Lisa was my wife, friend, lover for four too short years. Dead two and a half times the length of our marriage, she lies under an ancient oak tree's sprawling canopy in Overland Park, a relatively new, yet unfilled cemetery on the north side of the small berg I live in.
On this May 18th, as I do every May 18th, I called on Lisa, the mother of our born dead child, a daughter; leave two dozen pink sweetheart roses fanned in front of the tombstone to commemorate my two loved ones. I stop by other times. Too often, my friends say. So regular in my visits, I know all the grave diggers, cemetery care takers by their first names. I, the faithful old dog whose loyalty bridges from here to the homeland of the dead. I pay homage, swig down an elixir of recalled moments, the testament to a miracle of such damnable short duration. Plus one unassailable fact beyond any dispute: here is where I left her. I know the part counted her soul, her spirit is long gone. It is easy though to pretend for a short time my princess, Sarah in Hebrew, princess in my heart, is merely sleeping in our bed, the bed we cuddled in, the bed we made up in, the bed we conceived Emily or Eric in.
Her soul, her spirit making her what she was, what I loved have slipped away. I know this on an intellectual level, a spiritual plane. However, a subconscious morsel of intellect, emotion, something beyond rational explanation is nurtured by a most peculiar notion: the refusal to acknowledge her gone, dead. On this little island adamantly hostile to finite black and white answers such as you are either alive or dead, Lisa is not. Such are my private thoughts. Expressed publicly, in the wrong context, is to risk having friends shaking their heads, suggesting my commitment, sending me down avenues seeking counseling. Other them my regular visits to this grave, I consider myself normal, do not covet death. I laugh; enjoy life, challenges in my medical career, pleasurable hobbies such as golf, skeet shooting and shooting photographs with black and white film stock. Cursing too often is my one major vice. If I made my domicile on Lisa's grave, went every day, haunted it in the middle of night there might be reason for worry. My several visits in the course of a year not inordinate, it makes me feel better too.
LISA ANN PALMER, May 18, 1954 birth, death 22 years eight months four days later starkly etched in the face of the salmon colored granite marker. I also requested placement of a 4 by 6 color photograph of my Lisa under a transparent cover framed in silver wreath. No photograph of our child; the baby still inside at Lisa's death.
This picture, my favorite, showed Lisa, hugely pregnant, holding a yellow baby sweater between her outstretched arms; a gold wedding band sparkles on her left hand, a gold pendent, a heart, dangles from her neck. A moment during the baby shower hosted by Carmella, her best friend. Lisa smiles radiantly. Glossy black hair streams down well past her shoulders. Her pug nose looks luminous; her soft brown eyes shine too. She looks so lovely, extremely happy. Twenty-two years old, in love with me, her 23 year old man, me, just as in love with her. Our child bloomed in her belly. Every night in the comfort of our bed, I applied lotion to her swelling tummy, rubbed in the cream, went to sleep smelling cocoa butter. We talked, dreamed of several Palmer progeny gestating in what we hoped was a fecund womb and the same bed we had decided on the name Emily for a daughter, Eric for a son.
Not bothering to speak aloud, I communicated telepathically, a form of séance, a silent communion.
Little too nothing is known of life after death. As a physician, I know lots of medicine but death is a mystery as it is for everyone else. Of course religious denominations have their unique spins, suggestions of what awaited departed ones. I had read reports of people dead, revived, returning. These departed souls rushing to where dead go, heard familiar, comforting voices, their passageway illuminated in pleasant pastel colors, flooded with vibrant light so ethereal, of such luminosity it had to be heaven hurled. These souls surrendered, bobbed along, freely tossed away their inane, frail human forms as so much debris, surrendered to peace and calm, inexorably moving to their destination. They actually resisted returning to life. That comforted me.
If I wished to speak to Lisa in my own inimitable way who was to say I was nuts, a ridiculous 33 year old fool. People prayed, individuals meditated and I did what I did.
In mental speak, I told Lisa of seeing a movie she'd have enjoyed, plucking a patient back from the dead, about the vacation to Kauai. Remember honey we always talked about going there. I guess it was for both of us I went. I mentioned a new book by a writer I know she would have read given the chance. Jack Valentine is still on death row and hopefully he will be gone soon to a different place from where you are hanging out. Carmella and Derek were divorced recently. I know she would have cried on your shoulder. You'd make tea, bake sugar cookies for her too, I know you. I miss your lasagna honey. Oh, I ran into Butch. He and Charlene had their fourth baby, a boy, and he opened his second funeral home in Elkhart. I went to dinner with a woman named Pam Elway, took a lady named Kimberly Hathaway to a jazz concert on campus. Remember going to see Ginger Baker? The time we saw Sonny and Cher when they were still together, then we went to all night coffee shop, talked about the music, the book you were reading and our long term plans.
Standing in front of Lisa's marker on this sunny day, not one cloud, skies no bluer could they be; I remembered Butch's nuptials in June 1971.
I will always be grateful to Butch and Charlene Bester for their purely unintentional act, the invitation bringing Lisa and me together as actors in their love play.
Early 1971 stationed at the Naval Hospital in Jacksonville, Florida, my best friend and fellow corpsman Harold "Butch" Bester hailed from Indiana as I did. I worked in the Intensive Care Unit and Butch; lanky, long jawed, hooded eyed, curly headed, a Hospitalman like me, worked in pediatrics. Butch planned to become a mortician. My dreams were hazy, diffused and not terribly important at the moment.
Butch and I had the world by the tail. Blond haired, blue eyed, the more unsure and somber one of our two, I was. Butch, darker, funnier, knew exactly the direction he was going.
"Brendan, can you be my best man? We'd have to take leave and fly to Indianapolis."
"Sure, I'd be honored to be your best man Butch. When is it?"
"June 6th. We both stay with my folks."
We got measured for tuxedos, decided to wear our Corfam dress shoes with the tuxes, the ones we wore with dress blues and summer whites.
Butch and I submitted our leave papers, flew Delta Airlines from Jax to Indy a few days before the wedding. Butch's parents picked us up; the four of us drove to their ranch style home on the western edge of Indianapolis. Butch's dad, named Robert, was an electrician, the block from which Butch chipped. Butch was the image of his father, only younger and leaner. Butcher's mother named Ruth had a copse of black hair as did her husband. She wore too much make-up and talked at a fast rate all the way home. Her husband drove, kept his eyes on the road, nodded his head occasionally and smiled frequently glancing at Butch and me in the back seat.
Ruth talked about the impending wedding, Robert asked about the Navy. He was an Electrician's Mate during the Korean War.
Everything appeared ready to consummate the nuptials on Saturday afternoon, a mere three days away.
Next night, during the wedding rehearsal at the First Methodist Church, Lisa Schumacher sauntered into my life, swept me off my feet and to this day has not left. That first time she wore frayed blue jeans, a gray Indiana University sweat shirt, looked scrumptious, her hair, a black river tumbling down her back. Lisa's beauty affected me as no other woman had done so, made me feel off balanced, tongue tied, but eager to see her again. At the rehearsal dinner I felt my mouth full of cotton, the way it did in Mrs. Belmont's public speaking class.
It was the second time at the wedding she bowled me off my feet. Lemon taffeta, yellow heels, Lisa's hair in a chignon, ringlets dangling in front of her ears did me in. Lisa, maid of honor wore lemon taffeta. All the females in the wedding party wore lemon taffeta. Lisa looked the best. In my reverent eyes Lisa looked better, more beautiful; more of everything the bride included.
Was it possible to be in love so soon? Lisa looked at me and in her glance; I saw welcome, a come hither look, such warmth and openness.
In my rented tux, wearing a frilled, crisp white shirt, bow tie knotted by Ruth Bester, cummerbund bound and wearing my patent leather oxfords, I felt confident, handsome, not a bit off balance. Attraction, a maelstrom of desire sluiced through me. Longing to touch, rain kisses on Lisa's mouth, learn everything about her, and be with her alone. At the reception held in a country club banquet room my feelings only intensified.
We danced. We found an out of the way table in the back of the room. Filled with debris left by guests partying in clusters about the big room, we sat close, drank ginger ale and covered all sorts of things. I tried to find something disagreeable or derogatory in her but for the life of me, all I uncovered was seamless perfection. Petite, far beyond pretty, a sweet round face, high cheek bones from the Indian heritage she had mentioned, dark brown eyes, a tiny nose, a body that would not quit. Intelligence, without guile, forthright and freely admitted not knowing something. A few days earlier she had graduated from high school; her favorite subject was English, she an eclectic reader. She could cook converse with anyone at any time.
I felt such ease.
Lisa asked about my life in the Navy, what I did, where I came from, did I have a girlfriend. I told her of breaking up with Linda O'Bannon. Her dumping me for a buddy named Mark Richter. Thank God Lisa had no beaus at the moment.
I told her of growing up in southern Indiana, my father dying when I was five, not much of an athlete, quite good in math and science and I liked to read too.
We strolled outside, the party's festive noise diminishing behind us as we walked. We stood under several closely growing trees, and chatted. Lisa talked about life in Kentucky where she was born. She sounded like Loretta Lynn and she too was a coal miner's daughter. Her father killed in a coal mine, her mother had remarried. Lisa, her younger sister Kathleen, a brother named Kevin, her step dad, a pharmacist, a nice man and Lisa's mother moved to Indianapolis when she was ten.
The moment she said ten, I kissed Lisa. My arms wrapped around her, she wrapped around me, kissed me. My mouth dry as a desert sink, my chest fluttered full of butterflies, heart racing, and for the first time, my penis cranked up to its fullest extension, driven by love not lust.
Under several towering spruce trees exhaling their pine scent, an odor I associated with Mom on her hands and knees scouring our house's hardwood floors. I wanted to say, "Lisa Schumacher, I love you." To do so now was to shatter this precious moment, to dispel the magic.
Instead I kissed her long, slim throat, nibbled her ear lobes as she whispered she did not generally allow such forwardness on a first date.
"This is our first date?"
This did not happen not to me. Such blistering hot passion occurred in romance novels not on a sloping hill, the verdant border of an Arnold Palmer designed golf course. Such amorous situations transpired amidst Gothic castles, moonlit beaches and Scottish moors.
Go for it, I said to myself.
When Butch and I flew into Indianapolis for the wedding, I planned to shove off after sending Butch and Charlene on to Niagara Falls on their honeymoon. That happened but my other plans were altered significantly.
Instead of going home, I spent every waking moment of my leave with Lisa. Mother was not happy finding out I was not coming here way, not this time. Seven days after the wedding, Lisa and I move love the first time and quite a few other times to boot.
Back now out of my reverie, standing in front of Lisa's grave, the sun shining on my face, a soft little hand clasped mine.
"Dad, do you think Mom knows we bring her flowers on her birthday. My flowers too.
"Yes, I do Emily, yes I do. If she was here now know what she'd want to do?
She'd want a banana split at Elsinor's. How about you, you want a banana split from Elsinor's?
"Oh, yes," our Emily said.