An Unforgettable Phone Call
Reality check: this is a work of fiction.
It’s seldom a good sign when you are 2,000 miles from home and the phone rings in the middle of the night. I grabbed for it, my stomach already clenching.
“Hey Bruce, it’s Lilly.”
Lilly? It takes me a few seconds, but I remember…
Lilly, who started a wine company by walking around San Francisco and inviting restaurant owners to share a glass of her first vintage.
Lilly, who went to Africa to create more sources of clean water… the very same night the thought occurred to her.
Lilly, a friend of a friend, with whom I felt a bond that couldn’t be explained.
I smiled. “Lilly, it’s 4 a.m. here.”
“Yeah, I figured you’d have time to talk. Plus, I saw online you were on the road. You know I still read your stuff almost every day. If I have access, of course.”
Still half asleep in the dark, I almost blushed. It had been at least ten years since I’d seen Lilly. I would have guessed she’d forgotten me.
“Can you put on some music?”
“Now? On the call?”
“Yeah, I would, but I don’t have any.”
The thing about Lilly was that she was always making crazy requests, and people would just do them. Earlier in the night, I was listening to The John Butler TrioLive at Red Rocks, so I just started it up again.
“Much better. Nice choice. Hey, Bruce, I gotta tell you something. It’s pretty important.”
She paused for a long time, then continued.
“You’re so very close, Bruce.” She paused again.
“Not sure I follow you, Lilly.”
“You’re a good guy and you’re talented, and you have a great heart, and you work hard.”
A “but” was on its way, no doubt.
“Imagine, just imagine, what you could accomplish if you were always there. I don’t mean for an hour or two at a time. I mean day after day, week after week. How long could you keep it going? Could you spend a month in that state? A year? Maybe two? More? Could you? What would it take?”
Now she was talking in time to the music, tossing out words in spurts.
This wasn’t a completely foreign subject to me, although I rarely discussed it at 4 a.m. “You mean to be present, right?”
“Yeah, present. Completely present. 100%. Present. In the zone. It’s possible you know. You can do it. I’m not just blowing smoke at you. You could stay there for an incredibly, amazingly long time. You’ve got a good, long run in you. I’ve never said this to anyone else, and I just had to tell you. I wish I could have told you…”
Was she crying? She got quiet, and I thought I heard her starting to sob. Then more silence.
“We both screwed up. I should have told you sooner, but you should have figured it out long ago. You aim too low, you know? You get a burst of inspiration, it lasts maybe 45 minutes, and you thank the heavens above. That’s trivial. Not even worth mentioning. That’s not a life, it’s a fast food stop. It’s a blip, an afterthought, a pale shadow of your potential. Do you understand your potential? I know you don’t, that’s why I had to call.”
“You’re not going to forget what I said.”
“Of course not, Lilly.”
“That wasn’t a question. You’re not going to forget what I said because your phone recorded this entire call. Sorry that I don’t have more time. Truly sorry. So long.”
Huh? I stared at the phone in my hand, then finally put it down and laid back in bed. A few minutes later, I jumped up and pulled out my laptop. I looked up Lilly on Facebook. Nothing. LinkedIn? Nothing. No Twitter either.
Then I found it, a short piece in the Kalamazoo news section on Mlive.com. It was two weeks old.
Lilly Raymond, 47, died in a boating accident on Lake Michigan.
A sense of calm came over me, inexplicably strong. My normal reactions were no longer in play. My brain wasn’t spinning, my stomach wasn’t clenching. I took my time, but there was no doubt in my mind. I swiped down on my phone and searched for Voice Memos, an app I never use. There was one recording there. I pressed Play.
“Hey Bruce, it’s Lilly.”
This video inspired my story, especially Bill Murray’s comments that start at the 3:30 mark.
by Bruce Kasanoff