For three days, she had walked through a shadowy haze, thinking every corner turned might bring a cool, clearing breeze. But she found no respite from her internal storm and so remained unsure what she should be feeling. Her sensibility and rationality tried hard to govern her emotions, having a cerebral edge, but her emotional side tended to seep through. Like blood drops from a cut loosely covered by a bandaid, the tears slipped out no matter what she did. Healing takes time.
Friday evening, she found herself in a seedy part of town, sitting all alone in a darkened theater, likely somewhere she shouldn’t have been. But she knew she had to do something and this was the only outlet she’d discovered. She needed to be there. She sat in the very back, quiet and still, as “That’s the Way It Is” played on the big screen. Not that she watched much of it. It was impossible to focus through the tears and they were never-ending. She didn’t sob loudly and she didn’t ugly cry. It was more like a silent pain that stuns you and you cry because you know the intense agony isn’t too far behind.
Tuesday had been a typical hot mid August day, humid and steamy. The teenage girl was working that summer in the cool of an air conditioned office, honing her secretarial office skills, practicing to be a mature responsible adult. Late in the afternoon, a phone call changed everything.
It was her father’s secretary, also a family friend. “Did you hear about Elvis?” she asked? Her immediate answer was an automatic reaction to the woman’s tone. “No. He’s dead isn’t he?” “Yes.” How did she know that?
She had little outward reaction at the time, but inside was a jumble of thoughts and questions, trying to determine how she should respond to the news. Minutes later, her father telephoned her.
“Are you alright?”
“Yes Dad, I’m OK.”
“I think you should leave work and come by my office.”
“No, really Dad, I don’t need to. I’m fine.”
“Please just stop by, as a favor to me.”
“OK, I will be by in a little while.”
The freeway was packed, rush hour traffic in a big city. The radio blared the music of Elvis Presley, with every break between the songs reiterating the most awful news, jabbing her heart with each repeated announcement. But she was a mature young woman and spoke to herself all the way there.
“This is silly. You don’t even know the man. He’s a singer. You’ve never met him. It makes no sense to get all upset.”
The one sided conversation continued, attempting to rationally convince her stoic self she had no right to feel as she did.
After the short drive that seemed to take forever, she arrived and parked her little brown Datsun in her Dad’s parking lot, now empty except for his car. She opened the glass doors to his building and her heels click clicked loudly on the shiny stone floor. Entering his office, she saw he was seated at his desk quietly working on accounts, as she had expected. What followed was a total surprise.
Her father stood and again asked, “Are you OK?” Her answer “Yes, I’m fine.” She looked up at him and immediately the wails began with no warning and no holding back. She sobbed in his arms for 20 minutes, her cries echoing through the empty office, her heart breaking like she had never experienced before, the tears flowing fast and furious. It didn’t matter that it made no sense because sense has no place in true matters of the heart.
“I need to go to Memphis.”
“You’re too young and you just can’t”
“Can we send flowers then?”
“Yes, we can do that.”
And we did.
By now you’ve figured out that girl was me. August 16, 1977, I recall all the extraordinary details of a day that started out so typically and ended so tragically.
It’s been 43 years and while the pain isn’t raw, the scar is still tender. Most fans feel the same. They can tell you when and where they heard the unimaginable and how they felt. The collective grief and universal sadness weighed heavily on a million shoulders. I see the funeral processional of white Cadillacs and it all floods back – hard.
The heart never forgets losing someone held so dearly. Whether we actually met in the flesh is immaterial in the case of Elvis. It’s part of the unexplainable, the solid binding component of the Presley connection.
Elvis, you are always missed and forever loved. Rest in peace.