I know. It’s been a while. A long while. There’s been a whole lot of “wow” going on in my life the last two years, very little of which allowed much time for blogging, but most of it grand.
I’ve got a couple of new books in the nail biting stages of editing so stay tuned. A new website is on the horizon, too. Don’t give up on me yet.
I was perusing one of my old back-up hard drives, searching for ideas for something to knock the cobwebs off of this dusty, neglected blog page and came across a story that was written with wet eyes. It still brings on the tears when I read it many years later. I’d like to share it here with you.
And don’t count this old fella out yet. The dust covers have been pulled off of the presses at Danby Mountain Press. Not to mention that I married a nurse so I can not get my Geritol intravenously now.
But for Lisa’s Voice
©Brian Greenleaf 2007-2019
The florid, changing leaves; those still clinging to the near barren trees along the sloping path, lacked their usual, flamboyant, appeal.
The breathtaking collage of gold and red, gently spiraling to the thick, panoramic carpet covering the ground, seemed monochromatic in comparison to the exhilaration their beauty used to bring him. A few days of late fall wind would take away the leaves, but not the memories.
The prospect of the snowy nights soon to come, Thanksgiving, and having all the kids together again under one roof; the only time they all seemed to be able to gather together anymore, bore a foreboding connotation this year. The euphoric sense of peace and comfort that always enveloped him at the thought of seeing his three children and five grandchildren was absent.
As he walked, his mind wandered back to the Thanksgiving before. The now deathly silent house had been, only a year before, transformed into a cacophony of lively, cheerful conversations as well as a few slightly heated debates, sibling rivalries, wafting together from different rooms. The echo’s resonating of the giggling and gleeful screams of sugar rushed children playing and calling for “Grandpa to “watch me,” brought him no pleasure tonight. His mouth no longer watered, as it once had, as he vividly recalled the tantalizing flavors and the unforgettable smells of the sumptuous desserts and all the Thanksgiving accouterments baking in the kitchen. Now they only haunted him.
A single tear streamed down his ruddy cheek, unchecked. It was just another of the so very many that moistened his unshaven face every time his thoughts turned to her. A brisk wind whistling through the swaying trees dried the lone tear; but did nothing to ease the anguish that reached to his very soul.
His youngest daughter, Katie, although she now went by Katherine, except to him, (she would always be his Katie), called at least once a day to fill him in on the daily events in his grandsons’ lives. He enjoyed the calls immensely, although they were always too short, but found himself feeling emptier still as he hung up.
Katie and her husband, Ron, moved to Montana, of all places, to follow his dream of fame and fortune in the real estate market. Truth be told, Ron couldn’t sell toilet paper in a diarrhea ward. Ron was now one of those stay at home Dad’s, as Katie called him, (the big “L” flashed across his mind) but Katie loved him, and that would have to do.
David, his oldest, called from time to time, but the same strained relationship they’d always maintained seemed to permeate every conversation. Their talks were almost formal in content, lacking only the sales pitch to make them seem like a telemarketing call. Harry Chapin singing, Cats in the Cradle scratched invisible fingernails down a chalkboard somewhere deep in his mind.
His workaholic ways had built an empire; but the emperor lost his son. The added guilt further compounded his suffering, and the tears began to flow anew.
Roughly wiping his moistened cheek with the back of his cold hand, his thoughts turned to Deb, his middle, and most “interesting”, child. He concentrated hard, both in an attempt to remember their last conversation, and to relieve the guilt laden thoughts of his relationship with David, still stinging, as they splayed forth from the wide opened pages of the mental book he kept of his life and times.
Deb, the “middle” child, was her mother incarnate; a beautiful girl, tall and slender, with long brown hair, piercing blue eyes and a quick smile that almost always worked on him as her “get out of jail free” ticket when she’d managed, almost daily in her teen years, to get herself into mischief. More to her credit, Deb was a free spirit, unmatched by any he had ever encountered, (also inherited from her mother).
Deb was a dedicated and gifted artist whose work had been earning her awards and accolades since junior-high school. It was only a small surprise when she came to him, after graduating college, to tell him she was moving to Paris
He remembered, thoughtfully, how they’d talked long into the night; he, pleading with her, trying to talk her out of it. Deb was having none of it. He’d argued his side with the diligence of a seasoned barrister, feeling certain that she would surely starve, be murdered or, worse, marry one of the myriad of bums most people associated with “starving artists” that slept on the Paris streets, suffering for their art.
He couldn’t have been more wrong.
Deb may have been her mother incarnate, but she had a little of the old man in her. Deb thrived in Paris. While she still painted well enough to be commissioned on occasion, her passion turned to photography. There was rarely an occasion, as he perused the magazine rack at Barnes and Noble, or anywhere, for that matter, that he didn’t see one of Deb’s photos gracing at least one magazine cover. It always made his chest swell with pride.
Deb returned home from Paris after a few years, well established as an artist, and now lived in New York. She, too, called regularly and, as much as he hated to admit it, he enjoyed her calls most of all. Deb was a natural comedian. She could make him laugh; something he rarely did anymore.
It wasn’t that he’d ever played favorites with his children; unless you were to ask David about it after he’d had a few too many beers; but talking to Deb was almost like talking to Lisa.
He swayed slightly, a sudden, all too familiar, dizziness washed over him. He sat down hard on a felled tree; his shaking legs threatening to fail him. In a fleeting instant, he tried to change his thought processes, thinking with a brief smile at his expense, that at least there were plenty of leaves to cushion his fall if his legs actually give out; but to no avail. Lisa’s face played like a kaleidoscope before his eyes; her smile flashing over and over as if he were trapped in an all-night movie theatre where the movie never changed. His entire frame shuddered in his grief. Salty tears came in a wash of emotion he thought he could no longer muster. He made no attempt to wipe them away. They were cleansing, in a way. At least that’s what the doctor told him. She said that grieving was healthy, and prescribed some pills to help him deal with his grief; pills he refused to take.
“Real men don’t need pills to solve their problems!” he’d told the doctor in no uncertain terms. He’d gotten this far without them, and he wasn’t about to start now.
He was unaware of how long he’d sat there with Lisa’s angelic face replaying before his eyes. He’d been oblivious to the world around him. The sun’s shift to the west, as well as the mounting chill, gave the impression it had been one of his longer spells.
“Will this damn pain ever go away?!” He was screaming inside his head against the injustice life had dealt him, teeth grinding, knowing deep down in the depths of his shattered heart that the pain would never go away.
After a short time, he felt some degree of control returning. He stood, slowly, and took stock of all his faculties before starting back toward the house.
He and Lisa had made the same walk almost every night since they’d bought the place, especially when it snowed, with ease; reveling in each others company and the successes and good fortune they’d achieved in their thirty years together.
Tonight, however, the distance to the house seemed insurmountable. He felt tired; a deep rooted, all numbing, tired as he’d never experienced before. A bottomless sense of dread encompassed him; an ill feeling that even his very bone marrow had ceased to make the cells necessary to sustain him.
Grudgingly, and with great effort, he put one foot in front of the other and, feeling as if his fifty years were now multiplied ten fold, made his way toward the house.
The house that Lisa built, he thought, remorsefully.
His mind wandered back to when they’d first looked at it. The place had been a wreck; long since abandoned, and longer still without repair. The only positive thing that could be said to its’ benefit had been the twenty-acre apple orchard, long untended, and the panoramic view of the mountains.
He remembered standing on the crumbling front stoop, listening to that bullshit artist realtor speaking out of both sides of his mouth; schmoozing them with assurances that the house was a rock solid diamond in the rough, with its five “spacious” bedrooms and, he smiled, remembering the incredulous claim; indoor plumbing! It was nineteen-seventy-eight, for Christ sake! With the exception of a few places in the Ozarks, indoor plumbing wasn’t much of a selling point; it was a birth right.
Lisa was sold immediately.
“This beautiful old house has been sitting here abandoned for so long because it was waiting for us to find it!” She’d proclaimed, jubilantly.
Where Lisa saw limitless potential, he saw years of roof repairs, plumbing and electrical upgrades and a host of other nightmares that didn’t, at the time, immediately present themselves. The “to do” list would be endless; not to mention expensive.
After some long debate, he’d convinced Lisa to go home and sleep on it, but that had only delayed the inevitable. For every reason he had to run screaming from the house and never look back, Lisa had three reasons why they should call the realtor back that very instant before someone else stole their dream house out from under them.
He’d always fancied himself someone who thought everything through rationally, invoking reason and fact to reach a decision. Lisa, on the other hand, thought with her heart. Doing battle with Lisa’s mammoth heart, not to mention her stubborn side, was like a dullard going to a battle of the wits. He had been unarmed.
They rarely argued, per se. As in every marriage, they had situations, usually concerning the kids, where they disagreed. More often than not, common sense, and the mutual respect they shared, mediated their problems; eventually turning mountains into mole hills. He laughed, a soft knowing laugh, as he remembered that Lisa’s ace in the hole had been when she’d come to the bedroom from the shower, rubbing her bulging stomach, (David), and flashing those beautiful blue eyes.
“With the way this little guy’s kicking, he’s going to need lots of room to run, Daddy!”
They signed the contract the very next morning. David decided to start his running career as the movers were placing the last box in the dilapidated foyer.
“And what a transformation you made, Lisa!” He croaked aloud as he reached the house and opened the door, stepping into the veritable showplace she’d created.
Methodically, he hung his jacket on the hook and began his nightly post-walk ritual, not long ago modified to accommodate a party of one.
He reached, without looking, into the freezer and pulled one of the many frozen dinners from the frosted shelf. The contents didn’t matter. The dinner would only serve to take the edge off his growling stomach. Food had pretty much lost all flavor of late.
Placing the frozen block in the microwave, and pressing the requisite buttons by rote, he moved to the center island and reached blindly into the cabinet below.
Pulling the near empty fifth of bourbon to the granite counter, he bent further to make certain he had more in reserve. Seeing only two remaining fifths, well hidden from prying eyes, he made a mental note to restock the next time he went into town.
Never much of a drinker, he remembered the kids taking dusty, unopened bottles of various and sundry liquors home with them after they helped clean up after the funeral. Most had been there for years; left over Christmas gifts from clients and a few from odd raffle winnings, etc. He told the kids to help themselves, but for some inexplicable reason, asked that they leave the bourbon.
Filling a generous sized glass, he raised it, shakily, and made his nightly, heart rendering, toast to Lisa. The amber liquid brought on the only peace of mind he seemed able to find anymore.
“If only you could speak to me, Lisa. Let me know you’re OK. I love you so very much. I don’t know how much longer I can be here without you. It’s just… too…. Hard!”
He silently admonished himself for weeping as he spoke, feeling the need to be strong when he spoke to her. He finished his short vigil as the annoying beeps emanating from the microwave alerted him that his dinner was ready.
He reached for a new bottle from under the counter, refilled his glass and retrieved his dinner, a fork and his rejuvenated glass, then headed for the den to eat and watch the evening news.
The ringing phone startled him from a fitful sleep. Reaching blindly for the handset, he knocked over the now empty bourbon glass and sent the untouched dinner sliding to the precipice of the coffee table. It teetered precariously, almost spilling to the floor. He pulled it back as he answered.
“Hello”, he murmured, his voice gravelly from sleep and the bourbon.
“Were you sleeping, Dad?” It was Katie.
“Not really, Punkin, just dozed off in front of the boob tube. What’s up?”
“Oh, nothing much. I just wanted to call and say hello. Stevie had a football game tonight. I’ve got court in the morning. Ron took the kids to the game so I could get some work done, but I was feeling a little guilty about not being there. I’m going over to see if I can catch the last quarter.”
A brief, sad, memory of all the games and dance recitals he’d missed over the years flashed through his mind. Important moments missed in the name of success. He silently chastised himself again.
“Are you OK, Dad?” Katie questioned, concern evident in her voice.
“Fine, Sweetheart. And how’s Michael?”
“Full of piss and vinegar, same as always. I’m going to need a separate filing cabinet for all the notes I’m sure to get from his teacher this year. I wish I could bottle all his energy and sell it.”
“He’s all boy, that one!” he replied, rather monotone.
“You sound tired, Dad. Have you been sleeping OK?”
“Yes Mom!” He replied, a slight hint of humor in his tone. “I’m just a little tired. I took a walk up the trail tonight before dinner. I guess I’m not as young as I used to be.”
“Aw Dad! I only hope to be in the great shape you’re in when I’m eighty-seven!” She laughed at the timeless joke they shared.
“You’re not too old to take over my knee there, Young Lady!” he teased.
“Be kinda hard to catch me in that wheelchair, Old Man!”
“I get no respect!” his laugh a little more evident.
“Aw, you know I love you, Dad. Listen, I’m pulling up to the field now. I’ll call you tomorrow.”
“Ok Honey. Kiss the kids for me.”
“Will do, Daddy. Love you.”
“I love you, too, Baby. Bye.”
He replaced the handset softly and stared around the empty room. At a loss for what to do next, he set about clearing the remnants of his untouched dinner from the coffee table and brought it to the kitchen.
He, once again, refilled his glass and started for his office to try and do some work. As an afterthought, he took the bourbon along with him, rationalizing that it would save him a trip should the need arise for another refill.
As he sat at his desk, he was immediately met by the smiling face of Lisa, staring at him from the ornate frame beside his monitor. It was his favorite picture of her, taken before the breast cancer had started eating away at the very core of the once vibrant, energetic woman smiling back at him.
He and Lisa had taken a spur of the moment vacation to the beach two years ago. It was her idea, and she sprang it on him, rather abruptly, claiming that he had been working too hard and, frankly, spending too little time with her.
As was usually the case when anything threatened to disrupt his unbending work ethic, he tried to get out of it by claiming that he was too busy to take any time off. As he always did in these situations, he made his usual promise to take her on vacation “soon”.
Lisa was having none of it. “It’s your company, you’re the boss, and you can take off whenever you damn well please; and Mister, if you don’t say yes, things are going to get mighty chilly around here, comprende?”
In her usual, wily way, Lisa won out.
It had been the best time they’d ever had.
Every minute detail of the trip was etched permanently in the deepest recesses of his mind; a permanent reminder of better days.
They had hardly closed the door behind them in their hotel room when Lisa retreated to the bathroom and emerged in a flash, dressed in the most stunning red bathing suit he’d ever seen. The effects of age and the changes usually evidenced from the birth of three children never visited Lisa. She radiated health and an inner and outer beauty that no photograph could ever capture.
He, too, changed quickly and, like two mischievous children free of their parent’s watchful eye, they ran and frolicked on the beach all day.
Later, they walked along the shore, far from the throng of sun worshipers, talking, laughing, kissing; discussing everything and nothing at all.
Further down, in a moment of unbridled passion, they made love in a small cove as the tepid waves of high tide washed over them, threatening to sweep them out to sea. For a brief moment in time, it was only they two, and life was perfect.
Afterward, they lay silently in the sand, wrapped in each other’s arms, watching the stars, reveling in the intimacy they’d just shared. An intimacy that had grown and blossomed over thirty years into something so strong, time, nor tide could ever diminish it. They promised then and there, with the stars and rising full moon as their witness, to share that love into eternity.
There had been only one down side to the entire vacation, but even that had been only slightly less pleasant.
Having spent the entire day in the broiling sun, both had suffered the wrath.
After returning to the room, all thoughts of further lovemaking, or keeping their dinner reservations at the cozy Italian restaurant the concierge had recommended, were replaced by mutual massages of sunburn ointment and cold compresses. Again, like children, they laughed and played as they tended to each other, ordered room service, and cried together over, ironically, a rerun of, From Here to Eternity.
Later, during some last minute pillow talk in their moonlit room with the soothing sounds of the roaring sea lulling them to sleep, Lisa whispered softly in his ear, “It was Kismet that From Here to Eternity aired tonight”, then kissed him longingly and finished the though. “Our life together has been a beautiful merry-go-round ride. We’ve grabbed nothing but brass rings, David. I never want this ride to end”, as she drifted off in his arms into peaceful, exhausted sleep.
The next afternoon, heavily slathered in sun block, they visited some of the local shops and had a leisurely lunch before opting for the relative safety of the hotel pool and lounge chairs on the deck overlooking the sea. Later, as the sun began to set, with the beach as a background and the memories of the day before still fresh, he took that picture of the only woman he had ever, or could ever, love forever. The picture maintained its place of honor, never more than a turn of his head away from him, ever since.
The tears came again; slowly at first, before giving way to overwhelming grief, rabidly overpowering every fiber of his being, threatening in its intensity to drive him mad.
“Lisa!…. Lisa!… I can’t do it! I tried; I really tried! I can’t live without you! I’m just not that strong!” His tormented screams echoed throughout the empty house, reverberating off the walls and returning in eerie, demonic voices to haunt him further.
Spasmodic sobs wracked his frame.
Seconds turned to minutes as his overwhelming grief poured from him in waves. He could find no solace; no branch to grab to keep him from being washed away in the raging river of pain. His usual logic and rational thinking failed to defuse the time bomb ticking in his head, threatening to explode and send him tumbling over the abyss into insanity.
“Why her, God!” Why her!” What could that beautiful woman have possibly done to deserve the vile and cruel curse you put on her!”
He found himself shaking his fist toward the heavens, screaming at God for answers; angrier than he had ever been in his entire life. Venom spewed from every pour; obscenities flying like scraps of paper in a windstorm.
He sprang from his chair, toppling it back against his filing cabinet, and began pacing around the room, ranting, almost incoherently, pleading with anyone and everyone; offering everything he had just to hear her beautiful voice one more time. “Help me, Lisa! Tell me you’re OK! Tell me what to do! Help me, please!”
Like a madman, he grabbed the bourbon bottle from the desk and turned it up, the searing liquid no longer offering any warmth to his numb throat. He finished half the remaining contents then smashed the bottle against the wall.
Throwing open the door, he staggered to the bathroom and retrieved the prescription tranquilizers he told the doctor he’d never take; then returned to the kitchen for the remaining bottle of bourbon.
“Forgive me Lisa, but I can’t do this. I can’t live without you any longer. God knows I tried, but I can’t do it! I miss you to much!”
He was incoherent. His ravings became disjointed. His chest raking sobs and the effects of the alcohol turned his insipid mutterings to primal grunts.
With his screams now at a fever pitch, he didn’t hear the phone ringing atop the desk. His diatribe continued as his shaking hands fumbled with the top of the pill bottle; the ringing continued unnoticed.
On the fifth ring, the answering machine activated with a loud beep, momentarily penetrating his tirade.
Lisa’s cheery, mellifluous voice chimed a greeting to the caller:
“Hi, you’ve reached David and Lisa. We’re probably taking a walk, or plotting to overtake the government of some small third world country, so leave a message and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can. Have a great day! BEEP!”
“Dad, you really need to change that answering machine message. It kinda creeps me out. Listen, Stevie scored two touchdowns tonight. He’s anxious to tell you about it. If you get home before his bedtime, give him a call. You know he’s dying to fill you in on the details. Talk to you later. I love you. Bye.” It was Katie.
As if he’d hit a brick wall, all time stopped. Unconsciously, he released the still unopened pill bottle. It clattered unceremoniously to the floor and rolled away, unable to fulfill the dire task it had been retrieved for only minutes before.
Shaking off some of the cloudiness filling his head, and returning to some semblance of the here and now, he mustered the wherewithal to set the new bourbon bottle on the hall table and stood, statuesque; allowing some modicum of calm to creep over him.
Reality began to take control as the unthinkable, desperate thoughts he’d harbored only seconds before turned to fresh memories of Stevie in his ill-fitted football uniform.
On their last visit to Montana, he and Lisa had gone with Katie and Ron to see Stevie’s first game. It was a bitter sweet visit, made to allow Lisa to tell Katie, in person, that Lisa had been diagnosed with breast cancer.
At that time, the extent of Lisa’s cancer hadn’t been clear. It wasn’t until they returned home, and Lisa underwent further tests, that it became evident that the cancer had metastasized to an inoperable state, and Lisa’s chances for survival were slim.
Even with that black cloud hanging over her head, the sight of Stevie in his oversized uniform, skinned knees and that endearing toothless smile, sent Lisa into a snorting fit of laughter that had gotten so out of hand, she began hyperventilating. Her fit had been contagious. All present, except Stevie, that is, were caught up in it, succumbing to Lisa’s infectious laugh.
It was that very picture of Stevie, now displayed in all his glory before him that caused him to start laughing.
His laugh was bass and resonant: a deep belly laugh that threatened to last for some time. The sound was unfamiliar to him. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had occasion to feel the slightest urge to even smile.
The laughter carried him through a hot shower; slowing to the occasional chuckle only after a second cup of black coffee and four aspirins.
Returning to his office, he righted his desk chair and sat down heavily, resting his chin in his hands.
Looking deeply into Lisa’s picture, eyes locked on the image of his beloved’s laughing eyes, David Markham Sr. again professed his eternal love for his soul mate, then reached for the phone to hear all the details of his grandson’s two touchdowns.
His wish had been granted. Lisa’s voice had shown him the way. Somehow, deep down, he knew that she was OK and was still looking out for him; loving him.
It was going to be awkward, but Thanksgiving looked like it might not be so bad after all.
As he punched in Katie’s number, he began giggling at his own thoughts,
“I hope they’re not expecting me to cook the turkey!”