the wake, and I intend to keep it. My promise was to do everything in my power to make sure this doesn’t happen to other families. If I do this alone, it is not probable that I can do it, however if everyone who reads this article helps then it is possible.
For all you couples out there if you remember anything, remember this. The arguments are good, the time together, both good and bad are precious. You have no idea what it is like to not have them anymore. When you say it doesn’t get worse it does, so just say it can get worse, and maybe it won’t. When you want to stay out with the guys, or spend more time away from home then you should, remember this story. When you want to flirt with someone else, and possibly do something you’ll regret, don’t do it, and just remember this story.
When you want to not let someone take your keys, or take a cab, remember this story.
For those people, and you know who you are, who chose to Drink & Drive, I would like to share a few moments of my life since the accident.
I wake up each morning, and go to bed each night, thinking of every aspect of the accident, and how alone my wife was.
I had to wait 2 days for her body to come back, before I could see her again.
I now spend every day of my life thinking about every moment we shared in the 19 years we were together, and how I get to spend the rest of my life alone without her.
Everywhere I go, and everything/everyone I see reminds me of her.
I go to my wife’s grave, every Sunday at 9:20 p.m., because that is the exact day and time of the accident.
I’m 2 feet from her, I can’t ever hold her again, and would give anything to have her back.
What do I do with her car, and personal items? I don’t want to get rid of them.
What if Mr. Brown just took a cab or a ride from a friend?
The list of things I think about each day goes on and on, but the point is this:
You have a choice, and it’s simple.
Don’t Drink & Drive!
Take a Cab, take a Ride, or Walk.
We, as a Society, cannot let this keep happening to people, and other families!
How many people have to die before you decide to do the right thing?
Don’t wait until your drunk to decide, make the choice before you start drinking!
In Annette’s Memory I will be establishing a “Netter’s Safe Ride Program”. It will start at O’Leary’s Tavern, Holmes & Watson, Ltd., Mulligan’s, and hopefully spread to other bars in the area. This fund will be for a Taxi ride home for anyone who cannot, or should not drive a vehicle. The fund will also pay for a Taxi ride back the next day to get your vehicle. It’s not about not being able to drink and have fun with your friends and family, it’s about being responsible and not getting behind the wheel of a vehicle.
I will not let Annette become just a statistic, but instead a symbol of how we all should live our lives. Striving to help those in need, spreading love and comfort where needed, and above all treating people as people. If everyone took what Annette taught us in her 40 years, and put it in place in their lives, the world would be a much better place. We need to do things because we care, not because we have too.
Remember she did not distinguish between family and friends, to “Netters” everyone was family to her. Take just that one thing and make it part of your life, and see what a difference it makes.
Some will wonder why I did this, and I had many different reasons.
First to let people get to know and understand what a special person Annette was.
To hope that the people who know Annette can find comfort in the memories we all shared together.
Most importantly I wanted people to realize that what David Michael Brown did, anyone can do, and until people understand what it really means, it will continue to happen to others.
Annette was about bonding together for a purpose, and that purpose was love. We as human beings need to take this story, and learn from it. Have a good time, enjoy your family and friends, even have a few drinks, but never get in a vehicle and drive.
In this day and age the only excuses that people use are exactly that, excuses. There is no justifiable reason for someone to get behind the wheel of a vehicle after drinking. They may say it’s inconvenient to not have their vehicle with them, well how inconvenient is it for us to not have such a special person in our lives anymore, and what if David Michael Brown didn’t drive.
Think about it, and make the responsible choices.
I would like to close with a few words to Annette, from me:
I will never meet anyone as caring, loving, selfless, and loved by so many, as you were. You have meant so much to me, my family and your family, every day that we were together. There is no joy in my life without you, and I will never understand the need for someone to take you from me. All I can do is try and be the best that I can, with your help and guidance from wherever you are. I will try my hardest to take what you have taught me, and teach others. I will always love you with all my heart, and will miss you for the rest of my life.
We all chose these words for Carole, Dom, and Annette, but to me, it’s Annette:
Fill Not Your Hearts ….
“Fill not your hearts with pain and sorrow,
but remember me in every tomorrow.
Remember the joy, the laughter,
the smiles, I’ve only gone to rest a little while.
Although my leaving causes pain and grief,
my going has eased my hurt and given me relief.
So dry your eyes and remember me,
not as I am now, but as I used to be.
Because, I will remember you all and look on with a smile.
Understand, in your hearts,
I’ve only gone to rest a little while.
As long as I have the love of each of you,
I can live my life in the hearts of all of you.”
With All My Love Forever,
Mark J. Balistreri
Your Husband – Your Best Friend
Both the Balistreri and Nichols Families would like to Thank all those who have given us so much comfort and support over the last few weeks.